partial vs full highlights blonde
Photo: @looksbyleece

As with anything, highlighting your hair is both an art and a science. Find out the differences between partial and full highlights.

If you’re like most of us, you have a routine, a plan, a schedule, a way things are going to go. Not only does this help you stay on task and on point, but also it keeps you stable and ready for anything. For example, an unexpected road trip, rent an SUV, riding a bike, or going on a date.

When it comes to beauty and health, this is a winning formula for success but it’s not the best MO for your hair. That’s one area where you need to know your options. For example, maybe you always get full highlights. There’s nothing wrong with that. But partial highlights can really change up your look.

How so?

To start, there are some pretty big differences between partial and full highlights.

They’re not the same thing. If you’ve ever asked yourself “what are partial highlights?” then we have an answer that will help you choose between these two popular options to help you keep your look dynamic and cutting edge. We’ll delve into how you can change your look as well as what the main differences are between partial vs full highlights.

Highlighting Your Hair: The Process

Partial vs full highlights blonde - before and after photos
Partial vs full highlights blonde

As with anything, highlighting your hair is both an art and a science. Typically, stylists will take the segment of hair to be highlighted and cordon it off from the rest of your natural hair, typically with a piece of foil. Inside of this foil, your hair is soaked with a bleaching agent that helps lift the color.

During this time, some stylists will apply heat or let the foiled hair air dry with each option resulting in a bright or softer tone depending on the stylist’s application and client’s preferences. Stylists will often variegate colors in subtle ways for a more natural look and, again, depending on the client’s preferences can bring out a natural hue or more noticeable color change. As for highlighting itself, there are a number of options in how this can be approached with full highlights being one of the more popular options.

Full Highlights

Full highlights before and after

Full highlights are distinguished from others by their area of coverage which is the entire head. Again, the amount of highlighting depends on the client’s preferences for color and you can even mix highlights with lowlights for color variation and a dynamic look. Typically used to add depth and definition, full highlights can also alter and shift one’s hair color to a lighter tone. Again, working in consultation with their stylists, clients can choose from a range of options that work in any of these categories: Depth, dimension, or color alteration. The main advantage of full highlights is that they often present in a uniform and consistent way that many clients appreciate and that can be likened to having a natural appearance.

What Are Partial Highlights?

Partial highlights on brown hair
Partial highlights on brown hair

Unlike full highlights, partial highlights do not offer full coverage and, instead, are targeted areas of color alteration. If you’re debating between partial highlights vs full highlights, it might help to consult with a stylist about what your final goals are.

Typically, however, partial highlights refer to only the top and sides of the head for most stylists and, given this placement, is often used as a framing mechanism for the rest of the face. Partial highlights are an awesome, subtle option for changing hair color and can help clients ease into a new look due to the less drastic effect they have on the hair’s overall appearance when compared with full highlights.

Partial Highlights vs Full Highlights: Benefits and Considerations

Right out of the gate, one of the biggest benefits to keep in mind when debating between partial highlights or full highlights is the cost. Full highlights cost way more than partial highlights and, if budget is an issue, this is something to keep in mind.

To defray the costs of highlighting hair, some stylists recommend alternating between full and partial highlighting treatments to keep hair in top shape while doing minimal damage to your wallet. But make no mistake: Upkeep and maintenance are part and parcel with either treatment in order to keep it looking fresh, vibrant, and beautiful. After all, over time, color fades and, as a new hair grows in, this can lead to a messy look.

With that out of the way, let’s delve into some of the specific benefits of each treatment option:

The Benefits of Partial Highlights

pictures of partial highlights
  • Cheaper and more cost-efficient over time: There’s also the consideration for the time spent in a salon maintaining your look.
  • Less damaging to the hair: Full application of hair color tends to damage even the strongest hair. If you have hair that is prone to breakage or damage, then a full treatment might not be the best option for you.
  • Natural look: Partial highlights aren’t meant to convey massive change. Don’t get us wrong, you can still get some drastic looks, but everything is more subdued when compared with a full treatment.
  • Low maintenance: Less money and time in the salon by far when compared with the maintenance schedule for a full treatment. 

The Benefits of Full Highlights

full highlights vs balayage
  • Dramatic change: If you want to make a noticeable change in your hair’s color, there’s no better way to do it than full highlights.
  • Adds Texture and Depth to Fine Hair: Full highlights can add depth, dimension, and give fine hair a sense of dynamic movement.
  • Variety of Styling Options: Whether you’re going for a big change or you want to do something avant-garde, full highlighting promises to deliver.
  • Aesthetic Versatility

Partial Highlights: What Shades Work Best?

