What Does Toner Do To Hair? Everything You Need To Know.

Hair color can be a tricky thing. The wrong tone, the wrong shade, and your whole look is thrown off.

You may have heard about hair toner but are not sure what it does or how to use it correctly? What does toner do to hair? What color do you need? Can you do it at home? You’ve come to the right place!

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the clever color corrector that is hair toner.

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What is toner for hair?

Hair toners are semi-permanent colors applied at the final stage of the coloring process, especially to lightened hair.

Toners work by removing unwanted tones from the dye, like yellows, greens, oranges, and even auburn.

Though blondes often receive toner treatments at the hairdressers, brunettes and redheads can benefit from the toner’s neutralizing effects as well.

It’s important to note that toners only work on colored hair, so they’re a must-have for anyone with dyed locks​​.

What the experts say.

Expert Insights

“A “toner” is just an abbreviated name for corrective color dye (usually a semi-permanent, demi-permanent or temporary color) used to shift hair color after previous services, such as highlights, that use bleach or other chemicals to remove or alter hair color.”

Nathan England, Professional working hair colorist specializing in corrective color

“The purpose of a hair toner is to take already lightened hair that has been lifted to the correct level and neutralize unwanted tones. When the correct level of lightness has been achieved the toner is used to put the desired tone into the hair.”

Jo Welch, Director and Educator for licensed cosm

“Think of a white piece of paper, you can put any color on it and you will get that exact color. If the paper is tan colored and you put red on it, well who knows what will happen but you won’t get a true red to show up… It’s the same with hair color.”

Adrienne Marcz, Stylist/Makeup Artist

What does toner do to hair?

Toners deposit color pigment to ‘tweak’ the color of your hair all over, or can be used in special places to add different shades and tones.

Blonde, bleached and brown hair especially are prone to unwanted brassy tones of orange and yellow showing through.

Color-treated blonde styles like ombre, balayage and highlights almost always need toning to get the right, creamy blonde shade.

This is where toners come in – to get rid of the orange and yellow tones and keep the vibrancy and shine.

Expert Insights

“You can also use hair toner to cover up greys or other unwanted strands of hair with a touch of color.”

Enza Piazza, Hair Stylist & Color Consultant

Hair toner before and after

hair toner before and after
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Does toner lighten hair?

What toner doesn’t do, is lighten your hair.

For that, you need bleach or a bleach bath process.

Toner is used to tone your hair color down, get rid of any brassiness or unwanted color and keep it looking natural.

Choosing the Right Hair Toner.

Toners work by depositing color correcting pigment into your hair to counteract the brassy tones.

This works because of the science behind the hair color wheel.

The hair color wheel shows us what colors neutralise each other. Opposite colors on the wheel are used to balance each other out.

Selecting the right toner involves understanding the color wheel’s basic principles.

If you’re aiming to reduce warmth in your hair, you’ll need a toner opposite your current hue on the color wheel.

For example, that’s why toners with blue and purple pigments are used to correct orange and yellow tones and red toners are used to correct green tones in your hair.

For brunettes, a neutral to warm toner is ideal, while blondes might opt for a cool toner to counteract yellow and brassy tones.

However, it’s always best to leave the choice and application of toner to professional stylists, especially since salon toners usually contain a developer to slightly lift the hair cuticle and deposit the color.

hair color correction wheel
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What hair colors need toning?

Types of Toners: Salon vs. Home Use

Hair toners come in a variety of types and shades, each tailored to achieve specific color goals. The duration of their application varies based on the desired outcome. Let’s explore the different options:

Hair Gloss Toners

Think of hair gloss as a quick refresher for your hair. It adds a nice shine and a touch of color. Great for anyone who loves changing their hair color often. The best part? The color from these glosses usually sticks around for 4-6 weeks.

Semi-Permanent Toners

These toners are a bit like hair dye. They’re great for covering up an old color and work really well for darker shades or even greys. Expect semi-permanent color to last about 6-8 weeks.

Demi-Permanent Toners

Similar to the semi-permanent ones but even stronger, demi-permanent toners last a bit longer, usually 8-10 weeks. They’re a great pick if you want your new color to stick around for a while.

Purple Shampoos

Got blonde hair? Purple shampoo is your friend. It helps cool down brassy tones and keeps your blonde looking fresh and bright.

Blue Shampoos

If you have brunette hair and want to keep away orange tones, blue shampoo is what you need. It helps balance out those brassy elements and keeps your brunette hair looking just right.

Silver Shampoos

These are perfect for blonde or silver hair, helping to keep it cool and ashy. Say goodbye to any yellow tones with silver shampoos.

Toning Hair Masks

Think of these as a weekly treat for your hair. They’re like deep conditioners but with a hint of color. Use them once a week to keep your hair soft and moisturized while adding a bit of color.

Is toner bad for your hair?

Toners are used to change or alter the color of your hair. Are toners bad for your hair? No!

Toners are no more or less bad for your hair as hair dye. And they’re easier to remove.

Depending on which type of toner you use, they may make your hair feel a little dry, just like hair dye does. That’s if they contain ammonia or hydrogen peroxide to add in the color.

