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What Is a Root Smudge?

by Madison Reed May 09, 2024


Image by Madison Reed

What’s a root smudge? Imagine you’ve just gotten the perfect hair color – you look beautiful and feel confident, but then, after a couple of weeks something starts to happen. You see a distinct line in the exact place where your roots are coming in. A root smudge is a technique that helps prevent this from happening. Here, your colorist softens the line between your colored hair and natural roots to help reduce the contrast and let you enjoy your vibrant look for longer! Do you want to learn more? Then read on!

What Is a Root Smudge For?

Root smudging blends your natural roots with your color-treated hair. To do this, your colorist picks a shade that is two levels lighter than your roots and applies the color near those same roots to create a gradient transition from your color-treated hair to your natural roots.

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Root Smudge vs. Shadow Root vs. Root Melt vs. Root Taps – What’s the Difference?

You’ve heard about root touch-ups numerous times, but there are quite a few options when it comes to concealing your roots. Root smudging is just one of the possibilities. Root smudging and root melting terms may be used interchangeably in the hair color world so let’s chat about the differences between these particular techniques.

Root Smudge

Root smudging is typically done in salons to buffer or blend the darkness of your natural root color with the lighter, highlighted hair. This involves using a shade similar to your natural root color or one to two shades lighter to just slightly bump up your dark roots to blend with the lighter highlights. This can make the regrowth stage less noticeable and can give you an overall lighter, brighter feel along with your highlights. 

Root Shadow

Root shadowing is similar to root smudging. It doesn't involve lightening your natural roots but rather deepening the roots where your highlights begin. This helps to soften the line where your highlights begin to give you a slightly deeper shadow near the root area. This is typically done with a demi-permanent color.

Root Taps

Root taps are created by applying a small amount of color to the roots (similar to root shadowing) but only go down about 0.5 inch below your roots. The shade used might not be as dark as a shadow root. This helps to soften the foil lines at the root to give a more blended result overall, but still keeps you as light as possible. This is also typically done with a demi-permanent color, as well as toners.

Root Melt

Root melts go further down the roots than all other techniques we’ve talked about. This gives more of a lived-in balayage effect where your roots gradually melt into lighter mid-lengths and ends. Just like root shadows and taps, this typically utilizes a demi-permanent color.  

To see it more clearly, here’s a comparison: root smudges are typically one inch long, while root melts can go down two to four inches.

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How Long Does a Root Smudge Last?

Unlike traditional hair coloring, root smudge maintenance can be minimal. Since the color used to create these looks is subtle and typically close to your natural color, the regrowth is less noticeable than an overall permanent color root. You may be able to go two to three months before needing to touch up your roots. It really just depends on how light the colored or highlighted hair is in comparison to your natural root color.

Why Would You Want a Root Smudge? 

For starters, all of these methods give a soft, dimensional look when paired with highlights. Add to that the fact that root smudges don’t need to be touched up as often and help buffer the regrowth line between your natural root color and your highlights.   

And if that’s not enough, smudging is great if you already have highlights or lighter lengths and you want to create a melted look between your lighter ends and darker roots.

The Takeaway

You’ve learned what a root smudge on hair is – and now, the topic of root smudge vs. root melts vs. root taps vs. shadow roots is no longer a mystery – all that’s left for you to do is decide which technique is right for you – we’re sure you’ll look beautiful with whatever you choose! 

You might also read: What Are Hot Roots and How Do I Avoid Getting Them?