Partial Vs Full Highlights: The Main Differences

Last Updated on February 12, 2024

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Hair highlights are a great way to brighten up your hair and bring out the blue tones in your complexion without going completely blonde. Many people love the texture, dimension, and glow that highlights give to their hair. When going in for a consultation with your hairdresser, they may ask you whether you want partial highlights or full highlights, so what are the differences?

Full highlights are streaks of blonde evenly dispersed throughout dark hair with a brown-to-blonde ombre effect, where contrast colors are more noticeable near the roots. Partial highlights are created with just a few streaks of lightened hair, leaving most of the hair its natural color.

To learn more about these differences and find out which style is best for you, continue reading!

What Are Partial Highlights?

Partial highlights are a simple and subtle alternative to traditional, full highlights. This is because fewer strands of hair are actually highlighted, so most of your natural, darker hair color (or your dark hair if you dyed it previously) shows through. Usually, the partial highlight placement is more focused at the front of the face where the hair gets the most sunlight. It also works to frame the face and add a bit of glow.

There are also a few other small streaks of highlights throughout the top layer of the head, but they are more spaced out and only the outer layers are highlighted. Depending on how many highlights are added to the hair, it provides a ton of body and dimension to your hair as a whole, especially because these highlights provide a ton of contrast. Some people opt for more subtle, darker-colored highlights that are still lighter than the rest of their hair, such as light brown highlights against black hair, whereas others go for brighter blonde highlights against brown hair.

What Are Full Highlights?

Full highlights are a more traditional, yet more dramatic look in comparison to partial highlights. There are several more strands of hair that are lightened, so there are very fewer strands of your natural hair showing through. The full highlights usually start around an inch or two from the root, so this gives off a brown-to-blonde ombre-like effect to your whole head.

Many people refer to this style as balayage, especially if the highlights are very dramatic. These highlights are generally more densely close together and, in some cases, can be done in such a way that they create several dimensions of gold and brown shades of hair. Full highlights also create a more dramatic change to your hair than a set of partial highlights.

Partial vs. Full Highlights Differences

The biggest difference between partial and full highlights is how much of the hair is highlighted, or how bright the hair is overall. Full highlighting generally is a longer, more involved process, and several more sections of the hair are bleached and wrapped in foils, and the bleach stays soaking into the hair for much longer before it is washed out and toned. Partial highlights generally require less time and there are fewer strands of hair getting bleached and wrapped in foil.

Often the foils are not left on quite as long before the bleach is washed out, and sometimes the bleach is not toned afterward in order to create a more subtle warm highlight effect to the warm brown hair.

More ashy-toned partial highlights can be accomplished for cool-toned hair, and the foils will stay on a bit longer, but there will still be fewer foils dispersed through the hair. You can usually tell if someone with dark roots has partial or full highlights: if their hair is mostly dark, they have partial highlights, and if their hair is mostly light, they have full highlights.

It may help you to better distinguish the differences if you think of partial and full highlights this way: partial highlights are half of your hair volume or less highlighted, whereas full highlights are full to half of the volume of your hair highlighted. Generally, full highlights involve bleaching every strand of hair, though a full set of highlights can be a bit less than that. A partial highlight is bleaching half of your hair volume or less.

Why People Prefer Partial Highlights

People generally prefer partial highlights because it’s more subtle and creates extra texture and dimension to their dark hair while adding a hint of glow. These highlights take less time to get done, and because it involves less product and less work on the hairdresser, they are generally less expensive. Because there is less bleach involved, there’s less chance for your hair to get damaged overall from partial highlights.

Why People Prefer Full Highlights

A reason that people prefer full highlights over partial highlights is that they want to have a lighter, blonder look overall, with less of their darker, natural hair color showing through, other than at the roots. Full highlights are more dramatic and are most similar to bleaching all of your hair without even touching the roots.

You can also choose to go a bit less dramatic, depending on how intense you want the blonde to be and how long and numerous the highlights are. Full highlights are also very versatile. You can get chunky, dimensional highlights with streaks of various shades of blonde from the root down, or create more of an ombre effect where the roots are brown and gradually grow lighter further down the length of the hair.

How to Find the Best Highlighting Style for Your Hair

Finding the best highlighting style really just depends on personal preference. The partial highlights can create more of that divided highlight look, whereas the lighter strands of hair are more broken up and subtle. The full highlight creates more of a balayage or ombre look, and you will end up with a more dramatic result than if you got the partial highlight.

If you want to go more blonde, we suggest the full highlight. Just be prepared for a longer process for full highlights because the lightener product needs to be layered and dispersed more throughout the hair’s volume. If you’re looking for a little bit of an extra glow to your hair but don’t want to commit to a full head of highlights, we recommend going with partial highlights.

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