Balayage for short hair: why this highlight technique isn’t just for longer ‘dos

Everything you need to know about balayage for short hair, from color options to expert haircare tips

balayage for short hair main stylized image of natalie portman on the red carpet
(Image credit: Future/Getty Images)

From magazine spreads to TV sets, balayage is pretty much everywhere you look right now. When most people think of this color hair technique they think of long, iridescent-like locks. But balayage for short hair can be just as eye-catching. 

Although this blonde hair idea has been around for a few decades now, balayage is one of the biggest hair color trends of the moment (and it's certainly not falling off the radar time soon). The technique involves freehand painting of dye or highlights on the hair (as opposed to using foils or highlight caps) to create beautiful, seamless, and bespoke hair color looks and, therefore, because of the level of skill involved, requires the hands and eyes of a highly trained colorist to pull off. 

Mimicking sun-kissed, natural highlights in hair, this look can work on women of all ages, not just the teen and twenty-somethings crowd—as proven by A-listers like Halle Berry, Sandra Bullock, Natalie Portman, Heidi Klum, Jessica Alba, and more. 

Balayage for short hair typically means hairstyles with lengths that fall above the shoulder area or higher. A balayage process on short hair will typically have highlights that start a few inches from the root, or around brow length, and as the placement is so bespoke, it can also be combined with other techniques, such as balayage with money piece. Your colorist can determine the dye placement that flatters your length and texture the most, so seek their advice.

balayage for short hair on Sandra Bullock

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Does balayage work for short hair?

Although many of the balayage looks you'll see all over Pinterest or Instagram are on longer locks, the color technique can absolutely work on short hairstyles, too. In the below video, top colorist Jack Howard, who has residencies in both Washington D.C. and London, demonstrates a beautiful balayage for short hair look—also proving that the trend is very much for clients of every age. 

"Balayage is NOT just for our young, long-haired clients," he writes in the caption. "In the salon, older clients who come in more often and are more loyal can be taken for granted or ignored. My lovely model here is actually 73 and still wants to be seen and have hair that's on-trend. Adding balayage lighter pieces and darker pieces allows her to work with her natural base and gray."

As for what else you need to consider before booking a color appointment? "Really think about how much maintenance you are willing to take on before you think about which color technique you would like to try," says Josh Wood, founder of Josh Wood Colour, whose clients include Elle Macpherson and Kylie Minogue. "I like color to look seamless and natural, with no obvious grow-outs. Invest in good hair care products too, as they really can make the world of difference." 

Because it often works with your natural root color, balayage is actually a pretty low-maintenance option. On short hair (or indeed any length) it can range from very noticeable shifts in color to very subtle variations in shade that you spot when the hair catches the light. The possibilities are almost endless. Most people choose from multi-tonal blonde looks, caramel tones, darker brunette hues, or a gradual gray gradient. But you can experiment with bolder colors too.

Balayage for short hair: the woman&home edit

Paired with one of the most on-trend short or medium hairstyles, we can promise you that this French freehand color technique is a winning look every time. So sit back, relax, and browse as we bring you the very best balayage for short hair looks.

Blonde balayage on short hair

Warm blonde balayage 

Dark roots blending into warm blonde creates a cool-girl, beachy look. Top tip: If your root regrowth is minimal and you want to imitate the look, ask your colorist to smudge dark dye through the roots. 

Butter cream blonde balayage

Honey-colored, creamy highlights add a soft edge to shadowed roots and create a more natural looking result. 

Ash blonde balayage

For more of a statement, go down the ash blonde route with silver tones that stand out against dark roots. This type of balayage looks especially good with waved hair. 

Brown balayage on short hair

Soft brown balayage

Thin honey brown and ash highlights add movement and contrast without looking out of place. The effect is soft, natural, and super flattering. 

Rich brown balayage

If you thought brown hair was boring, think again. Just look to this rich, glossy brown color that’s laced with golden highlights for a sun-kissed finish. We’re utterly obsessed. 

Curly brown balayage

Calling all curly girls! Balayage works just as well on curls as it does straight hair. The hand-painting technique can be used to add definition and enhance curl formation—just look to the above image for proof.

Dark balayage short hair

Barely there balayage

You don't have to make a statement with balayage, it can be subtle too. Case in point: this barely there balayage look on dark brown hair. The odd warm highlight has been painted on through mid-lengths to ends to add dimension. 

Dark ash balayage

For more contrast and extra impact, opt for ash highlights on top dark hair. It's cool and a classic. 

Face-framing balayage

Not only can balayage add dimension and movement, the technique can also be used to frame the face. Take inspiration from these subtle warm lowlights. 

Caramel balayage on short hair

Caramel blonde balayage

The perfect pick for the new season. Creamy blonde and caramel colors can be used together to warm up hair. 

Curly caramel balayage

Add a twist to dark curls with caramel-toned highlights. It's a low-maintenance style that's perennially chic. 

Wavy caramel balayage

Caramel highlights can really elevate dark brown hair. For extra impact, wave your hair to show the color off. 

Red balayage on short hair

Copper balayage

To turn up the heat, try this copper red balayage. We're predicting this will be the 'it' color for the new season. 

Burgundy balayage

Have some fun and experiment with bold burgundy and red wine shades—colors that are super flattering, especially against dark roots. 

Choppy red balayage

A choppy cut tinted with red ends gives this look a cool girl edge. The trick? Go for an undone, disheveled style to really turn heads. 

Gray balayage on short hair

Dark and silver balayage 

Cool silver highlights are a great way to frame the face and add movement to short dark hair. Ask for more color towards the front section and less towards the back. 

All over gray balayage

Eye-catching and totally on trend, these silver-gray highlights work so well all over dark hair.

Light gray balayage

If you're naturally grey or light in hair color, this is a great option to go for. Dark dye can be blended down the roots and super fine silver highlights can be painted on mid-lengths to ends. 

Tips for keeping balayage on short hair healthy

Post-appointment, the secret to great hair color is all in the maintenance and keeping your strands healthy—there's a reason so many hairstylists say great hair is healthy hair!

"Maintaining color at home is all about hydration, as it's essential to really keep hair color looking and feeling moisturized," says Josh Wood. "Using a hair mask at least once a week is super important for maintaining long-term condition, for keeping your color looking fresh—as hydrated hair is healthy hair—and for eliminating breakage."

Another recommendation from our top colorist? Shield your hair from UV-related damage, which will alter the appearance of your fresh new (and likely expensive) 'do. "Josh Wood Colour Miracle Mask (approx. $26/£19) uses UV filters to stop fade and prevents color loss, to ensure your hair is looking great in between salon appointments." Aside from having the best hair masks on hand, we also recommend picking up some heat protection to protect color from sun exposure.

Our beauty editor recommends...


Josh Wood Colour Miracle Everything Mask

To maintain vibrant color in-between salon visits, turn your head to this mane-changing mask. It strengthens, hydrates, and conditions with nourishing butters and quinoa. Apply weekly to revive color. 

With all this color inspiration, we say there's never been a better time to try balayage for short hair.

woman&home thanks Josh Wood of Josh Wood Colour for his time and expertise.

Lucy Abbersteen

Lucy is a UK-based beauty journalist who has written for the likes of Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, OK!, Women's Health and more, as well as contributing to woman&home. Her work covers everything from expert skin and haircare tips to the latest product launches and the show-stopping beauty looks spotted backstage at London Fashion Week. During her career she's interviewed some seriously famous faces, from Little Mix to Drag Race royalty The Vivienne, as well as chatting to the industry's leading hairdressers, dermatologists and make-up artists.