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What's the Difference Between Partial and Full Highlights?

Hair flip

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There you are, ready to schedule a highlight appointment, when you're hit with a hard-hitting question: partial highlight or full highlight? If you're scratching your head trying to figure out the difference (all you know is that you want highlights that'll turn even Jennifer Anniston's head), you're not alone. Plus, shouldn't the technicalities be left to the experts? True, a good hairstylist should use their expertise to help you understand the difference, but perhaps you haven't found your go-to yet. So, we're breaking down the difference between partial versus full highlights below in hopes you get the all-over glow you're after.

Partial Highlight

Partial highlights are only in sections, usually placed around the face to give off a brighter, face-framing look.

Partial highlights are typically placed on the part of your hair, although some stylists consider a partial highlight to be the entire top ​half or the top and side sections of your head. Partial highlights are ideal for those seeking a more natural look, as they're designed to lighten the hair the same way the sun would lighten your hair.

Pros of Partial Highlights

  • Partial highlights are typically less expensive than a full highlight service.
  • You'll likely experience less damage with partial highlights, as you're only highlighting a few sections.
  • Because you'll still see your base color, partial highlights look more natural.
  • When compared with full highlights, partial highlights are more low maintenance, as new growth is less visible.
Ciara
Michael Kovac / Getty Images

Full Highlight

A full highlight involves highlighting hair in every section of your head. This could be slightly lightening all of your hair or for something more dramatic, such as going from brunette to blonde.

Full highlights offer a more dramatic look, as they wrap all around the head (think a perfectly painted balayage, multidimensional full-foil highlights, or a mix of partial and full highlights).

For the budget-conscious, alternating between full and partial highlight appointments can be more cost-effective, as the highlights placed in the back of the head don't have the same growth as the highlights on the top of the head.

Pros of Full Highlights

  • For those who want to go from dark to light without, full highlights are a great option.
  • Fine hair will look more textured and dimensional with full highlights.
  • The options for varied looks are endless—you can go as subtle as blonde highlights or as dramatic as colorful highlights.
Chrissy Teigen
Jason LaVeris / Getty Images

Which to Choose

Keep in mind: Final highlighting decisions don't have to be made when scheduling your appointment. When in doubt, take a few inspiration photos to your stylist to ensure you get the outcome you're after. A good stylist will be open to a full consultation with room to make adjustments on the day of your appointment.

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