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DIY Hair: What Is Toner, and How Does It Work?

Updated on December 25, 2016
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What Exactly Is Toner?

Toner is a sweet little product that neutralizes brassy yellow and orange tones on bleached hair. It is usually purple-blue tinted. When applied to bleached hair, it takes it to more of an ashy, dusty, or platinum color. That means a much more natural-looking hair tone! It can also make your hair look shiner and healthier.

Toner is the term used for the product specifically meant to tone hair, but you can also use other products to tone your hair, such as hair dye or purple shampoo.

Have you ever seen someone walking around with yellow hair? And I don't mean like they picked up a bottle of Manic Panic's Electric Banana hair dye.... I mean they tried to go blonde, and it just came out a terrible mistake. Instead of Jennifer Lawrence, it was Lisa Simpson. That bad.

The problem is that they didn't use a toner.

Toned with Colorance 10p
Toned with Colorance 10p | Source

Important Things to Know About Toner

  • Toners alter the undertone of a hair color, but do not lift the shade. This is they they are meant to be applied on bleached or blonde hair and will not work on darker hair.
  • Toner can help you manipulate the shade of your blonde hair to make it look cooler, dingier, ashier, or even different colors like pink or purple.
  • You can use it all over your hair, or just in specific parts where you want to change the shade. For example, it can tone down just the part of your hair with highlights, or just at the roots to make them look more natural.
  • The more you wash your hair, the more frequently you'll have to tone it. You can either tone it at home or go to the salon for touch-ups.
  • You can use three different types of products to tone: purple shampoo, ammonia toners, or dye. I'll go into details about those below.

Using Ammonia Toner

What Kind of Toner Should You Use?

Types of Toner and How to Use Them

Toner Type
When to Use
How to Use It
Notes
Ammonia-based toner
Hair should already be blonde. Wait a few days if you've just bleached it a bunch to avoid over-damaging.
Follow instructions on the product. Usually you'll need to mix with a 20-vol developer.
This will not lift the color of your hair.
Purple shampoo
After bleaching hair. Gentler than ammonia-based toner.
Wash hair with it 2-3 times a week and leave in for 5-10 minutes each time.
Different brands have different strengths of toning.
Purple hair dye
After bleaching your hair
Mix a very small amount with white conditioner and leave in 15-30 minutes.
Make sure to use a small amount!

Ammonia Toners

An ammonia-based toner is actually a demi-permanent hair color that contains ammonia. It will change the pigment makeup of your hair shafts. So be careful!! If you've just done a bunch of bleaching, your hair is already pretty fragile. If you can stand it, wait a few days. In those few days, I'd really try to stay away from shampooing. Shampoo will only serve to dry out your hair even more.

Once your hair is done being mad at you, you'll be ready to apply toner. Wella, a well-known brand of toner, calls for you to mix 1 part toner with 2 parts 20 volume developer. The mixture is left in the hair for up to 30 minutes before rinsing.

Don't try to make up your own ratio or alter the instructions that you read on the bottle. Follow them! Each toner is different, and everyone's hair reacts slightly differently to the products. Give yourself the best chance at success and follow the directions.

Purple Shampoo

Some people skip that whole thing, and tone using purple shampoo. Yes, that's really what it's called. I use Generic Purple Shampoo, which you can pick up at a Sally's or online. It's got a really strong purple tone to it, so when it's left on your hair for 5-10 minutes it will neutralize brassiness. This is great because you can use it to maintain ashy tones every time you wash your hair!

You might need to try a couple of different brands to get the strength of toning that you need.

Dye

Another method people use to tone is to just use dye. This is technically not "toning," but it will serve the same purpose. The common theme here is using purple to neutralize yellow . . . So the logical formula to tone using hair dye would be to take a *small* amount of purple hair dye and mix it with a much larger amount of white conditioner. You'd apply the mixture for at least 15-30 minutes and then rinse out.

Using Dye as Toner

When to Tone

Obviously, you should apply it after bleaching. But when is best?

If you go to the store and buy yourself a toner, say, Wella's Color Charm in Lightest Ash Blonde, you'd really have to wait until your hair is lifted to a very light tone of yellow.

Otherwise, you run the risk of wasting your product and not achieving the desired results. So, once you're at a light light yellow, you're free to tone.

In general, you want to make sure that your hair is the desired level of blonde that you want, and that it's in a place where it can take more treatment (is not too damaged).

Source

What Results Can You Get?

You can get a huge range of color tones, from warm honey to light ash, and even silver! Wella Color Charm Toners have even got some red, brown, and violet toners that can be used on dark hair. Do your research and figure out what sort of tints and tones you can create on your own hair!

