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Hair Foils: Partial vs Full Highlights

Trying to choose what type of highlights to get next time you visit the salon? If you are looking to add subtle highlights to darker hair, or dramatically lighten your hair's base color, it is more than likely your stylist will use the foil technique.

Either way, hair foils allow for a more natural color look that adds dimension as opposed to flat all-over color. Salon Dior-favorite brand Kevin Murphy shows the variety of warm and cool looks you can get with this technique.

Stylists will use a special comb to weave individual strands from larger sections of hair, apply the bleach, and secure the hair in the foil to process. The foils ensure that the bleach only touches strands you want lightened, as well as traps heat to help the bleach process more effectively.

Depending on the level of change you desire, stylists will either do partial highlights vs full highlights. The type of treatment you choose will greatly affect how much the appointment will cost, how much time you can expect to spend in the salon chair, and the amount of upkeep needed.

Full Foils Hair Highlights

For those with darker hair looking to completely transform their hair, a full hair foil service will be the best approach. Foils can be used to lighten hair several levels, or go for a dramatic blonding effect. Even if you are hoping to go from dark brown to platinum blonde hair, your stylist is probably going to recommend a full foil to start.

Contrary to what film and television might portray, it is rare for the full head to be bleached in one sitting. It will be a more gradual transition via foils, which is better both for the overall effect, as well as the health of your hair.

How long does a full hair foil take?

A full hair foil targets the entire head, including the underside of your hair. This will ensure that the highlights are visible even when the hair is up. Because the entire head is done, anywhere from 45 to over 100 foils will be used.

This means you can probably expect to be in the salon chair for at least two hours. If you have a lot of hair to foil, it can take over 3 hours for application alone!

How much does a full foil cost?

The cost of full foils ranges greatly depending on several factors. Of course, if you choose a more budget-friendly salon, the cost will be lower than if you go to a high-priced boutique salon or prestigious chain.

However, if there are multiple colorists in the same salon, the cost can also differ among them. Salons will have their own tier systems based on level of experience, but usually you will find junior, senior, and master stylists within the same location.

Another determining factor is the amount of hair foils used, as some places even charge by the foil. You can expect to spend at least $75 on a full treatment, but the cost can surpass $300, and keep going. A haircut and blowout are typically not included in the price regardless, so plan to pay extra for that.

Maintaining your full foil hair coloring.

A major consideration when getting a full highlight service is the damage to your hair. With any bleaching service comes damage, and since a good deal of hair is subjected to the bleach, a full foil can cause a noticeable change in hair strength and texture. Proper haircare products can do a great deal to combat this, but be aware that it will be a continuing effort.

If you commit to a full foil, you will likely need to return to the salon for maintenance appointments, as your root regrowth will be obvious. Every six to eight weeks is the typical frequency for touch-ups, which are also done using hair foils. For root touch-ups your stylist may only need to do partial foils.

Partial Foils Hair Highlights

If full foils are used to create a dramatic change, then partial foils are perfect for those who are seeking a more understated effect. However, just because the effect is subtle doesn’t mean you can’t get an exciting new look, as demonstrates.

The process for applying partial hair foils is the exact same as a full foil, but less are used. The application is focused around the face and part line, maxing out at around 20 foils.

Partial hair foils are also used to create “babylights,” which are intended to subtly brighten overall color and mimic the sunkissed strands from childhoods spent playing in the sun.

How long does a partial hair foil take?

Because the amount of hair foils used is much less, you save both time and money with this service. Application of the foils shouldn't take more than an hour, not including time spent processing.

How much does a partial foil cost?

The cost will also be lower than a full foil service, starting at around $30. But like a full highlight, the cost will vary greatly based on what salon you choose and what level your stylist is.

If you’re not interested in upkeep, partial hair foils are a good bet, as the contrast between your roots and your ends will not be as severe when your hair grows out.

Things You Should Know

Regardless of which service you choose, there are some things you can always expect.

Once the foils have been applied, the bleach will need to process. This means you’ll sit with the foils in your hair while the bleach lifts your color to the desired level. Depending on how much pigment you want lifted, you will sit for anywhere from ten to forty-five minutes. Your stylist may put you under a dome-shaped hair dryer for heat, or not use heat at all.

Using a Hair Color Developer

You may be concerned that the foils applied at the beginning of the process will be on your head longer than the most recent foils, especially with a lengthy whole-head application. Luckily, your hairstylist will use developers of different volumes to combat this.

A developer is mixed with the bleach to help it penetrate the hair strand, and the volume refers to how much of your natural pigment it lifts. A lower volume developer, like 20 volume, will lift less than a higher volume like 40. Your stylist is trained in how to best use these developers to get the desired result, which is why it’s recommended to get any lightening treatments, like hair foils, done by a professional.

Using Hair Toner

Once the processing is complete, your stylist will need to tone your hair. This is done at the sink after the bleach is washed thoroughly from your hair. Since most hair will lift to a brassy, overly warm color, toner is used to combat this.

Toner can be used to simply counteract the brassiness, or it can be used to give your hair cool, icy, or ashy blonde highlights. It is usually left on for ten to twenty minutes. Toner will typically add another $30 or so to your total.

Final Thoughts

Now that you understand the difference between partial and full foiled highlights, and what you can expect when you go to the salon, you can make your hair appointment with confidence.

You may go into the salon with a particular service in mind, but be open to discussing with your stylist and considering their suggestions. As a professional, they will know what is best for your unique situation, skin tone, and hair goals. They may even suggest balayage, which is a different highlighting technique that doesn’t use foils at all!


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