Shadow Roots

Philosophi Team Hair Inspiration, Hair Maintenance

Shadow roots are a modern flashback trend. While we may have seen “trashy blonde” roots as early as 1984 (Madonna was way ahead of her time), it was never ubiquitous. But look around today, you’ll likely see this look everywhere! Roots that are darker than the ends can create subtle dimension and depth, or an illusion of color having grown out several weeks.

Whether you use the layman’s term, Shadow Root, or the professional’s term, Stretched Root, this is a look to be considered.  Is it a good choice for you? Something you want to adopt? Let’s run through the ups and downs so you make the decision that’s best for you! 


@paintingpretty shows us a variety of shadow roots on different hair colors!

What’s Awesome

Shadow roots can serve many purposes. They can blend a highlight, provide gray coverage, mask unwanted tones, and cut maintenance costs immensely! Having that touch of shadow gives you some wiggle room between color appointments which can save money over time.

A shadow root does not have to be dramatic (remember those tragic at-home ombrés?) and can look as natural as needed.  The best part (besides saving money) is that they can make your hair look thicker instantly! Yup, having a touch of depth at the roots creates the illusion of thicker, fuller hair without you having to do any work.


Ombré, Bayalage, Shadow Root: What’s the Difference?

If you’re getting confused with the differences between a shadow root, an ombré, and a balayage you’re not crazy! They’re all roads that lead to a dimensional destination, but the travel itinerary is different.

A shadow root will do simply that: create the appearance of a shadow at your root. This contrast, be it soft or strong, will increase the illusion of depth (making your hair look instantly thicker), and make any pre-existing color appear brighter in comparison.

Traditionally an ombré consists of melting 2 to 3 colors together, covering the length of your hair. This also offers depth on top giving way to light ends, but can quickly appear blocky or like harsh lines down the hair if done without skill and experience.

Balayage is a method of color application, essentially painting the color on the hair. It deals with the mids and ends of the hair, lightening them in a way that creates a natural shadow at the root because much of the hair the very top is not covered in a balayage application. Balayage can be used to create a shadow root or ombré look, but you can also achieve an ombré or shadow root using other application techniques.

A consultation with an experienced stylist can help you determine which combination of techniques and outcomes is best for you to achieve your desired effect, within your desired budget.

Shadow Roots are Budget-Friendly

Shadow roots are a relatively low maintenance hair color and if your natural color is left exposed and utilized as your shadow root, you can get several more weeks out of your style than if hair color is used!. Shadow roots require similar maintenance to a color retouch or partial highlight (every 6-10 weeks), however, since the grow-out is designed to be softer and more natural the service itself can take as little as an hour and a half, as opposed to 3 hours for keeping up with your highlights every month.

A really good shadow root is an advanced technique, so not every stylist is going to be able to execute it* well, and even an experienced professional may take a couple of rounds to get it exactly perfect. Some spotting or demarcation can occur, depending on the effect you’re going for, your unique head shape, texture, type, density, the color being used, and how you style it each day.

Essentially, due to the natural characteristics of your hair and the nature of the (shadow root) process, some variations in color can occur.

This is the hair equivalent of a garments: “due to the fabrics natural characteristics and the stone washing process, some variations in color can occur” or a cabinet maker’s: “some variations in color can occur due to differences in wood grain although we strive for perfection and consistency with all our products” warning.  This creates a bit of a conundrum for the client. How are you expected to know what is expected and what is just poor application?

A skilled technician will both warn you where and why this may occur and will tell you candidly if any less-than-perfect results are within or outside of expectations. Of course, at most reputable salons (like Philosophi Salon in Columbus Ohio), the standards will be very high and any result outside of standards is typically corrected at no charge. That said, no matter where you go, we do recommend a Demi-permanent hair color that will fade out softly, especially when trying it out for the first time.

*Pro Tip:  Want to know if your colorist can create the look you’re going for? Check out their Instagram or ask to see their portfolio! If you’re seeing them put out work that’s similar to what you’d like, chances are you’re in good hands. Still not sure? Book a consultation. Most reputable salons offer reasonably-priced consultations. At all the Phia Concepts salons in Columbus, we even offer the guests choice of complimentary 10-minute phone consultation or a $29 30-minute in-salon consultation. When you come in, ask the stylist what their specialties are! A great colorist is going to be clear about their strengths, or even direct you to another professional who can deliver.

It’s All About Lifestyle

Stretched or Shadow roots are one of our favorite trends, and we’re guessing they’ll be sticking around for a while. If you don’t think you can embrace the grown out, natural look, or if you drastically change your hair color often, this may not be the best choice for you.

However, if you like the sound of saving some money and time in the salon, can dig the lived-in vibe, and are down for thicker-looking hair, this may be your perfect look!


If you’d like a consultation with one of our hair color specialists at any of our Columbus, Ohio salons in the Short North, Clintonville, or Bexley to take advantage!

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