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How to Tone Hair | Step-by-Step Guide & Things to Consider

For people who like a little variety in their life, toner is their best friend. Not only is toning a great way to help restore hair to its original shade and cut brassiness, but it’s also a great way to temporarily alter your hair color and let you explore outside of the box a little.

Today, we’ll be talking all about how to tone hair, what kind of products are the best, and how you can even tone your locks all on your own.

How to Tone Your Hair: A Summary

Since toning is a pretty versatile hair-care process, it has several uses and can make life with bleached or dyed hair so much easier. Here are four steps to tone your hair that you don’t want to miss out on:

  1. Tone at the salon right after a color job
  2. Tone at home with a purchased product
  3. Tone at home with a homemade product 
  4. Maintain a toning routine with a dye-friendly product

How to Tone Hair In 4 Easy Steps

First, let’s get into what toner actually is and what it does so that you can decide how to best use it for your desired hair color outcome. Most people can guess the basic part of what toner does from its name: it alters the tone of your hair.

But really, that use in and of itself is very versatile. Toner is a natural accompaniment to a dye job because it’s almost like the finishing topcoat for your hair. It adds a sheer wash of color to keep your hair bright, but it also adds in the component of glossiness and shine.

In reality, when you dress down toner, it’s simply a semi-permanent and high-gloss hair color. It works with your hair color to create a more unique and customized tone. Sometimes this helps people cut the brassiness in their hair and return to a cooler, more balanced tone.

Because toner temporarily deposits color pigments into your hair, it can be intimidating to try one at home. But truthfully, they’re a great way to jump into the world of at-home hair color.

Toning is pretty simple, but there are lots of ways to do it. Whether you’re most comfortable in a salon or at home in the comfort of your own bathroom, you have plenty of options for toning your hair, from high involvement all the way down to low maintenance.

Step 1: Tone At the Salon Right After a Color Job

When you get your hair lightened, your stylist probably already includes toner in that process. Whether you’re getting highlights or lightening all of your hair, toner plays an important role in making sure that your color looks fresh and you’re satisfied when you leave the salon.

Your stylist’s choice in toner will come down to what you’ve communicated that you want when it comes to your hair color. If you want a cooler, lighter tone, your stylist will choose the toner that achieves that for you.

If you’re a little unsure about the tone of your hair when you’re leaving an appointment, talk to your stylist. Chances are, they can use a different color toner and come out with a much better result.

Talk in terms of tone. Be sure to let your stylist know if your hair color is too warm, too cold, or has too much of a certain color in the undertone. Of course, even the best results will, sadly, only be temporary. So, it’s important to learn how to follow that up at home to extend the life of your hair color.

Step 2: Tone With Professional Products, But at Home

If your next salon appointment is a few weeks out, but your hair color needs some serious help, then consider trying a professional toner treatment at home. These are very easy to come by and can be purchased online or in stores.

When choosing a toner, it’s very important to remember color theory. Even if you never learned this in school, it’s pretty easy to get the hang of. You simply need to decide what undertone your hair has taken on and match it to the tone that will neutralize it.

For example, blond hair takes on a yellow undertone when it gets brassy. Purple is complementary to yellow, so products marketed for toning blond hair are usually purple since purple can neutralize yellow.

The Process

If you choose a salon-level toner, it might require the use of a developer, and the instructions for that will be included within the product. However, a good rule of thumb is to mix one part toner with two parts developer.

When you get home with your toner, it’s time to work the magic. First, shampoo your hair and towel dry. Use gloves and apply the toner to your hair. Your stylist probably uses a small brush in the salon, but gloved hands are fine, too.

Apply the toner to the areas you want to tone. For highlighted hair, you’ll need to be a bit more careful, but for all-over lightened hair, you can apply it throughout your hair. After ten to fifteen minutes, you can rinse the toner out.

Follow up with a shampoo and conditioner that are hydrating and nourishing. Toning can be harsh on your hair, resulting in some dryness. So, repairing that right away will also help the longevity of your color since healthy hair holds color longer.

Step 3: Tone With Homemade Products

If you’re looking to change the tone your hair without a specific result, then using an at-home, homemade toning solution could work for you. Many people find that the ingredients for these products are already in their kitchen cabinets.

Apple Cider Vinegar

By using an apple cider vinegar wash, you get a lot of the benefits of a toner with less effort and certainly less expense. This great ingredient is known to help revitalize dull hair by restoring shine, and it’s also great at helping your hair retain color longer.

This is because apple cider vinegar helps balance the high pH of damaged hair. Damaged hair has open cuticles, which contribute to the early fading of your color. Apple cider vinegar helps to close the cuticles, which results in longer-lasting hair color and also shinier hair.

Of course, it shouldn’t be used on its own. Mix half a tablespoon of the vinegar with a cup of water and rinse or spray the mixture on your hair in the shower.

Lemon Juice

While it was all the craze to apply lemon juice on wet hair and go sunbathing to encourage your hair to lighten, that process can be incredibly drying and damaging. But that doesn’t mean, however, that lemon juice can’t be used to lighten your hair in a healthier way.

Lemon juice is another effective natural toner because, like apple cider vinegar, it can balance pH. It also is full of vitamin C, an excellent ingredient used in skin care for its brightening properties.

In this version, combining three parts lemon juice to one part conditioner and leaving on anywhere from one hour to overnight will help brighten your hair. Follow that up with a warm water rinse and a deep condition to help keep your hair soft and nourished.

There are plenty of homemade toner recipes online that will help keep your hair toned for a fraction of the cost of a salon product if you follow them well and care for your hair correctly after.

Step 4: Tone Daily With Dye-Friendly Products

Sometimes your hair needs you to bring in the big guns and overhaul its tone with a serious toner, but sometimes you just need to work to maintain the color you already have.

Toning hair-care products are great for this. Whether it’s a purple or blue pigmented shampoo or even products that contain some of the more natural ingredients listed above, adding these into your routine will help preserve a balanced tone in your hair color.

Some of these products can be used daily. Centaury, green tea, chamomile, and hibiscus are great ingredients to look for. But pigmented shampoos and conditioners should only be used when you start to see some brassiness or an imbalance of warm tones peeking through in your color. 

Things to Consider

Gorgeous young lady with toned hair for a piece on how to tone hair

Sofia Zhuravetc/Shutterstock

Even though toning your hair at home is easy and sometimes fun, make sure not to go overboard.

  • DON’T tone your hair too often. The effects of toning should last around a month and are good for touch-ups between salon visits.
  • DO check to see if you need extra tools and ingredients when purchasing a toning product. Sometimes you’ll need to purchase a separate developer, and sometimes this comes in the package. 
  • DO always follow up any toning treatment with nourishing hair care to prevent over-drying and damage.
  • DON’T use a purple or blue pigmented shampoo daily, as this will over-tone your hair.

So, How Do You Tone Hair?

Whether you decide to visit your salon, try an at-home salon product, or even concoct your own homemade toner, getting your hair the right color is important. Finding the tone that complements your skin tone feels great, so why wouldn’t you want to make it last as long as possible?

With a little effort, you can find the right product and process for you that can help you extend the life of your hair color and enjoy every day from one salon visit to the next.

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