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How to Tone Your Hair the Right Way, According to Stylists

Read this before you pick up the purple shampoo.

Let it be known that I have never had a serious dye job—except for one tiny streak of bright pink while in the seventh grade, and an unfortunate at-home attempt to boldly bleach my naturally dark brown hair blonde during high school. After watching a YouTube tutorial, I regrettably ended up with hair that looked more like straw than the gorgeous ombré shade the box promised.

Upon seeing the awful yellow hue, I ran to the nearest drugstore and picked up the largest bottle of purple shampoo that I could find. I prayed it would bring my hair back to life—it did not. Instead, my hair was a bright shade of copper for the remainder of my sophomore year of high school. Ultimately, I had to chop off the affected area entirely, leaving me with my signature short bob.

Why You Need Toner in the First Place

Turns out, toning is way more important, and complicated, than simply dousing your hair in purple shampoo. When you dye or highlight your hair, the color oxidizes and changes over time. On platinum blondes specifically, highlighted portions of the hair tend to turn a brassy shade of yellow rather than the cool tone they're looking for. Alternatively, brunettes and redheads looking to add warmth and dimension to their color might find that their dyed highlights turn ashy. Toners are semi-permanent dyes that solve this annoying problem by returning your hair back to the desired tone. The process of toning your hair keeps those unwanted shades at bay so a more consistent color can be achieved.

You Can Totally User Toners With Other Hair Products for Maximum Results

Toners are often used alongside hair glosses and glazes, which do exactly as their name suggests: grant your hair a healthy, straight-from-the-salon finish. “Gloss, glaze, and toner all essentially do the same thing,” Cassie Cohen, colorist at Sharon Dorram at Sally Hershberger in New York City, explains. "They can enhance and mute tones, while adding shine.”

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You Should Enlist the Help of a Professional Hairstylist First

Cohen warns that clients shouldn’t attempt to fix brassiness or dullness on their own at home. “I recommend to go to a salon first, speak to your colorist, and let them advise on the best toning products for your hair.” Why? Well because many drugstore toning formulas can be overly drying when used the wrong way. If you happen to use too much of the wrong formula, your hair will feel more dry and flaky than shiny. Most toning products, like purple shampoo, that are available at the drugstore are specifically formulated for toning blondes—so, it's tough for those with darker hair to tone correctly without professional help. When applied at the salon, more often than not toners are customized to fit each client’s needs. In other words, one-size-fits-all toners often don’t work on everyone.

No, Toners Do Not Lighten Your Hair Color

Toners cannot, and should not, replace the actual lightning process that hair goes through when it's bleached. Glosses and toners won’t actually be able to lighten your hair if you notice it fading. They are designed and should solely be used to correct the tone of the color. Properly toned colors may appear brighter because they are cooler-toned, not necessarily because they are lighter in shade.

This Is How Often You Should Tone Your Hair

Since toners are semi-permanent, it’s best to get your hair toned in-between dye jobs and during the dying process. “[Toning is] the best quick fix” Olivia Casanova, a colorist at IGK Salon in New York City, explains. “Toner only takes about 10 to 20 minutes—so, when you need a quick pick-me-up, it’s the next best thing.”

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How frequently you should get your hair toned in between washes depends on your hair color. “Redheads tend to fade the quickest, and they generally have to touch their color up more often,” Courtney Lee, a colorist at Kinloch Salon in New York, explains.

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The Best Toning Products, Recommended by Stylists

If you absolutely must tone your hair at home, Casanova recommends using IGK Hair's Mixed Feelings Leave-in Blonde Toning Drops, which turns your favorite conditioner into a toning treatment. Lee swears by Shades EQ Toner from Redken, which she has been using for 15 years. And Cohen recommended the Alchemic line from indie brand Davines, which includes toning options for all hair colors and tones.

Bottom line: You’re going to have to make a trip to the salon in order to keep your color in check. At-home toners might have improved, but it’s always best to consult a professional before risking your perfectly blended highlights.

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