If you’ve ever bleached your hair, chances are good you’ve heard of hair toner. However, unless you had an in-depth conversation with your colorist about the ins and outs of salon color, you’re probably not exactly sure what hair toner is. That’s a shame—because toner is one of—if not the—most important step of your hair color service.
With insight from George Papanikolas, global Matrix brand ambassador and colorist, we’re discussing what is hair toner, how to tone hair at home or in the salon, and who should use a toner for hair. We’re also dishing on our picks for the best hair toner for blonde hair, dark hair, and gray hair.
What is a hair toner?
You might be thinking, “What does toner do for hair, and is it that important?” We’re probably partial, but we argue that hair toner is a key part of your salon visit and a vital step in your upkeep at home.
“Toners are a sheer pigment that acts like pantyhose over the hair, typically to balance out and neutralize unwanted tones or to enhance the desired end result,” explains Papanikolas.
In the salon, this demi-permanent gloss service usually involves a developer that slightly lifts the cuticle to deposit color, altering the hue of your hair. Think of professional hair color toner treatments as a finishing touch—like the icing on a cupcake—to infuse a sheen of warmth or coolness into your mane.
On the other hand, Papanikolas says that at-home toners offset brassiness and tend to sit on the hair's surface. This is normally achieved via a blue or purple-hued shampoo that deposits just enough pigment to counteract unwanted tones. While blondes are more susceptible to those orange and yellow undertones simply because they’re more visible, other hair shades can also benefit from hair toner.
How does hair toner work?
Hair toner is what changes the color or tone of the hair. Because a toner for hair can only deposit color onto the strand to make it cooler, warmer, or deeper, it’s applied after bleaching or dyeing hair.
For example, we all know bleach is required to achieve blonde hair, but it isn’t what makes your hair that perfect ash or buttery blonde. Bleach simply lifts the color from your strands, leaving a blank canvas for your colorist to deposit your final color. Even if you dye your hair a darker shade, your colorist can utilize a toner to get to your perfect desired shade at the end via a toner for hair.
If you’re after an icy blonde, your colorist will use a cool-toned hair toner with a silver base. For sunkissed blonde, your colorist will apply a warm-toned hair toner with a golden base. It’s important to note that bleach will always cause damage, but your colorist will work with you to choose a toner that can help you maintain the look and feel of your strands.
Is toner the same as hair dye?
Nope! Toners simply sit on the outer layer of hair to soften, balance, or enhance your existing hair color. Meanwhile, hair dye completely alters the color of your mane using chemicals like bleach or peroxide.
Who should use a hair toner?
Even though toners go on after lightening services, you don’t have to be a blonde or even have color-treated hair to use one. Papanikolas says anyone can use a toner depending on their desired result. Hair toners work on red, brunette and even darker shades to slightly alter their hue or eliminate unwanted brassiness. You can also apply a toner for hair to virgin strands to enhance your natural color and boost shine.
“Toners work by depositing color, so they will only enhance the current level or go darker, says Papanikolas. “Toners will not lighten hair, so if your desire is to make your highlights brighter, then a toner is the wrong approach.”
How long does toner last in hair?
Unlike bleach or hair dye, toners aren’t permanent and typically fade after a while, depending on how often you shower and your water quality. In-salon toners should last about 20 shampoos, while at-home toners last about one to two shampoos. p>
How often should you use a hair toner?
“In-salon toners should be done about every four to six weeks to refresh and balance out the tones,” says the stylist. “At-home toners can be done every third or fourth shampoo, or as needed.”
Therefore, we recommend scheduling an appointment at the salon for a hair toner refresh about once a month. Pro tip: Consider it a slightly more expensive blowout, and pencil it in for a day when you want to rock extra-pretty tresses. As mentioned above, you can also use a blue or purple toning shampoo once every week or two to neutralize brassiness.
How to Use a Hair Toner
As far as an in-salon toner goes, Papanikolas points out that your colorist will formulate your perfect shade depending on your color needs. When you do some upkeep at home, you’ll want to let the product sit on your hair for about five minutes so the pigment has time to deposit and nix the brass.
What are Matrix All-In-One Toning Leave-In Sprays?
Excitingly, at-home toners now extend far beyond your average tinted shampoo and conditioner. Matrix’s brand-new All-In-One Toning Leave-In Sprays are enriched with conditioning agents and neutralizing dyes to banish unwanted yellow or brassy tones while delivering up to 10 hair-beautifying benefits. Just a few include detangling, smoothing, improving shine, and more.
“The biggest difference [between the Toning Sprays and shampoo] is that they act as a styler and are buildable, meaning the more you spray on, the more neutralization you will get,” says Papanikolas. “They are not permanent, so they will wash out after a few shampoos, [but] are great for in-between salon appointments.”
How often should you use Matrix Toning Sprays?
The stylist says you can use these nourishing toning sprays as needed whenever you start to notice hair getting brassy. Typically, this will be every second or third shampoo.
What’s the difference between Brass Off and So Silver?
“So Silver is meant to neutralize unwanted yellow tones with its violet base, while Brass Off is for unwanted orange tones with its blue base,” says Papanikolas. “Each of these sits on the opposite end of the hair color spectrum, which neutralizes each other for a softer, more desired look.”
