Is Burst Fade and Drop Fade the Same? Key Differences

Burst fade and drop fade are two common fading techniques used in hair coloring services. While they sound similar, they produce different effects. Understanding the differences between these two techniques can help you decide which is best for your hair goals.

Shaved Fade
Source: Instagram/@_heaven_hairsalon

What is burst fading?

Burst fading, also known as balayage or hand-painted highlights, involves freehand application of lightener to create soft, diffused strips of lightness in the hair. The highlights are painted on in an irregular pattern, leaving some strands darker to create dimension. This technique creates a sun-kissed, natural looking effect.

With burst fading, there is no distinct line of demarcation between the highlight and base color. The lightened pieces blend seamlessly into the darker hair. Regrowth is disguised as it grows out since there is no harsh line. Burst fading results in a low-maintenance look that can be touched up as needed.

What is drop fading?

low drop fade
Source: @r.braid via Instagram

Drop fading, sometimes called dip dyeing, focuses the lightening on the mid-lengths and ends of the hair. The roots maintain the natural base color while the ends are significantly lightened. This creates an ombre effect, with a stark transition between dark roots and light tips.

Foils are typically used to isolate the pieces that will be lightened towards the ends. The lightener is applied quickly and then removed once the desired level of lightness is achieved. This speeds up the processing time compared to highlight foiling.

Drop fading results in a high-contrast look. As the hair grows out, the demarcation line becomes more apparent, requiring regular touch ups to maintain the look. This makes drop fading higher maintenance than burst fading.

Key differences

Application method – Burst fading involves freehand painting of highlights while drop fading uses foils to isolate pieces.

Roots – With burst fading, the highlights seamlessly blend into the roots. Drop fading keeps the roots dark and adds lightness only on mid-lengths and ends.

Regrowth – Burst fading disguises regrowth better. The grow out is more obvious with drop fading.

Contrast – Drop fading creates a higher contrast look between roots and ends. Burst fading has softer contrast.

Maintenance – Burst fading regrowth is subtler and needs less frequent touching up. Drop fading requires more regular appointments to maintain contrast.

Versatility – Burst fading works on all hair lengths. Drop fading is better suited to medium to long hair.

Cost – Drop fading foiling is typically faster than hand painting highlights, so it may cost slightly less in some salons. But time and pricing varies.

Which should you choose?

If you’re seeking a low-maintenance look with soft contrast, burst fading is likely the best choice. It grows out beautifully and doesn’t require frequent touch ups. It works well for any hair length.

For a high-fashion, bold ombre statement, drop fading is the technique to request. Be prepared to book regular appointments to keep the regrowth touched up. Drop fading works best on shoulder length or longer hair.

Discuss your lifestyle, hair goals, length and budget with your stylist. They can recommend whether burst fade or drop fade will give you the look you want with the maintenance level required. A skilled colorist can even customize the application to give you dimensions of both techniques.

FAQ about burst and drop fading

Does burst or drop fading cause more damage?

It depends on the exact lightening and coloring products used. Generally, both techniques cause some degree of hair damage when lifting the underlying pigment. However, done properly, burst and drop fading don’t have to excessively compromise hair’s health. A reputable colorist will do a strand test and use Olaplex or similar bonding treatments to minimize damage.

Does one last longer than the other?

There’s no significant difference in the longevity of the two techniques. How long your color lasts mainly depends on your unique hair characteristics, the products used and how you maintain the color. Following professional suggestions for shampooing and conditioning at home will give you the maximum lasting results from either fade technique.

Which works best for dark hair?

Both burst and drop fading can be done on dark hair, however drop fading tends to look more natural. The contrast of dark roots into lighter ends enhances dark hair beautifully. Burst fading on very dark hair can sometimes result in a harsher look between the light pieces and base.

Is one better for covering grays?

Burst fading blends away grays more seamlessly since there is no definite line of demarcation. The soft highlighted pieces disguise gray regrowth gradually. Drop fading leaves the roots dark, so gray hairs will be more noticeable. Go with burst fading if completely covering grays is your priority.

Can you do both on the same head?

Absolutely! Combining both techniques can give you gorgeous dimension and customization. Your stylist may recommend doing a drop fade concentrated on the mid-lengths and ends, with burst fading through the roots and upper lengths. This gives you a modern, balayaged ombre effect. Be specific about your goals to help your colorist determine the best blending of techniques.


While drop and burst fading are similar ombre hair coloring techniques, they produce very different looks. Burst fading offers soft, diffused highlights with subtle regrowth. Drop fading has bold, defined contrast perfect for making a statement. Talk to an experienced colorist about whether lightening your lengths, ends or both will achieve the beautiful, low-maintenance look you want. With the right technique and proper care, you can enjoy gorgeous fade effects.