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Hair Toner: Everything You Need to Know

Have you ever had your hair lightened and it turned into a brassy mess? Or perhaps you loved your color when you walked out of the salon, but after a few weeks it has started to fade. Either way, using a toner could fix your problem and give your hair the extra shine and radiance it needs, while eliminating unwanted colors.

Continue reading to learn more about what hair toner is, how it works, and when to use it for your hair.

Key Things to Know:

  • Toners are demi-permanent colors, so they deposit color without lifting any color out of your hair.
  • Cream toners and liquid toners are the most common types of toners.
  • Choose the right shade of toner by consulting a color wheel.
  • Don’t forget to have all your coloring supplies ready before you start mixing your toner.
  • Make sure to follow the directions on the package when preparing and mixing your toner.
  • Cream and liquid toners are often applied differently with different tools.
  • Maintain your color by using shampoos, conditioners, and masks that have toning properties.

What Is a Toner?

hair toners
Hair Toners

A toner is a demi-permanent hair color. This means that it deposits color, but doesn’t lift any color out of your hair. Demi-permanent toners are used for depositing color or just enhancing or adding a certain tone to the hair.

There are a few different kinds of toners, and toners can come in many forms. The most popular toners are cream toners and liquid toners.

Some shampoos, conditioners, and hair masks contain pigment that helps tone the hair, but these are semi-permanent colors, meaning that they don’t require a developer to penetrate into the hair shaft, and instead just coat the outside of the hair.

Toners are different than hair dyes. While you can go to a hairstylist to tone your hair – and that will probably happen if you go in for a professional dye job – you can also buy hair toner in stores or online. It is not typically used for hair that hasn’t been colored or bleached – both of these treatments usually require it for perfecting the tone.

On light hair, the toner will literally add a tone over it to protect it from discoloration. For dark hair, the toner will improve its shade. Overall, hair toner works by bringing out or muting shades in your hair and also adds shine. Something we can all use, right?

We will discuss these types of toning aids later in the article, but the bulk of the information in this article is about demi-permanent toners, or toners that penetrate into the hair and deposit color.

How Do I Choose the Right Toner?

color wheel to choose hair toner
Color Wheel

Choosing the right toner is absolutely essential for achieving the desired results. Since there are so many brands and shades of toners, it can get a bit confusing.

Personally, my favorite toners come from the Redken line, Shades EQ. These toners are super simple to use, and are very effective. But, there are many more out there, so don’t be afraid to check them out!

As far as choosing the shade of your toner, there is a trick that we hairstylists use. Actually, it’s more of a method than a trick. It has to do with the color wheel. Now, unless you are an artist, designer, or beauty specialist, chances are you haven’t used the color wheel that much in the last decade, but I am here to help.

When we look at this color wheel, we want to pay special attention to the colors that are opposite from one another (complementary colors), such as yellow and purple, or blue and orange. Basically, these colors cancel each other out, or tone each other down.

So, if you have too much yellow or orange in your hair, chances are a toner with blue and/or violet undertones will cancel out that brassiness. If you are seeing a bit too much red and orange in your hair, an ashy (green) or violet toner just may do the trick.

If your hair is looking a bit too ashy or green, you can tone it with a red/copper toner. Basically, whenever you want to get rid of a certain tone, just go to the opposite side of the color wheel!

How to Prepare The Hair Toner?

Ok, you have selected the perfect toner!  But, before you slap it on, make sure you have all the supplies you need. Many toners require that you also use the developer that goes with that specific line of color. Here are a few other things you may need to prepare your toner:

  • Gloves
  • A cape or apron
  • Color bowl and brush or a liquid applicator bottle
  • Plastic caps
  • Butterfly clips
  • Towels
  • Color measuring cup

Once you have all the supplies needed to apply your specific toner,  whether cream or liquid, make sure to look at the directions on how to apply it, which are sometimes inside the box that the color came in.

You will have to mix your toner with the developer, and it is important that you mix the right ratio of toner to developer so that you can maximize your results.

You may see a symbol such as “1:1” which means one part color/toner to one part developer; “1:2” means one part color/toner to two parts developer. This will change depending on the brand and type of toner you are using, so even if you have applied color before, make sure to double-check this ratio.

How to Apply Hair Toner?

At this point, you have selected the perfect toner, set up all your supplies, and mixed it just as the directions say. Now you are ready to apply it! There are different ways to apply toners, but the most common ways are by using a bowl and brush, or by using a liquid applicator. We will discuss both.

Bowl and Brush

how to apply toner - brush application

This method is most commonly used for creamier toners that you are able to scoop up with a color brush. Using a brush and bowl to apply a cream toner can be a bit more time-consuming than applying a liquid toner, but it can also provide better saturation to tone even the most resistant hair.

