Balin was born Ina Rosenberg to a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated from high school at age 15 after having spent five years at a boarding school in Pennsylvania.
Balin first appeared on television on The Perry Como Show.
She guest-starred on dozens of television shows, including Wonder Woman, Adventures in Paradise, Bonanza, The Lieutenant, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Battlestar Galactica, Get Smart, It Takes a Thief, Ironside, Twelve O'Clock High, Quincy, M.E. and Magnum, P.I. She appeared with Joseph Cotten, Fernando Lamas and Dean Jagger in the 1969 made-for-television movie The Lonely Profession.
Balin did summer stock, which led to roles on Broadway. She first starred on Broadway in Compulsion, portraying Ruth. In 1959, she had the role of Alice Black in the comedy, A Majority of One.
In 1959, Balin landed her first film role in The Black Orchid. She was Paul Newman's love interest in the 1960 screen adaptation of John O'Hara's From the Terrace. In 1961, she appeared as Pilar Graile in The Comancheros with John Wayne and Stuart Whitman. Co-starring with Jerry Lewis in the 1964 hit comedy The Patsy, Balin also had a secondary part in 1965's The Greatest Story Ever Told. She also co-starred with Elvis Presley in his 1969 film Charro! She co-starred in the 1971 film The Projectionist. She also co-starred in the 1982 comedy The Comeback Trail, and she appeared in The Young Doctors.
In 1966, Balin toured Vietnam with the USO on the first of many trips to the war-torn region. In 1975, she aided in the evacuation of orphans during the fall of Saigon. Eventually, she adopted three of these orphaned children. In 1980, she played herself in a made-for-television movie based on her experiences, The Children of An Lac.
While working on The Children of An Lac, she became acquainted with Christy Marx who, at the time, worked as a producer's liaison for various television programs. According to Marx, she used Balin's story as a basis for a character in the animated show Jem when she became a writer. The character of Ba Nee is based on Balin's adopted daughter, Ba-Nhi. Ba Nee's obsession with and struggle to find her birth father are the focus of several episodes of Jem.
Balin died on June 20, 1990, in New Haven, Connecticut, aged 52, from pulmonary hypertension brought on by coronary heart disease. A single mother, she was survived by her three children, Nguyet Baty, Ba-Nhi Mai, and Kim Thuy.
In 1959, Balin won the Theatre World Award for her performance in the Broadway comedy, A Majority of One. In 1961, Balin won the New Star of the Year-Actress Golden Globe Award, and she was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress — Motion Picture — both for her performance in From the Terrace.The Black Orchid (1958) - Mary Valente
From the Terrace (1960) - Natalie Benzinger
The Young Doctors (1961) - Cathy Hunt
The Comancheros (1961) - Pilar Graile
The Patsy (1964) - Ellen Betz
Act of Reprisal (1964) - Eleni
The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) - Martha of Bethany
Run Like a Thief (1967) - Mona Shannon
Charro! (1969) - Tracey Winters
The Lonely Profession (1969, TV movie) - Karen Menardos
Desperate Mission (1969) - Otilia Ruiz
The Projectionist (1971) - The Girl
Call to Danger (1973, TV movie) - Marla Hayes
The Don Is Dead (1973) - Nella
Panic on the 5:22 (1974, TV movie) - Countess Hedy Maria Tovarese
The Immigrants (1978, TV movie) - Maria Cassala
Galyon (1980) - Janet Davis
The Children of An Lac (1980, TV movie) - Ina Balin
The Comeback Trail (1982) - Julie Thomas
Vasectomy: A Delicate Matter (1986) - Regine
That's Adequate (1989) - Sister Mary Enquirer (final film role)