But essentially, they’re safe to use on your hair and scalp and won’t cause any damage to your structure and texture.

Can I tone my hair at home?

It’s easy to tone your hair at home. But you’ll need to know what you’re doing.

The hair color wheel will help you work out what color you’ll need to tone down the color you don’t want in your hair.

Then you’ll need to pick the right toner to do the job.

The toners that you’ll find in salons are stronger than silver or blue shampoos.

However, these products are excellent products to maintain a bright or cool color between salon appointments.

Sometimes a simple color maintenance to keep your color cool is sometimes all that’s needed.

Best hair toners at a glance

TonerLooks likeBest forBuy it now
Dr. Fischer's Purple Hair Mask
Dr. Fischer Purple Hair Mask for Silver, Blonde, Bleached, Highlighted or Color Treated Hair - Removes Orange and Yellow Brassiness, Toner Purple Mask (10.14 oz.)
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Blondes
John Frieda Violet Crush Intensive Purple Shampoo
John Frieda Violet Crush Purple Shampoo for Blonde Hair, Blonde Toner Neutralizes Brassy Yellow Tones for Bleached, Platinum, and Natural Blonde Hair, 8.3 Ounce
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Blondes
PRO:VOKE Touch of Silver Toning Treatment Mask
ProVoke Toning Treatment Mask for Blonde, Platinum, White or Grey Hair - 200 ml
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Platinum and Silver hair
Wella Color Charm Cool Ash Toner
WELLA colorcharm Hair Toner, Neutralize Brass With Liquifuse Technology, T28 Natural Blonde, 1.4 oz
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Blonde, bleached, highlighted and brunette bases.
Fanola Official No Orange Shampoo
Fanola Free No Orange Vegan Shampoo or Mask (1000 ml, Shampoo)
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Brunette
L'Oreal Paris Le Color One Step Toning Hair Gloss, Copper
L'Oreal Paris Le Color One Step Toning Hair Gloss, Copper, 4 Ounce
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Red hair

When should I tone my hair?

It’s best to tone your hair straight after having it colored, bleached or highlighted.

This will lock in the color and keep it natural.

Your hairdresser will usually add gloss or toner to your hair as part of the treatment process.

You can also tone your hair in between appointments to keep it cool.

If you’re noticing signs of unwanted orange, that’s when you need a good toner to get rid of them!

Do you put toner on wet or dry hair?

It’s best to apply toner to damp hair.

That’s because damp hair is more porous which means the color pigments from the toner will easily take and penetrate your hair more deeply.

It also means the application is easier. The liquid will smooth through your hair without leaving any patchiness.

Towel dry your hair after washing so that it’s half dry and there are no water drips.

Watch and learn: How to apply toner to hair.

Here’s a great video tutorial that shows you how to apply toner yourself at home and guides you through some tips and tricks to get it right first time.

How long does toner last in hair?

  • Gloss toners – 4-6 weeks
  • Semi-permanent toners – 6-8 weeks
  • Demi-permanent toners – 8-10 weeks
  • Blue, Silver and Purple shampoos and hair masks – use for top-ups once a week.

Making Your Hair Toner Last

To extend the life of your toner, consider washing your hair less frequently.

Since toner is not permanent, frequent washing can cause it to fade.

Using the right shampoo is crucial too. Avoid shampoos with sulphates and parabens to preserve the tone and luminosity of your colored hair​.


Parting words

So that’s what toner does to hair and how it works.

They can be used as an alternative to shampooing or just as a styling product that offers a temporary color refresh.

They add shine and lustre without weighing down your locks with heavy chemicals such as sulfates.

And they can help give your mane an instant and easy makeover with minimal effort on your part. If your hair is in need of a new lease of life – get one today!

Found your perfect toner? We’d love to see it! Tag us on Instagram @colouredhaircare or Facebook and share your hair dye success stories. Looking for more hair toning tips? Check out How To Tone Hair Color – Here’s Everything You Need To Know.

Authors

  • Nicola Freeman, Creative Director & Content Lead
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    With over two decades of passionate hair dyeing experience, I've experimented with nearly every shade imaginable. My journey began long before blogging; as an award-winning copywriter in London and New York, I shaped narratives for iconic brands. However, when friends sought advice during lockdown for at-home hair dyeing, I realized my true calling. Beyond being your hair color expert, I'm a mom of two girls, wife to artist Tony, and an avid soccer player!

  • Enza Piazza, Hair Stylist & Color Consultant
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    I’m Enza Piazza, your go-to hair stylist and color consultant with over 23 years of professional salon experience bringing vibrancy and life to hair of all hues. My Italian roots from sunny Sicily infuse passion into every snip and color, a passion that’s been recognized with top honor awards including bridal and party hair at the National Hairdressers Federation’s Championships. After training in Surrey, UK’s most prestigious salons including Head Master Academy, I embraced the entrepreneurial spirit and set up Enza Hair Styling, offering tailored hair care for 13 years, and treating each client like family. Away from the salon, I cherish moments as a proud Nonna to grandson Joseph and as a playful companion to my Jack Russell, Bo.