Partial Highlights vs. Full Highlights: Everything You Need to Know

Give your hair some subtle dimension.

At one point or another, we all get bored with our hair. One way to beat hair boredom is to mix up your look by playing with color. However, a complete color change might not be the best option for you, as the commitment to the upkeep can be a lot! If full highlights aren’t for you, partial highlights might be a better fit.

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 among celebs and the street style set, these low-commitment highlights are a super low-maintenance option. 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:

Partial Highlights

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

Highlighting your hair generally means committing to serious upkeep. With partial highlights, you are lightening up hair, but the difference is ever so subtle. This includes highlights that frame your face 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 much cheaper. Some people also experiment with partial highlights on the tips of their hair or on top of an existing dyed color.

Full Highlights

messy wavy hair highlights
Opt for highlights that will draw more attention to your waves. Photo Credit: Craig Alexander

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 colorist strives to get the color just right. This process also involves foils, and in some instances caps.

Care for Highlights

Now that you got your coveted highlights, you’ll want to keep them vibrant for 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 shade. However, if you want the look to last, you’ll have to visit your colorist every four to six weeks, especially as your roots start to grow out.

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. We love SheaMoisture Purple Rice Water Strength & Color Care Shampoo and 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 Nexxus Color Assure Long Lasting Vibrancy Deep Moisture Masque.

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. Ready to take the partial highlight plunge? Read on for ways to style them:

1. Face-Framing Highlights

how to make your hair thinner brunette bob highlights
Try partial face-framing highlights.

Adding loose waves to your hair is a great way to give it some body and show off face-framing highlights. Get the most lift out of your hair by doing an at-home blowout.

2. Effortless Layers

light hair for summer highlights
Lighten up in the heat. Photo credit: indigitalimages.com

Adding longer layers to your look is a great way to emphasize partial highlights.

3. Soft Wavy Balayage

partial hair highlights blonde tones
Add some subtle blonde tones to bring out your brown with highlights. Photo credit: Indigitalimages.com

For soft, summery, natural-looking partial highlights, wear your hair wavy or ask for some balayage tones. This will emphasize the natural beach-babe vibe you’ve got going on! Use a small-barreled curling iron set on low to curl your hair. Wrap small sections around the iron starting at your mid-shaft, and only let the hair sit on the barrel for a few seconds. This helps give you fresh-from-the-beach bends, which we will happily channel in the dead of winter.

4. Contrasted Partial Highlights

partial highlights
Try more of a contrast in your partial highlights.

Another good way to emphasize your face-framing highlights is to create more of a contrast between colors with your partial highlights.

5. Sleek Pony

partial hair highlights
Accentuate your highlights by rocking a ponytail. Photo credit: Indigitalimages.com

A sleek pony can show off the cool color change between the top and bottom halves of your hair. Because there is no texture, you get a clear line where your partial highlights start and stop. For the ultimate sleek, frizz-free finish, we always recommend using a serum. Suave Professionals Keratin Infusion Smoothing Hair Serum is a good choice for color-treated hair because it helps hydrate, smooth, and eliminate frizz. Blow-dry your hair as usual, then flat-iron your hair into a straight, sleek hairstyle. Loop your hair into a low ponytail and you’re all set!

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