Hair Toners: What is a Toner and How to use it? – The Ultimate Guide

We’ve all laughed our heads off at 2 am while watching those DIY hair dying fails, where people end up with super brassy and unevenly bleached hair. To top it off, quite a lot of them end up putting color on top of it as it is, which just makes it 10 times worse (and funnier)!.

However, as humorous as it may be, have you wondered what it is that they’re doing wrong to end up with such disastrous results?

Well, they’re missing out on one of the key steps of dying your hair, which is toning (or simply doing it wrong). When it comes to dying your hair, there can be roads leading to disaster from every possible step; for example, not knowing which toners and developers to use or wrongful applications of them. Fortunately for you, we’ve assembled the ultimate guide when it comes to hair toners to keep those hair disasters at bay! 

What are hair toners and the differences between toning and bleaching?

Toner is a semi-permanent or permanent color that is used to –as the name goes- tone your hair, usually after bleaching it. However, unlike bleach which lifts off the color from your hair, toner is used to alter your hair color by depositing color back into your hair. Ideally, you should be using toner right after bleaching because your hair is still porous and will absorb the color better! But if the bleach has already caused too much damage, then hold off the toning for at least a week!

When you bleach your hair, you’re left with very scraggly and dry looking, brassy colored ends, especially after multiple rounds. Toner comes in to fix these problems, as it will not only fix the shade of your hair but also add some of the shine and hydration back into it!

How do I know which toner to use for my hair?

You can’t just go to the market and pick out a random toner and expect that to fix your dye job. The key to understanding which toner to use lies in the understanding of the color wheel and the levels of hair color. 

  • The color wheel

One of the most basic rules of the color wheel is that the colors opposite each other on the wheel cancel each other out or neutralize each other. Applying this principle to hair toners would mean that for example, if you have a lot of red tones in your hair that you need to get rid of, you would use a green toner because green cancels out red. Similarly, to get rid of yellow tones in your hair, you will use a purple toner, and to get rid of the orange, you will use a blue toner.

  • The levels of hair color

Along with color wheels, another very important aspect of toning is your level of hair color. The levels of hair color range from 1 to 10, 1 being the darkest black and 10 being the lightest (blonde). Similarly, toners also have levels ranging from 1 to 10. For the toner to work properly, the toner that you use needs to be of the same level as your hair or a darker one. Otherwise, it simply won’t have any effect on your hair!

What types of toners are there?

When we talk about toners in general, most of the time, people refer to demi-permanent toners which are used to just deposit a certain color without lifting the hair. However, the three main types of tonners are as following: 


  • Permanent hair toner


Permanent hair toner is mostly used by professionals at the salon to tone your hair when you’re trying to achieve a lighter color starting from dark hair. It is usually used with a 20 or 30 volume developer which means that it lifts the hair (removing color) and deposits the color. Even though, the stronger developer can be harsher on the hair; especially after the use of bleach, it does help the color penetrate the hair better which ensures that the result lasts as long as possible.

  • Demi-permanent hair toner

The most common type of toner is a demi-permanent toner, which along with a semi-permanent toner is usually used on hair that has already been colored in the past. Mostly used with a 10 volume developer, it only deposits the hair color without lifting it. Hence, a demi-permanent dye easily fades out with washes and can last anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks. 

  • Semi-permanent hair toner

A semi-permanent toner works in similar ways to the demi-permanent one but lasts for a shorter amount of time.

What is toner used for?

Now that we know how tonners work, and which ones to use for our hair, let’s look into the variety of ways we can use this product for a brand new look!

  • Neutralizing hair color (gets rid of brassy tones )

If you’re wondering what the secret is behind a hairstylist’s ability to take your freshly bleached, yellow hair and turn it into a beautiful, cool-toned icy blonde; it’s toner! Toner is used for getting rid of the unwanted shades in the hair by neutralizing them with their opposite colors. This is most commonly used to get rid of the brassy (yellow, orange, and red) tones in your hair.

  • Color correction

Different parts of our hair absorb color at different rates, for example, the roots process faster than the rest of the hair and some of the warmer spots might pick up color differently. To fix this, just apply the appropriate shade of toner to the discoloration for a gorgeous, evenly colored head of hair!

  • Pre toning your hair for a light-colored look!

To ensure that your hair color shows up as best as it possibly can, you need a blank (almost white) canvas. This is achieved by applying a toner to your bleached hair, before going in with the color.

For a lighter hair colored look for example pastel or rose gold, after pre toning, you simply dye your hair with a colored demi-permanent toner!

  • Get that atomic blonde look! (Platinum blonde hair)

Use a purple toner after bleaching your hair to a level 10 to achieve the gorgeous platinum blonde hair!

  • Refreshing the color

A couple of weeks after dying your hair, after multiple washes and a good few days in the sun, unfortunately, your hair color will start to fade. However, do not fret because you can easily refresh whatever color you’ve got on by using a toner!

Using a toner at home:

We do highly recommend that you go to a salon to get your hair dyed and toned. However, if you are planning on doing it at home, here are a few basic tips that you should keep in mind to achieve the best possible results! As mentioned earlier, it’s very important to buy a toner which is either of the same levels as your hair, or darker (depending on the look you’re going for). 

Every toner will be slightly different than the other so just make sure that you’re following all the instructions given on the box! It’s very important to keep it on for only the recommended amount of time! If your highlights need a touch-up, then use a toner that matches the level of your highlights, and try to tone them without touching the rest of your hair. However, if you want to tone your whole head, then start by applying the toner to areas that process slower such as the center for your hair, and then move onto areas like the roots once it’s gotten some time to sit!

Can dark (brown or black) hair be toned?

Yes! However, since dark hair is very pigmented, you need to first bleach it to at least a level 3 before adding a toner of the same level your hair was at before. The specific look that you’re going for can be achieved by using different shades of toner. For example, if you want that gorgeous ashy brunette hair, simply use the shade Ash (most toners do come labeled with shades).

How do you prevent the toner from fading away to soon?

Once your hair has been colored and toned, washing it regularly will inevitably fade the toner out! However, factors such as sunlight, chemicals, pool water, pollution all work together to speed up that process of fading out the toner. 

The best way to ensure the longevity of the toner is by using shampoos which already have toner incorporated into them, such as the purple shampoo. Avoid washing your hair daily, use dry shampoo instead. Try not to use a lot of heat products on your hair but when you do, make sure that you are using heat protectant products.

Disclaimer: Content Research, Product Opinion & Publication Process

The articles, cosmetic tutorials, and beauty tips on SheBegan magazine are contributed by experienced fashion professionals, beauty & cosmetics experts. The team of our beauty and cosmetics professionals tests the products and then share the outcomes with proper citations and then after passing all the research & editorial checks; the content is sent live making sure there exists No Conflict of Interest. You can read about our authors, volunteers, team members and editorial board with our content review, product testing, tutorial guidance process here.

Suhira Munshi

Suhira heads the editorial department of SheBegan Magazine. She joined SheBegan Magazine as an author in 2017, and her writings also appeared on cosmopolitan, lifefalcon and other mags. Suhira loves to write on wellness-related topics, skin/hair/beauty tips, relationship advice topics, and bridal grooming niche. Later, in 2019, she became the head of our editorial board and also holds the position of Growth analyst. Having had sufficient experience with fitness and nutritional balance. Suhira has worked as a fitness trainer at local Gyms, we utilize her experience in our fitness and nutritional recommendations.

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