According to celebrity colorists, it’s a total game-changer for color-treated hair. 

By Kaitlin Clark
Updated Apr 13, 2020 @ 6:15 pm
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Hair toner, ever heard of it?

If not, you’re in good company. Even though stylists consider toner to be an essential, bring-it-all-home, final step of a hair coloring appointment, it remains a mystery for so many — even those with color-treated hair. And with so many hair products and services available to us, it’s pretty easy to want to skip toner when you aren’t totally certain what it does, especially when there’s a price tag attached to it.

But turns out, skipping hair toner is a super common mistake people with color-treated hair make. To find out more about the treatment, we turned to two of the best celebrity colorists around, Sally Hershberger salon master colorist Aura Friedman and Redken celebrity colorist Tracey Cunningham, to give us all the deets and break down how toner works and why no dye job is complete without it.

What is Hair Toner?

“Colorists use many different words to describe a toner,” explains Cunningham, who adds that stylists often use ‘hair gloss’ or ‘glaze’ interchangeably when describing hair toner. “When I’m working behind the chair, I typically call it a hair gloss because it makes the benefits – shine, luster, and a touch of color – super intuitive for my clients."

Simply put, a toner is a gel-like, demi-permanent hair coloring product that temporarily deposits color onto hair to enhance or soften hues while adding megawatt shine.

Since the dye in toners is demi-permanent, it loses vibrancy each time hair is washed, but will typically last about four to six weeks, says Cunningham, making it an easy, low commitment option for people who want to try out different shades.

Are There Different Kinds of Toners?

"There are glosses and toners,” explains Friedman. “Glosses deposit color, but do not lighten hair, whereas toners may contain ammonia, which can lighten hair."

Friedman prefers to use glosses over a traditional toner to not only blend color together to achieve harmony between hues, but also because glosses are effective "on universal hair types to give hair more body with a boost of protein."

Tinted shampoos and conditioners are also considered a type of hair toner and are key for caring for color-treated hair at home.

"I am talking to all my clients about toning shampoos right now,” says Cunningham. “Using a toning shampoo, like Redken Color Extend Blondage Shampoo and conditioner for blondes and Redken Color Extend Brownlights Shampoo and conditioner for brunettes, means you’re putting in the work to maintain your color at home. For blondes, you’re keeping your hair bright and brass-free, and for brunettes, this is all about preventing those red and orange undertones from coming through."

How Does Hair Toner Work?

A toner is usually applied at the shampoo bowl after a single or double process, says Cunningham. But, "it can also be used in-between color services to maintain and refresh your hair," she adds.

One of her go-moves is to add a gloss to a blowout appointment for an extra upgrade and instant shine boost. Take it from a pro: “It’s fabulous!” the stylist exclaims.

Glosses have a lifespan of six to eight shampoos, and Friedman recommends applying a gloss every eight weeks to revitalize hair color and strengthen strands for maximum volume.

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Why Do I Need to Use Hair Toner?

Toners have way more benefits than just adding dimension to hair color, and thanks to its versatility, Cunningham says toners or glosses are likely part of your in-salon color service already — whether you know it or not!

To get technical, using an acidic demi-permanent toner is an essential part of a color appointment to strengthen the hair’s cuticles and reduce damage. This specific type of toner "closes the hair cuticles and helps bring the hair’s pH levels back to a normal, healthy state after a color or lightening service," says Cunningham, who also uses an acidic toner during root touch-ups.

"When doing a root touch up, I’ll apply alkaline permanent color to the regrowth (aka roots) and acidic Redken Shades EQ Gloss to the previously colored hair, to get the best results and minimize damage.”

Translation: you walk out of the salon with vibrant, shiny, and most importantly, healthy hair.

"It’s a quick service that works wonders on hair to tone color, refresh highlights, and correct uneven tones,” adds Cunningham. “A hair gloss offers big results that you can see and feel.”

Are There Any Cons to Using Hair Toner?

Since the dye in toner is temporary and loses vibrancy with each wash, there isn’t a huge risk factor with using it, although with every color appointment, it’s wise to bring your stylist a photo of the final look you’re envisioning. And from there, “your colorist can work out how to make that look come to life,” says Cunningham.

Can I Use Hair Toner at Home?

If you are absolutely desperate, go for a gloss or a demi-permanent color, says Friedman. This is definitely not the time to be a risk-taker, and you should follow the instructions exactly as they are outlined on the box, she adds. Also, stay far away from toners that contain ammonia in the formulation — this is how people end up with orange hair.

"My dream," says Friedman, "is to have my clients not touch any sort of color, and instead focus on getting hair strong with hair masques like K18Peptide Masque, that way when I finally get them back in the salon, we can go to the extreme with color, because their hair will be so healthy!"