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Partial Highlights Vs. Full Highlights: What To Know

getting highlights

If the idea of getting highlights on your ash blonde or dark brown hair makes you feel a little anxious, you’re not alone. The pressure to choose a secondary shade that blends perfectly into the color scheme you’ve already got going on, to make sure you’re choosing the right kind, and to maintain them—it’s a lot.


Don’t panic. Highlights, whether they’re partial highlights or full, are universally flattering. No colorist in the world is going to let you choose a hideous color without saying something.


Still, deciding between partial and full highlights is a choice you’ll have to make on your own. No worries, because we’re about to deep dive into both techniques to help you make the most educated decision on the subject.

Why should any woman get highlights?


We’ll start with an easy question, one that Redken artist and brand ambassador Shannon VanFleet has plenty of thoughts about.

In other words, highlights can help give you the hair you desire. Whether you’re growing out a dramatic hair color or just pulling attention away from a haircut you don’t love, they’re an excellent investment for women of all ages and hair types.

What are partial highlights?

Now that you know why highlights are important, we can break down the techniques involved. As the name suggests, partial highlights only cover a section of your hair.

“The only difference in application between a full highlight and a partial highlight is the area covered,” VanFleet says. “A partial is usually concentrated around the face and part line.”

Instead of bold, bright color, you’ll be left with subtle and gradual light pieces. The service will most likely cost less than a full head of highlights, and take half the time to complete.

“The downside [of partial highlights] is that what you gain in time saved, you lose in impact,” the hair pro notes. “However, if you want to simply maintain your current color, focus the highlights in a specific area—like around your face—or are trying highlights for the first time, then a partial application may be the best choice for you.”

In other words: Partial highlights are primarily a way to transition into the world of accent hair colors.

What are full highlights?

If partial highlights are the hair equivalent of a vintage photograph (some color, but not full vibrancy), then full highlights are a bright, bold professional shot—a whole rainbow of it. While the former may invite friends to ask if you’ve done something different with your look, the later will be self-evident.

“A full highlight is just as it sounds—every area of the head is affected,” VanFleet says. “The main benefit of a full highlight is that there will be a greater impact since more of the hair is affected.”

Don’t get too excited if this sounds too good to be true. After all, every rose has its thorn.

“The downside is that [full highlights] will take much longer to accomplish,” the artist continues. “You could very well be looking at one to three hours of just application time depending on the desired effect and amount of hair you have.”

Unlike partial highlights, full highlights will cost a bit more money. Still, VanFleet notes that there’s no need to constantly touch up this technique. Instead, you can opt for partial highlights to freshen up your color upon return visits to the salon.

Which technique is the most popular?

It’s a close race for most popular highlighting technique, according to VanFleet’s professional experience. We live in an age of lightning fast internet, smartphones, and social media. Instant gratification is our bread and butter, essentially.

With that in mind, the colorist believes full highlights have a slight lead on their less-shocking counterpart.

“From what I am seeing right now, I would say that the full highlight is taking precedence over the partial,” VanFleet says. “I think that is because people are looking for more drastic changes in their hair color. We love to see a change right away and a full highlight can have a lot of impact.”

Another reason for the popularity of the full head of highlights? You can play it up as much as you want or ask your colorist to keep those streaks fine and subtle (an application technique known as babylights).

There’s no one way to wear highlights, and having a full head gives you more of an opportunity to play around with them. When it comes to your mane, versatility is always the best option.

What’s the smartest way to keep highlights looking their best?


Like all hair color, highlighted strands can become (in VanFleet’s words) “dull and dingy” within a matter of a few days—particularly if they’re blonde. VanFleet conjures up the image of a white linen shirt being worn around a city as a metaphor. Pollution and grit will sit on the surface, making the fabric less white with every passing day. You’ll definitely plan to add bleach before throwing it in the wash.


When it comes to blonde strands, a deep, cleansing wash is important. VanFleet adores Redken Hair Cleansing Cream Shampoo and the brand’s new Clean Maniac Micellar Clean-Touch Shampoo.


“[The Clean Maniac system] is silicone- and sulfate-free, provides a UV filter, Neofresh technology to repel odor (like smoke), and gently washes away dirt, grit, pollution, product build-up, and excess oils,” she explains. “Clean Maniac is good for daily use and the Hair Cleansing Cream is more suited for the occasional deep clean. Pairing these with the [Redken] Blonde Idol Custom Tone Violet Conditioner is the fail-safe way to keep your blonde salon fresh.”


If shampoo and conditioner aren’t cutting it, VanFleet advises talking to your colorist about a new highlight color. Keeping the shade fresh will help you love your ‘do just a little bit more.

Need more inspiration about the latest trends in highlighting? Keep scrolling for some of our favorite looks.

Pastel Blue And Purple

The color combination of purple and blue makes us nostalgic for childhood, but that doesn’t mean these shades look childish. Blended into ashy silver or gray hair, this look is a total stunner.

Pale Blonde

As always, we’ve got a serious case of blonde on the brain. This pale version beautifully contours to create the illusion of added volume. Who doesn’t want bigger hair?


Like the sweet substance for which it’s named, honey highlights add a sugary touch to any base color. For summer or fall, brighten your color with this luxurious, flattering shade. Try it in a blunt lob for an extra chic finishing touch.


Did you think we’d seen the last of holographic and metallic hair? Not quite yet. Opal hair—which involves layering blue, purple, pink, and silver highlights on bright blonde hair—has us totally enamored.


The most recent iteration of the pink trend is a very cool shade inspired by rose quartz gemstones. Try it over blonde or pastel hair for a punchy, on-trend look. If you’re really feeling bold, talk to your stylist about a whole head of quartz hair color.


Don’t make the mistake of thinking one shade of whimsical hair color is enough. If you’re already loving pink, magenta, or lavender hair, add bright purple for added dimension. Prepare to make people smile at the very sight of your magical, technicolor hair.


Add nutty hints of color to your mane with hazel streaks. Placed around your face, these bright pieces will make your skin glow. Think of hazel highlights like the best of a vacation tan—without any of the sunburn or mosquito bites.

Silver Blonde

This ain’t your grandma’s silver hair. Added to a light or dark base, silver highlights are a superhero-inspired take on fantasy color. On long hair, this look is particularly stunning.

Pale Blue

Give the blue hair trend a try with pastel highlights. Mixed with a wintery blonde shade, they’re real showstoppers. Give blue hair a try and you may want to think about committing to a whole head of the color!


Is there a more delicious hair combination out there than caramel and honey? This blended look is ideal for every single skin tone.


Don’t feel like fantasy hair color always has to be outrageous. We’re big fans of watercolors blended into blonde bases precisely for their wearability!


Auburn is the perfect combination of brown and red, which is why it’s so lovely and subtle on dark hair colors.

Light Copper

Brighten up rich red or brown base shades with a touch of light copper. Like a shiny penny, you’ll be surprised how reflective this color can be.


Dress up a fantastical hair color with bright mint highlights. This unexpected color is less overexposed than a pink or blue might be.

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