Rose tone created with Redken Shades EQ
Rose tone created with Redken Shades EQ | Source

What's the Upkeep?

Depending on your hair washing habits, you may have to re-tone anywhere from 2-8 weeks in. Make sure you don't wash your hair directly after toning, because the color will start to slip out.

The less frequently you wash, the longer your color will stay in. Not to mention, you really shouldn't be washing your hair every day . . . it strips out your natural oils and dries out your hair. Which is really not the best thing to do when you've just been bleaching and toning!

Hair toned with Artego
Hair toned with Artego | Source

Keep Conditioning!

Any time you mess with bleach or ammonia, it's a great idea to show your hair some love too. Use a leave-in conditioner, or apply a hair mask every so often! There are some really great ones that are so simple to make, and often use ingredients you probably have in your kitchen.

One of my favorites is to heat up extra virgin olive oil until it's warm to the touch. Sitting over the tub, lean over so your head is kind of between your knees, and your hair is flipped upside down. Massage the warm oil into your scalp to moisturize your hair and activate your hair follicles. This is supposed to help your hair grow too! Leave the oil in for as long as you're comfortable, but at least 30 minutes, before washing out with a sulfate-free shampoo.

Coconut oil is another great tool to use when moisturizing hair. Don't hesitate to look up different hair "recipes" to keep your mane soft and strong!

Other Beauty Articles by Alex

Hey all! Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out my other beauty articles on my page! This one is my newest, reviewing LipSense - the smudge-proof, kiss-proof, waterproof lipstick that's taking over the internet. I've added photos and even a few videos of myself testing out their products!

DIY Beauty: LipSense by SeneGence Review and Tutorial

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      miss amanda 10 months ago

      Great video and thank you for uploading sweetie! I hate to post this comment publicly but I couldn't help sense some sadness in you, or that you seem like you are going through a rough time in your life and I want to let you know that you are beautiful and to believe in yourself.

      If for some reason you need some objective advice or feel like you need someone to confide in, my email is mandapandasd@gmail.com. I'm not a weirdo or some pervert trying to hit on you, I'm a 26 year old female from LA who just felt like God wanted me to leave you a comment and to reach out to you. On a lighter note I personally bleached my hair today with 30 dev, baking soda and honey and it is DEFINITELY lighter, prob needs another session (or maybe bleach next time) but I really like the manic panic idea because I cringe at the thought of using ammonia after that second bleaching. My hair is already looking damaged after this first round. I wonder if a hilift dye would do anything significant instead of the 2nd bleaching.. does any1 have any experience w that?

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      Alex Rose 10 months ago from Virginia

      Hi Amanda! Thanks for your comment, and your concern! I'm really great, I was just super stressed about my hair when I was filming. Doing it yourself and not knowing how it'll turn out is taxing!! Mostly concerned because I work in an office and did not want to go in another day with crazy hair that I couldn't cover up.

      Unfortunately, I don't have any experience with a hilift dye! But cool to know that developer, baking soda, and honey works!

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      Megan 7 months ago

      I highlighted my hair & the highlights are a super light yellow blonde. the rest of my hair is really dark brown. can I use a toner on all of my hair or do I have to individually pick out the highlighted hair?

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      Eloise 5 months ago

      Hi.

      My original hair color is black and I used L'oreal wild ombre 102 for dark hair to dye my hair but unfortunately it turned orange and brassy. I did some researches online that purple tone would neutralize the color so I used Manic Panic Ultra violet to dye then I used Nak Blonde Toner but it's still a bit brassy and turned into yellow-ish kinda color. I wonder if I should try toning with purple hair dye one more time or just use the Nak toner.

      Please help!! Thank you.

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      Ingrid 5 months ago

      Nice article! Informative, thanks :)

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      Alex Rose 5 months ago from Virginia

      Since you've already used the toner once, I'd try using purple dye again. At least then, you're not damaging your hair further! In my experience purple dye worked better anyways.

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      Mel 5 months ago

      Your article is very informative and helpful. Thank you for that. I have bleached hair and my hair is a mass now.

      I want to go back to my natural brown hair but only problem is that I have premature grey hair problem. I hate when people comment about my hair and I dont want to dye my hair. Can i use brown toner once a month? Just to cover a bit of my grey hair?

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      Alex Rose 4 months ago from Virginia

      Toning will be no better for your hair than dying, honestly. I suggest something like this!

      www.lorealparisusa.com/products/hair-color/products/root-touch-up/root-cover-up.aspx?shade=Light-to-Medium-Blonde

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      Jennifer Collins mom 4 months ago

      My hair is three colors. Brown, orange and yellow. And the Gray's are coming in. My hair always pulls red. Can I do a strawberry blonde ? I'm want to stay light.

