Smiling Young Woman With a Wavy Hair and Partial Highlights

When you decide to change your look by dyeing your hair, you may have the same question: What’s the best color to dye your hair?

That decision alone opens you up to a world of endless terms like balayage, gloss, root smudge, foilyage, toning and highlights. If you decide to go with highlights, the dilemma comes in choosing between partial vs. full highlights.

Depending on the salon and the hair stylist, you will need to specify the exact service you want when booking your appointment or rely on the suggestions of your hairstylist.

It makes sense to go into your appointment with some knowledge of what partial and full highlights are all about, as with anything that involves your hair, highlighting your hair is both an art and a science.

The hairstylist will take a segment of your hair and separate it from the rest, usually with a piece of aluminum foil. Inside the foil, the hair is soaked with a bleaching agent to help lift the color unless you opt for bleach-free hair lightening, which takes longer.

The hairstylist applies heat or leaves the foiled hair to air dry during the process. Each option results in a brighter and softer tone.

Stylists try and variegate colors in subtle ways to create a more natural look. Depending on your stylist’s expertise and preferences, the results can be a natural hue or a more noticeable color change.

There are several options for the highlighting itself, but full highlights are the most common. This article touches on the differences between partial and full highlights and how to choose between the two.

Difference Between Partial and Full Highlights

We’ve got you covered if you’re unsure about the difference between partial and complete highlights or can’t decide on the best for you.

What Are Partial Highlights

Unlike full or partial balayage hair, highlighting your hair means committing to serious upkeep. With partial highlights, however, the stylist only lightens your hair, so there isn’t a lot of upkeep involved.

Partial highlights include face-framing highlights or finely distributed highlights like babylights. This technique focuses on placing color in specific areas rather than all over. While the change is subtle, it can still significantly impact your overall look.

The application involves isolating a few strands and placing them in foil. Depending on the shade you want, the strands are treated with bleach, toner, or hair color.

This equates to less time on the chair and a cheaper process. Some women like experimenting with partial highlights on top of existing hair dye or at the tips of the hair.

Partial highlights are ideal for anyone who wants subtle or high-contrast dimensions. Going lighter on several strands can transform your look. It is also the best option if you want to change your hair but don’t want a high-commitment look.

The best thing about partial hair highlights is that they can work for any hair type, from brown hair to dark hair and brunette or a combination of hair textures.

What Are Full Highlights

Full highlights create a more dramatic color change. While it doesn’t involve completely dyeing all your hair, you will still be making more even and defined color lifts through your hair.

Full highlights can also be subtle, dramatic or chunky, depending on your preferences. Full highlights are often created to mimic a beachy, sun-kissed effect, but it isn’t the same as getting balayage. An example of full highlights is the classic blonde hair with dark highlights.

Full highlights are ideal for anyone who wants that all-over color change, whether that means a color change without entirely bleaching your hair or you’ve dyed your hair but want to add dimension.

Ideally, full highlights create a lighter look different from partial highlights. As a result, it may require more maintenance.

Partial vs Full Highlights

Pros and Cons of Partial Highlights

If you haven’t yet decided on partial highlights, we’ve got the best and worst of this hair coloring technique to make you make a more informed choice.


  • Since partial highlights involve bleaching a few stands, they are less damaging to your strands.
  • They are cheaper to get than full highlights and balayage.
  • You can place the highlights where you want to create the effect of the sun naturally, lightening the front sections of your hair.


  • The highlights make it impossible to see most of the color if you wear your hair in an updo style, like a ponytail. So, if you want your highlights to pop, avoid wearing a ponytail instead, and let your hair hang loose.
  • If you desire to go full blonde or have a significant color change, you can’t do that with partial highlights since you will always have most of your hair showing your natural color.

Pros and Cons of Full Highlights

Considering full highlights, what are the pros and cons of this hair coloring technique?


  • You can easily go from dark to light without necessarily bleaching all your hair.
  • You can choose for your hair to look as natural or dramatic as you like. Full highlights are one chance to rock daring hairstyles like fun purple highlights.


  • While they are not as expensive as balayage, full highlights can be more costly than partial highlights.
  • The technique involves lightening all your hair, so you can expect significant hair damage.

How to Choose Between Partial and Full Highlights

Partial highlights are an excellent option for those who don’t want to have a lot of regrowth, don’t have the time and energy for overly high-maintenance hairstyles and want to keep their hair in good health.

Full highlights are more of a high-maintenance style. Full highlights, however, give your hair that natural, sun-kissed glow. If you want color consistency and aren’t scared of costly salon visits, you can confidently opt for full highlights.

Another reason to go for full highlights is if you want to transition from darker hair to blonde locks without putting your hair through too much damage that results due to multiple coloring sessions.

Maintenance of Highlighted Hair

After getting your full or partial highlights, it’s up to you to find the best techniques to maintain your lightened strands.

Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to maintaining newly highlighted hair:

Keep Your Hair Brass-Free

One of the common issues with highlighted hair is when the strands turn brassy over time, mainly if you use a dark base color when getting highlights.

To prevent this brassy look, use purple shampoo and conditioner to eliminate any unwanted yellow or orange tones on your highlighted mane.

Keep Up With Your Salon Appointments

Believe us, blonde with dark roots look sophisticated, but if you don’t keep up with your salon appointments, you can have a washed-up look, and no one wants that.

Most people prefer to avoid grown-out roots due to the regular touch-ups required. However, if you want your highlighted hair always to look good, book an appointment with an experienced hair colorist from time to time.

Keep Your Hair Smooth and Shiny

Partial and full highlights only look good on healthier and shiners strands. So, do avoid dull and frizzy hair after coloring it. To make bleached hair silky and smooth, apply oil daily and use a deep conditioner to moisturize it.

Use Color-Safe Formulas

Consider investing in proper products whenever you choose to highlight your hair. Color-safe products like shampoos and conditioners are specifically formulated to minimize fade. Some products contain color-boosting pigments that help keep your hair looking vibrant and healthy.

Woman With a Long Hair With Blonde Highlights


Do partial highlights work for all hair colors?

Yes and no. Anyone can sport partial highlights regarding different levels and depths of hair color. The problem comes when one assumes that partial highlights are the cheaper option to make it look like you lightened all your hair.

Partial highlights only lighten a few sections of the hair. If you want the full glow, then you must be willing to spend more on full highlights.

Do partial highlights damage your hair less than full highlights?

Since you only highlight a few sections, partial highlights result in less hair damage than full highlights.

How long do partial highlights last? What about full highlights?

Partial highlights usually last between 4 to 6 weeks, while full highlights can last for 6 to 8 weeks. However, this depends on factors like your hair care routine, hair texture, how the highlights were done and how healthy or damaged your hair is.

How often do highlights need to be touched up?

Highlights require touch-ups every 6 to 8 weeks to maintain the look.

How much do highlights usually cost?

On average, highlights can cost between $60 to $130.

Do you need to bleach your hair before getting highlights?

You shouldn’t bleach your color before highlighting it.

Michele Antunes

About the author: Michele Antunes

Michele Meesh Antunes is the lady of the Beardoholic writers team and a genius when it comes to hair and beard styles that suit any face shape. She’s been a barber for years now and, no matter your personal style, she knows exactly what beard, hairstyle and length suit you. She brings the women’s perspective on beards, beard care, haircuts and hairstyles and male grooming.

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