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Brunette balayage salt society after

As anyone who works in the hair industry will tell you, we all know that blondes lift much better and more easily than brunettes do, simply because they’re already starting with such a lighter canvas. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve the tone that you’re trying to create for your client. As long as you’re aware of the unique challenges associated with lifting a brunette, you can counteract them and get the result that you’re looking for!

Here, we discuss the different factors that can make lifting a brunette more challenging than lifting a blonde, and also walk through everything you need to know about creating the perfect brunette lift, placement, and gloss. 

What To Know Before Getting Started

When you’re working with brunette hair, it’s important to be aware of the underlying pigments in the canvas, because you will often be lifting through most of the color wheel. 

Case in point: One pigment that is almost always found in brunette hair, which is fairly tough to counteract with a gloss, is red. You’ll need to really lift past this level in order to get a great deposit out of your gloss, unless your client is looking for a warm result. That being said, sometimes a warm result will be unavoidable, because most brunettes will lift warm. (Really, everyone lifts warm—not just brunettes—but with different undertones.)

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By understanding this fact, you can create a plan of action that will allow you to get your client’s hair where she wants it to be. During your hair consultation prior to the service, make sure that you know exactly what your client’s goals are. Use this information to show her the different levels that you’ll need to lift through to get them to that goal, and offer a timeline to get there. 

Depending on how dark her hair is right now, and how light she wants to go, it could take two, three, or even more appointments to get there, and it’s crucial that she knows this before you get started. 

Tips For Performing The Perfect Brunette Balayage

Below are a number of tips you can use to master the art of performing balayage on brunette clients. We’ve split these tips into the following categories: Lifting, placement, and gloss.


1. Pick your technique and lightener wisely! If you’re attempting to get a brunette super bright, foiling is likely to be your best option. But if someone already has brightness on their ends, and you’re just looking to enhance that, balayage is great for surface coverage. In either case, just remember that you are the expert. Don’t let the client dictate a certain technique to you just because they think that’s what they need. You know what has to be done.

2. Work with a lower level developer. Most people automatically want to go in with 40-volume developer to maximize the lift, but what they don’t always understand is that 40-volume dries out really quickly. That means it’ll give you a maximum lift of just 15 to 20 minutes. A lower level developer, like 10-volume, will lift slower but for a much longer period of time. When you have stubborn tones to break through, a lower developer will always win.

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3. Let someone sit longer without heat. This will give the product more time to work. If you’re short on time, you can always add heat, but remember that this causes more alkalinity. Alkalinity helps lift quicker, but the product will also dry out faster. I usually only add heat the last 10 minutes if absolutely needed. The less you push the hair, the healthier it will be. 


4. Understand where the client wants brightness. This is crucial to creating a look they’re going to be happy with. Not all brunettes want a money piece that is right to the root. Some want a more muted look in front, while others want a big pop. It all depends what their goal is, so be sure you ask.

5. Lean towards smaller sections. Brunettes can be overpainted quite easily. The goal is not to erase their natural color, but enhance it. Smaller sections that are more spread out, and which are heavily saturated, will give you the biggest impact. Unless they are willing to come back often for a high maintenance color, it is best to keep it lower from the root line to allow for an easier grow out. If the ends are saturated too much, you will end up with more of an ombré look which tends to look super brassy quickly. Less is always more with darker naturals.

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6. Include warmth. Even if an ashier tone is requested, it is important to include warmth in your gloss. Warmth acts like a sponge for ash. Instead of the hair quickly absorbing ash and then letting it go, the warmth will help hold it. Brunette glosses will fade quicker, but the warmth will always last longer. And don’t think you need to go with a gold finish; there are  so many ways to include warmth that don’t require a gold finish. In addition to gold, everything from a violet (which includes red) to a simple N (which includes red and yellow) can offer a hint of warmth. Once you know which tones do what, the options are endless.

7. Lift higher, gloss darker. To knock out extra warmth, lift higher and gloss darker when working with brunettes. I always aim for at least one level darker with the gloss. The saturation is much better and you don’t get any raw lift showing through.

8. Think about maintenance. Booking a gloss in between your lifting sessions is a super helpful way to keep a brunette looking fresh. Once you’ve finished the lift, consider booking the gloss right then and there while she’s in the salon so it doesn’t fall through the cracks.

Sign up for FOILED TO LIVED IN tutorial where you will learn everything you need to know about how to transition a traditional foiled client into a seamless lived in finish!