What Is the Difference Between Full Highlights & Partial Highlights?

Actress Kaley Cuoco has a full head of highlights during the 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards Week.

Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Before you rush off to the salon to get your hair highlighted, you need to know what you want. This not only helps ensure you get exactly the look you have pictured in your head, but also makes it a lot easier for your stylist. When you know what you're talking about beforehand, you're on the same page, and you save time and effort on both your parts. One of the biggest decisions you need to make when you're getting your hair highlighted is whether you're getting a full head or only partial highlights.


The finished look of full versus partial highlights is one of the most major and obvious differences. When you're only getting partial highlights, you may be getting a few -- think face-framing pieces at the front -- or a half-head worth of highlights, where the highlights are added all around the bottom or top half of your head. This adds depth and dimension to your hair, but when you get a full head of highlights it's almost as though you've got a solid color in your hair. You have the option of getting all of your highlights the same color, or putting different tones in your hair for a more natural look.


The difference in cost between full highlights and partial highlights can be substantial. The fewer highlights you get, the less product and time is used and the less money you pay. Prices will vary depending on which salon you go to for your hair treatment; some stylists charge per hour or even thousands of dollars per session, no matter how quick the process takes. Typically, the more experienced and sought-after a stylist you go to, the more you'll pay.


There is a different process involved in getting full highlights in your hair compared with a partial set. With a full head of highlights, your stylist works from the top of your head down, adding in highlights throughout your hair and finishing at the bottom layer of your hair. With partial highlights, it all depends on the placement of the highlights as to where your stylist begins highlighting your hair.


With a full head of highlights, keep up with your touch-ups because regrowth is noticeable, especially if your highlights are in a contrasting shade to your own hair. You don't want to see your roots showing through and cramping your style. Expect to need a touch-up at least at the roots every couple of weeks. With partial highlights, you maintain a lot of your natural hair color, making root regrowth not such an important issue. This means fewer visits to your stylist.


Bringing a picture in to your stylist at your appointment helps give her a better idea of the look you're going for. Whether you get partial highlights or have them added all around your head, take proper care of your hair so your highlights stay bright and fresh. Don't wash your hair for a day or two after your highlighting session, and wash it no more than four times each week after that. Use hair products that are specially formulated for color-treated hair; they're gentler and don't strip the color off your hair.

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