Choosing the best hair toner is usually about research, particularly where color and permanency are concerned. Before you start shopping you should have a pretty clear idea of what, exactly, you’re trying to accomplish, as well as some understanding of the options that are available to you. If you’re trying to remove brassiness from blonde hair you’ll want a different sort of toner than if you’re looking to brighten and bring out auburn pigments in darker hair, for instance. Most of the time you can find a toner that’s right for you at a pharmacy or hair supply store, though many salons will also apply it. If the options confuse you or you’re just not sure what you need, getting a professional opinion may be a good idea.
Research Your Color
Choosing the right color is usually the hardest part of the process, and it can be somewhat confusing because it’s different from choosing a color to dye your hair. If you want deep auburn hair, you generally choose a dye in that color range — but when it comes to toner, you probably want something in the green or purple family, which can seem counterintuitive at first.
Toners are available in a variety of color formulas, although the most common are red, green, purple, blue and beige. All are designed to neutralize complementary colors by balancing and counteracting pigmentation on a chemical level. For example, a red-based hair toner will neutralize green tinges that sometimes appear during bleaching, while a green one will correct reds that appeared while dyeing the hair brown; beige toner is most frequently used to soften very warm or bright hair colors. Purple toners, in turn, will correct hair that has turned yellow, while blue is designed for correcting overly brassy hues.
Decide on Permanency
After you’ve chosen a color, you’ll need to determine whether you need a permanent, semi-permanent or demi-permanent product. A lot of the decision will depend on how long you want the toner’s effects to last. People who use permanent hair dyes generally choose permanent toners, as these tend to be the strongest and the longest lasting. Temporary and partial color, like highlights and lowlights, may be better suited to semi- or demi-permanent toners. A semi-permanent product will last for six to 12 washes, and a demi-permanent toner will usually last twice as long.
It’s important to realize that toners do most of their color balancing work right when they’re first applied, so the choice is mainly about how long the effects need to last in order to keep a polished and well-maintained look. There are a few special considerations for people who are trying to use toners to correct coloring errors rather than just balance out properly applied and pigmented color. If you are correcting an unnatural color like orange, for instance, permanent toner usually is the best option since you’ll want the pigmentation to really bind to the hair and alter the color. Less severe mishaps can often be corrected through the use of semi- and demi-permanent toners, since by the time the toner wears off the underlying dye probably will have, too.
Consider the Ingredients
Another thing to think about it what the toner is made of. Most commercial products are chemical-based, and many contain ammonia. People who are sensitive to ammonia or who want to avoid using harsh additives on their hair sometimes choose “chemical free” or “natural based” toners. These aren’t always as effective and tend to be slightly more expensive, but are often gentler and may not be as harmful on contact with the skin. If you leave a regular toner on for too long, it can burn your scalp or leave a rash on any skin it touched.
Think About Application
Most toners are designed to be applied to the whole head at once, usually with a tube or applicator bottle. Some products are specially designed for highlights and are made for small patches of hair at a time; others may require multiple applications, often every day for up to a week. It may also be possible to mix a bit of prepared toner in with your regular shampoo or conditioner to keep getting the benefits with every wash. This is most common with semi- and demi-permanent toners, but a lot depends on brand and formulation. It’s important to read the instructions and usage guidelines before purchasing to make sure you understand how the toner should be used.
Consider a Salon Application
One of the easiest ways to get the right toner for your hair is to have a colorist select the product for you and apply it in a salon. People who get their hair professionally dyed often get toner applied at the same time, in which case the colorist is able to make an expert recommendation knowing exactly how the initial dye is composed. You can also usually make an appointment just for toner if you’ve dyed your hair yourself. Getting professional help is usually recommended for serious color problems, as well as any time you want to try something really new but aren’t sure you have the confidence or skills to pull it off.