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What Does Hair Toner Do to Highlights?

Sometimes the hair highlighting experiment goes wrong, and you create bleached, brassy hair instead of a cool blonde color. In this case, you may wonder, what does toner do to highlights?

If you’ve heard that toner is the lifeline to a hair dye gone wrong but are unfamiliar with the product, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll answer this question and more below.

What Does Hair Toner Do to Highlights?

before and after using hair toner on highlighted hair

Hair toner is an integral part of the highlighting process. Hairstylists often use toners after highlighting to help neutralize any yellow or brassy undertones. Using toner also makes your highlights appear extra shiny and vibrant.

Highlighting hair often requires lifting your natural color. When stylists lighten your hair, they typically use bleach. The bleach strips certain pigments (like melanin) from your hair. Bleach makes your hair lighter but also emphasizes yellow and orange undertones. Thankfully, products like toner fix this problem.

Bleach is an effective but harsh chemical, often leaving hair feeling dry or damaged. Some kinds of toners combat the effects of bleach after highlighting, keeping your hair silky and smooth.

Most people assume toner only works to color-correct blonde highlights, but it is a useful tool for all highlight types and hair colors.

How to Choose the Right Toner for Your Hair

best toner for hair

Toners alter the pigments in your hair, so they come in many colors. Before you head to the stylist or store to pick up a toner, you should understand a few fundamental ideas about color theory.

A great place to start is the color wheel when looking for toners. When color-correcting highlights, you want to look for complementary colors. These are two colors across from each other on the color wheel.

For example, blue and orange are complementary colors. Mixing complementary colors neutralizes the undertones, providing a subtler look for your highlights.

You might be most familiar with this concept applied to purple toners, as these are popular among people trying to achieve a platinum-blonde look. The purple hues in the toner work to cancel out the yellow undertones in your hair, producing a silvery look.

Below is a guide to help you choose the correct toner for your highlighted hair.

Blonde/Platinum Hair

Try using a purple or violet toner to remove yellow pigments from blonde hair highlights. For darker blondes, use a mix of blue and violet to neutralize brassy undertones.

Brown/Dark Hair

Use an ashy blonde toner to enhance your highlights on dark brown hair. This toner should lighten your highlights without disrupting the color.

If you have brown hair with red undertones, consider adding a green-hued toner for optimal neutralization.

Red/Auburn Hair

For red-highlighted hair, use a green toner to emphasize the blonde highlights. You might want to use a little blue toner too, which cancels out any excess orange pigment.

Unnatural/Bold Hair

For colored highlights, the type of toner you should use varies depending on the shade of the highlights. Typically, stylists use a blue or violet toner to tame any brassiness.

Tips to Maintain Highlighted Hair

tips to maintain highlighted hair

Without the right maintenance and care, you might start to notice your highlights turn from fresh to fade in a few weeks. This is surely disappointing, as you likely spent a lot of time and money at the salon. Use the following list of tips to preserve your highlights and extend your next touch-up appointment.

  • Limit Sun Exposure: UV and direct sunlight dry out and fade hair color.
  • Avoid Heat Styling: bleached hair is extra sensitive, and tools like straightening irons and blow dryers cause damage.
  • Avoid The Pool: saturate your hair in the shower before diving in to protect your color
  • Invest in the Right Shampoo & Conditioner: use brands free of sulfates and heavy fragrances.
  • Deep Condition Regularly: Using hair masks weekly helps your hair retain moisture which preserves your shiny highlights.
  • Don’t Brush Wet Hair: Wet hair becomes fragile and prone to breakage at the tug of a brush or comb.
  • Wash Less Frequently: Washing your hair too often prematurely fades your highlights; try waiting at least 3-4 days before scrubbing away.


Below are answers to some commonly asked questions about hair highlights and toner.

What color highlights need toning?

You can use toner on any color of highlights that need color-corrected. The most common toner applications are for blonde or bleached highlights to remove any brassy or yellow undertones.

When should I use toner for highlights?

You should use toner for your highlights if you want to neutralize any orange or yellow pigments in these sections of your hair. You can also use toner to help soothe any negative effects of bleaching your hair.

What type of toner should I use for highlights?

The type of toner you use for your highlights depends on the color or aesthetic look you are trying to achieve. The type of toner you use also depends on the shade of your natural hair.

Are there any risks of using toner on highlights?

Yes. Since toner is a chemical you apply to your hair, you risk some damage to the follicle. Make sure you use the correct toner. Otherwise, you may neutralize the wrong undertones in your highlights and produce an undesired color.