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How to Do Balayage on Black Hair | Step-by-step Guide

Adding color to your hair is a great way to mix up your everyday look. Unfortunately, if you’re blessed with beautiful onyx locks, lifting your hair to other colors isn’t as simple as with lighter hair.

Dyeing your hair all over is a complex process that requires bleaching your whole head, and highlights require a ton of maintenance. What are your options? Balayage is the answer!

This style of dyeing will all stunning depth and dimension to your shiny black locks without the hassle of a full dye job or recurring trips to the salon to maintain highlights. 

And the best part is, if you choose not to keep up with your balayage, you can simply let your hair grow out, and it’ll continue to look good. So, how to do balayage on black hair? Read on to find out.

What Is Balayage?

The word balayage is French for “sweeping,” which is a perfect way to describe the balayage technique. It’s done by applying the highlights freehand in long, sweeping strokes over the hair. You’ve probably seen people with balayage before, but some people confuse this style with traditional highlights.

Though both styles involve adding highlights to the hair, balayage is hand-painted onto strands for a more natural look, whereas, with highlights, the stylist lightens small sections of the hair from root to tip using foils.

Does Balayage Work for Black Hair?

Balayage is the perfect coloring option for black hair to add depth to your locks without changing the base color. It works for any hair type, from straight to tight curls. The result is a natural, sun-kissed look that will have your tresses almost sparkling in the sunlight.

Though it’s much easier to add balayage to lighter hair, like with most dyeing techniques, it’s not impossible for black hair.

You or your stylist will need to use bleach, toner, and other tools to achieve your desired look. If you don’t want to go too light, you can choose darker highlights like caramel or auburn to complement your dark hair.

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How to Do Balayage on Black Hair in 5 Steps

Before you get started on your balayage, you’ll need to gather the following items:

  • Plastic mixing bowl
  • Box bleach kit
  • Gloves
  • Old towels
  • Old clothing
  • Vaseline
  • Hair clips

If you have experience using bleach for hair color, you can opt to use bleaching powder and developer. Madison Reed also offers a great beginner-friendly balayage kitLet’s get into it!

1. Ready Your Space

Once you have all your tools gathered, cover your countertop with one of the old towels and lay everything out. Make sure to put on clothes you don’t mind getting stained. Prepare your bleach based on the kit you bought or your own mixture.

Typically, you’ll use two parts developer with one part bleach. Using vaseline, or another moisturizer, spread a thin layer across your hairline to protect your skin from the bleach.

2. Perform a Patch Test

Before you fully commit, you should perform a patch test to make sure you’ll like the results of the color. Wearing gloves, take a small amount of the product and apply it to a thin strip of dry, clean hair.

Wait for 20–30 minutes while it develops, then wash it out. If you like the result, you’re good to go! Use this time as an indicator of how long to leave the bleach on your hair to achieve your desired shade.

Read Next: Will Balayage Damage Your Hair?

3. Separate Your Hair

Use clips to section your hair. The length and thickness of your hair will determine how many sections you’ll need. You’ll be starting with the bottom when you apply the balayage, so ensure you clip your hair up in the most effective way for this.

4. Time to Bleach

It’s time to get painting! Dip the brush into the mixture, taking care to coat it evenly but not so much that the product is dripping off. Pick up a small strip from the bottom of your hair and apply the bleach by starting halfway up the section of hair and brushing the product to the end.

It’s important to work with small sections at a time, and it’s not necessary to brush in straight lines from top to bottom. You can move the brush in a v-like pattern to make the coloring look more natural.

If you’re struggling to brush the product onto your curls, use your gloved hand to saturate the strands easier. Continue this method until you get through all the sections. Brush the product on the top section a few inches away from your roots.

This process is highly customizable, so you can follow this step as a guide, but deposit the color where you want the most definition. Once you complete all sections, set a timer for 20–30 minutes (depending on the time it took for your patch test to achieve your ideal shade), and wait.

5. Wash It Out

When your time is up, you need to wash the bleach out of your hair. It’s fine to use your normal shampoo, or you can opt for a toning shampoo to neutralize and warm any brassy tones.

If you used a balayage kit, use the aftercare products from that. After you wash your hair, apply a moisturizing or deep conditioner. Again, if you’re using a kit, it may include a shampoo and conditioner for you to use.

Tips for Doing Balayage on Black Hair

The balayage technique is pretty straightforward, but we’ve compiled a list of do’s and dont’s for the process.

  • Ensure you take your time and apply the coating properly. Luckily, this process is pretty forgiving with the freehand technique, but you still want all of your hair covered. Using a mirror or asking for help for the back sections is a good idea.
  • Invest in your products, especially if you’re DIY-ing the balayage. There’s nothing worse than damaging your hair by using extremely harsh chemicals. Also, make sure you purchase color-safe shampoo and conditioner so you can preserve your highlights as long as possible.
  • There’s no need to use foils for this technique. Balayage should be a natural-looking highlight, so you don’t need to apply the product in perfectly straight lines or sections. Using foils can also further damage your hair as it traps the heat from the bleach.

Lastly, if you decide to mix the bleach on your own, don’t use a 40-volume developer. It’s much too harsh, especially for curly or dry hair. A 20- or 30-volume developer works best.

Read Next: What Developer Should I Use on My Hair?

Frequently Asked Questions

Image of a woman who's had balayage done on her black hair smiling in a salon chair while the stylist holds her hair


Balayage is a beautiful way to add dimension and pops of color to your black hair. If you still have some questions about the technique, read on for answers to some of the most commonly asked.

Do you have to bleach black hair to do balayage?

Like most coloring and lifting techniques, balayage typically includes bleach. It’s especially necessary for black hair to ensure the color shows if you’ve chosen light or vibrant shades. You can opt for colors that don’t need as much bleach to achieve, like caramel or auburn.

Or, you can skip the bleach altogether by using a super-lightening color treatment. This highlights your hair to bump it up a few tones. After you lighten your hair, you can perform a balayage with a kit that doesn’t contain bleach.

Does balayage work on black hair?

Yes! Balayage is great for black hair because it allows you to add color and dimension to your locks without fully committing to a color change or harsh all-over bleaching treatment.

What balayage goes on black hair?

Burgundy or auburn balayage looks best on black hair because the red tones complement the undertones of your hair. Caramel also works well and adds some warmth to your locks.

Does balayage damage hair?

Any time you chemically treat or dye your hair, you risk damaging it. But you can mitigate the amount of damage by using high-quality products, skipping the bleach, and ensuring you have a good deep conditioner to add moisture back into your hair.

What’s the difference between balayage and highlights?

Both techniques involve adding highlights to your hair but differ in the application process. You hand paint balayage onto strands of your hair for a more natural look but use foils to add highlights.

So, How Do You Do Balayage on Black Hair?

Balayage is an amazing technique that has only grown in popularity over the years. It’s a great option for dark and black hair to add some warmth and dimension without sacrificing your beautiful onyx color.

This process can also save your hair from extensive damage caused by bleaching, especially if you choose to perform a super-lightening treatment prior to the balayage. You can easily DIY at home or visit your favorite stylist for help. Either way, you’ll be on your way to stunning color in no time!