Shadow roots vs. root smudge: which one should you choose for your hair?

light ash color

What color technique is best for your hair? Shadow roots or root smudge?


I’ll help you make that discovery here.

But before getting into the details, I’ll give you some quick tips about which technique you should end up with.


Go for a root smudge if:

  • You have short hair
  • You want a harmonious difference between your roots and the rest of your hair
  • You want a lighter hair color
  • You’re consistent in your haircare routine


Shadow roots are best for you if:

  • You have long hair
  • You want a lot of contrast between your roots and the rest of your hair
  • You’re looking for something with low maintenance


Whenever a new hair color technique comes out and becomes popular because of social media – IG, I’m looking at you – the questions start raining down on me.

“Would shadow roots look good on me?”

“My hair is long, could I pull off a root smudge?”

 These are just a couple of examples of the hundreds of questions I get.

 If you want to know the truth, everything depends on only a few factors, such as how long your hair is, what kind of effect you ultimately want, and if you’re consistent in maintaining and renewing your hair color. 


For example, even if the technique for the two is the same, the key difference is the tone you choose to dye your roots. That’s why at the beginning, I told you that if you like high contrast, shadow roots are for you since they involve darker tones for your roots.

But for a root smudge, generally, you choose lighter colors so that you have more balance between your root color and the rest of your hair.


That’s why today I’ll answer all those questions I get at my salon about these two techniques – and do double duty by answering your questions, too. I’ll tell you:

  • What colors to choose for a root smudge versus a shadow root
  • Which of the two techniques requires more maintenance
  • What technique is best according to how long your hair is
  • The differences in how you apply each


Even though the differences are minimal, they really stick out in the result. So let me help you make the right decision, and read on.


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Root smudge vs. shadow roots: what colors to choose in each case


Both root smudges and shadow roots have one thing in common: you apply dye to the root and root only, which is why the time it takes to apply them are similar.


To choose which technique will be better in your case, you should think about what kind of results you’re looking for.

Do you want your hair to have a contrast between colors?

Would you like hair that fades from one color to the next in a more natural way?


To help you think about it, let’s start with the shadow.


  • Shadow roots

For a shadow, as I mentioned before, you use contrasting tones. That’s why when you choose your colors, you should pick complete opposites.

For example:

  • If your hair is blond 8, you can choose a dark brown 3 color or black 1.
  • If your hair is platinum blond 10, you can choose a dark brown 3 color.


 See? If you’re looking for a dramatic difference, then don’t think twice: shadow roots are your best bet. 


  • Root smudge

This technique uses more harmonious tones, which is to say that the shades used here blend more naturally.

Generally, we use warmer shades which are 2 to 3 tones darker than the base color, to dye your roots.


For example:

  • If your hair is medium blond 7, you can apply a medium brown 5
  • If your hair is a light blond 9, you can apply a light brown 6

That way, you’ll get a natural and balanced root smudge.


Now let’s talk a little about maintaining each of these techniques, and perhaps I can help you decide which goes best with your personality.


Which technique needs more maintenance?

short hair

One of the things that concern us most about changing our hair color is maintenance.

Are you worried about one of these styles making you slave over keeping up your hair color?


  • First, let me congratulate you for being responsible and thinking ahead about the consequences of your decisions.
  • And second, I’ll tell you that if you take your hair care routine and appearance seriously, a root smudge is for you.

Since it involves applying lighter colors to your roots, you should touch them up more often – every time your roots peek through. So get used to the idea that if you go for this style, you need to renew it monthly (the average time it takes for your roots to grow out).


On the other hand, shadow roots are for those who can’t be bothered much with beauty routines for whatever reason, whether you don’t have time or your hair isn’t on your mind as often.

Using much darker tones for contrast, a shadow root allows you to leave more time between touching it up. Here, when your real roots start to show, no one will notice the difference, which means you can renew the color every two months.


What technique to choose according to hair length

medium blonde tones

The two techniques look amazing on any hair length, but the visual effect of contrasting tones helps your hair to have the illusion that it’s longer or shorter.


If you have short hair, I suggest that you choose a root smudge since having two harmonious tones that fade naturally into each other makes your hair look longer.


However, if your hair is long, a shadow root is best since it will bring depth to your style. The contrast between light and dark colors will make you look like you have twice as much hair.


If you’re thinking about doing either of these techniques with your own hands, I have some bad news for you. It’s better to go to a salon for shadow roots; if you’re not an expert, it can end in disaster.

Don’t believe me? Maybe you don’t trust others easily, but let me tell you why you should believe me.


Differences between applying a shadow root and a root smudge

The application is similar for both techniques.

We talked about how you use lighter colors for a smudge to dye the roots, right? That’s also what makes it easier to correct if you accidentally get dye somewhere you’re not supposed to since the smudge isn’t such a different color than the rest of your hair.

Here, you can hide or correct any error perfectly with the dye you used to color the rest of your hair.


 But for a shadow root, since the colors are contrasting, it’s much more difficult to apply since you have to be extra careful not to get a stain on the rest of your hair. 

Because if even one drop of dark dye falls on the middle or tips of your hair, you will need to bleach your hair.


Although the application is the same, there’s so much less risk with a root smudge since it’s easier to fix.

 That’s why if you’re thinking about doing this at home and you don’t have experience in dyeing hair, you should do a root smudge and leave the shadow root to an expert. 

If you already know which of these two techniques you’re going to use to renovate your look, the time has come for me to tell you how to carry them out. As we know, the procedure for both is the same, so check it out.



Step 1: Prepare your hair

Brush your hair with the part in the middle to leave your roots exposed and so that it’s clear where you need to apply the dye.


Step 2: Prepare the dye

Mix the dye with the developer that’s included in the hair dye kit you chose.


Step 3: Apply the dye

With the hair dye applicator, you should make a line over your root with the dye mix.

Then comb it only 1 or 2 centimeters with a medium-toothed comb from the bottom of your root. Never more than 1 or 2 centimeters.

From there, repeat this process all over your head, taking extra care not to stain the rest of your hair.

Let the mix sit for about 30 to 45 minutes, then rinse.



Either of these two techniques accomplish a basic goal: renovating your look.

  • If you have short hair, you don’t want high contrast between your roots and your hair, or you’re very careful with maintaining your hair color, a root smudge is for you.
  • Now, if you’re looking to play with a clear difference of color between your roots and the rest of your hair, you like dark tones, or you’re looking for easier maintenance, I suggest you choose a shadow root. For this one, though, you should definitely use a salon for your results to be perfect.


Now it’s your turn to decide which roots are for you, shadow or smudge?

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