Toner On Black Hair, Does it Work?

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There is a lot of contradicting information out there when it comes to using toner on black hair. You may have read that toner is only meant for blonde or color-treated hair and that toner will do nothing for black hair.

This is not 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 worst-case scenario, it may actually give you an unwanted result.

In this article we are going to look at:

  1. what makes up your hair color
  2. what toner is and what it’s supposed to be used for
  3. as well as its limitations

…so you aren’t trying to use toner to do something it was never meant to do.


Natural Hair Color

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.

Brown hair typically produces warmer orange undertones. And those with very dark or black hair have red undertones.

Black hair contains a lot more pigment than lighter-colored hair. This makes it much harder to lift, or lighten, when trying to bleach it.

Black hair contains a lot more pigment than lighter-colored hair. This makes it much harder to lift, or lighten, when trying to bleach it.

What Is Toner? And What Is It Used For?

Toners are used for two reasons:

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

Black hair can develop unwanted warmer tones from things like heat styling, environmental exposure, chlorine, and natural aging. The warm tones that are produced in black hair are red.

A toner will neutralize those unwanted red undertones.

2.   Toner is used to achieve that perfect ‘blank canvas’ after bleaching, before applying a different hair color.

When black hair is bleached, the end result often comes out a copper/reddish color… or orange, if you’re unlucky.

This happens because when 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 to create the copper/reddish tones after bleaching.

A toner will neutralize those unwanted red tones to achieve a more natural-looking base color upon which to apply a hair dye. Once you’re back in balance, you’ll get the desired results from your next hair color.

Just note that if you’ve bleached your hair and were hoping to go really light, you will most likely have to bleach your hair more than once.

Black hair has a lot of pigment in it and it’s a lot harder to bleach. In the case that your hair requires another bleaching session, wait 7-10 days (longer if your hair is damaged) before bleaching again.

Do not use a toner in between bleaching sessions.

Wait until you’ve achieved your desired lightness before you tone. The fewer processes you put your hair through, the better. And don’t forget to give your hair as much love and moisture as possible.

Can You Tone Black Hair?

Toning Dark Hair

Yes, you can tone black hair or dark hair. You may have read that toner is only meant for blond or bleached hair and that using toner on darker hair will do nothing.

This is not true if you are using it for what it was meant to do.

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

Green Shampoo

While technically a toner and green shampoo are not the same, they both provide the same end result. See below for further information on this.

Why Green?

When it comes to getting rid of unwanted tones in the hair, colors opposite each other on the color wheel cancel each other out.

Green is opposite red, so if you are looking to rid your hair of unwanted reddish undertones, then green shampoo is your go-to.

Especially formulated for dark and black hair, MATRIX Total Results Dark Envy Color-Depositing Green Shampoo  will neutralize unwanted reddish warm tones.

Green shampoo is not meant to replace your regular shampoo. It’s meant to be used to supplement your regular routine. Swap in the green formula up to twice a week or when you start to see red tones showing up again.

Green Shampoo

You can follow it up with MATRIX Total Results Dark Envy Red Neutralization Toning Hair Mask  on the days you use the green shampoo to keep your hair moisturized.

What’s The Difference Between Toner And Green Shampoo?

Although we’d mentioned that color depositing shampoo and toner are not quite the same, they are both used for the same purpose. Both neutralize unwanted warm tones in the 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 a color depositing (green) shampoo.
  • Toner, if done properly will give you immediate results.
  • It takes more than watching a few YouTube videos to use toner correctly.
  • Colour depositing shampoo is applied just like any other shampoo.
  • Colour depositing shampoo will tone your hair more gradually. Often one application is enough, but it may require several uses to get your desired tone.
  • Colour depositing shampoo is really easy to use, less messy and takes a lot less time than toner.
  • Colour depositing shampoo is less damaging to your hair
  • Anyone can use color depositing shampoo – no experience necessary!

Should I Use A Toner Or A Green Shampoo?

The biggest difference between using a toner and a green 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.

The 99% of us with black hair who are not professional hairstylists, doing our own hair at home, should be using green shampoo rather than a professional toner.

See also:

Can You Tone Black Hair to Make It Lighter?

No. Toner, whether it be a professional grade toner or a color depositing toning shampoo, will not lighten your hair.

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 won’t achieve a dramatic change of color with toner on black hair because that’s not what it’s meant to do. Toners and toning shampoos are meant to neutralize unwanted warm undertones, not lighten your hair.

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).