How to Do Your Own Shadow Root


Article by Hayley Hyer

Photography by Stock Images

Did your stylist do a shadow root for you before your salon closed and you want to learn how to touch it up? Do you have no idea what a shadow root is? Either way, this article is for you! As I mentioned in my previous article, How to Safely Bleach Your Own Hair, my hairstylist did a shadow root for me when he colored my hair blonde so that it would look natural with my dark brown eyebrows and have that modern, lived-in look. It also helped me go a lot longer between touch-ups because my natural hair color would blend in with the shadow root as it started to grow out.

But alas, it eventually got too long, and I had quite a bit of dark hair growing in. So, I did an all-over bleach, and the next step will be to add the shadow root back in. If you already have light hair all over, you're ready for this step. If not, you'll need to first lighten your hair to be all one shade, whether that just means touching up your roots or bleaching all of your hair.

Read for the shadow root? Here we go.

What Exactly is a Shadow Root?

A shadow root is a bit like balayage, but the color from the root does not mix all the way down into the length of the hair. It blends through the top of the head and eventually stops, and the rest of the length is one color. Here is an example of balayage on the left and an example of a shadow root on the right.

The difference is subtle, but you can see that in the balayage, shades of caramel and brown swirl throughout all of the hair, and there are some very small long pieces that are entirely brown. With the shadow root, the dar hair fades out at a certain point, and the rest of the hair is blonde.

A shadow root is easier to maintain because once the length of your hair is your desired shade of blonde, you don't have to keep processing it. You just bleach and re-color the new growth that is healthy.

How to Do Your Own Shadow Root

Picking a Product

First, you will need to pick a color. Box dyes make me nervous because the color doesn't always turn out like you think it will, but if it's your only option, go with the most neutral light brown shade you see. Use a demi-permanent color since it only needs to last until you bleach your hair again to touch it up. This is easier on your hair and scalp.

I recommend ordering a color online from a place that helps you find your best color match because they take into account how damaged your hair is, you skin tone, you eye color, and more. I like Color&Co. by L'Oreal Paris because you can take a quiz to find your perfect color, and they also have the option to do a video call with a professional colorist to talk about your hair goals.

The Technique

Follow the set-up steps in How to Safely Bleach Your Own Hair and make sure you have everything you need before you begin. You may want to have one gloved hand and one non-gloved hand so you can touch the rest of your hair without transferring product to it as you move it around.

  • Section off your hair and either start from the bottom or the top, letting down or clipping back pieces of hair at a time. Be very careful not to press the color into the length of your hair as you clip pieces back.
  • Lightly dab your root with the brush and continue to tap it on as you move the brush about 1/2-inch down from your scalp. This way, not all pieces will get colored so you don't end up with a heavy line that looks unnatural. This goal here is for it all to blend together, so avoid any perfectly straight lines.
  • Continue to place the color all around your head close to your scalp. Once you are finished, secure your hair with a clip in a way that the ends are not touching the part of your hair with color and place a disposable plastic shower cap over it to lock in the moisture and heat.
  • Set a timer for however long the instructions say (probably 20 minutes) and remove the shower cap.
  • Be super careful as you rinse the color out to hold the rest of your hair up to the side so it does not pick up any of it. If you have someone who can help you with this part, it's a lot easier.
  • If your kit came with a toner or conditioner, do that step next. If not, use your own deep conditioning treatment or mask to give some life back to your locks.

The great thing about a shadow root is that as long as you don't paint a heavy circle around your head with the color, you can't really get it wrong. The point is to look natural and blend in, so wherever the color ends up or doesn't end up, that's OK. And if you feel like it looks weird or you don't like the shade, the demi-permanent color will eventually fade, and after you give your hair and scalp a week or two to rest, you can bleach it and try again.

Don't be hard on yourself, and please remember how wonderful you are. Your hair is just a small part of your beauty.

Follow Hayley Hyer @hayhyer

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