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Hair Toner 101: Everything You Should Know About Toning Your Hair

Meet every hairstylist’s secret weapon for pure, brilliant color.
  • Sajae Elder
March 08, 2024

Whether you’re going platinum, experimenting with a fantasy shade, or adding highlights to brighten your natural hue, coloring your hair is fun. Even the subtlest change can make a big impact on how you look and how you feel. But to ensure those confidence-boosting results last, you’ll need to take care of your new color. And a key part of color care is using hair toner. Once reserved primarily for professional toolkits, toner for hair is now easily found pretty much anywhere hair dye is sold. But for many, questions about this color care product still remain. So if you’re wondering how or when to use hair toner to keep your color brilliant, keep reading. We’re breaking it all down in our guide to hair color toner below.

What Is Hair Toner?

The term hair toner refers to any product designed to help neutralize unwanted undertones in color-treated hair. These products can come in many forms, such as toning shampoos, conditioners, treatments, and tinted hair glosses.

Most natural hair colors exist on a spectrum of blonde to black. When you bleach your hair, you’ll get lighter strands—but probably not in the exact shade you want. Once you’ve pre-lightened your hair to the appropriate level, a hair toner can help cancel out unwanted tones, allowing you (or your colorist) to create a more customized, dimensional color. They’re most commonly used to help neutralize brassiness in lightened hair, but can be used to add warmth to cool hair, too—it all comes down to the formula you choose.

What Does Toner Do To Hair?

The key to understanding what toners do and how they work is to understand the color wheel. On the color wheel, hues that lay across from one another are known as complementary shades. When paired together, they effectively cancel one another out. This color theory applies to toners, too.

Hair toners designed to help neutralize brassiness typically contain micro-pigments that deposit onto the hair fiber. These micro-pigments help counteract the appearance of unwanted undertones, resulting in a more neutral, balanced hair color. The main difference between toner and hair color is that the former simply deposits pigments on the surface of the hair, while the latter—at least in the case of permanent hair color—introduces color deep into the hair cuticle. And because they only act on the surface, toners won’t damage your hair. In fact, they usually help make it look a bit healthier.

If you’re experimenting with a lighter blonde, silver, or platinum hair color, you’ll likely want to use a purple toner. These contain violet micro-pigments that neutralize unwanted yellowness, resulting in a more brilliant blonde. Brassiness on brunette hair, meanwhile, typically reads more orange than yellow. As such, toners for brown hair are usually blue in color, since blue lies across from orange on the color wheel.

Ultimately, a hair color toner can help enhance your hair routine and ensure your custom color stays vibrant and brilliant between salon visits.

How To Use Hair Toner After Bleaching or Coloring Your Hair

There are two different types of hair toners: in-salon hair toners and at-home hair toners. When your hair is colored at the salon, your stylist will often use a toner on your strands after coloring or between color applications.

At-home toners, on the other hand, are designed for use (you guessed it) at home. The L’Oréal Paris Féria Power Toner Long-Lasting Anti-Brass Toner is among our top picks for ease of use and longevity. The conditioning formula applies easily and neutralizes brassy tones in one five-minute application, with results lasting up to three weeks. If you’re a blonde caring for bleached hair, opt for the Ice Blonde shade. For brunettes, we recommend Iced Brunette.

Hair gloss is another great option for enhancing your color between salon visits, and like hair toner, is pretty easy to use. L’Oréal Paris Le Color Gloss One Step In-Shower Toning Gloss, for example, enhances hair color and deeply conditions in one step for glossy, brilliant color. We love that this gloss comes in 15 shades because it allows for an ultra-custom approach to color. There are options for blondes, brunettes, and redheads—plus one clear gloss that’ll add shine without any added pigment.

How Often Should You Tone Your Hair?

How often you tone your hair depends on the type of hair toner you’re using and how often your hair tends to get brassy. Dedicated toning treatments tend to provide the most long-lasting results and may provide results for up to three weeks (or longer, depending on your lifestyle and hair routine). Toning shampoos and conditioners, meanwhile, provide subtler results and typically need to be used more frequently—between one and three times per week.

How Long Does Hair Toner Last?

While the effects of your hair toner don’t last forever, there are steps you can take to extend the life of your toner.

How to help make hair toner last longer

1. Limit sun exposure: Your skin isn’t the only thing that can be affected by the sun’s rays. Sun exposure can also fade colored hair. To protect your color, try to limit your time in the sun—or, accessorize with a stylish hat or head wrap to protect your strands when you’re outdoors

2. Use color-safe products: Even if you’ve had your hair toned at the salon, you’ll want to turn to an at-home hair care system to keep your color looking its best between visits. Opt for a color-protecting shampoo, such as L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Glossing Shampoo, pH Balanced. It’s pH-balanced and boasts an anti-fade formula to help keep your color intact. Pair it with the coordinating L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Glossing Conditioner, pH Balanced to restore moisture, add shine, and protect your color from premature fading.

3. Use toning shampoos and conditioners: As needed, swap out your color-safe shampoo and conditioner for a toning system such as L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Brass Toning Purple Shampoo and L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Toning Purple Conditioner. The duo cleanses and conditions while helping to fight brassy tones for hair that appears vibrant and bright.

4. Wash your hair with lukewarm water: That scorching H2O may feel good while you’re lathering up, but it’s doing your strands a disservice. Turning down the temperature and sparing your strands from super-hot water when you wash can help keep your color from fading over time.

5. Protect your hair when heat styling: From pin-straight to bouncy curls, heat styling can add that final touch to your mane. But similar to the heat of the sun and scorching hot water, heat styling tools can sometimes undo your hair toner’s hard work by fading your perfect shade. Look to products like L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Weightless Blow Dry Primer, Heat Protectant to add shine, control frizz, and protect your hair from temperatures up to 450oF.

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