Hair Toner 101

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Toner seems to be a huge mystery service that hairstylists use. Is a toner necessary? Why are you charged extra for toner? How often does toner need to be applied? So many questions. Let's break it down simply.

What Is Toner?

Toner is simply a demi-permanent or semi-permanent hair color that is applied to hair to change the tone of the overall hair color or highlights.

Why Is Toner Necessary?

Toner is most often used with highlighting services in the salon to ensure that the final results are perfect.

Hairstylists use lightener (bleach) to lighten hair to a desired hair color level (read more about level here). Level is defined on a scale of 1 to 10; with a level 1 hair color being the darkest black color and level 10 hair color being the lightest blonde color. The tone of that level is defined by how much warmth is in any hair color level. Tones can be warm (golden), cool (ashy), or neutral. When a hairstylist lightens hair to a level 8 (for example), the tone left behind may be too warm or brassy when completed. A toner will be used to change the tone to a more desirable shade.

How Is Toner Applied?

Toner is typically applied at the shampoo bowl after a highlighting or color service is completed. Sometimes, toner will be applied to specific sections of hair using foils. A toner usually processes for five to twenty minutes, depending on the type of toner used and the application method utilized.

Your hair stylist will determine if a toner is necessary (it is not always), which type of toner to use, and how to apply the toner.

How is a Toner Color Selected

Hair stylists use a color wheel to determine what tone is necessary for your toner service. Hairstylists choose a toner that is on the opposite side of the color wheel from the unwanted tone.

If your hair color is too red, a green toner is used; if your hair is too orange a blue toner is used; and if your hair color is too yellow, a purple toner will neutralize the unwanted yellow tone.

How Long Does Toner Last?

Toner can last an average of 4 to 8 weeks, depending on how well you take care of your hair color investment. Some toners last longer. When toner fades away, lighter warmer color is often exposed. Toner can be reapplied at the salon when faded if desired.

How Much Does Toner Cost?

Toner application usually includes an up-charge, added to a hair color service. Prices of toner application vary depending on the salon and stylist. Some salons include toner application in highlighting services, others do not. I recommend asking your stylist if toner is included and what the added charges are any time you have a highlight performed.

Can a Toner be Used at Home?

Unless you understand the color wheel, color theory, or have experience using toners, I do not recommend using toners at home to neutralize unwanted tones in your hair. A small mistake can end up with a more undesirable hair color than you started with.

Is Toning Shampoo Different from Toner?

Yes, a toning shampoo is different from toner, but can work much in the same way.

Toning shampoos help neutralize out unwanted tones. Often blonde highlighted hair will use a purple toning shampoo a few times a month to keep highlights from becoming brassy. Red hair can utilize a red depositing toning shampoo to keep red hair bright and from fading.

Talk to your hair stylist to determine which toning shampoos or conditioners are recommended for your specific hair color treatments.