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Dear Color Crew: Roots, Mid-lengths & Ends, Oh My!

by Madison Reed October 12, 2017

hair sectioning

Image by Madison Reed

Dear Color Crew is a recurring blog post where we answer hair-related questions–no matter how hairy they may be–from readers like you. Got a question? Email our team of professional colorists at
Dear Color Crew,
I know that hair is often split up into different parts when coloring it: roots, mid-lengths and ends. I’ve heard that each section requires a different processing time. How do I know which section is which, and how much time it needs to process color? This seems so complicated!

Timing really is everything when it comes to hair color...

Think of your hair in 3 sections: roots (new outgrowth of hair), mid-lengths, and ends (about an inch or two up from the bottom of your hair). Hair color processes on these sections differently. Of course, if you are only touching up your roots, you don’t need to apply color to the whole head of hair. In fact, you shouldn't apply color to your mid-lengths and ends each time you color as that can cause color to become too dark and dull. But if you're coloring your hair for the first time, or changing the shade of your hair color, you should apply the color to the different sections of your hair with different processing times. 

How Long Should You Process Roots?

Always start at your roots (unless you are lightening your hair for the first time), If you're covering gray roots, the color needs more processing time. But even if you don't have gray hair, the hair at your roots is new outgrowth, and takes a bit more time. It's a good idea to give your roots the most time to absorb color—at least a 10 minute head start, 20 minutes if you have stubborn grays at your roots. But please remember that you should not apply color all over every time you color (see above). 

How Long Should You Process Mid-Lengths?

Your hair at mid-length has had more exposure to the sun and environmental stressors, not to mention heat styling, etc. The mid-length of hair is a bit more porous, meaning the hair shaft is more open to receiving color than your roots. If you're coloring for the first time, or are changing your shade, then after you've let your roots process, gradually comb the color down through your hair, adding more color to the mid-lengths and ends as needed. If you are simply re-coloring your hair with the same shade, only apply the permanent color to your roots. If you think your mid-lengths and ends need a color refresh, use a gloss to boost color and add intense shine.

How Long Should You Process Ends?

The ends of your hair have been through the most, which means they accept color easily and don’t need as much processing time. Pull the color through your ends only when you are done saturating the roots and mid-lengths, and only if you are coloring for the first time or are changing your shade. 
And there you have it–gorgeous, salon-quality, healthy-looking hair color that you can do yourself. Meet your talented new colorist...YOU!

More: 5 Tips for Achieving Flawless Hair Color

Tags:  Sectioning