What’s the Difference Between Partial and Full Highlights?

You want highlights to spice up your hair but aren’t sure if you want partial or full highlights? What’s the difference between partial and full highlights anyway? We explain how to get each look and how to decide which one may be the right fit for you (hint: the answer may be both!). Accompanied by 10 photos of each style, you’ll be able to tell the difference in no time. Have a look!

What Are Partial Highlights?

Partial highlights are those women you see who have some color placed around the face for a brightening or framing effect. Your stylist may call them a “half head of highlights.” They will probably have most of their natural color peeking through from the back and around the nape of the neck.

How your colorist makes it happen: Using foils and color of your choice, partial highlights are placed either in the mohawk section of your hair, the top half of your hair or the top half and the front sides of your hair. Because highlights are only touching a part of your tresses, your stylist may recommend “lightening the base” so that you can take your highlights a few shades lighter than your natural color.

Pros of partial highlights:

  • Less potential damage because it bleaches fewer strands of hair.
  • They are more affordable than getting full highlights done.
  • They can be placed where you want to make it look like the sun naturally lightened the front sections of your hair.

Cons of partial highlights:

  • You cannot see most of the color when you wear your hair up (such as in a ponytail).
  • You cannot go “full blonde” or change color dramatically with only partial highlights because you will always have natural color on at least half of your head of hair.

Let’s take a look at how partial highlights can add a touch of natural-looking color to your hair using different techniques and a range of colors.

#1: Golden Beachy Waves

Adding some partial blonde highlights to waves gives it a ton of dimension, as shown here. These beachy waves are highlighted only at the top layer and evenly all over, leaving darkness at the root and underneath. It’s a perfect combination with a long bob.

Long Bob With Beige Steaks

Instagram / @hairbynoora

#2: Front-Framing Pieces

Dimensional partial highlights can be as playful as you want them to be. Adding face-framing pieces brighten the complexion and add intrigue without really changing your overall hair color. This beachy brunette is low-key stylish.

Long Waves With Ash Grey Pieces

Instagram / @chrisweberhair

#3: Soft and Subtle Browns

Sometimes just a few touches of color one shade lighter than your natural tone can spice things up. This sleek and soft hairstyle has partial highlights that peek through at the ends. If you want something subtle, show this picture to your hairstylist!

Blunt Lob With Mocha Hihglights

Instagram / @petermenezes

#4: Playful and Cool Color

The partial highlights shown here frame her face and are scattered throughout the top layer of her hair. If you have short hair, you can easily lighten the base and add partial highlights for an all-over hair change. It’s that easy.

Dirty Blonde Shag With Silver Ribbons

Instagram / @a_kool

#5: Classic and Refined

Adding bronze and warm blonde colors to brown hair really brightens it up. Get the look with foiled highlights from top to bottom with lots of color added throughout. Leave the bottom half brunette for a natural look and easy maintenance.

Golden Blonde Higs For Long Thick Hair

Instagram / @deedeefaye

#6: Straight and Bronzed

Brightening up brunettes with honey and bronze colors is a classic move that’s not going anywhere anytime soon. It’s soft and natural but still offer that “just got my hair done” look. Partial foil highlights look best on straight hair like shown here.

Straight Brown Hair And Caramel Highlights

Instagram / @hair_makeup_sairy

#7: Cool-Toned Balayage

Have your hair colorist use a balayage technique to give you partial color that gradually becomes heavier toward the ends. This give a “lived-in” look that is super easy to maintain. With a bit of toner and playful layers, you have a cool-toned layered lob perfect anytime of the year.

Asymmetrical Lob With Blonde Streaks

Instagram / @prettylittleombre

#8: Natural Tones with Curls

This hairstyle has partial highlights that hit around the mid-shaft of the hair, right where the majority of the curls are. This gives the overall look a ton of shine and light-reflection. We love it for the natural sun-kissed summer vibes.

Thick Chocolate Brown Hair With Highlights

Instagram / @jennkhair

#9: Partial Red Balayage

Accent highlights can also be used to add vibrant color to your hair. Using hand-painting or partial foil highlights for dark hair,  you can add a pop of color that is both interesting and trendy. Use this technique to try out new colors without damaging too much hair.

Black Lob With Auburn Peek A Boo Streaks

Instagram / @hairbymegkadlu

#10: Subtle Blonde Highlights

This textured long bob is full of spirit. With lots of movement, relaxed waves and blonde subtle highlights peaking through, it’s a winner. The blonde reflects light within each wave and adds dimension.

