As we get older, gray hairs start to pop up whether we want them to or not. I’ve found that when I let my grays come in completely natural, they can look a bit dull and brassy. The warm, yellowish tones seem to make gray hair look older than it should. The solution? Using a toner specifically formulated for gray hair.
What Is Hair Toner?
Hair toner is a coloring product that deposits pigment onto bleached or color-treated hair. It works differently than permanent hair dye. Rather than lifting and depositing color, it works by neutralizing undertones in your hair.
Toner comes in different forms like permanent, demi-permanent, semi-permanent, and temporary options. It works based on color theory and the color wheel. Blue and violet pigments cancel out the warm yellow and brassy orange hues in gray hair. This keeps the color looking cool and bright.
The Result of Using Gray Hair Toner
Here are some of the benefits you can expect from using a toner on your grays:
- Neutralizes yellow, orange, and red brassiness
- Provides an even, uniform color from roots to ends
- Keeps highlights bright and icy rather than warm
- Prevents dullness by reflecting light better
- Tones down variations between artificially colored and regrowth sections
- Enhances shine and gives hair a healthier appearance
Whether you want subtle toning or major color correction, there is a toner that can get your grays looking youthful and vibrant.
Why Gray Hair Turns Yellow and Brassy
To understand why toner is so useful for grays, it helps to first look at what causes them to get dull and discolored.
As we get older, the oil glands in our scalp produce less sebum. This leaves each strand of gray hair prone to dryness. Hair also loses protein and elasticity over time. This inability to retain moisture allows gray hair to absorb brassy pigments more readily.
Environmental factors also influence the tone of gray strands. Things like sunlight, chlorine, smoke, pollution, minerals in water, and product buildup can all deposit brassiness into the hair over time. That’s why grays tend to develop a yellow, orange, or red tinge.
Without proper toning, gray hair quickly appears dull, dry, and significantly older. Using a toner regularly prevents brassiness and keeps grays looking their best.
How Does Hair Toner Actually Work?
The key to toner is that it contains pigments opposite on the color wheel to neutralize reddish and yellow tones.
Blue and violet hues are essential for toning down the warmth in gray hair. As the toner deposits these cool pigments onto the hair, they cancel out any unwanted brassiness.
Many toners also contain conditioning agents, antioxidants, and proteins to nourish the hair. These help prevent damage from coloring and environmental factors.
When applied properly, the toner pigments coat the outer hair cuticle. They interact with the natural underlying pigment in the strands to create the desired color result.
Unlike permanent dye, the toner color washes out over time. This means it requires regular maintenance every 3-4 weeks. But it also means less commitment!
How to Choose the Best Toner for Your Gray Hair
With so many types and brands of toners on the market, it can be tricky to select the right one for your needs. Here are a few factors to keep in mind:
1. Consider Your Hair’s Current Tone
Is your hair pure white? Salt and pepper? Dark steel gray? Knowing where your hair is starting in terms of warmth, darkness, and pigment saturation will help determine the intensity of toner needed.
2. Subtle Toning vs Major Color Correction
Think about how dramatic of a change you’re hoping to see. For subtle toning, a demi-permanent or temporary toner will get the job done. But for cancelling out very brassy or yellow tones, go for a stronger permanent toner.
3. Lifestyle and Styling Habits
Those with active lifestyles may prefer a more gradual toning result from something semi-permanent. If you heat style frequently, avoid permanent toners to prevent damage. And if you wash your hair daily, you’ll need something longer lasting.
4. Toner Maintenance
Consider if you’re willing to re-tone every 3-4 weeks. Semi-permanent and demi-permanent options will require more frequent applications than a permanent toner. Think about your schedule, budget, and hair goals.
Different Types Of Toners
Now let’s look at the different types and strength levels of toners available.
Permanent toners lead to the most dramatic results by completely canceling unwanted undertones. The color lasts 4-6 weeks and slowly fades.
- Strongest toning result
- Longest lasting on all hair types
- Less maintenance needed
- Can be drying to hair overtime
- Must grow out, no remover available
- Don’t use if you change your color often
Demi-permanent toners deposit color without liftwhile still neutralizing brassiness. The color washes out in 24-28 shampoos.
- Gentler formula with conditioners
- Moderate toning intensity
- Less damage to already processed hair
- Doesn’t last as long as permanent
- Need reapplication every 4-6 weeks
Semi-permanent toners create subtle, natural-looking results. They gradually fade out over 6-12 shampoos.
- Great for minor tone corrections
- Ammonia-free, less damage to hair
- Easy to maintain tone with frequent use
- Very subtle change, not for major corrections
- Doesn’t last long, requires re-toning often
Temporary or Color Depositing Toners
Temporary toners offer a quick fix for tones that just needs a boost between salon visits. They wash out in 1-2 shampoos.
- Least commitment, instant but temporary results
- Can be used as often as needed
- Gentle enough for daily use
- Very short-lived results
- Not long lasting tone correction
Top 3 Best Toners for Gray Hair
If you have the time and budget, visiting an experienced colorist is the best way to get your grays toned perfectly. Here are some of the top salon-quality toners for gray hair.
