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Oil Smudging vs. Smudging vs. Shading–Which is Right for You?

Is it us, or have color options pretty much exploded? Gone are the days of explaining your dream locks via the all the encompassing single process or even, highlights. In fact, there are more ways than ever to get the exact look you want. Whether that’s surfer girl- sunkissed, or just a hint of tonality–all you need to achieve the most from your appointment is to salon-speak like you’re behind the chair.

Like last year’s ombre, get ready to immerse yourself in all things smudging. From simply “smudging” to “oil smudging” and “shading,” these three techniques are key to transforming tresses in 2017. Get to know what each means below, so you can leave the salon looking exactly like your inspo photo.

(via Instagram)

Nicole Leal, Director of Education/ Master Stylist for Nine Zero One, who counts Emma Roberts, J. Law and Miley among her impressive client list, clued us into the specifics of each technique, so you know just what to ask for. “In my opinion, all three are very similar,” she explains. In each instance, the devil is in the details. Here, Leal maps out exactly how to remember all three and maximize the benefits of each.


Oil Smudging – otherwise known as “glaze smudging,”  blends previous highlights that have grown out to better transition with your natural, grown out color level.




Smudging – this is an overall “base softening,” where you alter the natural level quickly in order to create a softness.



Shading – (aka shadowing) focuses on creating dimension for a fresh set of highlights, in order to blend with the natural level.




Though slightly similar, the processes to achieve these results varies. For instance, explains Nicole, “oil smudging/ glaze is usually done with a demi-permanent,” as is shading/ shadowing. However, with smudging/ base softening expect a different dye—this technique generally relies on permanent color.


So now that you can talk the talk, how do you know which process to request? It all depends on what you are looking for from your color. “If you want to extend your highlights—for as long as you want,” notes Leal optimistically, “oil smudging/ glaze is best.” For newly dyed hair or “fresh highlights,” opt for a shading/ shadowing.

And to save time between coloring, also known as living the dream? “Smudging/ base softening is best for those who want to be bright all over but don’t want highlights every time,” she shares. For those looking to grow out color, oil smudging/ glaze will make your transition smoother. On the flipside, if you are looking to keep color longer, Nicole has the ultimate hack, “Visiting the salon for all over toning is always best to maximize the longevity of your hair color,” she tells us.

Want more colorist intel? Here’s how to tell Balyage from Highlights, o–nce and for all.

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