Brunette Shag With Tiny Blonde Accents

Instagram / @hairbynoora

What Are Full Highlights?

Full highlights are highlights that wrap all around and can be referred to by your colorist as “a full head of highlights.” It may be that girl you see with an epic balayage from brunette to blonde or that woman with multi-dimensions and a range of bronzy-gold colors all over her hair.

How your colorist makes it happen: highlighting your hair all over, from the front, the sides, the back and even the nape of the neck. Full highlights can dramatically change your hair color depending on if you use foils, balayage technique, or a mixture of partial and full highlights.

Pros of full highlights:

  • You can go from dark to light without bleaching all of your hair altogether.
  • It can look as natural or as dramatic as you like, depending on how heavy handed you ask your stylist to be.

Cons of full highlights:

  • It is more expensive than getting partial highlights.
  • It can still damage your hair if you get full highlights quite often.

Let’s take a look at how full highlights turn out when done just right.

#1: Brunette-Blonde Beauty

This alluring mixture of blonde and brunette gives us “bronde.” It is easily achievable in one or two sessions of full highlights (depending on the thickness of your hair). Keeping the tone cool gives it the beige look. We love this soft blonde long bob.

Blunt Blonde Balayage Lob

Instagram / @whitelotussalonaz

#2: Icy Blonde All Over

Using baby lights (very thin highlights) all over your tresses, you can achieve this icy blonde look. The long length and feminine curls give the blonde hair lots of life. Adding a “root” to the color adds a lived-in vibe that equates to fewer touch-ups.

Platinum Hair With All Over Highlights

Instagram / @mugglehairbygaby

#3: Multi-Dimensional Highlights

When full highlights are done right, from top to bottom, the outcome is breathtaking. Perfect for sleek, straight hair and ideal for older women who want a classic look, we recommend you give this style a try. Stay away from streaky highlights by getting dimensional hair just like this.

Light Brown Hair With Layers And Highlights

Instagram / @jessicaortizmua

#4: Full Color Blend

Have fun with those full highlights! You can use them to add multiple colors to your lovely locks or, like this fiery red and blonde look, use it for a fun color blend. Show your colorist some photos that inspire you and liven up your locks.

Auburn Waves With Color Melt

Instagram / @aaashleee

#5: Chunky Blonde and Red

The original highlight – a little bit chunky. If you want that straight-out-of-the-salon look, ask for chunky foiled highlights in an arrange of colors. You can completely transform your look with a full head of highlights.

#6: Auburn Red Warmth

This hair technique is not just for adding blonde and caramel color! Make way for red warmth. Use full highlights to go warmer but without having red hair from root to tips. This way, the look is much softer and easier to manage.

Auburn Layers And Burnt Orange Streaks

Instagram / @hairfairy_janise

#7: Classic All-Over Blonde

Have you always wanted to go blonde? Now’s the time! Without bleaching all of your hair, you can go for a couple rounds of highlights to gradually get to the level of blonde you’ve been dreaming of. Keep the color even all over for a freshly blonde hairstyle.

Ash Blonde Curls With Foil Highlights

Instagram / @beautybyshorty

#8: Brunette to Blonde

This look has dreamy tones and perfect bouncy curls, what’s not to love? Keeping the highlights fewer and farther between up toward the root gives it a balayage-vibe. The curls begin right where the highlights start to thicken, perfect on those with long hair.

Long Brown Curls With Blonde Balayage

Instagram / @eclips_ashburn

#9: Icy Blonde Hair

The hair color technique made icy blonde achievable for this beauty. All-over color is highly recommended for color like this so there is not much remaining between the natural color and the cool blonde except rooty peices and around the nape.

Arctic White Layered Hair

Instagram / @hair.by.kmv

#10: All Over with Layers

Thin highlights all over can soften blondes and brunettes alike if you get the color just right. The soft bouncy layers are classy and make the hair look light and healthy. It’s highlights without trying too hard!

Flipped Layers And All Over Lightening

Instagram / @izzanhair

Many people go in with full highlights to get more saturated color and then simply have touch-ups done with partial highlights since the re-growth is more obvious from the top roots and not so much underneath and from behind. You can alternate between the two as you see fit. But it’s important to know which one you want to begin with so you can let your hair stylist know when booking the appointment. Full or partial…The choice is yours.