Partial vs Full Highlights: Which One Should You Get?

I don’t mean to brag, but I have had many people in my ten years of doing hair tell me I am the highlighting queen. It is one of my favorite hair color processes to do, and it shows. I have tried just about every type of placement, tweak, and style that you can think of. So, with so many different highlight looks and styles, what is the actual difference between partial vs full highlights, and which one should you get?

You would think that highlights are what they are, and you get one type of look with them. This can’t be any further from the truth. You can achieve drastically different looks depending on whether you get a partial or full highlight. You must figure out your hair goals to decide if you should get partial or full highlights; this comparison will help you figure that out.

hair highlights
Image source: Instagram

Which Is Better Up Front?

Partial highlights are great for super dimensional looks and touching up in between full highlights. They are the most budget-friendly option for highlighting and can be customized just to add blonde where you want to see it most. However, if you wish to have platinum blonde or chunky highlights, you must do a full highlight.

Main Differences between a Partial and Full

  • A full highlight adds colored pieces to every section of the head, whereas partial highlights add color to part of the head.
  • A partial highlight has more definition, whereas a full will be a more all-over look.
  • Partials can save you a lot of money and time, whereas full highlights have a higher price tag.
  • A partial is much more customizable in where you want your highlights, whereas there aren’t many placement options for a full highlight.
  • Full highlights will turn out much lighter or blonder, whereas a partial will always have some depth.
  • A partial highlight with more dimension can be touched up less frequently, whereas a full dramatic highlight will need to be touched up more.

What Is a Partial Highlight?

A partial highlight is when you only highlight certain sections of the hair instead all of the hair. Generally, I do highlights everywhere from the ears up with a partial. Still, it can also be just a few highlights sprinkled on top, some around the face, or peek-a-boo highlights that poke out from underneath.

partial highlights
A traditional partial highlight. Image source: Instagram

Gives You More Dimension

Since there is always a part of your head that is not highlighted with a partial, you will have more dimension in color. This is due to the highlighted sections layering over or under the other parts of your hair that are left uncolored. For maximum dimension, I like to highlight heavy where I want the focus, like around the face or on the top of the head, and sprinkle in highlights throughout the rest of the partial.

Face framing highlights
Face framing highlights with some sprinkled on top. Image source: Instagram

The nice thing about the dimension that a partial highlight gives you is that it can actually make your hair look more voluminous. When there is dark hair underneath your highlights, it creates a shadowy look, and shadows give the illusion that the lighter parts have more height or volume.


Partial just means the highlights are placed on part of your head, and it does not matter what part of your head. Therefore you can put your highlights in more specific locations to create different looks.

I have done so many partial highlights on clients back to back, and each one will look completely different. Some people like just the front of the hair to be highlighted to give you some summery money pieces, while others want to be nearly platinum blonde on top with a nice shadow underneath. There are endless creative ways to make a partial look unique.

heavy partial highlights
A heavy partial with the underneath left dark. Image source: Instagram

It Can Be Less Pricey

Less highlighted sections mean less of a cost with your partial highlight. The price of a partial fully depends on how much of your hair you are getting highlighted, but it will always be less costly than a full highlight. A few money piece highlights around the face can cost as little as $45, while a heavy partial that covers everything except the underneath can cost up to $150.

The best way to narrow down how much your partial highlight will cost is to have a consultation with your colorist. You should also consider the length and thickness of your hair, as this will affect the time it takes to do your hair and the amount of hair dye and foils used.

Get a Touch-Up Less Frequently

More of your natural color is left in the highlighting process with a partial, meaning it won’t be as noticeable when your hair starts growing back out. I’ve had a few people who come in to get a touch-up once every six months on their partial highlight because it blends with their natural hair color.

You will only need to come in for touch-ups on a more regular basis if you have a heavy partial highlight where the top is nearly all blonde. I recommend getting a touch-up at least every six weeks in that case. However, you could prolong it by doing a root smudge with your highlights.

Root smudged half head highlights
Root smudged half head highlights. Image source: Instagram

Partial Highlights with Different Styles and Hair Types

The nice thing about a partial highlight is it is pretty versatile. Due to its customizability, you can basically place your foils where ever the highlights would look best depending on your hair type and the way you wear it.

A partial highlight on wavy short hair.
A partial highlight on wavy short hair. Image source: Instagram

The only time I would say to do a full highlight over a partial is if you have extremely curly hair or wear your hair up a lot. When your hair is super curly, the top layers shrink up and show the underneath more that would be left uncolored with a partial. The same goes for wearing your hair up where the underneath will show when your hair is in a pony or bun.

A partial highlight on straight long hair
A partial highlight on straight long hair. Image source: Instagram


  • You can lighten particular areas of your head
  • It can be very cost-effective, depending on how partial you go
  • The extra dimension can make your hair look more voluminous
  • It can be maintained less frequently if you don’t want it super blonde


  • The underneath of your hair is left untouched
  • You won’t get as light with a partial

What Is a Full Highlight?

A full highlight is when your entire head is highlighted, including the underneath section. There are really only three scenarios when I do a full highlight on someone. The most common is they want to see highlights on the bottom section of hair when they pull it up into a ponytail. The others are for chunky highlights (pictured below) and those who wish to have a platinum blonde look without bleaching their entire head.

