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Balayage Vs. Highlights Vs. Shatush: What Are the Differences?

What's the difference between balayage, highlights or Shatush?You know you want lighter, brighter hair with that sunkissed look.  However, you are confused about which technique to choose. You are not alone.  Even some stylists get confused about the differences in popular coloring techniques.

In this blog post, we are going to break down hair highlighting techniques.  Understanding the procedures and what effect they create will help you choose which approach is right for you. 

People often use the terms balayage, shatush, and highlights interchangeably.  That can add to the confusion.  However, it is not always wrong.  Highlights refer to the broad category of techniques used to lighten select pieces of hair.  Balayage and shatush are specific approaches. So, that might explain some of the overlap.

Bleaching or Coloring

Traditionally, highlighting referred to lightening selected pieces of hair.  For the most part, it still refers to creating lighter strands of hair.  Stylists can use the same techniques to add darker strands or fantasy colors.  Lowlights are when you use a darker tone instead of a lighter tone.  Many hairstyles combine two or more colors of highlights and lowlights for a natural multi-dimensional look.

While this blog will focus primarily on lightening hair, keep in mind that the techniques are versatile.

What Is Highlighting?

Think about your hair after a week at a resort.  Those naturally light pieces of hair you get from sun exposure are highlights.  They are sunkissed pieces of hair that add dimension, shine, brightness, and the look of volume to your hair.

Salon highlights began with efforts to duplicate those looks.  Stylists applied lighteners to strands of hair to add those pops of brightness and light. 

Highlights are a great low-commitment way to add some pizazz to your hair.  They are gentler than an all-over color and work with any base color.  Subtle highlights can even grow out without additional color.  They are a great way to help blend in emerging gray hair.  Highlights are fabulous.

Stylists take four basic approaches when highlighting hair:

  • Foil highlights
  • Hair painting
  • Frosting
  • Chunking

However, when people ask for highlights, they are usually asking for foils.  Hair painting includes any freehand approach to color application.  Balayage and shatush fall under the hair painting umbrella.

Foil Highlights

Stylists use foils to separate strands of hair from the rest of the hair.  It is a great way to apply hair color precisely.  It also allows the stylist to select tiny strands of hair without coloring neighboring strands. 

With foils, stylists get a lot of control over the process.  If done correctly, they mimic a great sunkissed look.  However, foils can look a little artificial.  They can also show a clear root line during the growing out period. So, we consider them a medium-maintenance approach. 

Babylights are one of people’s favorite foil highlight looks.  Babylights are tiny, white-blonde highlights that mimic sun-lightened hair.  Because the strands are so little, the look is subtle, even when the strands are super-light.


This highlighting technique was popular in the 70s and 80s.  It involved lightening larger chunks of hair.  Stylists can frost hair using a frosting cap or use foils to separate the larger pieces of hair.  Frosting disappeared for a while but is on-trend for 2021. 

While you may think of frosting as a dated look, it can create dramatic lightening while still being lower maintenance than all-over color.  It is also a great way to blend in gray hair. 

Our favorite example of great frosted hair is Farrah Fawcett’s hair in that iconic red swimsuit poster.  With 80s style becoming popular again, frosting is gaining traction in the hair world.

The thing about traditional frosting, especially using a cap, is that it is very easy to go overboard.  Most, but not all, stylists will use hair painting techniques to achieve a frosted look.  Hair painting lets the stylist determine precisely where the highlights will fall. They can also mix highlight sizes with large chunks and smaller areas, which helps create a beachy blonde-babe look. 


Chunking was extremely popular in the 1990s.  It involves creating wide, 1 to 2-inch highlights down the length of the hair.  The highlights were usually several shades lighter than the base color.  When done well, they provided great contrast and framed faces.  When done poorly, they looked like zebra stripes.

2021 has seen the return of chunky highlights.  However, these big highlights are not as high-contrast as their 1990s precursors.  Instead, they often incorporate some elements of shatush so that the brightness is not uniform but instead spread evenly in the thick chunk areas. 

Salon Efrain Balayage

Close your eyes and picture balayage. You are probably picturing a very beachy look.  Perhaps hair with a brown base and blonde highlights, with a natural root. That is the most common thing people picture when they think of balayage.

However, balayage does not refer to a look. Balayage is a technique. It is far more versatile than people realize.  If you are looking for low-maintenance highlights, we may suggest balayage.

What Is Balayage?

Balayage comes from the French term balayer, which is “to sweep.”  It involves sweeping or painting color onto the hair. Many people think of balayage as a particular outcome, but it is a technique.  Stylists can use the method to create various looks, from an ombre appearance to babylights. 

Balayage allows the stylist to pick exactly where the highlights will fall.  It gives the stylist greater control but is a little less precise than using foils. 

One of the main reasons people love balayage is that it is lower maintenance color.  Because it creates a blended effect, there is no apparent grow-out line.  That means that you can stretch the time between coloring points to every three or four months.

The lack of precision makes your hair look more natural.  This means that balayage often looks subtler than foil highlights, even if the highlights are several shades lighter than your base color.   

Another reason people love balayage is that it is gentle on your hair.  Balayage does not process the identical strands over and over again.  Instead, the painting application means the stylist highlights different areas each time.  That is gentler on hair.  Combine that with the fact that you can go longer between treatments, and you get salon-gorgeous hair without processing damage.

There are a few downsides to balayage.  The process is more time-consuming than foil highlights, so it is usually more expensive.  Those costs average out because of the lower maintenance requirements, but it is something to consider.  It is also a time-consuming process.  However, like the total costs, the actual time in the chair balances out over time.

What Is Shatush?  

At Salon Efrain, we are known for our beautiful Shatush color. Invented by stylist Aldo Coppola, Shatush incorporates backcombing into highlighting.  The results are the most natural-looking highlight you can imagine.  People often describe it as looking like children’s hair after a summer in the sun.  It makes people feel youthful and radiant. We love Shatush.

At Salon Efrain, we usually combine Shatush with a balayage hair painting technique.  Coppola used his hands to paint on highlights.  We often use brushes but might use other tools, or even our hands, to get that just-right look!

We can combine shatush with other approaches.  An on-trend look is to create chunky highlights that are several shades lighter than your case color.  Backcombing and using a freehand technique on those highlights make the same big impact but do not look stripey like 1990s chunky highlights. 

What makes Shatush so great is that it is a very gentle approach to hair color.  Because it is not targeting large hair strands, you can use it on previously colored hair.  You can even use it when a stylist would be reluctant to use other coloring methods.

Which One Should I Choose?

Every day, we create fabulous looks with traditional highlighting, balayage, and shatush. Picking the technique that is right for you depends on several things. What is your hair’s current condition? Length, texture, previous color applications, and overall condition impact how your hair reacts to color.

What are your maintenance requirements? If you want to be able to go three or four months or even longer between hair appointments, balayage or shatush will be better than highlights.  

What look do you want? That is the most critical consideration.  Knowing what look you want, an experienced stylist can recommend the technique to achieve those results on your hair.

Set Up Your Consult Today

If you are still confused, a consult with a stylist can help.  At our consults, our stylists examine your hair’s condition, texture, thickness, and length.  You tell them what kind of results you want to see.  Then, they can advise you about the approach that will give you those results.