Getting to the Root of the Problem – Help for Hair Highlights

Sometimes hair appointments go wrong. Whether it’s a wrong cut, the color isn’t quite right or your fresh highlights already have roots. 

Dear Paul,

I had highlights and lowlights today.

They left 1-2 cm between the scalp and the beginning of highlights. It looks like I have roots right off the bat.

How do I remedy this to make it look a little more natural? 

They are willing to fix it but I’m not sure what to tell them.

Should I try to fix it myself?


– J.O.

Dear J,

Yours is a common problem with highlights.  When I am teaching how to apply foils, I always teach about “root drag.” This is where the foil does not sit evenly with the skin of the scalp, starting about 1/4 inch away.

I can assure you it is not the salon-brand color that is doing this, but rather a technical difficulty of not getting the foil, paper, or plastic wrap close enough to the scalp when applying the highlights.

One thing is for certain: if not handled correctly, you will step on the toes of your colorist and feelings can get hurt.

Here is a way to remedy this: ask your colorist if it is possible to put a smaller amount of hair in each wrap. He or she should make sure that, when the foil is closed, the hair is a ½” away from either side of the foil. This will allow for a closer fit to the scalp.

Tinier hands also seem to get the packets closer to the scalp. If your colorist has larger hands that don’t accommodate the room between each packet, root drag is inevitable in your highlights.

At the hairdresser ? woman gets new hair colour

Another suggestion is to try Balayage. Root drag seldom happens with Balayage or hair painting. With this method, we use cotton under the painted strand to lift the root and plastic wrap between rows to divide highlights. This method is usually preferred by a colorist with larger hands because there is no need to maneuver hair into small spaces.

The only caution I recommend here is to make sure that your colorist is very experienced in this technique. An inexperienced colorist could create a “root bleed” where the bleaching agent swells forming a red-ish glow to the scalp—much more unattractive than root drag.

The good news is your colorist wants to make you happy! That is one step in the right direction. I always remember this when one of my clients has a legitimate complaint: You are my walking advertisement, so if I make you look and feel beautiful, the payback to me is more nice people like you to work with.


Make your color and highlights last longer with a sulfate-free color shampoo and conditioner.

Good luck with your dilemma. I have no doubt it will be fixed…and when it is, I would love to see your after pictures.

Keep your questions coming to me via Prime Women.  No matter where you reside, asking the Expert is only an email away!


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