Our stylists use hair toners everyday, but a recent survey conducted by UK-based Taylor Taylor London suggests that very few people know what a toner is. Let alone how (or why) they’re used in our salons.

To shed some light on these super-useful products – and help you to understand why they’re used in most of our color treatments  – we’ve decided to put together this in-depth guide to one of the most important coloring products on your stylist’s shelf.

What is a hair toner?

First things first, you need to know that hair toners are a special type of colouring product that are (normally) used in conjunction with a pre-lighteners or dyes.

Toners don’t lift or permanently alter the color of your hair. Instead, they allow your stylist to personalise or modify the shades produced by a standard color treatment. They’re normally used to correct unwanted tones and give your hair a more natural look. Like a (semi-permanent) Instagram filter for your hair.

Our stylists also use hair toners to make subtle tweaks to your final color (think platinum grey to lavender, or bleached blonde to pearl) and these versatile wonder products can even be used to add a bright pop of fashion color to your mane.

Most of the time, toners are used at the end of a service, and they normally take between 20 and 30 minutes to apply (depending on the length of your hair). Sometimes foils are used to color individual areas of hair but most of the time, toner tends to be an all-over thing.

It’s fair to say that toners have a pretty understated effect on the actual color your hair, but their ability to modify and enrich colored hair makes them a vital part of the coloring process.

Why are toners used?

Toners are most commonly used to add character to blonde hair after it’s been pre-lightened (or bleached). They’re the products that allow your stylist to cancel out any warm or brassy tones, and build nordic; platinum or ashy shades into your hair. Think Lady Gaga’s Oscar hairdo, or even Zac Efron’s surprise ice blonde ‘do.

They’re also the products that allow your stylist to warm up blonde hair – adding coppery or honey hues so that you can do like Blake Lively and swan about with gorgeous, beach-blonde hair all summer.


That’s not to say that toners can *only* be used to modify blonde hair though. Our stylists also use these super-subtle products to brighten up red hair; amplify the cool tones in a candy pink mane or bring out the warm, chestnut shades in dark brown hair.

They’re multi-purpose and incredibly versatile, which is why our stylists use them in 99% of our color services.

Toners can also be used to refresh colors between treatments – cancelling out some of the natural tones that start to show through as your color pigments start to fade.

This is particularly useful if you’ve had your hair lightened, because darker pigments tend to come back quite quickly, and they’re also notorious for overpowering the cool shades in your hair. This means that your hair often starts to look brassy and warm as your color treatment wears out, and a quick splash of toner is the *perfect* way to stop this process in its tracks.

According to Redken’s Cody Mittendorf:

“One of the biggest things I find with my guests is that if their color isn’t lasting as long as it should, they come in three to four weeks down the road, get a quick toner and leave feeling great and like their color will last longer between services,”

Nowadays, you can also find color protect shampoos that contain a mild toner. These products don’t work as well as the professional toners we use in-salon, but they still follow the same principles, and enable you to top-up or preserve your color between treatments.

How do hair toners work?

We don’t want to bore you with a science lesson, but understanding how toners work will *definitely* help to cut down on confusion  next time your stylist suggests -say- putting a purple toner through your blonde locks, or adding a blue toner to your brunette waves…

See, toners actually work in the opposite way to your average hair dye, which is to say that instead of adding the color you want, they target (and cancel out) tones that aren’t desirable. Like the brown or orange shades that stop your hair from looking icy white.

To choose a toner, your stylist will look at the colors that need to be eliminated from your hair, and then pick something from the opposite side of the color wheel. Purples eliminate yellow tones; green cancels out red and blue removes orange or ginger shades.

Now, most of the time our stylists are reaching for purple toner, but there are some exceptions, and now that you’re familiar with the way toner works, you’ll know what’s going on when your stylist starts talking about adding a splash of green to your locks!

Check out how toners can change the hue of pre-lightened hair below with Kim K’s creation as well as our very own stylist Alyssa from Plattsburg, NY. 

Another example is this beaut of a before and after transformation courtesy of stylist Carolyn in Calgary, AB. This guest came in with a faded and outgrown fashion color (or two!) and thanks to some color magic and expertly mixed and applied toner, this guest left with an ice blonde mane that was pure #hairgoals.

[L-R: After and before]

How long do hair toners last?

Toners are a demi- or semi-permanent product, which means that they’ll start to fade after approximately 4-6 weeks. Some toners will last longer than this (depending on the color) but we’d normally recommend booking in for a refresh once every four weeks just to be on the safe side.

That said, there are some things you can do to make your toner last a little longer. These include:

  • Shielding your hair from the sun
  • Using a heat protect spray
  • Using a toning shampoo/conditioner.

Protecting your hair from the sun is super-important because ultraviolet rays break down color pigments – causing your toner to fade away at an accelerated rate. You can slow this process by covering your hair when you go outside, but you didn’t get your locks colored so that you could hide them away all summer, so we’d recommend trying to limit your time in the sun instead. Aim to spend less than 20-30 minutes in the sun at any one time, and make sure that your in the shade as much as possible to maximise the lifespan of your toner.

Using a heat protect spray can help as well, and this step is particularly important if you’re also going to be styling your hair with straighteners; curlers or a blow dryer. Direct heat from styling tools can cause the outer cuticle layer of your hair to split open, which exposes colored pigments to the air and speeds up the rate at which they fade.

By spritzing your hair with a protective spray *before* you style, you’ll give your locks a protective coating that seals in those colored pigments and keeps your toner salon-fresh for a little bit longer.

As mentioned above, toning shampoos are also a great buy, as they actually top up and restore some of your toner between sessions. Consult with your stylist before buying a toning shampoo though, because you want to be 100% sure that you’re picking the right color.

Can I apply hair toner at home?

We’d never recommend coloring your hair at home, and it’s important to point out that there’s a lot of nuance to picking the right toner. Our stylists have been trained to pick out the colors needed to create a particular effect and while it can be tempting to try blending toners yourself, there’s a very good chance that you’ll end up with a strange or substandard color.

The same goes for picking products that are designed to retone your hair, which is why we’d always recommend consulting your stylist *before* you pick out a toning shampoo or conditioner.

Are there any downsides to getting my hair toned?

Color treatments have a reputation for causing damage, but hair toners are normally 100% safe for your hair. In fact, professional hair toners can actually improve the quality of your hair by amping up its natural shine, and giving it a glossy shine that’ll stick around for several washes.


Want to know more?

Our expert stylists are always happy to answer any questions, so if you’d like to know more about hair toners (or we haven’t covered your question here) you can always get in touch with your local Mastercuts salon.