Shadow Roots vs. Balayage: Which is better for your hair?

dark roots and light ends

What are the differences between shadow roots and balayage? Which technique is better for your hair?


That’s exactly what I’m going to tell you about today.

Before I get into the details, I want to give you a few clues as to which technique you should choose.

  • If your hair is long or thin and you want to add texture or depth to your look, but you don’t want to bleach your hair and you don’t have time to maintain a complex dye job, then I’d recommend shadow roots.
  • If your hair is short or you have a lot of hair, you want to lighten the middle sections and ends of your hair, and you don’t mind bleaching it, even if that means you need to spend more time and money keeping up with your color, then I’d recommend going with balayage.


Of course, these are just my recommendations; at the end of the day, you can go with the look you like best, but there’s no use crying over spilled milk. I say that because oftentimes, people decide to do one thing with their hair without thinking about what is best for their hair texture or length.

And I might even go a step further and say that some people decide to go with one technique over the other because Sally down the street decided to do it.

You don’t think that’s the case?

bob cut or medium length cut

I hate to burst your bubble, but it happens more than you’d think.

I don’t have to look any farther than to one of my clients that just left my salon. Stephanie came in with one word on her mind: Balayage.

Why did she want to get a balayage?


Just because her best friend had gotten it done and it ended up looking amazing on her.

  • But of course, her friend had short hair and Stephanie had longer hair.
  • Also, her friend took extra good care of her hair, while Stephanie had never even heard of a moisturizing mask. So, bleaching her hair – which is absolutely necessary for doing balayage – would damage her hair.
  • Lastly, her friend didn’t mind having to religiously keep up with the maintenance of her balayage, while Stephanie would have to win the lottery to be able to invest in monthly maintenance for her hair. 


That’s when I had to get strict with Stephanie, and I told her I would not do a balayage on her hair. But, although I’m a hairstylist, I have the heart of a therapist, and I know how to negotiate with clients. So, I offered her another alternative: shadow roots.

And I told her about the benefits: she wouldn’t have to bleach her hair, so she wouldn’t damage it, she wouldn’t have to be a slave to the salon for maintenance, and she’d still get a completely updated look that gave more depth to her hair.

So, I got to work, and I used a dark brown dye on her roots.


I cannot describe Stephanie’s face when she saw herself in the mirror with the shadow roots. It was a look of happiness, rediscovery, motivation, thankfulness, this whole combo of emotions that told me that my advice had been right.

And best of all, if she wanted to, she could come back to the salon, as soon as seven weeks from when I did her roots.

 Do you understand the importance of knowing what you’re looking for when you decide to hop on a color trend?  


If you’re still unsure about if shadow roots or balayage are better for you, stick around because I’ll tell you:

  • What getting a balayage or shadow roots consists of
  • The possible colors for each of the techniques and their maintenance schedules


I’m sure you’ll choose the best thing for your hair and style at the end of the day.


Tabla de Contenidos


What differentiates balayage and shadow roots

color gradient

In reality, these two techniques are complete opposites, since shadow roots darken your hair’s roots and balayage lightens the middle and ends of your hair.


But also, you need to bleach your hair to get a balayage, since it’s a fading color technique that creates a transition effect in your hair.

To correctly do a balayage, you need to bleach your hair to then use dye on the bleached ends.


Shadow roots are exactly the opposite, since you don’t bleach your hair and you only use dark dye on your roots to create a shadow effect. You only do that to the roots.


Read the following questions:

  • Do you have long hair?
  • Is your hair thin, to the point that it seems like you don’t have much of it?
  • Are you like Stephanie in the sense that you don’t put so much time into your hair care routine?
  • Is your hair damaged?


 If you answered yes to all of the above questions or almost all of them, then shadow roots are the best technique for you, since you don’t have to bleach your hair and you’ll be able to make it seem like you have more volume, and you only need to come back into the salon for maintenance every 6-7 weeks.  


Now read these questions:

  • Is your hair very healthy?
  • Are you more interested in a blended transition effect than a contrasting one?
  • Do you have short hair?
  • Do you have so much hair that sometimes goes out of control?


  If you answered yes to all of the above questions or almost all of them, then balayage is the answer to your agonizing because it could make your hair seem longer or hide the quantity of your hair without your needing to cut it.  


Also, you’ll be able to bleach it without putting your hair at risk, but you will need to be stricter about your salon visits.

And what about the colors? That’s what I’m about to tell you about.


What color dye should you choose for shadow roots and balayage?


The color you choose is another key difference between these two techniques.


 You use a color that’s within the range of the colors you already have in your hair for balayage, since the idea of balayage is to imitate a natural transition of colors in your hair.  

For example:

  • If your base color is a light brown 6, then you could use a blonde 8.
  • If your base color is a blonde 8, then you could use a platinum blonde 10.


 On the other hand, the idea of shadow roots is to create contrast between the body of your hair and roots, with a difference of up to 6 shades, because the more contrast between colors, the better the effect.  

For example:

  • If your base color is a blonde 8, then you could use a brown 4.
  • If your base color is a light blonde 9, you could use a dark brown 3.

As you can see, the bigger the contrast between the body of your hair and your roots, the better.


Which technique requires more maintenance?

Balayage has a much stricter and expensive maintenance schedule than shadow roots because it uses more materials and needs to be touched up every 5-6 weeks.


Shadow roots have a less strict maintenance schedule because since you only need to darken your roots, you can wait 6-7 weeks to touch up the color. That’s because your lighter hair growing in will be less noticeable because of the dark dye.

And one last question: Can you do either of these techniques at home?


Can you do shadow roots at home? What about balayage?

I should be honest. If you decide to do shadow roots, there is every possibility that you can get amazing results at home because all you need to do is buy a kit of dark dye and use it on your roots.

What you need to do is have a medium-tooth comb on hang to comb the dye half an inch to an inch from your roots to get that shadow effect and to ensure there is no clear line of where your natural hair color begins.


 But, if you’ve decided that balayage is better for your hair and your preferences, then I’d recommend going to a salon. 

Because you’ll need to bleach your hair and pull it up, separating certain sections of your hair and leaving half an inch of space between then.

Then, you’ll need to wrap them in foil and wait the proper amount of time for the bleach to work, rinse, and then use the dye, and tone your hair if necessary.

Do you know how to do all of that?


If you don’t know, then go to a salon, because it might not turn out well otherwise and you don’t want to regret your decision.



  • If you have long or thin hair, then shadow roots will give your hair extra depth and texture. They’re also a great option for damaged hair, since the technique doesn’t require bleach. Lastly, you can do them at home.
  • If you have short hair, like a bob, then balayage will make your hair look longer. It’s also ideal for thick or curly hair. But, it’s a more complex technique, so you’ll need to go to a professional salon to do it.

Do you know which of the two techniques is best for you?

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