A full head of chunky highlights
A full head of chunky highlights. Image source: Instagram

Lighter All Over

Instead of more definition and dimension, you will get more of an all-over lighter look with full highlights. How light you go with a full highlight depends on how spaced out your highlights are, and the more packed in they are, the more blonde you will be. You can even give yourself a more natural bleach blonde hair color by doing a full highlight.

Bleach blonde with full highlights
Bleach blonde with full highlights. Image source: Instagram

Don’t worry if you wish to have more dimension but still want a full so you can see lighter pieces underneath when you pull up your hair. I like to add a few highlights right around the perimeter of the bottom so everything looks even. You still get a little shadow from the interior being left your natural color.

A full highlight with some natural dimension left from underneath
A full highlight with some natural dimension left from underneath. Image source: Instagram

It Can Cost More

Since you are coloring more sections of the head, full highlights will cost more than a partial. You can expect a full highlight to cost anywhere from $150 to $200, depending on if you have long hair and how thick it is. There isn’t too much sway with this like with a partial because full highlights don’t have as much variability as partial highlights.

There’s Less Customizability

A full highlight is what it is, and there isn’t much else to it. The customization comes with how blonde you want your hair and if you want the blonde to be focused more anywhere. You can also do some really dramatic chunky highlights with a full head that you can’t do with partial highlights. Other than that, there isn’t much customization to it.

Full highlights with a focus on the face framing
Full highlights with a focus on the face framing. Image source: Instagram

Doesn’t Need to be Done Every Touch-Up

This isn’t something that makes it better than a partial per se, but more something I think everyone should know about full highlights. I rarely do a full highlight whenever my client comes in for a touch-up. Usually, I will do a full highlight touch-up every other time with half head highlights in between.

Touching it up all over every other time can save you money and time. This works because you will never notice the underneath of your hair growing out like you will the top. It will always look shadowed anyway, so the dark hair isn’t as noticeable. I only do a full head highlight for every touch-up if my client wants to look bleach blonde.

Full Highlights with Different Styles and Hair Types

Full highlights can be done on nearly everyone, and actually, work better for some hair types than a partial does. The one hair type that I would always do a full highlight on is those with kinky or curly hair because the underneath will show more. I would also do a full highlight on those with long hair if they wear it up most of the time.

A full highlight on super curly hair
A full highlight on super curly hair. Image source: Instagram

The one style that almost never do a full highlight on is those with short hair, especially if it is chin length or shorter. The hair in the back and underneath of a short haircut is way too short to highlight. Firstly, it isn’t possible because the hair is too short to grab onto to separate the highlight pieces. Plus, if you somehow did highlight those short pieces, it would look splotchy. Imagine cap highlights on men in the 90s.

full highlight
As short as I would go with a full highlight. Image source: Instagram


  • You get more dramatic effects
  • You don’t have to touch up the full every time and can alternate with a partial
  • If maintained frequently, you can get platinum blonde
  • Better for those with very curly hair or who wear their hair up often


  • Will cost more than a partial
  • Particular full looks do require more maintenance (i.e., chunky highlights, platinum blonde)
  • Eventually, you will need to add lowlights to keep some definition

Alternative Types of Highlighting

If you aren’t super into the traditional highlight look, there are a few other types of highlighting that you can try. The most popular alternatives right now are:


Image source: Instagram

Balayage highlights are a technique where the bleach is painted free-handed instead of using foil. This creates a more natural look that looks like your hair is sun-kissed rather than colored. The color fades into the root instead of being painted up to the root. You can do a partial balayage for the most natural look or a full balayage for a bright look that stands out.

Baby Lights

Baby lights are very similar to traditional highlights, except they have much finer sections and are more random, giving you a blended look. This technique is great for those girls that want an all-over highlighted look without the horrible grow-out line. It takes a bit more time to get baby lights done because you have to foil more sections to make them noticeable.

Baby Lights
Image source: Instagram

Teasy Lights

Teasy Lights
Image source: Instagram

Teasy lights are a cross-breed of traditional highlights and balayage. It mimics balayage because the highlights fade into your base color but have the same even dimension as foil highlights. You can also get a much lighter color with teasy lights than with balayage.


Question: How often should you get highlighted?

Answer: Highlights typically last six to eight weeks before needing to be touched up. The hair grows about an inch by this time, and the grow-out line becomes noticeable. This will vary, though, depending on how your highlights are done. If you go for a more natural look, you can push your touch-ups back a few weeks. You will want a touch-up much sooner if you go with a dramatic look.

Question: What do I need to know before getting highlights?

Answer: Highlights are easier to maintain than an all-over color, but they cost more to get done in the hair salon. You should also know that highlights are generally done with bleach. There’s nothing wrong with this because your hair will remain healthy if done and taken care of correctly. You also do not need to worry about an adverse reaction to the bleach because it goes in foils instead of straight on the scalp.

Question: Should I wash my hair on the day of getting highlights?

Answer: There is a misconception that you should leave your hair dirty before getting highlights or hair color. Dirty hair will most likely not affect the hair color (as long as there isn’t a ton of build-up), but generally, you want clean hair before getting color or highlights. If you think about it, dirty hair coats your cuticle in more junk that the hair color has to break through to work properly. We want to make it as easy as possible for the color to take.

What Type of Highlights Should You Get?

Nine times out of ten, I will say you should get partial highlights over a full head. Personally, I think it looks better, and there are so many more benefits to it over full highlights. However, there are a few cases where you will need to do a full highlight. These are if you want platinum blonde hair without bleaching it all over, high contrast chunky highlights, and if you want to see highlights underneath when your hair is up.

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