Can I Tone My Hair At Home?

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Salon-grade hair care products used to only be available to industry professionals in the past. But now they are available to all of us for home use!

While the variety of pro products now available seems fantastic, the problem is that most people didn’t go to cosmetology school to learn how to use them properly! This is why DIY hair fail videos on YouTubeare so popular.

If you’re asking: “Can I tone my hair at home?” it’s not a leap to assume you are one of the rest of us that did not go to cosmetology school, and you probably don’t really know what you’re doing.

But that’s okay, we’re here to help! To avoid becoming a YouTube video sensation for all the wrong reasons, in this article we are going to get into toners and how they should (and should not) be used. We’ll also give you some tips on how to tone your own hair at home.


What Is A Hair Toner?

Hair Toner

Toners are used for two reasons:

1.   To help neutralize any unwanted brassy or warm tones in natural and grey hair.

Natural and dyed Blonde hair tends to get brassy very easily from things like environmental exposure, hair product buildup, and chlorine.

Medium and dark hair can also develop unwanted warmer tones from things like heat styling and environmental exposure.

Warm tones in darker hair tend to range from orange and copper to red.

Because grey or white hair lacks the pigment of younger hair, it’s very susceptible to not only environmental exposure but traces of color in things like the water that you’re showering or swimming in, smoking, hair care product build-up, and even reactions to certain medications.

Grey or white hair can often become dull and take on a yellow tinge.

A toner will neutralize all of those unwanted brassy, copper, and yellow tones.

2.   To achieve that perfect ‘blank canvas’ after bleaching, when applying a different hair color.

When hair is bleached, the end result often comes out with brassy yellow or orange tones, depending on the color you started with.

This happens because your hair color is a combination of the visible color and the underlying pigments. The darker your hair, the more pigment it contains. All hair has a red shade within its base color. Black has a large quantity of dark red base pigment and brunettes have an orange base pigment.

When you bleach your hair, you are first stripping the visible pigments in your hair to reveal the underlying pigments which are all predominantly red or orange and are harder to lift.

Cool-toned color pigments are the first to be lifted out of your hair during the bleaching process. There are more warm color (red & orange) molecules than cool color molecules. The warmer molecules are also larger, so they are the last to be lifted out of hair.

It’s those residual warm tones that are harder to lift. Those get left behind and create the brassy yellow and orange tones.

A toner will neutralize those unwanted brassy and copper tones to achieve a more natural-looking base color upon which to apply a hair dye, so you get the desired results from your hair colou.

What Does A Toner Not Do?

Unlike a hair dye, a toner just coats the exterior of the hair strand, rather than penetrating the hair structure. Because of this, you cannot ‘lift’ or lighten your hair color.

A toner can’t achieve a dramatic change of color, and it also won’t cover greys. Toner is mainly used to refresh color, provide shine, and neutralize unwanted undertones.

What Can Happen If You Don’t Use Toner Properly

Toner for Hair

Now toners come as a one-off product and can be used on their own. But toners can also be combined with developer to achieve different effects.

However, mixing toner with developer is NOT recommended unless you really know what you are doing (i.e. you’ve had training).

If you’re reading this article, it’s safe to assume that you do not and you should avoid toner with developer altogether.

Even using a toner on its own without properly knowing how to use it can result in some very unwanted outcomes.

Whether it’s leaving in the toner too long, using a toner in the wrong color family, not getting the right ratio of toner to developer, using the wrong strength of developer, or a combination of some or all of the above, you can not only cause hair damage but end up with some very unexpected color results, like green hair, for example. 

And we’re not talking about Billie Eilish green. We’re talking about unflattering green.No one wants that!

The good news is that you do not need to be a professional to tone your hair at home. In fact, you don’t even need to use a toner at all to get the results that toner can provide!

What’s The Difference Between Toner And Purple Shampoo?

Purple Shampoo

So purple shampoo has become all the rage and you may well have heard about it. But what is it, and what’s the difference between purple shampoo and toner?

“Purple shampoo” and “toner” are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same.

Purple shampoo is what’s referred to as a color depositing shampoo. Colour depositing shampoos come in other colors (not just purple) and can be used to neutralize, or tone down, unwanted tones in the hair.

The color of the tones in your hair you want to get rid of will dictate which color depositing shampoo you should use.

The easiest way to figure out which color you need to use to neutralize the unwanted tones in your hair is to look at the color wheel.

Colors opposite each other on the color wheel will cancel out each other.

Purple shampoo  will neutralize brassy yellow tones. Blue shampoo  will take care of orangey copper tones. Green Shampoo will handle red undertones in darker hair, and red shampoo  will neutralize green.

Granted, green is not a natural hair undertone, but green happens! Especially in those with blonde hair. Incidentally, you’ll remember we mentioned green tones can also come as a result of improper toner use.

Color depositing shampoo and toner are used for the same purpose. Both reduce unwanted tones in your hair, but that’s where their similarities end. Here are the differences in a nutshell:

  • Toner is applied more like a hair dye.
  • Toner has a much more complicated application than Color depositing (purple) shampoo.
  • Toner, if done properly will give you immediate results.
  • It takes a lot more than watching a few YouTube videos to use toner correctly.
  • Color depositing shampoo is used just like any other shampoo.
  • Color depositing shampoo will tone your hair more gradually. Sometimes one application is enough, but it may require several uses to get your desired tone.
  • Color depositing shampoo is really easy to use, less messy, and takes a lot less time than toner.
  • Anyone can use color depositing shampoo – no experience necessary!

We’ve written a lot about color depositing shampoos. See below:

Should I Use Toner Or Purple Shampoo?

Toners should pretty much only be used by those who know what they’re doing, or those who are willing to live with the results.

Color depositing shampoos, on the other hand, are super user-friendly. If you know how to shampoo your hair, you can use a color depositing shampoo!

If you are looking to neutralize unwanted tones in your hair and you are not familiar with using a toner, use a color depositing shampoo instead. You can achieve the same results with an almost* zero margin of error.

*We say almost, because some people don’t read instructions! Different brands of color depositing shampoos have different wait times, so read the instructions!! Misuse of color depositing shampoo can result in drying out your hair or possibly getting pigment staining from the shampoo.

You probably don’t want to be walking around with blue or purple-stained hair.

How Many Times A Week Can I Use Purple Shampoo?

Purple shampoo (or any color depositing shampoo) is not meant to replace your regular shampoo. It is to be used as directed – read your product instructions! Generally, you should use a color depositing shampoo only once a week, or twice at the most.

Color depositing shampoo can be drying to the hair, so it’s a good idea to use a deep conditioning treatment afterward.

How Often Can I Tone My Hair?

Unlike color depositing shampoo, toner is a chemical process that can do some serious damage your hair if you use it too often. You should not be using toner more than once every 3-4 weeks to allow time for your hair to recover in between.

If your hair is dry and brittle, it’s best to wait 7-8 weeks before toning it again.

Take Away

Can I tone my hair at home? The answer is: yes. But toner should only be used if you actually know what you are doing. There are so many things that can go wrong if you don’t.

The easiest way to tone your hair at home is to use a color depositing shampoo.

Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).