Partial Highlights vs. Full Highlights: What to Know
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Partial Highlights vs. Full Highlights: What You Need to Know

25 October 2018
Close up of a woman's head with color being applied to section of hair on a foil

Emily Arata

Senior Editor,

25 October 2018

As an employee of L’Oréal, Emily works with celebrity stylists to make finding the right cut, color, or style easier than ever before. She's previously written for Allure, Elite Daily, and First We Feast.

If the idea of getting highlights 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.

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’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, the bleach equivalent is a deep, cleansing wash. From the L’Oréal portfolio of brands, VanFleet adores Redken Hair Cleansing Cream Shampoo and the brand’s new Clean Maniac Micellar Clean-Touch Shampoo.

“[Clean Maniac] 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 Blonde Idol Custom Tone Violet Conditioner is the fail-safe way to keep your blonde salon fresh for week.”

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.

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