Wella Color Charm Toners
Wella offers a line of Color Charm toners ranging from pale platinum to dark smoky grays. Wella T18 Toner is the most popular for toning very light gray and white hair. It adds a bright, icy tone.
For darker grays, Wella T10 Toner creates an ash brown tone, perfect for those with grey streaks and highlights. Any Color Charm toner will last about 4-6 weeks for solid results.
Redken Shades EQ Gloss
Redken Shades EQ Gloss not only tones hair but deeply conditions. The protein-enriched formula helps strengthen strands while neutralizing brassiness and yellowing.
It comes in four shades ideal for gray coverage – platinum, pale platinum, steel blue, and smokey blue. Redken toners leave hair looking glossy and hydrated.
Matrix Socolor Demi-Permanent Toners
The Matrix Socolor line features demi-permanent hair toners that transform dull grays. They contain no ammonia or peroxide for gentle, conditioning color.
The “Clear Mixer” tones down warmth while the “Violet Additive” corrects yellow. Mix them to customize the perfect toner shade for your hair. Expect the color to last 4-5 weeks.
No matter which brand you choose, having your grey strands professionally toned by a colorist is the best way to avoid brassiness. In-salon toners tend to last 4-6 weeks with proper at-home care.
DIY Options for At-Home Gray Hair Toners
While getting your grays toned at the salon is ideal, you can also maintain your color at home between appointments. Here are some options for DIY toning.
Many affordable at-home toners can be found at your local drugstore or beauty supply retailer. Two of the most popular include:
- Clairol Shimmer Lights Original: Infused with violet pigments to brighten silver and platinum hair.
- John Frieda Sheer Blonde Go Blonder Lightening Spray: Counteracts yellow tones with blue-violet hues.
Follow the instructions on the packaging for best results. Drugstore toners are generally safe for weekly use.
You can mix up your own custom toner recipe using ingredients like:
- Purple shampoo: Look for a shampoo with violet, blue, or silver pigments. Dilute with conditioner as needed.
- Blue or purple vegetable dye: Manic Panic,punky colour and Directions make great semi-permanent natural dyes.
- Conditioner: Dilute the pigmented product to make it less drying.
Mix 1 part pigment with at least 2-3 parts conditioner. Apply it evenly from roots to ends. Start with 10 minutes and increase time as needed. Rinse thoroughly and repeat weekly.
Tips for Applying At-Home Toner
For best results, here are some tips to keep in mind with DIY toning:
- Always do a strand test first to check the color result.
- Wear gloves to avoid staining hands and nails.
- Section hair cleanly and use a tint brush for even application.
- comb the toner through from roots to ends.
- Process for the recommended time based on toner strength.
- Rinse thoroughly until water runs clear.
- Limit toning to every 1-2 weeks to prevent over-depositing pigment.
Maintaining Your Toned Gray Hair
Consistency is key when it comes to keeping gray hair vibrant in between toning sessions. Here are some tips:
Shampoo and Condition Properly
Use only sulfate-free, color-safe shampoos and conditioners meant for color treated hair. Massage shampoo into scalp instead of ends to limit stripping of toner. Always follow with a hydrating conditioner.
Mask and Deep Condition
Toner can be drying over time, so treat your hair to a weekly deep conditioning mask. Look for formulas with nourishing oils and proteins. For added toning benefits, use a purple or blue tinted mask.
Protect From environmental Elements
Defend your grays against sun damage with a UV-protecting product. Also limit pool and salt water exposure which can leach out toner. Minimize use of hot styling tools to maintain moisture.
Use Leave-in Treatments
Look for color-depositing leave-in sprays or toning drops to use between washes. They boost shine while refreshing your toner. Apply from mid-shaft to ends to avoid buildup at the roots.
Re-tone Roots Every 3-4 Weeks
To avoid obvious root growth, re-apply toner only to regrowth around the hairline and part every few weeks. Then do an all-over application between salon visits. Alternate between toner and purple shampoo.
Whether you’re going fully or partially gray, toner is a must-have product for keeping your silver strands looking salon-fresh. The right toner eliminates brassiness and unattractive yellowing. After lightening or as regrowth comes in, toner is the perfect solution for neutralizing undertones.
The key is choosing a toner tailored to your specific needs and hair type. Permanent salon-quality toners offer the most dramatic results and longevity. But there are also gentle, conditioning at-home options like demi-permanent and temporary toners. With the proper application and maintenance regimen, you can keep your grays looking gorgeous and healthy between salon appointments. Don’t be afraid to embrace your silvery side with the power of toner!
Sophia Rodriguez is the creative force behind IGXO Cosmetics, a popular beauty blog and brand. As a long-time makeup artist and beauty industry insider, Sophia realized there was a lack of authentic, relatable content for the everyday woman. This inspired her to launch IGXO Cosmetics in 2018 as a platform to share her passion for beauty.