How to Fix Your Roots

Written by: Jean Godfrey-June


Updated on: July 15, 2022


If you color your hair—at a salon or at home—you get roots. Some people love them and even accentuate them: Many of the chicest variations on ombré are essentially grown-out roots. If you don’t love roots, however, they are fairly painless to erase—as is the fading that is also part and parcel of having your hair colored.

If you go to a colorist, ask them for shade (and brand) recommendations first. Some salons create special roots-fixing kits for each individual client; others will recommend over-the-counter products. “You want professional guidance, in terms of shade and in terms of how often you should be reapplying color,” emphasizes Marie Robinson of New York’s Marie Robinson Salon.

fix only the roots

Touching up your roots shouldn’t involve recoloring all your hair, for several reasons. Your roots are a different shade from the rest of your hair, points out Clairol color director James Corbett of New York’s James Corbett Studio. “You think you want it all to match, but since the base color for roots isn’t the same as the already-colored part of your hair, they won’t match. Recoloring the whole head is the number one mistake women make when coloring their hair at home.”

Color on top of color also dulls and flattens the look and texture of your hair. Redken celebrity colorist Tracey Cunningham points out that overdyed roots can cause dark shades to go darker than they’re supposed to: “You’re essentially layering color on top of color,” she says. “If you’re blonde, recoloring too often causes breakage.” Just fix the roots and leave the rest as long as you can, period.

Ask Jean: Three At-Home
Root Miracles

Clean, super effective, but (very temporary): eye shadow for hair. Color Wow makes compacts that look like especially luxe eye-shadow palettes and dispense kind of amazing powder that sticks to your hair, looks totally natural, and comes out only when you wash it. You smooth the powder on with a brush—it’s both invisible and totally effective. Everyone should have one in their shade for emergencies, but we know one editor who uses it all the time. As in, she never touches up her roots with actual dye. “It’s definitely less damaging, and it literally takes me two minutes,” she says.

Clean and lasts through
seven shampoos: temporary gel color

The famous French colorist Christophe Robin has come up with color in a box that blends imperceptibly, looks as natural as the color he’d give you if you flew to his Parisian salon, and lasts for seven shampoos before fading. It also feels (and acts) more like a hair treatment than hair color. Best of all, it’s made without PPD (a compound found in permanent and semipermanent hair-color formulas linked to everything from scalp itchiness to life-threatening reactions), resorcinol (another concerning common hair color chemical), ammonia (a corrosive), peroxide, oxidants, silicones, and sodium laurel sulfate.

  1. Christophe Robin Temporary Color Gel in Golden Blonde
    Christophe Robin Temporary Color Gel in Golden Blonde goop, $35
  2. Christophe Robin Temporary Color Gel in Light Chestnut
    Christophe Robin Temporary Color Gel in Light Chestnut goop, $35
  3. Christophe Robin Temporary Color Gel in Dark Blonde
    Christophe Robin Temporary Color Gel in Dark Blonde goop, $35
  4. Christophe Robin Temporary Color Gel in Dark Chestnut
    Christophe Robin Temporary Color Gel in Dark Chestnut goop, $35

You wash your hair, apply the gel, wait forty minutes, and rinse it out. It comes in four shades, from a golden blonde to a dark chestnut, and comes with gloves, a toothbrush-like applicator, and instructions for roots and allover color. The gel is super thick, so nothing drips; I’ve spent the forty-minute coloring sessions doing work, soaking in a goop “The Martini” bath with the Restorative Radiance Masque from Tammy Fender on my face, doing a pedicure, and even cooking dinner.

It feels more like a beauty treatment than hair color because it sort of is. I also put a tiny bit of conditioner on my ends to protect my highlights, though nowhere near hair that I’ve just colored.

  1. goop Beauty “The Martini” Emotional Detox Bath Soak
    goop Beauty “The Martini” Emotional Detox Bath Soak goop, $35
  2. Rahua Omega 9 Hair Mask
    Rahua Omega 9
    Hair Mask
    goop, $42
  3. Tammy Fender Restorative Radiance Mask
    Tammy Fender Restorative
    Radiance Masque
    goop, $195
  4. Cote x goop Nail Polish (G10)
    Cote x goop Nail Polish
    goop, $18

Not clean, but lasts until your roots grow out: permanent color. Years ago, Marie Robinson hooked me up with the at-home, straight-out-of the box Root Touch-Up from Clairol and it absolutely changed my life. It takes ten minutes, it’s permanent, and it blends with practically every brand of hair color that exists.

