Frosted Hair vs. Highlights: What’s the Difference?


woman with long blonde hair

When it comes to highlighting the hair, there are numerous looks for clients to ponder and nearly as many techniques for stylists to master. Though this makes the highlighting process highly customizable for the client, it’s easy to get one (or a few) highlighting looks confused with professional color techniques. As a stylist, it’s extremely important to know the difference in order to give the client the exact results they desire. One common mix up is between frosted hair and traditional highlights. Here’s a look at both and their key differences.

What Are Highlights?

Before diving into the frosted hair look, it’s important to have a good understanding of traditional hair highlights and the techniques stylists use to create them. Highlights refer to a popular style of professional hair color application that lightens and brightens certain sections of the hair. Traditional highlights generally make use of professional hair lightener and hair color to actually “highlight” small sections of hair and create contrast against the base color. Highlights lighten the designated sections of hair from root to tip and the color typically intensifies as it moves down the hair.

back of head
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Highlights are incredibly popular due to their ability to enhance an overall hair look by adding dimension, brightness and contrast. Stylists can create highlights on certain sections of the hair or the entire head using different techniques. The two most popular highlighting techniques are foil highlighting and hand painting. Both have the power to create fantastic results, but foil highlighting creates a more uniform look while hand-painting allows the stylist to create a unique result that appears more natural on most clients.

What Is Frosted Hair?

The frosted hair look has gained popularity in recent months as a way to enhance natural hair color. Frosted hair gets its interesting name from the way the resulting look adds a bit of light color and brightness to the hair like frost delicately accentuates leaves and flowers. The look creates a soft, subtle sense of luminosity, especially when the hair color is deposited around the face and cascading down to the ends of the hair.

Frosted hair is a great option for any client who wants to ease their way into professional color treatments. The frosted look is similar to balayage in that the color is hand-painted in natural-looking sections slightly away from the roots all the way to the ends of the hair. Because of this application method, frosted hair is a relatively low-maintenance option for hair color and does not require frequent salon visits for root touch-ups since the look favors growth. Frosted hair can add dimension to natural hair, enhance an all-over color look and even cover gray hair on many clients.

woman with long hair in salon
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Frosted Hair vs. Highlights

Frosted hair and highlights are easily and understandably mixed up because they both aim to lighten and brighten the hair in small sections. Both techniques can add dimension to the hair and help create contrast when paired with the hair’s base color. However, frosted hair and highlights differ in their placement, intensity and overall maintenance routine.

Stylists should explain the maintenance routine for both highlights and frosted hair before their client leaves the salon. It’s always a good idea to recommend products like a great professional shampoo, heat protection products and other hair care products that will keep their new hair looking vibrant and healthy between salon visits.


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