Sarah Cabral
Updated on December 19, 2023

I’m sure you’ve heard the term root smudge before. It can also be called a root melt and a root stretch, too! With so many professional terms, it can be confusing to understand how the root smudging technique is different and whether you should ask for it at your salon. A spoiler – there are some good reasons to do this, especially if you tend to wear highlighted hair. Let me break down the technique and its benefits for you.

What Is the Root Smudging Technique?

The purpose of this color technique is to achieve a softer transition between the client’s natural hair and the highlight, which allows for a much more seamless blend. Erasing the lines of demarcation gives the color a lot more longevity than a traditional highlight would.

For me, the two words that come to mind for the purpose of a roots smudge are softness and longevity. Softness – because it blends the line of demarcation, and longevity – because the client can go longer in between appointments. Traditional highlighting appointments are between four to eight weeks. With a root smudge, you can go two to three months before needing a retouch.

What’s the Difference Between Balayage and Root Smudge?

If your hair goals include some natural transition, you will often hear about these two techniques and may come to wonder what’s the difference, after all? Here it is: balayage is a highlighting technique, while a root smudge is a color that would be painted on the roots after the highlights.

Here are the results of a root smudge being applied after a balayage hair color. You can see that the blend between her natural color and highlights is seamless.

Root Smudge vs Root Shadow

If you’re curious about the difference between the root melt and shadow root techniques, here is a side by side. Some clients prefer seeing all that depth and dimension at the crown. There are also those blonde clients that still want to see their highlights go all the way up with just a little shadow at the root.

The shadow root technique would be for someone who is really blonde and just wants to soften the foil lines slightly for a more natural grow-out. It is called a root tap because we’re only tapping their root and there is no dragging it down like the smudging or melt. This technique will also stretch out the need for a retouch.

How to Do Root Smudge?

Root smudge is actually the same type of application as a color retouch that you would get when covering your gray hair. The difference is that a root smudge is applied after you get highlights, usually on damp hair, and is also often combed down slightly.

The process of root smudging will vary upon each individual stylist and the color line that they use. Some stylists like to use a wide-tooth comb to blend it down. Others like to use a Wet Brush. It’s all about preference. This can be done at the sink or your colorist can bring you back to their chair. Most likely, it will be applied on towel-dried hair, as you see in this picture.

The most traditional way to root smudge is to use a demi-permanent color after highlights or balayage takes place. A permanent color may be used for blending the line of demarcation and getting the balayage look and gray coverage all at the same time.

Another must-have situation for a root smudge would be when you are working with high-contrast and dimensional color. When you are a dark brunette going blonde you have to have a middle tone for it to blend. Usually, the stylist will use a color slightly lighter than your natural color. This way, you get a light shade of blonde in your brunette hair but won’t have to touch up your color every four to eight weeks. This client actually comes every two to three months.

You can use two to three colors with a root melt. The root smudge would be applied to zone one, which is the root area, and on zone two and three, which is the midshaft and ends. There can be a darker mid shade and lighter shade melted together for a beautiful transition. Another term for this technique is color melt.

Here is another example of a hair color melt. Three colors from darkest to lightest were melted down to create a stunning caramel balayage look.

So, whether you’re seeking highlights with gray coverage, high contrast hair color with lots of dimension, or even all-over platinum blonde, a root smudge can be very useful in softening the grow-out. Best of all, this trendy look is great for all hair colors.

When considering making an appointment with your colorist, take into consideration that this is an add-on service and will add time to your appointment and there will be an extra charge, but it pays off in the end because you will get a lot longer out of your color. Make sure to discuss all of your options with your stylist. Pictures are the best tool to explain the look that you are going for!

Save this hair idea

Enter your email to get this picture to your inbox, and get other ideas you might like 💌

Save image form