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      Alex Rose 4 months ago from Virginia

      Chances are toning to a strawberry blonde is not going to work if you have brown and orange in your hair. You'll probably have to do a lightening session first.

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      Purple gray ends blonde roots 3 months ago

      I bleached my roots and ends which was already blonde but roots salt n pepper...used 40 bleach with Olaplex..30 minutes..roots yellow, ends more blonde...toned with lightest ash blonde with 20..left my ends gray purple and blonde roots..please help

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      Jolisa nazario 3 months ago

      So I tryed to do the pastel purple look by using purple dye and a lot of conditioner. My hair came out darker then what I wanted. Can I put toner on my already purple hair

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      Alex Rose 3 months ago from Virginia

      If it came out darker, your best (and healthiest) option is to just wash your hair! Use shampoo, hot water. If you need, you can even shampoo twice during the same shower. You'll see the color start to bleed out and fade. No need to put ammonia (from toner) or other harsh chemicals in your hair if you don't need to!

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      Taraneh naghdchi 3 months ago

      My hair color number is 9.5 nb .but my hair color goes to orange.which toner is good for me?

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      Alex Rose 3 months ago from Virginia

      If it is that light, the T18 toner should work just fine to get a platinum.

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      Nicole 3 months ago

      So what type of toner was used to reach the color in the first/top picture, that's what I want?!

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      Mary Kay 3 months ago

      I have highlights which are bleached but they are a little light and aren't blended very well. My hairdresser is going to use a toner and she said it will make it look more natural and blended? Is this true?

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      Alex Rose 3 months ago from Virginia

      Yes, I would trust your hairdresser. She is trained! Toner takes away the yellow and gives a more natural looking tone to your hair.

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      Tiffany 2 months ago

      I used a wella t18 ash blonde and I got purple tints in hair now. And can't get them out will they fade? Thanks

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      Alex Rose 2 months ago from Virginia

      Tiffany - yes it will fade over time! Next time just don't leave it in for as long.

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      Katie 2 months ago

      I really liked your videos! I was finally able to show my boyfriend why I use purple shampoo! haha. Super cool that you can essentially create your own version with dye + conditioner. I thought it turned out very well :) I've never had to courage to touch my hair myself, so I've always gone to a salon.

      But after watching your video you've really got me wondering if I should experiment!

      One question I always get caught up on with myself is weather the color I choose will match my skin tone.. my skin is really light with pink undertones. I currently have a dark "bronde"/ brown balayage. I'd love to try going totally bleach blonde but I'm afraid it would wash me out. Any thoughts on how you pick your colors?

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      Gina 2 months ago

      Hi Alex Rose, thanks for sharing I like to continue to keep up my hair color at home. I went fron black to a caramel. I have 2 questions. Can I use toner after I color my hair? I do have alot of gray, so I try to color my roots every 2 weeks. Or toner goes in between hair coloring.? And I also use purple shampoo only 2 times a week. I hope I make sense. Thank you

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      Emmy 2 months ago

      Hey I LOVE this, so much good information!

      I have my hair done every 6 weeks, and I have it dyed silver using bleach and toner. my hair has faded fast in the last 4 weeks since I have had it done, and I am curious as to whether I can put just the toner in for 10 minuets to turn the now yellowing hair back to the silver, or if I have to do something else? any help would be greatly appreciated!

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      T Smith 2 months ago

      Great article, clear and very well detailed. Thanks!

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      Alex Rose 2 months ago from Virginia

      Katie, I think you should go for platinum! I personally love the whole light skin/light hair look, kind of Taylor Momsen. I really don't put much thought into how my hair color will look with my skin tone. Right now I have yellow hair, it's all good I think as long as you're confident! And if you're worried about light hair washing you out, I'd just work on a contoured look with your makeup to define your features.

      Gina, I wouldn't use toner on top of a dye, just because I think the chemicals together act funny. I think it's more of a one or the other thing. If anything I'd suggest using some sort of dye for grey coverage/root coverup in between your full-head dyes.

      And Emmy, yes! A bit more toner should do the trick. Like dye, toner will fade after time.

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      Tara 2 months ago

      So neat! I never even thought of using purple hair dye I'm 100% going to try that, worse case scenario I'll have purple hair and it will be awesome!

      Aside from that, I'm wondering if you could give me some incite into where I went wrong the last time I used toner on my hair. My natural hair is light brown (some would call it a very dark blonde), I had dyed it a while ago and then decided to grow in my natural hair. I didn't like the way my dyed blonde hair looked with the natural growing in and just wanted to tone the hair a bit (it was still going to be blonde but I felt like a cooler blonde would look better with my natural hair color). I mixed a cool ash blonde toner with a 20 volume developer. Everywhere I've read including this article says toner will only tone up bleached or blonde hair. Considering that, I put the toner on my whole head, thinking it wouldn't effect the natural hair since it's not really blonde, and I would be able to make sure I didn't miss any spots. I was so upset to find that the toner dyed my whole hair, like basically bleached it! Could anyone tell me why this was? Was it the fault of the toner or developer? I just don't understand.

