How to Choose Between Partial and Full Highlights for Your Hair

March 24, 2023
How to Choose Between Partial and Full Highlights for Your Hair

When you’re ready to schedule a highlight appointment, you may encounter a crucial question: partial or full highlights? If you’re unsure about the distinction (aside from wanting highlights that would impress even Jennifer Aniston), you’re not alone.

Given the various techniques and finishes available, it can be difficult to determine which one is most appropriate for us and how to select a highlight hue or method. While a competent hairstylist should employ their knowledge to help you comprehend the disparity, you may not have found your go-to yet. We enlisted the help of celebrity colorists Jafra Bryant and Reece Walker to provide guidance on how to make this decision. This article contains everything you need to know about partial highlights, such as their advantages, how to pick them, and how they differ from full highlights.

The Experts

What Are Highlights? 

What Are Highlights?

To create highlights, bleach is applied to the desired areas to achieve brightness, while the natural color is utilized for dimension. Bryant typically opts for the traditional technique of foil highlighting. “This method is more popular because it’s foolproof and efficient in producing a lifting or lightening effect,” Bryant explains. Foiling is a straightforward process, she notes: “Isolate the sections, place them in foil, apply enough bleach to saturate the hair, and feather up or down for a seamless blend that can be adjusted later with gloss.” Depending on the developer and stylist employed, colorists may or may not use heat, resulting in a range of outcomes from subtle and natural to a bright blonde. “Using foil also allows me to incorporate multiple shades in the highlighting service, resulting in a gentle blend between the client’s natural color and the blonde highlights,” Walker adds.

Highlights are carefully positioned streaks of color that are brighter than the hair’s natural shade. They can be applied in a structured pattern using foils or with a freehand painting method like balayage. Each approach and technique differs significantly but can achieve a comparable outcome depending on the hair’s requirements.

Bryant notes that all highlighting techniques have their own subcategories, and every stylist approaches the process differently to achieve the desired result. “There is no right or wrong way; it is all a form of art.”

What Are Partial Highlights?

Partial highlights are a less structured highlighting approach, akin to balayage, that can be gentler since it involves painting “open-air.” It is often recommended for those who desire warmer highlights, but not exclusively. “Balayage can be just as bright as foils these days, especially with the new anti-breakage and ashy toners we have now,” notes Bryant. The colorist believes that balayage can be gentler due to the varying levels of saturation and heat conductors used in the technique, which can produce a higher lift without relying on foils for heat.

Partial highlights are applied to specific sections, typically around the face, to create a brighter, face-framing effect. Some stylists may consider the entire top half or top and side sections of the head to be a partial highlight. “You can also request your colorist to incorporate the hair underneath, giving the appearance of more highlights when your hair is styled up,” Bryant advises.

Partial highlights are an excellent choice for those who desire a natural look, as they are intended to lighten the hair in the same way as the sun. “It’s perfect for a quick brightening or root touch-up if you part your hair the same way every day,” suggests Walker. It is also an excellent option for those who are new to hair coloring and want to experiment with adding some color.

What Are Full Highlights?

A full highlight encompasses highlighting all sections of the hair on your head. This could involve slightly lightening all of your hair or, for a more striking change, transitioning from brunette to blonde. Full highlights provide a more dramatic look, as they encompass the entire head (such as perfectly painted balayage, multidimensional full-foil highlights, or a combination of partial and full highlights). “The primary advantage is having every strand highlighted, ensuring the color looks amazing no matter how you wear your hair,” explains Bryant.

Partial Highlights vs. Full Highlights

Partial Highlights vs. Full Highlights

To save on expenses, alternating between full and partial highlight appointments can be more cost-effective since highlights placed at the back of the head don’t have the same growth as those at the top. “I’ve learned to balance them both when needed,” says Bryant, who prefers doing a full highlight once or twice a year and mostly partial highlights or an occasional face frame, depending on the desired look. “This way, clients can save both time and money while maintaining fabulous color and avoiding getting stuck in a rut.”

Related: Top Hair Color Trends for Spring 2023: Baby Blonde and Deep Copper Shades

The Benefits of Partial Highlights

  • Less expensive: On average, partial highlights are typically less expensive than full highlight services. “Most partials will cost about $100 less than fulls,” says Bryant.
  • Less damage: Because only a few sections of hair are highlighted, partial highlights may result in less hair damage compared to a full highlight.
  • It looks more natural: Partial highlights tend to appear softer and more natural because the base color of the hair is still visible.
  • Low maintenance: Partial highlights result in less visible new growth when compared to full highlights. According to Bryant, the time between needing a full highlight can stretch beyond four to five months, depending on factors such as natural hair color, placement of highlights, and desired brightness.

 The Benefits of Full Highlights

The Benefits of Full Highlights
  • Big change: Full highlights are an ideal choice for individuals who desire a transition from dark to light hair color.
  • Great for fine hair: Full highlights can add texture and dimension to the hair, creating a multi-dimensional and vibrant look.
  • Endless options: The range of highlight options is vast, from subtle blonde highlights to bold and colorful highlights.
  • Versatile: Bryant suggests that regardless of whether you wear your hair half up, half down, in braids, or switch between curly and straight textures, the color will still look great.

Do Partial Highlights Work For All Hair Colors?

Partially yes and partially no. According to Bryant, partial highlights can work for anyone, regardless of their hair color depth. However, he cautions that only opting for partial highlights may not be the best choice. “The reason I’d say no is that some people think that partial highlights alone will provide a fully done look or be more affordable,” he explains. Bryant points out that solely doing partial highlights can result in a disconnected appearance, where the hair underneath does not blend well with the top color.

Products That Can Help You Enhance Your Highlights

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How to Choose Between Partial and Full Highlights

According to hair experts Walker and Bryant, partial highlights are a great option for those who don’t want a lot of regrowth, have limited time, and want to maintain the health of their hair. Partial highlights work well for those with low maintenance highlights such as warmer shades who don’t mind a bit of root showing from time to time. Blonde clients often alternate between full and partial highlights, opting for full highlights every second appointment.

When the back of the head appears too dark on a ponytail, it’s time for a full highlight. Bryant explains that full highlights provide a cohesive look all around the head, with the level of grow-out depending on the desired color outcome. While full highlights require more maintenance, sticking to full highlights can keep hair color looking updated at all times.

Both experts agree that spacing out highlights and alternating between partial and full highlights can help maintain hair integrity. For those with long hair, Bryant suggests booking a full highlight after three rounds of partials, unless the client prefers to maintain the depth underneath. It’s important to ask the colorist what to book for the next appointment, as a full highlight may be needed after a few rounds of partials depending on the root growth.

The Final Takeaway

The process of choosing between partial and full highlights can be confusing for most people, and it is up to the colorist to educate them about the upkeep required to maintain their desired look. “It’s crucial to find a colorist who understands the nuances of foiling, free-handing, and can adapt to your needs,” advises Bryant. Additionally, it’s essential to remember that the final decision on highlighting options doesn’t have to be made when booking the appointment. A good stylist should be open to consultation and flexible enough to make adjustments on the day of the appointment if needed.

Photo: Pexels/ Heitor Verdi

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Margaud Raynaud is a beauty expert with over 10 years of experience in the industry. She has a passion for sharing her knowledge and tips with others and has a particular interest in skincare and makeup. When she's not writing about health and beauty, Margaud enjoys trying out new products and experimenting with different looks. Follow her blog for expert advice and inspiration for living your best life.

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