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Everything You Need to Know About the Root Smudge Technique

Your intro to this hair coloring process for going lighter with low maintenance.
April 22, 2022


For anyone with naturally dark hair hoping to go lighter — or even blonde — root upkeep can be a real dilemma. While there are so many gorgeous shades of blonde, from honey blonde to platinum, trading your dark strands for a lighter alternative certainly isn’t low maintenance. 

But what if we told you there was a lesser-known hair coloring technique that would postpone your need to head to the salon while still allowing you to rock an all-over blonde hair color? That’s exactly what we’re here to talk about: Root smudging. Read on to find out more about the root smudge technique and why it’s a match made in heaven for blondes who have naturally dark hair.

What Is the Root Smudge Technique?

The smudged root look features lived-in roots that are only a shade or two lighter than your natural hair color. Keeping the color similar yet slightly lighter than your own allows for a natural transition of shades as your roots grow out, with no harsh lines of demarcation in sight. 

Your colorist will quite literally smudge your roots with a hair gloss, demi- or semi-permanent hair color for a soft shift between shades. It is often done on brunettes looking to go blonde with little upkeep, but it can be done even if you want to go for a caramel brown hair color or any shade significantly lighter than your natural hue.

What’s the Difference Between Root Smudge and Shadow Roots?

If you’ve heard about the root smudge technique, you’ve likely heard about shadow roots, too. You may also be wondering how they differ. The two terms actually refer to the same process and can be used interchangeably when discussed in the beauty world. 

That being said, there is a difference between smudged roots and shadow hair. Where smudged roots involve applying a gloss or hair dye to just your roots, shadow hair involves your stylist painting a gloss or hair toner onto the mid-lengths of your mane for an overall more natural appearance.

What’s the Difference Between Root Smudge and Root Melt?

Root smudging and color melting are hair coloring techniques with very different results. When you melt your color, your hair takes on more of a sombré look, where the three shades are blended by highlights. The color is meant to transition softer than ombré hair, but not as softly as a root smudge. Smudged roots are just dark enough at your scalp to camouflage your regrowth, avoiding a harsh line and making it appear as if you only have two colors at once, for a chic, lived-in look.

How to Root Smudge

Now that you know what the smudged root technique is, you may be wondering the details that go into it. Since this process takes time and can easily be flubbed by a non-professional (in other words, most of us), it’s best left up to the pros. Still, we’re diving into the steps your colorist will take when using the root smudge technique on your strands so you always understand what’s being done to your mane.

Step 1. Lighten Up

First, your colorist will take the time to lighten your hair. Whether you’re getting babylights or balayage, they’ll apply bleach using your chosen technique, let it sit for the allotted amount of time, then wash it away.

Step 2. Apply the Root Smudge

Then they’ll mix together a gloss or semi-permanent dye that’s your perfect shade and apply the color to your roots using a tapping motion — this will create that smudged effect. The color will be applied about one inch down your strands to allow for a natural transition. 

As your colorist smudges your roots, they’ll work with small enough sections of hair as to not have any gaps (but not too small to take away from your beautiful blonde highlights if you opted for that look). Then they’ll gently comb out the color for an even more gradual change in hues. After the color sits, it’ll be rinsed from your mane.

Step 3. Toner

Lastly, your colorist will apply a hair toner to help neutralize any unwanted brassiness and create the final result you’re aiming for. This will be applied as the last step, so the length of your hair and your roots have the same overall tone for a consistent, seamless head of color.

Be sure to also keep a purple shampoo, like the L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Brass Toning Purple Shampoo, handy to fight brassiness at home. Follow it up with the L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Brass Toning Purple Conditioner to keep those unwanted yellow and orange hues from peeking through your newly colored strands.

Next: 5 Ways to Expertly Cover Your Roots in Less Than 10 Minutes

Edited by: Shalwah Evans, Photo Design: Crystal Simone

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