What are Partial Highlights vs. Full Highlights?

Serena Norr | 31 March 2016

Lighten up your hair with highlights this season.

We all get bored with our hair. Like, really, really bored. And that’s cool. One way to beat the hair doldrums is to mix up your look by playing with color.

From pink hair to bronde to ashy gray, there’s literally a color out there for everyone.

However, maybe a full color change isn’t your thing. The commitment, the time, the choice. It can be too much! Another option is to dip (ever so slightly) into coloring your hair by trying out partial highlights. Unlike full highlights that cover most of your hair, partial highlights are generally placed around your face to accentuate your features and brighten up your natural hair color. Popular amongst celebs and the street style set, these low-commitment highlights are a super low-maintenance option, so much so that if you get sick of them you can easily grow them out or cover them. Read on to learn more about the differences between partial highlights and full highlights to figure out which color change option is best for you.

Breaking Down the Basics: What are Partial Highlights?

partial highlights on blonde hair
Lighten up this summer with some highlights.

Highlighting your hair generally means commitment and serious upkeep. With partial highlights you are lightening up hair, but the difference is it is every so subtle. This includes highlights that frame your face, your bangs or are finely distributed throughout your hair (a.k.a babylights). The actual application includes isolating select strands by placing them in foil (you’ll work with your stylist to determine which locks in particular are going to get lightened), and those are then treated with bleach, hair color or a toner, depending on the exact shade you’re seeking. This usually equates to less time in the chair and also makes for a process that’s cheaper. Some people also experiment with partial highlights on the tips of their hair or on top of an existing dyed color.

partial highlights to try out
Partial highlights are a great way to define your color.

What are Full Highlights?

Full highlights, on the other hand, create a dramatic, all-over color change. While you aren’t completely dyeing your entire head, you are creating more even and defined color lifts throughout your hair. They can also be subtle, chunky or dramatic, depending on your preferences. In many instances, full highlights are created to mimic the way your hair looks as if you had a two-month vacation in St. Tropez—you know, that all-over glow as your hair looks like it was kissed by the sun. While we love this look, you should know that it will require some time at your hairdresser’s as your colorists strives to get the color just right. This process also involves foils, and in some instances caps.

Highlight Maintenance Tips

Now that you got your coveted highlights, you’ll want to keep them vibrant as long as possible. As we mentioned, in the instance of partial highlights, they can easily grow out and look natural throughout your hair. This is also true for full highlights, if the color wasn’t a huge departure from your natural one. However, if you want the look to last, you’ll have to visit your colorist every four to six weeks, especially if your roots are starting to grow out too much.

During this time, you’ll also need a trim to maintain the health of your hair. In-between color touch-ups, you’ll also need to maintain the vibrancy and moisture of your hair by using a color-treated shampoo and conditioner like Suave Moroccan Infusion Color Care Shampoo and the Suave Moroccan Infusion Color Care Conditioner. Another way to pump up your hair with much-needed moisture is to include a deep conditioner and/or hair mask into your hair care regimen, like the Suave Professionals Coconut Milk Infusion Intense Moisture Mask.

Highlights are a fun way to mix up your look without committing to a huge change. Whether you love an all-over effect or something more subtle, there’s an option out there for you.

Looking for more info on partial highlights? Check out these really cool brown highlights.


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