Can You Tone Brown Hair?

LuxeLuminous is reader supported. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

There is a lot of conflicting information out there regarding toner and brown hair. There are loads of online blogs that write that toner isn’t meant for brown hair; that it’s only meant for blonde or bleached hair; and that toner can only be used on color-treated hair and does nothing for naturally brown hair. None of this is actually true.

Toner is meant to perform a specific function and if it’s not being used properly, then it may not make a difference, or even worst-case scenario may actually give you an unwanted result.

Can you tone brown hair? Yes, you can absolutely tone brown hair.

Toner is an amazing product if it’s used properly, and if it’s used for what it was designed to do.

In this article we are going to take a deep dive into brown hair – its structure and what makes up its natural pigments – as well as take a look at toner and what it’s meant to be used for.


Understanding Your Hair

First things first – in order to understand how to use toner, you need to understand your hair structure and what makes up your natural color.

Natural hair has a colorless cuticle. The pigments (hair color) are in the cortex.

Your natural hair color is made up of melanin. All-natural hair color is made up of four pigments of two types of melanin — black and brown pigments called eumelanin, and red and yellow pigments called pheomelanin.

The shade or depth of hair color is determined by the concentration of melanin.

The more melanin produced in the hair, the darker it is. The tone of the hair is dictated by the ratio of black and brown eumelanin to yellow and red pheomelanin.

More black and brown pigments create a cool-toned hair color, while a predominance of red and yellow pigments creates a warm-toned hair color.

Blondes and those with light-colored hair tend to produce yellow undertones. Those with very dark or black hair have red undertones.

Brown hair typically produces warmer orange undertones.

Why is this important? Just trust us… this will all make sense as we go along and will go a long way to understanding what toner is for and how it works.


What Is Toner And What Is It Used For?

Toners are used for two reasons:

1.   Toner is used to help neutralize any unwanted brassy or warm tones in natural and color-treated hair.

Natural 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, environmental exposure, chlorine, and natural aging. Warm tones in brown and black hair tend to range from orange and copper to red.

A toner will neutralize all of those unwanted warm undertones.

2.   Toner is used to achieve that perfect ‘blank canvas’ after bleaching, before 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.

Circling back to your hair pigment we discussed above, this happens because you bleach your hair, the 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 that have been left behind that create the orange/copper tones.

A toner will neutralize those unwanted orangey 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 color.


Can You Tone Brown Hair?

Yes, you can tone brown hair.

Whether bleaching has left you with an orange base color or your natural brown hair is showing unwanted copper tones, the easiest and fastest way to tone your hair is to use a blue toning shampoo.

While technically a toner and blue shampoo are not exactly the same, they both provide the same end result.


What’s The Difference Between Toner And Blue Shampoo?

Color-depositing shampoo and toner are used for the same purpose. Both neutralize unwanted warm 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 more than watching a few YouTube videos to use toner correctly.
  • Color depositing shampoo is applied 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!

Should I Use A Toner Or A Blue Shampoo?

The biggest difference between using a toner and a blue shampoo is ease of use. Toners have a much higher margin of error and should only be used by those who know what they are doing. Toners are professional products, best left to the professionals.

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! 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 stained hair.

For the 99% of us with brown hair doing our own hair at home and who are not professional hairstylists, should be using blue shampoo rather than professional toner.

Fanola No Orange Shampoo, 11.83 Ounce/350 Milliliter
Fanola No Orange Shampoo, 11.83 Ounce/350 Milliliter
For icy blonde Khaleesi vibes or rich brunette tones sans brass and orange; Best for: Brunette, dark blonde, high level blonde and warm tones.
$8.42
Color Balance Blue Shampoo
Color Balance Blue Shampoo
Capacity: 10.1 oz; Excellent Quality.; Great Gift Idea.; Satisfaction Ensured.; Produced with the highest grade materials
$23.00

What Does Blue Shampoo Do To Brown Hair?

Blue Shampoo

Take a look at the color wheel below. The colors opposite each other on the color wheel will cancel each other out.

Blue is opposite orange on the color wheel, so if your hair is orange, blue is your neutralizing color. Blue shampoo will “tone down” the warm colors in your hair to make it a cooler, more ashy tone.

See also:


Will Purple Shampoo Tone Brown Hair?

Blue Shampoo

No. Looking again at the color wheel. The colors opposite each other will cancel each other out. Purple shampoo is meant to neutralize yellow tones, not orange.

If you have unwanted brassy yellow tones you want to get rid of, then yes, purple shampoo will give you an ashier, cooler shade of blonde. But using purple shampoo on unwanted orange tones in brown hair will not do anything at all.

If your hair is naturally brown, then your undertones are most likely orange, not yellow. So blue shampoo should be your go-to to tone your brown hair.

See also:


What Does A Toner or Blue Shampoo Not Do?

Unlike a hair dye, toners and color depositing shampoos just coat the exterior of the hair strand, rather than penetrating the hair structure. Because of this, neither will ‘lift’ nor lighten your hair color.  

You can’t achieve a dramatic change of color with a toner or blue shampoo because that’s not what they’re meant to do. Toner and toning shampoo is meant to neutralize unwanted undertones, not lighten your hair.

For example, if you want to get rid of the orangey after-effects of bleaching your brown hair, toning will neutralize the orange.

If you are trying to rid your natural brown hair of unwanted orange undertones, toning will get rid of the orange and make your hair a cooler, ashier tone, but not change the shade of your hair.

Can you tone brown hair? Yes. Can you lighten brown hair with toner? No.

Written by Kayla Young

18 Ombre Hair Ideas

How To Fix Over-Toned Hair