Color Formulation: The Good Root

If you have been paying attention, roots are getting a whole lot of play time these days.  Most modern hair coloring techniques go hand-in-hand with creating depth.  In fact, depth is finally getting proper attention and it is as important (or more so) than highlights.  But let me tell you, there are a whole lot of phrases floating around about this: 


  • Root Smudge
  • Shadow Root
  • Root Melt
  • Reverse Balayage
  • Root Stretch


Spoiler alert! It’s all the same thing. 

You are creating an artificial root (one that looks nicer than roots that just grow out of the head) and adding depth which will soften any lines of demarcation, the difference between those techniques is: how much depth is added?



Before we dive in, I want to talk about product.  Since all of these techniques are about depositing depth into the hair, limit your product choices to just Semi permanent or Demi permanent color.  Why not permanent? Well, permanent color puts more stress on the hair, so if this is previously lightened hair (which 9 time out of 10 it is) permanent color wouldn’t be the most ideal choice for the overall integrity of the hair.   For what it’s worth: I’m usually opting for Demi because it gives more longevity.  The only exception for me is if I’m concerned about exposing underlying pigment, then I will pick a Semi.


Root Smudge

/ro͞ot sməj/: Also Called a “Shadow Root”

A root smudge is the perfect technique to slightly “buff away” telltale foil lines at the root or a balayage application that wasn’t feathered enough at the base. Translation: If you are having a hard time with balayage, foilyage, or traditional foils looking too “stripe-y”, a root smudge can save your bacon!


How to Apply A Root Smudge

After the highlight technique of your choice processes fully, shampoo your client and mix up a root smudge.


  1. Pick a color close to the client’s natural level, think of it like “adding back” her root color: if she’s a 7, I’m picking a 7N (or 7NA of I want ashy, 7NG if I want warmth, etc).  
  2. Towel dry your client and detangle her at the shampoo bowl
  3. “Dab on” the color with a stiff color brush, a bottle applicator, or even just your finger right at her root.
  4. Use a wide tooth comb to pull through ever so slightly and diffuse the color (warning: if you use a fine tooth comb it’s going to drag the color down too far and become blotchy)
  5. Process accordingly: No less than 5 minutes, no more that 20.  My average root smudge sits on for 10 minutes because that’s how I book my appointments.


Root Melt

/ro͞ot melt/: Also Called a “Root Stretch” or “Reverse Balayage”

When a Root Smudge isn’t enough to get the job done, bring in the big guns and do a Root Melt. Very smily put: A root melt starts out very similar to a single process application, but then it’s feathered into the midshaft and oftentimes it is paired with a good amount of lowlights. 


How to Apply A Root Melt

The whole point of it is to create depth and melt an artificial root color into the pre-existing color (ie. highlights).  But avoid a rookie mistake: If you don’t feather the color far enough down through the midshaft, your client will just have a halo through the top and that’s not too much different than smudging.


  1. Depending on your desired end result, pick a color close to the client’s natural level or even 2 levels darker.
  2. Start feathering the color through the midshalf, making sure to bring it down and begin feathering it into the pre lightened ends.
  3. Need more depth?  Start painting in large panels of lowlights (you may need a separate formula for this if the ends are particularly porous).
  4. Need Brightness around the face?  Feel free to pop in a face frame of highlights, either at the same time or afterwards at the shampoo bowl.



This Client of Mine


The first time I met this client she was BLONDE!  Like, power blonde. The back-story is she had her previous hairstylist brighten her as much as possible for her wedding, but then like a lot of people, she wanted something new once the wedding was over, she wanted to go back to her natural.  Which is totally my jam, so I was thrilled to be the one to take her from “bad roots” to “good roots”!  I did a Root Melt on her, and here’s how it went down:


Step One: I pre-shampooed her because I can get a better melt on damp hair, I used a chelating shampoo to remove any trace mineral buildup. Towel dried well.


Step Two: Back at the styling chair, I applied her base color, then I chose large vertical panels to lowlight with full saturation.


Step Three: Every few subsection I would leave out a “highlight” and just make sure the base color was feathered into it well as to not have any harsh lines.


Step Four: She processed for 30 minutes once my last section was applied. Then shampoo, gloss, etc. 



Natural Level: 6

Percentage of Gray: 0%

Underlying Pigment: Orange

Existing Color: 9G through midhsaft and ends

  • Base: Lanza 20g 6NV + 5g 5G with Double Demi
  • Highs: None, instead I’m leaving out pre-lightened pieces
  • Lows:Lanza 20g 6NV + 10g 7G with Double Demi
  • Gloss: Redken Shades EQ 08V + 08N +15 volume

Finished with Olaplex


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