Here is the process you will want to follow:

  1. Usually, these toners are applied to dry hair, so make sure that your hair is clean and dry before starting to apply the color.
  2. Section your hair into four sections, and apply the toner around your hairline.
  3. Starting at the back of your head, apply the toner section by section using your color brush. Brush the toner onto the hair from the scalp down to the ends.
  4. Make sure that the hair is fully saturated by combing your fingers or a wide-toothed comb through each section.
  5. Cover your hair with a plastic cap. This will cut down on the mess, and allow your hair to process better.
  6. Set your timer for the recommended processing time, but make sure to check your hair occasionally to see its progress. Some toners are stronger than others, and some hair is more absorbent, so you want to check your hair often to make sure that it isn’t becoming too toned (like turning blue or green when you just want to eliminate some of the brassiness).
  7. Shampoo your hair with a gentle shampoo and make sure to let your conditioner soak into your hair for a few minutes. Use cool water to shampoo and condition your hair.

Liquid Applicator Bottle

how to apply toner - Liquid Applicator Bottle

This is probably the easier method of applying a toner to your hair. Liquid toners work best for this method because they can be easily squeezed out of the applicator bottle.

As a hairstylist, liquid toners are my favorite to use, because I can usually mix them up and slap them on my clients’ hair right after I lighten it, while they are still in the shampoo bowl. I also use these toners on myself to give a copper hue to my strawberry blonde hair.

Here is the process you can follow when applying a liquid toner:

  1. Depending on the specific toner and the directions that go with it, you may be able to apply the toner to wet or dry hair. If you can apply it on wet/damp hair, simply shampoo your hair, and right after you shampoo it, squeeze out the excess water.
  2. Apply your toner section by section or all at the same time. Usually, applying the toner all over the head can be just as effective as going section by section for a liquid toner.
  3. Make sure to fully saturate your hair with toner. If you are applying it all over your head at the same time, you may want to flip your hair over a sink or the bathtub, and really rub the toner in from roots to ends, just as you would a shampoo.
  4. Comb the toner through your hair with a wide-toothed comb or your fingers after you have applied it.
  5. Cover your hair with a plastic cap to prevent making a mess, and to keep your hair from drying while the toner is on your hair.
  6. Set your timer for the recommended processing time, but make sure to check your hair occasionally to see its progress. Some toners are stronger than others, and some hair is more absorbent, so you want to check your hair often to make sure that it isn’t becoming too toned (like turning blue or green when you just wanted to eliminate some of the brassiness).
  7. Shampoo your hair with a gentle shampoo and make sure to let your conditioner soak into your hair for a few minutes. Use cool water to shampoo and condition your hair.

How Do I Maintain My Color?

maintaining hair after toner

Now you have successfully toned your hair and aren’t sure how to keep it looking fabulous. Well, since you have already toned your hair once, you can absolutely do it again when it starts to fade.

Because toners are less damaging to the hair than permanent colors, you should be able to use a toner every three weeks to a month and not excessively damage your hair.

You can also add some toning shampoos, conditioners, and hair masks into your hair routine. These products simply coat your hair with the desired color to help prevent it from fading and give you the extra color boost you need in between toning it.

You can also read how you can remove toners from hair.

How Does Hair Toner Work?

How Does Hair Toner Work?

Hair toner revitalizes brassy hair to give it a refreshed look and adjusts the tone of your hair. By neutralizing unwanted tones, it helps transform brassy tones into flattering platinum whites, caramels, honey, mushroom browns, and more.

Hair toner is a demi-permanent color, also called gloss or glaze, that adds color to your hair and neutralizes unwanted tones caused by lightening your hair.

Hair toner neutralizes unwanted colors by counteracting them with the opposite color on the color wheel. So, to use hair toner, you must remember color 101 to achieve your desired look.

For example, hair with a golden tone that wants to go silver will need a hair toner with purple to neutralize the yellow-gold.

Consider the tone level of the hair you’re toning. Tone levels range from one to ten. You won’t see results if you tone your hair with a toner lighter than your hair level.

Instead, you must tone your hair at the current tone level or darker. Then, you can further lighten your hair for a non-brassy finish with your desired color.

Types of Hair Toners

From demi-permanent to semi-permanent products like purple and blue hair toners, there is something for any girl looking to improve her hair’s shade.

For women who are no stranger to coloring their hair and do it every couple of months, a demi-permanent gloss is a good option. Not only can you use it at home on your own time without leaving the house, but it will do wonders for your dye job as far as keeping it vibrant and healthy.

Purple toners are best for women with blonde hair. If you have ever noticed your blonde hair yellowing after you colored it, a purple toner (such as shampoo) is the best solution for nixing that.

