What does hair toner do to hair? Learn all about how hair toner enhances and brightens color-treated hair by neutralizing unwanted brassy tones here.
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How do you know which toner to use? How does hair toner actually work? Here’s everything you need to know about hair toner so you can maximize its power.

If you’re thinking about color treating your hair, you’ll need a good toner. Why? Bleach and chemical color treatments can bring out unwanted brassiness. Hair toner balances the shade and leaves your color bright and natural looking.

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What is Hair Toner?

Simply put, hair toner — as its name suggests — tones the color of your hair. It brightens, enhances shine, and cancels out any unflattering brassiness brought out during the bleaching process.

All hair has underlying shades of yellow, red, and orange pigment in it. When you lighten your hair, the bleach has to work through each of those pigments to lift away your natural color. Before toning, the result often appears dull and garish.

Hair toning products don’t change the actual color of your hair. They just alter the undertones to help you neutralize brassiness and achieve a shinier, more natural shade. Depending on where you are in the color treating process, you may want to use different hair toning products. Here are the three different types of hair toners.

Hair toning products…alter the undertones to help you neutralize brassiness and achieve a shinier, more natural shade.

  1. Salon Hair Toner This type of toner is meant for salon use right after chemically lightening or coloring your hair. Its high pigment concentration makes it best used by a professional colorist who knows how to manipulate shades to give you the color you crave.
  2. Tinted Shampoos and Conditioners Toning shampoos and conditioners can replace your regular products to help brighten, deepen, or amplify your color and prevent fade. Toning shampoos and conditioners are lightly pigmented, so they are safe to use at home.
  3. Color-Refreshing Gloss Glosses are also safe for use at home to help restore your salon-fresh, first-day color. Some glosses go on after washing and conditioning to tone and add vibrancy to your color.

What Does Toner Do to Hair?

So now you know what hair toner is, you might still be wondering what it actually does and how it works. For that, we need to bust out that old art class color wheel.

As we mentioned before, any time you lighten your hair, you’ll reveal the natural orange, yellow, and red undertones that make up your color. Though that might not sound terrible, those undertones often look dull, harsh, and unflattering. That’s where toner comes in.

Shampoo types for blonde and brunettes graphic

In order to get a shinier, healthier, more natural color, you need to cool down those undertones. Blondes usually have underlying tones of bright yellow and orange. If you look at the color wheel, you’ll see purple and violet sit directly across from yellow and orange. This means that toners with purple and violet pigments will help cancel out brassy yellow and orange tones in bleached hair.

The same principle applies to brunettes. Dark hair usually has tones of red and deep orange. What’s across from these colors on the color wheel? Blue. So color-treated dark hair will need a toner with blue pigment to help eliminate those unwanted red and orange undertones.

How to Use Hair Toner

Save salon toners for the salon unless you want to run the risk of a color disaster. Instead, tinted shampoos, conditioners, and color-refreshing glosses are excellent tools to have in your arsenal for caring for color-treated hair. Here’s how to safely tone and maintain your color at home.

If you’re using a tinted shampoo or conditioner:
First, it’s important to choose the right tinted products.

To apply:

  1. Gently massage your color-boosting or toning shampoo of choice into wet hair and lather.
  2. Leave sit for two to three minutes to fight stubborn brassiness and achieve the maximum effect.
  3. Rinse well and follow with the complimenting toning conditioner.
  4. Use your toning shampoo and conditioner at every wash until you achieve your desired shade. Then alternate with your regular products to maintain a gorgeous, shiny, healthy color.

If you’re using a color-refreshing gloss:

  1. Shampoo and condition your hair normally.
  2. Squeeze a quarter-sized dollop of gloss into your hand and apply to wet hair from roots to tips.
  3. Repeat three to five times to ensure every strand is evenly saturated.
  4. Let it sit for three minutes, then rinse.
  5. Use weekly to eliminate dullness, restore vibrancy, and add rich, natural tones to your color.

Hair Toner FAQs

Still not sure about hair toner and hair toning products? Here are some frequently asked questions to help ease your mind and get on your way to perfectly toned, salon quality color.

Is hair toner bad for you?
No. In fact, it’s an essential part of the coloring process to help you get a healthier, shinier, more natural color. Toner isn’t as intense as bleach or even the hair dye that colored your hair. It only has a little bit of pigment in it to help neutralize brassy undertones and leave you with the color you desire.

What hair toner should I use?
Blonde hair has natural undertones of yellow and light orange, so purple-tinted toners work best on light hair. Dark hair has undertones of deep red and orange, so blue-tinted toners are best for brunettes.

Can I use hair toner at home?
We strongly caution against using ammonia-based hair toners at home. These are best saved for the salon, where a trained colorist can help you achieve your desired tone. Use a blue or purple toning shampoo, a color-depositing shampoo, or a color-refreshing gloss instead to help cancel out brassy undertones and boost shine.

How long does hair toner last?
The hair toner your colorist uses at the salon will last about six to eight weeks. After that, you may need to take a trip back to the salon for a color refresh. Using toning products can help restore shine and extend the life of your color.

Loving your vibrant, perfectly-toned color? Check out more

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