      Thank you for any help with explaining this!

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      Judy 2 months ago

      So the hair has been highlighted blonde, client wants to go all blonde, no more highlights. The roots are a medium to dark blonde the ends are a light blonde. Which do you color first roots or ends, with a 10gnv and thirty developer.

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      Caroline A 7 weeks ago

      Hey! I recently bleached my hair and it came out really uneven so i decided to wait a day or two and just dye it back brown. Once i did this for a day it was the desired color and than it faded into an orange blondish and i am NOT a fan. is toner the right way to go? I want to get a dirty blonde sorta shade, maybe darker so i'm back to my natural hair but that seems to far away from the shade it is now. Any ideas?

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      Alex Rose 7 weeks ago from Virginia

      if it is uneven, it always will be. The thing about bleaching is that it is permanently changing the color of your hair. Dye on top of bleach will always wash out to a certain extent. The best way to even it out would be to at least get the uneven bits to the same lightness as the rest, and then if you want to add color on top it shouldn't be an issue. Bleaching tends to take multiple processes, it is difficult to get it even the first time on a head of darker hair. If it were my hair, I would rock a hat for a few days, bleach the rest, and then use a toner.

      Eventually the dye you put on will wash out and leave your hair how it looked after you first bleached it, which is why I think instead of dying/toning, you really will just have to try bleaching again! Once it's all the same color, you will be able to easily move forward. Just be careful with the bleach, and if you already have sections of hair that are as light as you want them to be - avoid adding it to those spots. Just focus on the darker bits and trying to get those as light as the rest.

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      Cynthia 7 weeks ago

      You should use a 20 volume developer to cover grays, that is what it is designed for. Also get an envelope of gray magic by Ardell that will help the color grab and hold on to your gray. Gray hair is more coarse than non gray, therefore harder to color. There us also the ardell to remove gold, and red, just add to your color... very easy! If you are coloring your hair red, you can extend the life of the color by using a red shampoo, or plum for the mahogany hair color. I use the Ion colors because they are the more true to colors as opposed to the swatches, however the age beautiful is great for your hair if you are older and my sister says it seems to work great. She has had gray hair since her 20's and now is 50+ and says it is great and does not wash or fade fast.

      Also if you are trying to fade your color out faster for any reason you can use dawn dish soap, it works great and you may have to do it a few times, but it is better for your hair, gen though it will damage your hair, it will not be nearly as harsh as bleaching or high lifts (against use 20 volume developer. However the most important part if using any of the above steps is to use a very good repair treatment to replace the nutrients, vitamins and proteins back into your hair that you have just stripped out. I use Ion repair in my hair, after shampoo and conditioning apply to towel dryer hair and leave in for 5 minutes, then rinse it out and your hair will feel like silk. If you blow dry it use a good heat protectant, again I use an Ion product that is pretty hew called bonding by Ion. These products are sold at Sallys, and you do not need to be a professional to shop there. I bought a discount card for $5 so I pay less than non members. When I joined I got a $5 coupon towards my next purchase so as it worked out, my card was actually free! I was in there earlier this week and got a free bag because I bought two products for my daughter! The bag is like a leather feel but huge, pink with the word love on it or I could have gotten a cream colored one with a beige heart on it.....so cute, and with my discount and my shampoo/ conditioners saved $48.69!!!!

      Sorry for the lengthy post , but just thought I would give a bit of FYI, hope it helps someone out there.

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      waveybadrian 4 weeks ago

      Hi, I was wondering if using a toner would negatively effect another hair dye. I dye my hair using madison reed hair dye to a level 9 blonde, natural dirty blonde, but would like to use toner to bring out more ash tones. Would using toner after dying my hair have a negative effect on the hair dye?

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      Alex Rose 4 weeks ago from Virginia

      waveybadrian, are you bleaching or dying your hair? Toner is meant to be used after bleach, on a clean slate. I'm honestly not sure how it will work on hair that already has a product on it. It may be fine! But you can probably find a toner that would work in place of a dye, so you don't have to use double the chemicals on your hair. Wella 9a/940 or Wella 8a/740 1/2 may be some toners to consider!

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      Adele 12 days ago

      Hello, loved your article! I just wanted to ask you how long did the effect of the conditioner + purple dye last :)

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      Alex 3 days ago

      Hi can i use toner? even tho my hair is not bleached?

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