What is the difference between hair frosting & highlighting?

Updated April 17, 2017

Hair dying is a popular method of hair modification that changes natural hair colour. There are many different types and styles of hair colouring, including all-over colouring, highlighting and frosting. Each type of colouring technique produces different looks depending on the desired overall effect. All-over colouring colours the hair with one colour, while highlighting and frosting colours only a few strands or segments.


Highlighting involves lightening different sections or strands of hair. The desired effect is typically two shades lighter than the natural colour. The amount of hair that is treated varies depending on the desired style. Highlights are often used to lighten hair around the face or around the entire scalp, giving a subtle, sun-kissed look.

Hair Frosting

Hair frosting has nothing in common with cake frosting nor does it involve water and freezing temperatures. Hair frosting involves bleaching individual strands of hair while leaving adjacent strands untouched. The effect of hair frosting can give an overall salt and pepper look, blending the lighter, bleached strands in with the darker strands.


There are two basic methods when applying highlights or frosting. One uses a plastic cap that is placed over the scalp. Strands of hair are pulled through holes in the cap leaving them free to be lightened without colouring the rest of the hair. The other method uses squares of tin foil. Strands or small sections of hair are separated from the rest and placed on the foil as the chemicals are being applied. Once the chemicals are applied, the hair is folded in the foil, keeping it away from the rest of the hair as it lightens.

Highlighting vs. Hair Frosting

Both methods of hair colouring do not involve colouring every strand of hair with the same colour. They are often used to enhance natural hair colouring or give dimension and depth to dull hair and/or colour-treated hair. Frosting adds a subtle salt and pepper look, blending light and dark hairs. Highlighting also blends light hair with dark but not in the muted way frosting does. Frosting and highlights are designed to blend in with the natural hair colour and are easier to maintain than fully coloured hair.

Lowlights and Streaking

Streaking and lowlights are two other hair-colouring techniques that are similar to highlighting and frosting. Lowlights add darker colour to hair and are applied in the same methods as frosting and highlighting. Streaking is a more pronounced form of highlighting or frosting. While highlighting uses bleaching chemicals to subtly lighten hair colour, the goal of streaking is to add striking strips of very light-coloured hair. Addling lowlights can deepen hair colour, while streaking is designed to be eye catching. Both lowlights and streaks can be used in conjunction with frosting and highlighting to create unique styles and looks.

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About the Author

Sabrina Ehlert has been a writer and blogger for more than five years. She has been published in Longmont's Daily Times-Call on a number of occasions.