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What Is a Hair Toner?

Mar 31, 2021

What is a hair toner? How does it work? In which cases is it used? Find out everything you need to know about a hair toner.

Anyone who regularly lightens their hair is probably well acquainted with toners. Only with a hair toner you can achieve real platinum blonde hair. Toner acts as a secret ingredient to help you neutralise unwanted warm undertones (yellow, brass) and correct the resulting color tone. But it's not the only way you can use toners! Did you know that you can also use toner on brown hair or to achieve the increasingly popular pastel shades? Read on to find out more!

What Is a Hair Toner?

A Hair toner is a hair dye product that contains little or no ammonia and thus belongs to the group of demi-permanent or semi-permanent dyes. It allows the hairdresser to adjust the tone of your hair color, but it cannot change your hair color! It helps fix, enhance, or neutralize unwanted undertones. This means removing warm tones or adding missing warm tones. In addition, it allows the hairdresser to ensure an even hair color result from the roots to the ends. It is therefore suitable for fine tuning and minor color adjustment. Due to the low ammonia content, it does not penetrate deep into the hair strand, but rather only wraps the hair and acts as a "top coat", so unlike the permanent hair color, it gradually washes away. Another plus? The low ammonia formula means it is a gentle choice for any hair type, even if it is damaged. On the contrary, it will help to improve the appearance of damaged or dry hair!

You will not only find toner in the form of hair dye. Today, toners come in many different forms. Gloss, toning shampoos, conditioners, masks and foams can also be considered toners, because all these products contain pigments that adjust the tone of your hair. Silver or purple shampoo can also be considered as such "kind of a toner". Professional salon toners are more pigmented = more effective, and their results last longer. However, pigmented care is great for maintaining color at home.

How Does a Hair Toner Work?

To understand how toner works, let us use a little bit of chemistry to explain. We have two main types of pigment in our hair: eumelanin (brown to black pigment) and pheomelanin (yellow, orange to light red pigment). During the bleachning process, eumelanin is removed, while pheomelanin is only minimally affected. As a result, dark hair turns yellow because a large amount of pheomelanin remains in the hair. In contrast, lighter hair that have less of feomelanine, turns light yellow. Therefore, whenever you decide to lighten/bleach your hair, you will always fight warm tones (see picture below), especially when we lighten by more levels and the original hair colour is dark. This is where a hair toner comes in handy.

The toner works according to the colour wheel and balances the unwanted tone by adding color from the opposite side of the spectrum (see picture below). Take yellow/blonde, for example. What color is the opposite? Purple! Thus, the purple toner removes an unwanted yellow tinge from the hair. Also remember that toner works best on lightened or bleached hair and use it only when necessary, for the hair must be in the correct shade, otherwise the toner will not work properly and you will not achieve the desired effect. When choosing a shade, stick to the color wheel:

  • Purple Toner: Neutralizes yellow tones, great for very light blondes - levels 7-10.
  • Blue toner: Neutralizes orange / brass tones, ideal for light brown to medium blond hair - levels 4-6.
  • Green toner: Neutralizes red tones, ideal for black to dark brown hair - levels 1-4.
  • Red Toner: Enhances red, red-violet and magenta tones.
  • Orange/copper toner: Increases the intensity of auburn, warm browns, and golden blondes.
  • Yellow toner: Brightens brown tones and softens excessively intense red tones.

When Is Toner Used?

There are many ways toners can revive the color of your hair:

  • Color adjustment after lightening & neutralization: This is the most common way toner is used. It is used on hair after strong chemical bleaching and lightening to get rid of brass hair tones. After all, the color of the hair after lightening is often not exactly what you want, so some people (usually those with very dark base color) have to use a toner as a second step after lightening the hair to achieve real platinum blonde hair.

  • Restoring color: If your current hair color has started to fade, a toner is a gentler way to revive it than by applying permanent color repeatedly. Many hairdressers often apply a permanent color to your hair regrowth and apply a toner to the rest of the hair to unify the existing shade. The colors Redken Shades EQ are great for this.

  • Fashion/pastel shades: If you like fashion shades, then you know that two steps are needed to achieve the perfect pastel or flashy shade: lightening and toning. First, the hairdresser will lighten your hair (if it is not naturally light) and create a clean "canvas", then use a toner (eg BlondME Bond Enforcing Pastel Toning) to apply the desired final shade (or shades), which will gradually wash away so there is no risk of regrowth.

  • Color Correction: Toners can be used to quickly and gently eliminate color problems - such as streaks or smudges that may appear due to inaccurate application.

  • Gloss enhancement: Sometimes your hair color shine just needs to be enhanced. There are also colorless toners that smooth the surface of the hair, enhance the shine and radiance of the color (eg Matrix Color Sync Toner Sheer - Clear).

Is There a Toner for Blondes Only?

When you say toner, we usually imagine it in connection with light blond hair. However, toners are not just for blondes, although it is most often used on blonde hair. It can also be used on dark hair from which you want to remove unwanted brass tones.

How Do I Use a Hair Toner?

  1. Mix the toner according to the manufacturer's instructions. Read the instructions carefully.
  2. Wash your hair thoroughly with shampoo and then apply toner to towel-dried hair (moisture in your hair will help make your hair less porous and results more evenly). However, always follow the instructions.
  3. Use a clean dye brush to apply toner to the strands. First apply toner to the areas that require the most color correction, or simply apply it to the center of the strands, then proceed to the roots and down to the tips.
  4. Leave on for the recommended time, usually 5-20 minutes. Tip: wait for the toner on your hair to darken to a dark purple color (when using purple toner). If you are unsure, you can rinse one strand to see if the result is to your liking.
  5. After the application of the hair dye, rinse your hair thoroughly with lukewarm water. Cold water is better than hot water because it stops the toning process. Finally, take care of your hair (apply conditioner, mask) as you are used to.

How Long Does the Hair Toner Effect Last?

It depends on how often you wash your hair. The less you wash your hair, the longer the effect of the toner will last. We recommend using sulphate-free shampoo specially designed for colored hair, which is maximally gentle to your hair. But that's not all that can affect how long the toner will last. Endurance of toners is also affected by your hair color (on shorter hair it lasts for a shorter time), quality of your hair, your hair type, how often you heat style your hair, how much time you spend in the sun and in the pool, and many other factors. However, the effect usually lasts 2-6 weeks, so you should repeat the toner application regularly to maintain the color. You can also reach for special cosmetics with pigments that will also help extend the effect of your toner (eg Matrix Total Result Brass Off, Davines Alchemic System, Joico Color, etc.)

Suitable Products for Home Hair Toning


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