The Truth About Toner

You might know some basics about toner already, but if you have ever heard your stylist talking about a "toner, "gloss, "glaze," and thought, what? This blog is for you! In this blog, I will be breaking down common misconceptions about toner, how to decipher what tones would work best for your hair, and the benefits of toner. Once you have a good understanding of what precisely a toner is doing on your hair, you will definitely feel more confident at your next appointment.

There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to toner. From past experiences and so-called "facts" read on the internet, many people refuse to get their hair toned in fear of something that may not even be true. I am here to tell you the whole professional truth on toners.


The first and most common misconception is that toner is used to "fix mistakes." While mistakes do happen, toner is not used to cover them up. To get the gorgeous blonde or caramel color you found on Pinterest, you need to apply a toner. The "raw lift" you see when the lightener is rinsed off will never be the beautiful neutral canvas you want, no matter what technique is used or how long the lightener is left on. Without fail, every single time lightener is applied to the hair, the hair will lift to a warm tone. All hair has one or more of the 3 primary underlying pigments: red, orange, and yellow. There is no way for the hair to lift perfectly neutral. A toner is applied to the hair using the opposite color on the color wheel, which we will go over later. Toner needs to be applied to fully customize the shade of your highlights.

Toner will not make your hair "too dark" if done correctly. The level of the toner must match the level the hair is lifted to. The levels of hair are 1 through 10. 1 being the darkest and 10 being the lightest hair can be. Levels 1-3 will lift to red, levels 4-6 will lift to orange, and levels 7-10 will lift to yellow. Sometimes hair will not lift high enough to seem "blonde," which may cause clients to believe toner makes them too dark. You cannot apply a level 9 or 10 toner to hair lifted to a level 7 or 8 because there is too much underlying pigment leftover to look "bright" and "neutral." Think of a drop of black paint; let's say that represents a toner that is a level 1. Now add an equal drop of white paint to the black. If you mix them together, you have a lesser amount of pigment in that drop, which would make it a level 2. Now, if you continue adding drops of white paint, you will slowly work your way up to level 10. Level 10 has the least amount of black pigment left, but it still has 10%. Suppose you think about toner with that in mind. In that case, you cannot completely neutralize the hair that is a level 7 with the amount of pigment in a level 9 toner; they need to be equal levels to come out beautiful.


Your hairstylist is going to do what is best for your hair's integrity, even if that means rinsing off your lightener before it gets to a level 9 or 10. We would rather keep your hair healthy and have you come back in for another session than fry your hair. This means your hair may not be as bright as you want the first session, as I always say the magic happens in the second or even third session. Lightening the hair can put a lot of strain on its integrity, which means it will need a good break before lightening again. Applying toner is to keep it from looking red, orange, or yellow in between appointments.

Toner doesn't last as long as color, so your hair will always fade to a warm tone if you don't keep up with your toner or retouch appointments. Lifting the hair to the point where it has absolutely no pigment left is too risky; there is a very high possibility of breakage or severe damage. Depending on your desired color and how high maintenance it is, you may need to come in for regular toning appointments between your retouches. Any color that is "cool" in nature will fade out quicker than warmer colors. If you love your icy blonde you get done when you first get your hair done, you might've noticed how it doesn't last for very long. You hate that yellow tone you see in your hair, but you must understand that lightening your hair even more will not get rid of it. Toning your hair regularly and getting proper retouches must be done to keep your hair cool and icy.

Toner tends to last up to 3 weeks, depending on what products you are using, how often you are washing your hair, and how much heat you use on your hair. Suppose you use non-professional products from the drugstore, Target, Walmart, or off Amazon. In that case, your toner will fade faster than usual. Your color will get dull, and your toner will slip away, showing the "raw lift" of the hair. If you wash your hair often, your toner will slip out quickly. It is recommended to wash your hair only once or twice a week; any more than that will wash away the toner and make your hair dry. If you use heat on your hair often, on a higher setting than 350°, your hair will become very warm very quickly. This includes hot tools, blow dryers, even just being in direct sunlight for an extended period.

Scheduling a toner refresh appointment for about 2-4 weeks out from your initial appointment, depending on your stylists' recommendations, is definitely an intelligent plan. Get in the habit of pre-booking your toner refresh appointment and your retouch appointment at checkout. Because we both know you won't remember to make an appointment a few weeks down the road when you're supposed to. If you want beautiful, healthy hair, you must remember to pre-book your next appointment.


Toner will not "make you blonde"; lightener makes you blonde. Toner is simply a depositing color; it will not lighten the hair. Toner will only make the hair stay at the same level or get darker. I have watched so many clients go get a so-called "toner" in a box at the drugstore and apply it to their hair, thinking it will make them more blonde. Toner will not assist you in going lighter. Toner is also not a permanent color; it is demi-permanent, which means it is supposed to fade like stated above. Toner should not be used as anything except a demi-permanent color. Toner should also only be mixed with up to 10vol or a processing solution. Toner and purple shampoo will not lighten the hair and will not make you more blonde.

Toner is fully customizable. Stylists can neutralize and add tones to the hair according to what suits you best and your desired color. The possibilities are endless with shades. The stylist must match the level your hair has lifted to in order to create a clean canvas and identify the leftover underlying pigments. They must also choose a series of shades that will negate the pigments and create a clean, even neutral base. This all needs to be done while the hair still has lightener on it or when it is wet, making it hard to get an accurate reading. The stylist will match your "raw lift" level from levels 1 to 10 and look to see what percentage of pigment is left behind.

If you look at the color wheel, you will see that yellow is across from purple, orange is across from blue, and red is across from green. This is how you neutralize the hair by adding the color directly across from it on the color wheel. For example, when hair lifts to a yellow color, you need to apply purple/violet to create a bright, almost white-looking blonde. Orange needs blue toner, red needs green. If the color is in-between shades, that is when you need to mix toners.


Once the neutralizing is taken care of, that is when you can add shades. This is where you get the Pinterest colors, the Vanilla Champagne, or the Mushroom Brown, Platinum White, and other popular shades. These usually cannot be done with just one color, so you can imagine what mad chemists we become in the back room when we say we will mix up your toner. You and the stylist can create a beautiful, unique shade using toner.

It is important to remember that inspirations pictures are meant as purely inspiration, not duplication. A lot goes into creating a particular shade; it depends on your natural level, previous chemical services on your hair, and even more. You should not expect your stylist to completely duplicate the color in your inspiration picture, but instead, create a unique shade using such an image.


Toner is not damaging to the hair; in fact, shades eq is known for being "a color that thinks it is a conditioner." Toners will add shine to the hair and lock in moisture. Clear toner can even be applied to hair that does not need a shade shift to just add shine. The shine, of course, will fade just as any other toner does. If you want to keep your hair healthy but looking fresh, toners are the way to go.

Many salons use "gloss" or "glaze" instead of toner, but it is all the same thing. Different words make it seem like another service, which salons can use to charge more for. Do not get caught up in the other terms used; they are all the same thing.

Toner is basically the most essential part of the service. It is where the hair takes its final shade. Without toner, everyone would be walking around with either yellow, orange hair, or fried beyond repair hair. Trust your stylist when she says she is mixing up your toner; many technicalities go into formulating the perfect toner for your hair. Trust the process; take the time to book several sessions if it is advised by your stylist. Slow and steady is better than risking seriously damaging your hair.

As always, if you have any more questions about toners, feel free to contact me through my website or email me at lizzyh0110@gmail.com. Book your next appointment soon, the holidays are rolling in, and slots are filling up. Check out my new service list, which includes eyelash extensions. Currently, all lash services are 50% off for the entire month of December 2021.


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