Partial highlights vs full highlights: What you need to know| Salon Secret Africa

Partial highlights vs full highlights: What you need to know

28 August 2017
Close up of a woman's head with color being applied to section of hair on a foil


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 colour scheme you’ve already got going on, make sure you’re choosing the right kind, and then maintain them, is a lot.

Don’t panic. Highlights, whether they’re partial highlights or full, are universally flattering. No colourist in the world is going to let you choose a hideous colour without having something to say about it.

Still, deciding between partial and full highlights is a choice you’ll have to make on your own. But, we’re about to dive deep into both techniques to help you make the most educated decision on the subject.

Woman with brown angular bob

Why should any woman get highlights?

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

Highlights are the most effective way to add dimension to any hair colour... They can be as pronounced or as subtle as you like and are a great asset when you are wanting to blend away grey hair or wishing for a softer grow out.

In other words, highlights are basically a photo editing app for your hair colour. Whether you’re growing out a dramatic hair colour 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 understand the value of having highlights, 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 colours, 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 expert notes. “However, if you want to maintain your current colour, focus the highlights in a specific area – like around your face. Or, if you’re 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 colours.

woman with straight fringe

What are full highlights?

If partial highlights are the hair equivalent of a sepia-toned photograph, then full highlights are a rainbow of bright, bold colours. While the former may invite friends to ask if you’ve done something different with your look, the latter will be self-evident, particularly if you embrace the new rainbow trend in your makeup look as well.


woman with short technicolour hair

“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 application time alone, 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 touch up this technique constantly. Instead, you can opt for partial highlights to freshen up your colour upon return visits to the salon.

Woman with blonde highlights

Which technique is the most popular?

It’s a close race for the most popular highlighting technique, according to VanFleet. 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, full highlights have a slight lead on their less-shocking counterpart.

“From what I see 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 colour. 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 colourist 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 colour, 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 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 sulphate-free, provides a UV filter, Neofresh technology to repel odour (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 shade fresh for weeks.”

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

Woman with red hair and highlights
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