What’s a Toner?

After shampooing out highlights, I always check the color to see if I need to apply a toner. If I make the call to tone, I often get the following questions: What is a toner? What does it do? Why do I need one?

Toner (also called gloss) is simply a demi-permanent haircolor that is applied for just a few minutes, typically after highlighting, to shift the tone.

tone – A color variation with more variations than a shade—having to do with the value (brightness) of a hue (position in the spectrum) or its chroma (saturation or purity) Farlex Trivia Dictionary. © 2012 Farlex, Inc.

Lightener or decolorizer (nice words for bleach) simply lifts color from the hair. It does not deposit color. Therefore, stylists have a limited amount of control over the color that is achieved. Lighteners expose underlying colors in the hair, which are typically warm, and the color is brassy. Sometimes the resulting color is too cool, which creates an ashy cast. Stylists then consider the desired tone and correct it accordingly.

You may wonder why we don’t just use permanent haircolor for highlights, since it lifts and deposits at the same time. Sometimes we do, especially as a second color for added dimension. But you can’t get as bright or as noticeable highlights with haircolor and it will not lift previously colored hair. Additionally, we have control over the result when we lift and deposit in two separate steps.

Post hightlighting with a decolorizer is not the only time a toner can come in handy. They can also be used to adjust haircolor results or to correct an at-home dye job. They coat the hair strand and leave the hair looking shiny and healthy. Glosses even come in clear to be used when no shift in tone is desired but the hair is looking dry or dull.

In short, toners will help achieve the exact tone you and your stylist are seeking, they create an even shade throughout, and impart shine. They are an essential part of many (if not most) highlighting services. So the next time your stylist disappears behind a curtain to mix up a toner, you’ll know exactly what she’s doing and why.

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