The incredible ease and blendability is apparently in part because the color is designed to match slightly faded hair, but I still don’t fully understand the miracle that goes on. Did this discovery make me want to break up with Marie and color my own hair all the time? It did not: The first time she ever colored my hair, I happened to have a first date several hours post. Somehow, on the date, the subject of hair color came up. “Do you know how much people pay to try to get their hair to look the way yours does just naturally?” the date asked me. Never not going to Marie.

pick the right color

Go lighter on root touch-up shades especially around the face, says Cunningham: “Always do a lighter color around your hairline. Otherwise it starts looking really dark because the hairs around your face are like facial hair and the color absorbs differently.”

Your choice of allover hair color seriously affects how often it has to be touched up, notes Robinson: “If you’re a busy working mom, going pale blonde can be more high-maintenance than is ideal.” Red, which fades the most quicky, is another not-for-the-extra-busy option.

Treat Fade (aka That Irritating

All permanent hair color fades, losing its initial luster. Whenever you color hair—even a dark color—the process involves some initial bleaching to get the color to go inside the hair shaft. As the color slowly leeches out of the hair, what’s left is lighter than your original shade. “Darker colors like black fade violet-red, dark brown fades reddish, brown fades orange, and blondes fade from orange to very gold—brassy,” explains Robinson.

Fade Fix No. 1: Start With
“Ash” Family Colors

You’ll notice most boxed hair color is labeled “ash,” “warm,” or “golden.” Warm and golden have more red in them; if red or oranginess bugs you, start with ash. All colorists will doubtless be aghast at this last statement, but the only people we’ve met who want more red in their hair are pretty clear about it, while most people who don’t want red don’t understand that “ash” is (generally) the antidote. If you’ve a got a colorist to advise you, listen. But if you’re standing in the hair-color aisle at the drugstore and you don’t want reddish fade, start with ash.

Fade Fix No. 2: Glosses

Salons treat fading with glosses—essentially semipermanent color that temporarily adjusts the tone (getting rid of the color-fade effect) and increases shine. Cunningham says she treats clients to Redken’s Shades EQ Gloss (go to the site for salons) when color starts to fade, prolonging the time in between hair colorings and keeping hair as healthy as possible. A gloss usually lasts between twelve and twenty shampoos, depending on your hair and how you treat it. You can create a similar effect with semipermanent color at home, says Corbett, who likes Clairol Natural Instincts (about $7 at drugstores) but gives this advice no matter what brand you use: “Pick a shade that’s on the lighter side of what looks right for the first time. If you don’t get enough tone correction with that shade, go a shade darker the next time you do it.”

Fade Fix No. 3:
Avoid Pools and Sun

“The worst!” says Corbett. “Especially the combination of the two. If you’re going to be in a pool or hot tub at all, wet down your hair, then seal in the water with conditioner or hair serum before you go in the pool. Think of your hair like a sponge: You want to fill it up with plain water before you go into anything chlorinated—chlorine is bleach—so it won’t absorb the chlorine as much. It’s really worth the extra step, every time.”

  1.  goop Beauty GOOPGLOW Restore + Shine Hair Serum
    goop Beauty GOOPGLOW Restore
    + Shine Hair Serum
    goop, $48/$44 with subscription

Fade Fix No. 4:
Think Before You Shampoo

Washing your hair—especially with detergent (most shampoos that lather are made with detergent, aka SLS)—strips and fades color. Think about washing it less often, using SLS-free formulas (we sell only SLS-free shampoos on goop), and using lots of conditioner to build back in softness and shine. You can also address color with shampoo, says Robinson: “Generally, to correct brassiness, a purple-based shampoo counteracts orange, yellow, blue, or violet, and green based-shampoos help counteract red and orange.” Purple is great for blonde shades, green more for brown ones.

Rule for All Color Hair:
Never. Stop. Conditioning.

Below, the very best totally clean and utterly hydrating conditioners we know.

  1. Rahua Hydrating Conditioner
    Rahua Hydrating Conditioner goop, $36
  2. Sangre de Fruta Garden of Earthly Delights Botanical Conditioner
    Sangre de Fruta Garden of Earthly Delights Botanical Conditioner goop, $52
  3. Rahua Voluminous Conditioner
    Rahua Voluminous Conditioner goop, $36
  4. Grown Alchemist Nourishing Conditioner
    Grown Alchemist Nourishing Conditioner goop, $49
  5. Innersense Hydrating Cream Conditioner
    Innersense Hydrating Cream Conditioner goop, $30
  6. Sangre de Fruta Head of Roses Botanical Conditioner
    Sangre de Fruta Head of Roses Botanical Conditioner goop, $52