I’ll admit it: I’m a little late to the party when it comes to balayage. The pretty tress trend, a form of French highlighting achieved by literally painting the hair with dye, first burst onto the scene in 2015—and, fortunately for me, has showed no signs of slowing down, particularly in Charm City. It’s no wonder: The careful strokes result in a natural, dynamic look that requires far less maintenance than traditional dye. The technique is done purposefully to encourage soft grow-out, meaning no more harsh roots or every-three-week touch-ups. What’s not to love?
Desperate to shed my winter-brown locks and get with the times, I made an appointment with Pooneh Kashani, a balayage expert at Lluminaire Salon in Towson who had come highly recommended by a friend. She asked me to do some research in advance to nail down my #hairgoals, and I soon found myself in a rabbit hole of multi-tonal Instagram manes, each flowing seamlessly from color to color in gorgeous gradation. I was in love—but a little concerned, as most image results portrayed women with thick, wavy hair, a far cry from my thin, straight strands. (I needn’t have worried; as Kashani would tell me later, the waves are often put in place to hide less-than-stellar craftsmanship.)
When the day finally came, I arrived at Lluminaire armed with a few screenshots and bursting with excitement. Not only was I about to get my dream hair, it was my first time ever in a professional salon (seriously, I’d previously frequented only Holiday Hair, Hair Cuttery and my local beauty school, where a student once failed to wash the conditioner out of the entire bottom layer of my hair). The space certainly didn’t disappoint: friendly assistants proffered tea and snacks, fresh flowers dotted every stylist station, and there just so happened to be an adorable German Shepherd puppy rambling about the premises—though, sadly, this was apparently an exception to the rule and is unlikely to remain the case.
Kashani took a look at my pictures, surveying my head and evaluating my hair’s texture, part and hue before explaining what could and couldn’t be done. I wouldn’t be able to get it quite as blonde as some of my models, she said, without ruining the “integrity” of my hair with lightener—but she could frame my face and give me a subtle, sun-kissed glow.
Though I couldn’t see much of what she was doing as she worked (having had to take my glasses off), I knew I was in capable hands. As we talked, I learned that she had studied painting in her native Iran before coming to the United States and had worked in interior design in Arizona before moving to Baltimore several years ago. Hair, she said, was her new canvas, and our conversation would occasionally pause as her concentration deepened, evaluating each strand.
After about an hour, the balayage itself was done, and I sat for thirty minutes as the dye activated. After my initial rinse, Kashani applied a cooling toner that sat for an additional 15 minutes, followed by an absolutely heavenly shampoo—complete with scalp massage—performed by one of the stylists-in-training, Slater (I asked him if he gets a lot of Saved By The Bell jokes. He does.)
I kid you not: My stomach was in knots as Kashani made her way around my head with the blow drier. Again, though, I needn’t have worried—each pass yielded a gorgeous transition from golden blonde to my natural light brown, a far cry from the chunky highlights and disastrous orangish box dye jobs of my past. The best part? My excitement was matched, if not exceeded, by Kashani’s. She was all smiles as she combed through her finished project and guided me through my “after” photos, pointing out the way her brushstrokes had framed my face.
In short, I couldn’t be happier, and I’m already looking forward to seeing Kashani in 10 weeks(!!!) for my touch-up. This is one trend that seems here to stay.