Do you use Matrix Toning Sprays on wet or dry hair?
“The best way to use these is as a styling aid on damp hair as they help detangle, boost shine, and control frizz while simultaneously neutralizing unwanted brassy tones,” says Papanikolas.
Eager to do some upkeep on your hair color in-between those pro toning treatments? We’re highlighting some more of our best hair toners below.
Our 28 Best Hair Toners
Our Best Hair Toners for Blonde Hair
Purple shampoo is your best bet if you’re searching for a toner for blonde hair. Purple neutralizes any unwanted brassiness and minimizes the appearance of dull, yellow tones. Luckily, Hair.com has a many options for you to stock up on.
We love Matrix’s Total Results So Silver Purple Shampoo and Conditioner for eliminating brass and restoring brightness between blonde touch-ups. You’ll also want to add Matrix’s So Silver All-In-One Leave-In Toning Spray into your routine for a more customized final look.
We also like Redken’s Color Extend Blondage Color Depositing Purple Shampoo and Conditioner for Blonde Hair. This purple duo can also work as a toner for orange hair or yellow hair to nix some of the brassiness. In addition to nixing those undesired undertones, it gently cleanses without stripping hair of color or moisture.
Keeping up with cool blonde is hard enough, but Kérastase’s Blond Absolu Bain Ultra-Violet Shampoo and Blond Absolu Cicaflash Conditioner can help lighten the load. This deep indigo, iridescent shampoo ensures strands maintain cool tones while strengthening the hair fiber and leaving hair soft and shiny.
From platinum to dirty blonde and shade in between, Biolage Professional Color Last Purple Shampoo keeps your blonde looking its freshest and most vibrant.
Fear not if your strands are dry and brittle from years of bleach damage. Pureology Strength Cure Best Blonde Purple Shampoo and Conditioner tones blonde, strengthens and rebuilds damaged, brittle hair, and prevents further breakage.
Formulated with violet dye and Japanese white peony, Shu Uemura Art of Hair’s Yubi Blonde Anti-Brass Purple Shampoo counteracts brassiness while conditioning the hair fiber for a smooth, lavish finish. Follow it up with the line’s Balm to take your brightness to new heights.
Our Best Hair Toners for Brunettes
Looking for the best toner for highlighted or lightened brown hair? You’ll find a winner in Matrix’s Total Results Brass Off Shampoo and Conditioner duo. Follow up with the Matrix Total Results Brass Off Custom Neutralization Hair Mask for even more impressive results. For those days you’d prefer to receive toning benefits and styling preparation in one fell swoop, pick up Matrix’s Brass Off All-In-One Leave-In Toning Spray.
Redken Color Extend Brownlights Shampoo and Conditioner can also help kiss warm, orangey tones goodbye. This color-depositing blue duo progressively tones brown hair with highlights or balayage over multiple uses, and is ideal to use after you lighten your brown hair at the salon.
Our Best Hair Toners for Gray Hair
Silver and gray hair have a tendency to turn yellow, which can create a sort of sallow and lackluster appearance. Revive your grays by busting that brass via Redken Color Extend Graydient Shampoo and Conditioner. Similar to how a toner for blonde hair works, this color-depositing system helps remove yellow tones while strengthening and nourishing naturally gray or silver hair.
The L'Oréal Professionnel Serie Expert Silver line is another must-have for contrasting yellow undertones in gray hair. Swap the Shampoo in once a week in place of your regular shampoo, and then follow it up with the complementary Conditioner. Ceramides and babassu oil in the conditioner are the perfect lightweight treatment to provide softness and shine to hair. This routine works on bottle-blonde hair, too!
Our Best Hair Toners for Black Hair
Those with extra dark hair have some brass-busting options, too! Matrix Total Results Dark Envy Green Toning Shampoo and Conditioner feature a blue-green pigment that neutralizes red undertones for both color-treated and virgin black to dark brown hair. You can also pair it with the Matrix Total Results Dark Envy Red Neutralization Hair Mask.
Our Best At-Home Hair Toner Glosses
At-home hair glossing is a quick way to boost shine and fix brassy undertones when we can’t make it to our colorist. Our go-to line is Pureology Top Coat. Available in clear, blue, and purple, these treatments are infused with key ingredients such as oat milk and camellia oil to condition, soften and lock in shine, so the use of a conditioner or mask is optional. Plus, their precision nozzle makes for easy application and spreadability for a more uniform result in just five minutes.
Best In-Salon Hair Toners
While you should allow your colorist to recommend the products and services they believe are suitable for you and your hair, there are a few hair toners on the market that your colorist is bound to stock their back bar with. Our experts often recommend Redken Shades EQ. These demi-permanent, acidic, ammonia-free formulas work to tone, change, or add shine to your hair in just 20 minutes while providing intense conditioning benefits.
Another pro-approved option is Matrix’s SoColor Sync Pre-Bonded Acidic Toners. These pre-bonded formulas protect the integrity of the hair while helping your colorist achieve your dream shade.
Interested in toning your own hair between salon appointments? Stock up the best toner for your hair shade at Hair.com.
Good hair day by @bobbiepiins.