How do you tone partial highlights

One of the biggest questions clients have about partial highlights is whether or not they work with all shades of hair. The answer really depends on the client’s desired look and the current hair color more than anything else but, more often than not, people who want a dramatic change will not be satisfied with a partial treatment. This is mainly because it is incapable of offering the coherent aesthetic and complete coverage that a full treatment gives.

Partial highlights on black hair

Partial highlights on black hair can be achieved in a variety of ways, such as natural-looking partial balayage, chestnut highlights, deep purple highlights, brown and caramel blonde highlights, rose gold highlights, copper highlights, or caramel locks.

Partial highlights on black hair can be done at home with a box dye containing bleach and deposit color or by visiting a salon for professional highlights. When highlighting black hair, it is best to aim for lighter, creamy highlights to add dimension and texture without drastically changing the overall look.

Considerations for Partial Highlights vs Full Highlights

Should I get partial highlights or full highlights

Partial highlights tend to be better for clients that don’t have a lot of time to spend on maintenance and are comfortable with new growth showing. They’re also great for clients that want a refresh without breaking the bank. Conversely, clients seeking a dramatic change often alternate between full and partial treatments in order to maintain their look.

This can often be expensive but also very time-consuming. In this configuration, visible roots can ruin the overall aesthetic appearance of the hair and need to be addressed as soon as possible. If you are often crunched for time or you can’t imagine yourself visiting a salon roughly every six weeks, a full treatment might not be the best option for you.

How to Choose the Right Highlights for Brown Hair

How to Choose the Right Highlights for Brown Hair
(Photo: influence.thesalon/Instagram).

Brown hair can be tricky to highlight because it can turn out looking too yellow or orange. There are a lot of factors that go into choosing the right highlights for brown hair.

Some people may have reddish hair, but not necessarily brown hair, so it is important to take this into consideration when highlighting. For example, highlights might work for someone with dirty blonde hair but not for someone with reddish-brown hair.

The color of your skin should also be taken into account when considering the best highlights for brown hair because they should contrast with your skin tone for them to look natural.

Tips on How to Get the Best Results from Highlights on Brown Hair

It is of the utmost importance to know what tones of brown hair will best suit your skin tone. You can either consult with a hairstylist or search online for the best color combinations.

Know that you need to invest in quality products if you want your highlights to last more than six weeks. The higher quality the products, the longer the product will last. This is why it is important for you to research and invest in reputable brands.

Don’t forget that it’s not just about striking color combinations; you also need to be mindful of how expensive these types of services are and which one makes sense for your budget.

Being aware of the price range before getting started with full highlights on brown hair will help you decide what kind of products to invest in.

The best thing about using a dye is that it is an easy and fast process, which only takes around 20 minutes from start to finish. The color appears in the hair when you use a hair dye, so anyone with brown hair can add highlights in just a few steps. You must choose the right dye for this type of application to get the desired result.

Working with a Stylist You Trust

A confident stylist that knows how to help the client realize her dreams will be able to guide you through what will achieve those results. Whether it is a full treatment or partial highlights, don’t be afraid to embrace change and work with new techniques that can help you achieve the look you desire.

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The highlighting technique is an important decision that should be made with care. It is best to ask your stylist for their opinion before you decide which one is right for you.

In this article, I have compared the two highlighting techniques. I have discussed the difference between partial highlights and full highlights and their benefits and drawbacks. Full highlights are brighter and more noticeable than partial highlights. Partial highlights are a more subtle way to add dimension to your hair color.

The intention of this article is to give expert tips about how these two types of highlights work and what they look like with real before and after pictures and examples. You can do a minor update to your hair color by adding partial highlights or going the full highlights route.

Associate Editor at | Website

Iskra Banović is our seasoned Editor-in-Chief at BlueFashion. She has been steering the website's content and editorial direction since 2013. With a rich background in fashion design, Iskra's expertise spans across fashion, interior design, beauty, lifestyle, travel, and culture.

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    • Avatar of Iskra Banović

      Thank you so much for your kind words! I’m delighted to hear that the explanations were helpful for you. Choosing the right hair color can be a fun yet challenging decision, and I’m glad I could assist in making it a bit easier. If you have any more questions or need further guidance, feel free to ask. Happy coloring!

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