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Celebrity Hair Colorist Abby Haliti On Why Balayage Is Better Than Ever

Known as the ‘queen of balayage’, celebrity hair colorist Abby Haliti has a lot to say on the hand-painted highlighting technique. As the US-based master color consultant for a number of stars including Olivia Palermo, VOGUE Arabia cover star Rita Ora, and Sigourney Weaver, Haliti has perfected the style for a spectrum of hair types and hues. “My personal philosophy when it comes to coloring hair is based around the belief that less is more. Whether I’m doing balayage or a single process, my intention is always to achieve client satisfaction by using less product to do more,” Haliti explains to VOGUE Arabia’s Beauty Editor, Michaela Somerville. “Early in my career, I began to specialize in French balayage because I fell in love with the process and the results.”


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Originating in France as a more subtle way to add highlights to lengths, balayage quickly gained mainstream popularity around a decade ago as more women shifted from the blocky highlights look which ran rampant in the 00s. But the balayage technique has seemed to have faded from visibility in recent years within the Middle East – something the Albanian hair expert says is less to do with the technique’s disuse, and more with the term balayage being repackaged as a different trend every few seasons. During a recent guest stylist visit with Dubai’s Belle Femme Salon & Spa to see her regional client base, the colorist met with VOGUE Arabia’s Beauty Editor, Michaela Somerville, to discuss why Arab women in particular can benefit from a balayage technique over traditional top-to-tip highlights.

Abby Haliti

What exactly is balayage?

I’d describe balayage as more subtle and low-maintenance than traditional highlights and tailored differently for each client. Balayage originated in France and translates to “to sweep” in French. The colorist paints the product in a sweeping motion onto the surface of the hair only. No foils are used for balayage. There are so many different techniques out there that can work for each unique client. When it comes to balayage, this technique is great for clients with busy schedules, want to spend less time at the salon, and are aiming for a natural highlight look with less upkeep. I consider balayage to be healthier since the product isn’t fully saturated into the hair; instead the product is gently swept on the surface of the hair.

In order for balayage to result in a more natural look, an experienced colorist must use skills like visualization to determine the proper placement of highlights. There are no sections like traditional foil highlights, instead the highlights are painted freely by hand to achieve that sun-kissed look. I consider balayage an art to master because it’s truly more complex than it may seem on Instagram, especially with all of the social media hype. I used to get called Picasso in NYC, and I love that because I do feel like an artist painting on a canvas when I’m working with clients. My painting brushes are my only tools aside from my creative vision to achieve the perfect placement of color throughout the hair.


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How has balayage evolved since hitting the mainstream in the early 2010s?

I’d say it has evolved especially since the rise of social media, which has contributed to new trends like American balayage. The products have evolved as well, and many products now have built-in protectors to preserve the health of the hair. When I started doing balayage in 2005, I attended L’Oreal Academy and remember there wasn’t a specific lightener for balayage, so we had to work with normal lightener which wasn’t as easy to paint with. I learned how to smooth the product by hand, but today products are much easier to apply.

Why should we opt for balayage over full head color or traditional highlights?

Balayage is a customizable highlighting technique that results in soft, natural, sun-kissed highlights. Depending on your personal preferences, you could go a few months to even a year in some cases before returning to the salon. When done properly, this technique makes it so that the clients’ natural regrowth blends seamlessly with their highlights. There is no strict placement with balayage, so each look is unique, and highlights will continue to transform with more dimension each touch-up.


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How do you adapt balayage for women in the Middle East, who often have dark and textured hair types?

Ensuring the health of the hair is always the first step of the process. Most of my Middle Eastern clients have red underlying tones, and I always aim to achieve more natural tones. I share my expertise with clients about how going extremely light in hair color can cause more damage to the hair in the long-term, and work with them to create a long-term plan that both achieves their goals and protects the hair. Healthy hair is always the first priority for me as a colorist especially because when the hair is healthy, the color also looks better and more natural. Choosing colors that are suitable for each client’s skin tone is important too; the best color is the one that acts as a natural accessory.

How do you approach working with a new client?

When a client is sitting in my chair, we have a very detailed consultation where I listen to their concerns and goals. During this process I am also analyzing the hair to determine the health by using senses like sight and touch. This helps me know if there is any damage or breakage. My philosophy includes prioritizing the integrity of the hair before my creativity as a colorist. I consider which services are sustainable for clients in the long-term rather than just at that moment. In this way I also try to ground clients by creating a long-term plan to achieve their desired results without jeopardizing the health of the hair.


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Do you find yourself managing unrealistic expectations from clients?

Today’s consumers are extremely overloaded by information which can overwhelm clients so as a professional I believe it’s my job to ground clients with my expertise. For example many clients don’t know that Instagram hair pics are sometimes edited so the inspirational photo they’re showing isn’t necessarily real. Social media has led to many unrealistic expectations. So as a colorist I listen to my clients and then give my best advice in accordance with their goals. I value integrity and authenticity especially when it comes to women’s beauty.

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