What You Need To Know About Hair Toners And Your Hair Color


Toning is to hair color what icing is to cupcakes. It's the fine-tuning, finishing touch that transforms the basic into something truly finessed. And as anyone who has licked the icing bowl can attest, it's also pretty great on its own!Today there are many types of toning formulas at the disposal of hair color professionals and the best pros curate a "toning toolbox" that provides the right toner for every shade and every type of hair. Here are answers to the most commonly asked questions about toners.

What Is A Hair Toner?

Admittedly, the term can be confusing. That’s because many hair professionals use it interchangeably with other terms like glazing or hair glossing. Essentially, a toner is a hair color product that contains low or no ammonia, that gently alters the undertone of the hair. These formulas are also defined as demi-permanent or semi-permanent hair color. Unlike permanent hair color, they fade gradually after six to eight weeks. Permanent hair color, on the other hand, stays put until it grows out or until you cut your hair.

Because toners are low in ammonia, they don’t penetrate deeply into the hair strand—rather they lie gently on the surface of the hair, acting much like the top coat used to finish off your manis and pedis! Another plus? Their low-ammonia composition means they’re a healthy choice for any hair type, even if it’s damaged or compromised.

And right now, toning is having a moment! There are a number of nuanced new formulas designed for various results, such as the Matrix Color Sync 5-Minute Fast Toners that prepare hair for vivid color; new Color Sync deposit-only Sheer Acidic Toners that gently tone with extra conditioning and Color Sync alkaline toners that provide shiny, even color results.

Find a salon near you to schedule your next toning appointment!

Why Are Toners Used?

There are so many ways toners can upgrade, refine and enhance hair color! Here’s a rundown.

1. Neutralizing. The best hair color is clean and clear and free of unwanted tones. A beautiful, cool blonde hair color, for example, will not exhibit traces of yellow. A lovely mocha brunette hair color will be ruined by unwanted orange or brassiness. Toners neutralize these unwanted tones. Your stylist might apply a violet purple toner to your blonde hair to cancel out unwanted yellow; or she might opt for a blue toner to neutralize brass.

2. Double Process Hair Color. If you sport trendy tones like rose gold hair color or pastel pink hair color, you know it takes two steps to get the perfect shade. First your stylist lightens your hair to create a clean “canvas,” then she uses a toner to deposit the desired final shade (or shades).

3. Pre-toning. Sometimes your stylist might decide to apply a toner before proceeding with the rest of your color service. Pre-toning will create a neutral base, eliminating unwanted warm or ashen tone that might compromise the finished hair color. What’s more, it will keep your hair color consistent as it fades.

4. Color Refreshing. If your existing hair color has started to fade, a toner is a healthier way to bring it back to life than by re-applying permanent color. Many hair stylists like to apply permanent hair color to the new growth and use a toner on the rest of your hair to balance the existing shade and add shine.

5. Color Correction. Toners can be used to quickly and gently fix color problems--like tones that go off or bands or spots that might pop up as a result of inaccurate application.

6. Grey Blending. If you aren’t completely grey, toning is a great way to blend your greys with the pigmented hair color that you still have. Toners are sheerer than permanent hair color, so you’ll get a reflective, dimensional grey coverage result instead of a solid hair color look.

7. Shine Enhancement. Sometimes your hair color simply needs a shine boost. Toners to the rescue! For example, Matrix Color Sync toning formulas contain a Cera-Oil Priming Complex that amplifies reflectivity and shine and helps hair color look lustrous longer.

How Are Toners Applied?

The good news is toners are quick. Most formulas take just 20 minutes to process and the new Color Sync 5-Minute Fast Toners get the job done in just…five minutes! Your stylist will apply toners when your hair is damp and then shampooyou when time is up.

What Hair Colors Are Toners Best For?

In a word, all of them!

1. Blonde hair color. Toners can remove unwanted warm tones, finish off a blonde shade with a fun tone like lilac or rose gold and add sparkle and shine to the overall blonde hair color shade.

2. Brunette hair color. You can add richness, depth and dimension to brunette hair color with a toner, as well as neutralize color that is too warm, brassy or ashy.

3. Red hair color. Red hair color really stands out, especially when it’s shiny and vivid. Toners can amplify red hair color and restore the look of your red shade if it begins to fade.

4. Highlights. Toner can add a level of refinement to your highlights by blending and balancing them. Toning balayage, foilayage or foil highlights makes them look subtler, more natural and frankly, more expensive!

5. Pastel hair color. Pastel shades like pale mint green hair or pastel blue hair generally require the two steps described above—lightening, followed by a toner overlay. Toners can also be combined to create a rainbow of unique hair colors.

6. Vivid hair color. The name says it all—the vivid hair color we love is bright and bold! Toners like Matrix SOCOLOR Cult  keep vivid hair color on point—refreshing them with healthy, low-ammonia formulas to maintain their original vibrancy.

“As a colorist, toners give me the power to create truly beautiful, sophisticated shades,” says Matrix Artistic Director Danielle Keasling. “Plus, they allow me to work quickly, which my busy clients appreciate! I’m able to get incredible results while keeping the hair healthy and strong. I credit much of the satisfaction of my hair color clients to my toning toolbox!”