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How Do I Choose the Best Hair Toner?

Items needed to color or tone hair, including disposable gloves, application bottle, and hair color/toner.
Hair toners are designed to correct their complementary color.
A hair toner in a beige color can be used to soften bright hair colors.
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  • Originally Written By: Kathleen Howard
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 16 August 2014
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Choosing the best hair toner is usually about research, particularly where color and permanency are concerned. Before you start shopping you should have a pretty clear idea of what, exactly, you’re trying to accomplish, as well as some understanding of the options that are available to you. If you’re trying to remove brassiness from blonde hair you’ll want a different sort of toner than if you’re looking to brighten and bring out auburn pigments in darker hair, for instance. Most of the time you can find a toner that’s right for you at a pharmacy or hair supply store, though many salons will also apply it. If the options confuse you or you’re just not sure what you need, getting a professional opinion may be a good idea.

Research Your Color

Choosing the right color is usually the hardest part of the process, and it can be somewhat confusing because it’s different from choosing a color to dye your hair. If you want deep auburn hair, you generally choose a dye in that color range — but when it comes to toner, you probably want something in the green or purple family, which can seem counterintuitive at first.

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Toners are available in a variety of color formulas, although the most common are red, green, purple, blue and beige. All are designed to neutralize complementary colors by balancing and counteracting pigmentation on a chemical level. For example, a red-based hair toner will neutralize green tinges that sometimes appear during bleaching, while a green one will correct reds that appeared while dyeing the hair brown; beige toner is most frequently used to soften very warm or bright hair colors. Purple toners, in turn, will correct hair that has turned yellow, while blue is designed for correcting overly brassy hues.

Decide on Permanency

After you’ve chosen a color, you’ll need to determine whether you need a permanent, semi-permanent or demi-permanent product. A lot of the decision will depend on how long you want the toner’s effects to last. People who use permanent hair dyes generally choose permanent toners, as these tend to be the strongest and the longest lasting. Temporary and partial color, like highlights and lowlights, may be better suited to semi- or demi-permanent toners. A semi-permanent product will last for six to 12 washes, and a demi-permanent toner will usually last twice as long.

It’s important to realize that toners do most of their color balancing work right when they’re first applied, so the choice is mainly about how long the effects need to last in order to keep a polished and well-maintained look. There are a few special considerations for people who are trying to use toners to correct coloring errors rather than just balance out properly applied and pigmented color. If you are correcting an unnatural color like orange, for instance, permanent toner usually is the best option since you’ll want the pigmentation to really bind to the hair and alter the color. Less severe mishaps can often be corrected through the use of semi- and demi-permanent toners, since by the time the toner wears off the underlying dye probably will have, too.

Consider the Ingredients

Another thing to think about it what the toner is made of. Most commercial products are chemical-based, and many contain ammonia. People who are sensitive to ammonia or who want to avoid using harsh additives on their hair sometimes choose “chemical free” or “natural based” toners. These aren’t always as effective and tend to be slightly more expensive, but are often gentler and may not be as harmful on contact with the skin. If you leave a regular toner on for too long, it can burn your scalp or leave a rash on any skin it touched.

Think About Application

Most toners are designed to be applied to the whole head at once, usually with a tube or applicator bottle. Some products are specially designed for highlights and are made for small patches of hair at a time; others may require multiple applications, often every day for up to a week. It may also be possible to mix a bit of prepared toner in with your regular shampoo or conditioner to keep getting the benefits with every wash. This is most common with semi- and demi-permanent toners, but a lot depends on brand and formulation. It’s important to read the instructions and usage guidelines before purchasing to make sure you understand how the toner should be used.

Consider a Salon Application

One of the easiest ways to get the right toner for your hair is to have a colorist select the product for you and apply it in a salon. People who get their hair professionally dyed often get toner applied at the same time, in which case the colorist is able to make an expert recommendation knowing exactly how the initial dye is composed. You can also usually make an appointment just for toner if you’ve dyed your hair yourself. Getting professional help is usually recommended for serious color problems, as well as any time you want to try something really new but aren’t sure you have the confidence or skills to pull it off.

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Discuss this Article

anon348751
Post 6

I use light ash brown demi permanent with 10 developer (I have also tried permanent color, too) and I always have red tones in my hair. I know nothing about toner. Please help--what did you use literally 45?

SteamLouis
Post 5

@donasmrs-- There are some natural hair toner products that can be purchased and prepared at home.

The one I'm most familiar with is henna which is a natural red hair toner. Original henna (the green one) gives hair a reddish tone, so for women who already have red hair, it can be a great way to brighten the color.

donasmrs
Post 4

Are there any natural hair toners? Is it possible to make it at home?

ddljohn
Post 3

Okay, so which type of toner should I use for hair that is both too yellow and too orange? I got different color highlights in my hair recently. Some of them are supposed to be a very light blonde, like platinum blonde and others are supposed to be light brown. Well, the blonde is too yellow and the light brown is more orange than brown.

I'm so confused as to what to do! How can I fix this? Which color toner do I need-- green, blue or violet? Should I try green first to balance the red and then violet or blue for the yellow?

What about grey hair toner? Will that help? Maybe I can use a grey hair toner for both the orange and the yellow?

Any recommendations?

fBoyle
Post 2

@literally-- I don't understand too much about hair colors and hair toners but my sister talks about it a lot because she's a hair stylist. She has a lot of customers that ask for their to be dyed blonde. After she dyes their hair blonde, she either does a demi-perm color with violet tones on their hair afterward to even out the yellow or has them purchase a violet colored blonde hair toner to use at home.

She says that if she doesn't do this, their hair is going to be extremely bright and even when it fades, it won't fade into a nice blonde. The violet toner takes away the very yellow/brass tone.

literally45
Post 1

I don't use a separate brown hair toner for my hair but the permanent brown hair dye that I use does have hair toner in it.

I realized a couple of months ago that my hair turns red some time after coloring it because I pick hair colors with red toner inside. My friend pointed this out to me while I was shopping for hair dyes. I realized that hair colors also come with different tones. Apparently they either have blue or red toner but some can be neutral too.

I now use hair color with blue toner in it. I always dye my hair a lighter shade of brown and when I pick one that has blue toner, my hair never turns red. Like right now, it has been almost a months since I dyed my hair and it's still a beautiful brown color. And I'm sure it's going to stay this way until the next time I dye it.

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