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How to Tone Brown Hair to Ash | 2024 Guide

Not all brunette hair is the same. Sometimes you need to tone your hair to get the desired color, and brunette hair is no different. Whether you have chocolate brown or reddish brown hair, here is how to tone brown hair to ash.

Toning Brown Hair to Ash: A Summary

The brunette spectrum of hair ranges from a dark, almost black brown, through red and caramel colors to a light blondish brown. Spending excess time outside in the direct sun can cause brown hair to lift to lighter levels, often opening up the red undertones in darker hues.

Depending on the natural undertones of your hair, you may decide you want to go a different route with the color.  Toning your hair using color-correcting products can help you achieve this look. 

4 Key Takeaways:
  1. Determine the Undertones of Your Hair
  2. Choose the Right Hair Toner
  3. Follow Up with a Color Depositing Dye or Mask
  4. Keep a Hair Maintenance Schedule

Brown hair suits various skin tones, but undertones play a huge part in how well you can pull off a certain look. Some brunettes try to lift their hair to blonde, only to discover that they have red undertones, meaning the bleaching process usually takes longer. 

Despite your type of undertone, most brunettes can tone their hair to various shades and unique looks. Brown is often described as boring but can be a very multi-dimensional shade if done properly. Some types of brunette styles include balayage, ombre, and even highlights.

Finding the correct type of toner for a brunette is paramount in determining the final shade of the look and getting the style you want. Toners add pigment by sitting on top of the hair follicle. As a result, they can’t strip existing colors and fade remarkably quickly.

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How to Tone Brown Hair to Ash in 4 Steps

Ash brown has become a popular hair color over recent years due to its cool, smokier shade that livens up the warmth of darker hair. You can get away with not bleaching beforehand, especially if you already have light brown hair.

But you might have to bleach the hair to a level above your natural color to add toner. Follow these four steps to accurately and flawlessly tone brown hair to a beautiful ash color.

1. Determine the Undertones of Your Hair

Determining your mane’s undertones can be as easy as looking in the mirror to see if it’s more yellow or red. However, you may have to refer back to kindergarten when you first learned about the color wheel.

Using simple color theory, we can see how toners with specific color pigments can help counteract undertones in hair.

If your undertones lean more orange and red, you’ll want to counteract it with a toner that features a blue or teal pigment. Similarly, try a predominantly purple toner if your hair is a much lighter brunette with yellow undertones.

Read Next: Can You Use Purple Shampoo on Brown Hair?

2. Choose the Right Hair Toner

Once you’ve determined the right shade that will counteract your undertones, it’s time to choose the right hair toner for your hair. Hair toners come in several varieties, including:

  • Gel
  • Cream
  • Liquid
  • Gloss
  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner

Gel and cream toners are great for the ease and accuracy of the application. With a rich, dense formula, these toners act like conditioning masks that envelop your whole head with nourishing ingredients that help lock in moisture. 

Liquid and gloss toners not only add the desired pigment to your hair, but they create vibrance and shine that stays around long after you’ve washed the product from your hair. These toners tend to be messier, so wearing gloves and a shirt you don’t mind getting dirty is a must.

Shampoo and conditioner toners are popular because of their ease of use. Simply lather the toner into your hair while taking a shower, leave it in for a few minutes, and then rinse it out.

They don’t require any extra steps or mixing up in a bowl and act as conditioning masks for your tresses. Follow the package directions on your chosen toner and apply it correctly, leaving it on for the appropriate time.

Too little or too much time may cause it not to have the desired outcome. After toning your hair, rinse it and use a terry cloth towel to remove any excess water and dampness.

3. Follow Up With a Color Depositing Dye or Mask

For some, toning the hair is all that is required to achieve that ashy brunette look. However, sometimes the toner doesn’t give the right shade, or it’s not enough to reach the desired color. If this happens, you can add a dye or pigmented mask to get that ashy brown tone. 

The added benefit of following up toner with a color depositing dye or mask is the nourishing and moisturizing properties it adds to the hair. Bleaching and toning dry out the hair, and a dye or mask rich in nutrients will bring back the shine, vibrance, and health to your tresses.

4. Keep a Hair Maintenance Schedule

Any dye or toner will eventually fade from hair, so starting a regime is important to maintain the cool, ashy color you love. When you notice the shade is beginning to fade, follow up with another batch of your preferred toner, whether it’s a gel, shampoo, or even a mask.

Washing your hair too often will strip the color out over time, so remember not to over-wash it and use cool or lukewarm water to rinse. Avoiding heat and direct sunlight on ashy brown tresses will also aid in keeping hair healthy and vibrant.

A few good ways to keep hair color from fading include:

  • Condition your hair regularly to add back essential nutrients
  • Use products specifically formulated for color-treated hair
  • Avoid getting hair wet in chlorinated pools, as it can strip hair color

Read Next: How Often Should You Wash Your Hair?

Frequently Asked Questions

Woman with brown hair wondering how to tone brown hair to ash while she wears a white shirt and look at a wall


Here are some frequently asked questions about how to tone brown hair to ash.

Can I use at-home hair remedies to tone brassy brown hair?

Whether you want to use specialty products that will tone your hair or go a more DIY route, there are many ways to tone your hair at home. Mix lemon juice and mild tea to create a lightening liquid that will naturally lift the brown to a lighter color.

Another trick is adding water to baking soda to make a paste that is applied to hair to lift color from it. These remedies are naturally drying, so it’s best to do so sparingly and use conditioning treatments afterward.

Is cool brown the same color as ash brown?

Yes, cool brown and ash brown are essentially the same. When referring to hair colors, your stylist will often refer to a color as either warm or cool, meaning one has red or orange undertones versus blue or purple. Cool is the latter and often reads a light gray, or “ash,” on brunette hair.

Is ash brown a good color for covering up gray hair?

Ash brown is an excellent option for those who want to either grow out their natural gray hair or even cover it up without too much fuss. Since ash brown lends itself to the cool side of the color spectrum, it can blend in with lighter colors such as light brown and blondish brown.

What skin tone works well with ash brown hair?

The great thing about ash brown hair is that it works well with most skin tones. If you look good with either dirty blonde or light brown hair, you will most likely look good with ash brown locks, despite the type of undertone you have in your skin.

Can I achieve ash brown hair without bleaching first?

This depends. If you have hair that is chocolate brown or deeper, most likely, you will have to bleach it to bring it up a level before toning it to a lovely ashy brunette. If your hair already tends to be lighter, with notes of dirty blonde or reddish brown, you may not have to bleach it.

So, How Do You Tone Brown Hair to Ash?

Every individual has different hair types and hair needs, including brunettes. Determining the right shade of undertones in your hair is the first step on the road to getting a beautiful ashy brown look.

Whether you have red or yellow undertones, a toner can help by counteracting those colors to achieve the color on the cool side of the spectrum. Adding a hydrating color-depositing mask can help.

But also be sure to follow a color maintenance routine by adding the toner back when it starts to fade, keeping hair out of the harsh sun’s rays, and washing your hair sparingly with cool water.

Avoiding excessive heat-styling tools and staying away from chlorine and other harsh color-stripping products will keep your mane looking great for weeks. And while you’re here, be sure to check out our other hair color guides. Your hair will thank you!