Violet clashes with yellow to eliminate it for pure blonde results. If you are a brunette, use a blue shampoo to prevent orange shades. Both toners will make your hair lusher as well!

For at-home use, check out DpHue Color Boosting Gloss, RedKen Color Extend Purple Shampoo, or SheaMoisture Purple Rice Conditioner.

Pros and Cons of Using Hair Toners

Check out some pros and cons of using a hair toner on dull or brassy hair.


  • Neutralizes unwanted warm or cool hair tones
  • Adds luster and shine to brassy hair
  • Helps produce popular hairstyles and natural-looking shades
  • It makes your hair look healthy and refreshed
  • Allows you to personalize your hair color treatments to your hair tone


  • Not permanent
  • Additional charge for hair toner treatments during coloring or lightening sessions
  • Doesn’t lighten hair

How Much Do Hair Toners Cost?

You can expect to have as much as $20 tacked onto your regular color or cut at a salon. Simple shampoos and conditioners will cost between $20 and $30. If you see your stylist every three months for a cut and color touch-up, that’s perfect for doing a hair toning treatment.

When to Use Hair Toner?

When to Use Hair Toner?

Using hair toner is a fantastic way to refresh your locks between colors. Hair toner is a temporary solution that draws out dullness for a pop of color with beautiful tones.

Salons often apply hair toner right after a color or lightening. Getting a hair toner treatment after your coloring is an excellent way to enrichen your hair, especially after a harsh lightening treatment.

Experts recommend using hair toners once every four to eight weeks to add a cooler or warmer tone to your hair and give it some extra vibrance.

How Often Should I Tone My Hair?

In general, every 6-7 weeks you should tone your hair.

At home, shampooing your hair with purple or blue shampoo once per week is enough unless you shampoo hair pretty regularly. The rule of thumb is the more you wash hair, the more often you’ll need to apply hair toner. Keep an eye on your hair’s appearance and adjust the toning schedule as needed to maintain your desired color.

Either way, if you consider how your hair will look after using a toner once per week at home or each time you visit the salon, the cost is worth it. We all know it costs money to keep our hair looking gorgeous!

How to Make Hair Toners Last Longer

How to Make Hair Toner Last Longer

Hair toner typically lasts between four to eight weeks, depending on your hair porosity, heat styling, and how often you wash your hair.

  • Minimize how often you use heating products to make hair toner last longer. If you need to use these tools, apply heat protectants to your hair and avoid using hair tools at their highest temperature.
  • Shower with a shower cap to avoid washing your hair daily and stripping it of oils, color, and toner.
  • You can test your hair porosity by placing a strand of product-free hair in a glass of water. Floating hairs have low porosity, while ones that sink to the bottom have high porosity. Use moisturizers, hair masks, and oils to improve your hair’s porosity and make your hair toner last longer.
  • Other ways to keep your hair looking are to avoid over-washing, and conditioning regularly.

Put your faith in your hairstylist, and you’ll never be steered in the wrong direction!

Toning your hair can be a life saver, and turn a dull or brassy color into your dream color. If you choose the right toner, and prepare and apply it correctly, you can achieve your ideal hair color.


Can I use hair toner at home?

Yes. You can purchase hair toner treatments and hair toner shampoos for home use online, at a store, and at hair salons.

How long does hair toner last?

Hair toner lasts between 24 washes or four to eight weeks, depending on how well your hair absorbs moisture if you frequently use heating products, and how often you wash your hair.

Do only blondes need to use hair toner?

No. Hair toner is not just for blondes. You can use toner on undyed hair to add life to your ‘do. For example, dark hair colors, like brunettes, benefit from hair toner to achieve warm mushroom brown tones and other popular looks.

Can I use hair toner for brunette hair?

Yes. Natural and dyed brunettes can use hair toner to refresh their color and remove brassiness and dullness.

By toning with a hair toner at your hair’s current tone level or darker, you can say goodbye to a boring brunette and enjoy flatteringly dark hair with dimension.

What is the best type of toner to use at home?

Some of the best types of hair toner for home use include brands like the following:
– Redken
– dpHue
– Davines
– oVertone
– L-Oreal

Is hair toner similar to hair dye?

Hair toner and hair dye are similar because they change the appearance and color of hair. However, hair dye is a permanent treatment, while hair toner is a demi-permanent treatment that doesn’t lift color or lighten.

Is there any difference between a salon toner and an at-home toner?

Salon toners have more pigment than off-the-shelf toners at your beauty store. While at-home hair toners are a great way to maintain the vibrancy of your hair, salon treatments last longer.
Likewise, having a professional do the chemistry and color theory for your color better ensures you get the look you want.