Root Smudge vs. Root Shadow vs. Root Melt: Know Your Camouflage Techniques

October 26, 2021

Rachael Grant

For all of us laypeople, the difference between root smudging, shadow root, and root melting is not so apparent at first glance. But when visiting your hairdresser to touch up your highlights, you may be faced with the question of what exactly is root smudge and how it is different from shadow root and root melt. If your hairdresser is busy explaining all three techniques in detail until your next visit, here is a helpful guide; it will assist you in getting to the basics of the hair colouring techniques that often create confusion among customers. 

So drop the excuses for your grown roots and learn your root stuff below!

Root Smudge Vs. Root Shadow Vs. Root Melt: Why the Confusion?

Natural, gradual colouring with subtle demarcation lines is dominating the hairdressing trends in the last decade. From ombré to balayage and foilyage, hair salons fulfil the dreams of clients who wish for a hairstyle that looks sunkissed, romantic, and sexy, sometimes all three at the same time! It is no wonder so many are confused about the differences. And many consider root smudging and shadow root to be one and the same. 

But similarities between them can be even more perplexing; so, let’s find out what root smudging, root shadow, and root melting have in common:

  • Applicable to balayage and foliage techniques.
  • Reduce the intensity of the line between roots and highlights.
  • Achieved by blending the colour formula close to the hair root.

It is wise to schedule a hair consultation before you go to refresh your highlights. Hairdressers usually have different techniques and colouring styles that mark their personal brands. So, each hairdresser can recreate the demarcation techniques in a slightly different way. Keep in mind that if you decide to use a “root erase” toner for at-home use, the results may not be exactly what you intended compared to the same outcome done by a professional.

Root Smudging

A smudged root is created by patting a slightly lighter colour to your roots so that they are fully covered while seamlessly blending with the highlights (balayage or other.) The purpose of the root smudge is to create a softer transition from your bleached hair to your natural hair colour close to the root.

Root Shadow

Although some use shadow root and root smudging interchangeably (you still get a transitional “shadow” by smudging, there is a difference. A root shadow is a colouring technique that blends grown hair roots and hair that is coloured in a noticeably different shade. Usually, the root colour is much darker, and you don’t even need to have a full hair of highlights.


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Root Melting

Root melting is also called colour melting because it is not as a matter of course done at the roots. Your hairdresser can apply it further down the hair to correct (usually your DIY) colouring mistakes. The purpose of the colour melting is also to de-intensify harsh transitions. But, it is usually done on wet hair to help it benefit from the porosity.

Although it may look simple to do these techniques at home, the opposite is true. The result may be an uneven colour that is anywhere between clown streaks and losing the fabulous balayage transitions, so proceed with caution. 

How to Do Root Smudging

Root smudging includes three steps:

  1. For successful root smudge, the colour you choose for the transitional shade is key. It needs to be as close to your natural hair colour (maximum 1 to 2 shades lighter). What you can play with is the colour undertones: go warmer and golden if you have grey hair or pick a cool toner shade if you want to eliminate brassy tones. 
  2. Dab the colour close to the root, at about ¼” along the hairline to cover all root hair.
  3. This is the most important step and where things could go wrong: use a dye brush or nitrile hairdressing gloves to smudge the colour down the hair to the point you reach the highlights, blending about half an inch from both ends to achieve the seamless transition.
  4. Leave it for 5 to 10 minutes and rinse your hair thoroughly. 

Flaunt your new root smudge!


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How to Do a Shadow Root

Again, the colour choice is essential. A shadow root is more dramatic than a root smudge, so it is safe to go up to 2 or 3 shades in variation. Apply permanent colour and wait for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the depth you want to achieve. (A demi-permanent or semi-permanent colour is not always sufficient to blend the contrast; use a permanent dye to achieve long-lasting results.)  

How to (S)Melt Roots

Root melting is the effect of smudging the root to create the transitional lived-in colour. Your hairstylist will blend colours to avoid harsh demarcation lines between colours. 

Judging by the above, it is not surprising to see so many getting all questions when they need a root correction. There is no safe bet, but if you want to follow the gradients for root blending techniques, here is the natural order of things: root tapping—shadow root —root-smudging— root (s)melting.  

Colour Melting Trends for Colour  Correction Mastery

There is no easy way around it: you need sophisticated colouring skills and ongoing education to master all root blending and toning techniques. But hairdressers claim that happy clients’ faces are totally worth it, especially when they help them remove colour fiascos made at home. 

With 2022 hair colour melting trends such as pink lilac, mushroom blonde, bright blonde with red highlights, and exposed roots, hair stylists still have a long way to go to keep everyone happy and smiling. 


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Hairdressers, it is a struggle, we know, but an enjoyable one at that! So, next time your client asks you to do an impossible feat on their hair, arm yourself with a big smile and propose a colour melt: it is a safe bet for people who don’t want to do a bold makeover, but still want to keep things fresh. Make sure you explain the differences between root smudge, root melt, and shadow root (or don’t!) to avoid any confusion beforehand.  


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