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Root Smudging for Beginners: A Step-by-Step Guide

Do you want to go longer between coloring your hair? Do you love highlighting your hair but want a more lived-in look? A root smudge could be the missing step in your hair color journey!

Here we’re going to learn about what a root smudge is, when to use it, and most importantly, give you the steps to do it yourself right at home. Let’s get into it! 

What Is a Root Smudge?

root smudge hair
Root Smudge Hair

A root smudge is exactly what it sounds like! When you think of the word smudge, you think of blurring something or making it softer and less obvious. A root smudge is usually done right after a hair-lightening service.

For example, you would apply a root smudge after getting traditional foil highlights or a balayage. A toner the color of your natural hair or a shade lighter is applied to damp hair right at the root and smudged about an inch down using a comb or color brush.

The root smudge will process for about 15 minutes and then be rinsed out of the hair. The root smudge blurs the highlights and your natural hair color, creating a softer, more lived-in look. The root smudge uses a toner that will only slightly deepen roots, so it does not completely cover the highlights at the root.

They also work really well to soften the line of demarcation as your hair grows out and allows you to go longer before your next salon visit because your roots won’t be as harsh or obvious. 

When Should You Use a Root Smudge?

reasons to get root smudge on hair

There are a few reasons why you want to use a root smudge on your hair. 

Reason #1: You Want a Softer Look at The Root

For a long time, it was very popular to have bold or chunky highlights right at the root but this look has fallen out of fashion over the years. Many people now prefer a softer, more natural look after lightening their hair.

Now, this doesn’t mean you won’t be able to see the highlights at the root. What it means is that the root smudge will tone down those fresh highlights, making it look more like hair that could have grown right out of your head!

You’ll still feel like your hair looks newly colored and fresh while still having that trendy, lived-in look. 

Reason #2: You Want to Go Longer Between Salon Visits

You may be asking how exactly a root smudge can help you go longer between salon visits or at-home hair color.

When you have had a brighter highlight at your root in the past (ones that hadn’t been toned down with a root smudge), you may have noticed you can already see your roots just a couple of weeks later!

This is because the contrast between your natural color and blonde highlights is high and because the lines of the highlights haven’t been softened.

When you apply a root smudge, you are lowering the contrast between your lightened hair and your natural hair color by using a toner of the same or slightly lighter than your natural color.

You are also softening the highlights’ appearance. This will make roots less noticeable and let you color your hair less often! 

Reason #3: You Want to Stay on Trend

This one is simple. Over the last few years, we have seen these lived-in hair colors take hold and become the hottest hair color trend. A root smudge is perfect for giving the natural, lived-in, and even beachy hair color we all love! 

Should You Attempt a Root Smudge at Home?

Yes! This is a fairly simple process and one you could definitely take on at home! Follow our steps for doing a foolproof root smudge at home! 

Root Smudge Steps 

Step #1: Choose your toner

The first thing you need to do is choose a toner to use as your root smudge. Toners are demi-permanent (do not use permanent color for this!) and come in a wide variety of shades. You can order them online or pick them up at your local beauty supply.

Choose a shade that is the same or one shade lighter than your natural color. For example, if you are a level 6 naturally you’ll want to choose a level 6 or level 7 toner. 

Step #2: Highlight your hair

how to do root smudge - hair highlighting

The best time to apply a root smudge is soon after you’ve hair highlighted in a salon or you’ve just highlighted your hair at home. Either way, starting out with freshly highlighted hair is a must!

If you are waiting a couple weeks after you’ve gotten highlights and you’re hoping to blend the line of demarcation that’s started to form you can also follow these same steps to blend out that line.  

Step #3: Wash your hair

You’re going to want to apply your root smudge on clean, damp hair. Right before applying the toner, wash your hair (no conditioner!) and then towel dry your hair very well. Comb out hair and section into 4 quadrants securing with clips.

Step #4: Apply the toner

how to do root smudge - applying toner

The most important part! Using a bowl and color brush, start in the back of your hair and start applying the root smudge to the first back quadrant, first apply right at the root and then feather down the color about an inch with your color brush.

This doesn’t have to be as perfectly precise as a root touch-up with permanent color as demi-permanent toner on wet hair is much more forgiving. Work back to front, taking half-inch sections and applying the color to the root and feathering down. Use a mirror to see the back of your head if you need extra help with the application. 

Pro tip: Once you’ve finished applying the color in one quadrant, use a wide tooth comb to gently comb down the color to give that super soft, smudged effect!

Step # 5: Let the color process

Most toners process for about 15 minutes, follow the instructions for your specific toner. 

Pro tip: A lot of toners look very dark while they are processing. This is because of oxidation, it does not mean that your color will turn out that dark! Don’t panic! If you chose a color the same or lighter than your natural, you’ll have a great result 

Step # 6: Wash Out the Toner

blow drying root smudged hair

Rinse out toner well and follow with shampoo and conditioner! Be sure to use color shampoo and conditioner as it will help seal in the color. Blow dry and admire the beautiful work you’ve done! 

How Long Will My Root Smudge Last?

A root smudge will last anywhere between 2-6 weeks. How long the root smudge lasts is greatly dependent on how often you wash your hair, if you use salon quality and color-safe hair products and if you heat style often.

The less you wash your hair and the less heat you use on it, the longer your root smudge will last. Using high-quality salon products is always going to make your color last longer and look better.

Key Things to Remember:

  • A root smudge will give you a lived-in, natural hair color.
  • It is done after getting highlights or balayage. 
  • A root smudge will allow you to go longer before coloring your hair again.
  • It is a simple technique that you can do at home. 
  • How you care for your hair after the root smudge determines how long it lasts.

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