As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed those inevitable grays popping up in my hair. At first, it was just a strand here and there, easy enough to pluck or cover up. But over time, the grays have become more noticeable, leading me to explore options to conceal them.
I wanted to find out: does toner actually cover grey hair effectively? Or do I need to look into other solutions, like permanent hair dye?
In this guide, I’ll share what I’ve learned after extensive research into hair toners and other methods for covering grey hairs. I’ll explain how toners work on color-treated hair, their limitations on natural grey hair, and provide tips for choosing the right solution for you.
Whether you’re looking to enhance your natural grey subtly or achieve complete coverage, read on for an in-depth look at whether toner can cover grey hair.
What is a hair toner?
Before diving into whether it covers greys, it helps to understand what exactly a hair toner is. Hair toner is a product used by hair stylists and colorists after bleaching or coloring hair. It helps adjust the tone and shade of hair color results. Toner works by depositing sheer amounts of pigment onto bleached or color-treated hair.
Here are some key facts about hair toners:
- Toners neutralize unwanted brassy, orange, or yellow tones in hair after lightening procedures.
- They come in shade families like ash, beige, and gold to enhance different undertones.
- Toners provide a sheer veil of color without significant lift or damage.
- They come in semi-permanent, demi-permanent, and permanent formulas.
- Toners enhance shine, blend highlights, and even out color.
Now that we know the purpose and process of toners, let’s look at their ability to cover those stubborn greys.
Does toner cover gray hair?
The short answer is no, toner is not formulated to completely cover grey hair. While it can enhance and improve the appearance of gray hair, it does not contain enough pigment to fully color gray hair strands.
However, there are certain situations where toner can minimize the appearance of grey hairs:
- On pre-lightened hair: Toner is effective at neutralizing yellow or brassy tones if you’ve previously lightened your grays with bleach or highlight applications.
- Enhancing natural gray: Cool-toned purple or silver toners can make natural grey hair appear brighter.
- Blending highlights: Toner can camouflage grey regrowth around highlights.
But for full grey coverage, a permanent or demi-permanent hair color is best. Keep reading to understand why toner falls short of fully covering natural grey hair compared to other coloring options.
How does hair toner work?
To understand the limitations of toner on grey hair, it helps to know how it works on a molecular level. Hair toner contains low levels of color pigment suspended in a creme developer formula. When applied to the hair, these tiny pigment molecules partially penetrate and stain the rough, porous cuticle layer of the hair shaft. This adds sheer color without lifting or radically altering the natural pigment within the hair.
However, grey hair lacks melanin and natural pigment. The cuticle layer is smooth and compact. This makes it more resistant to accepting and absorbing toner pigments. So while toner can stain and neutralize brassy overtones on color-treated hair, it cannot sufficiently penetrate and alter the color of grey strands. This physical resistance of grey hair is why permanent color with ammonia and bleach is required to fully saturate the hair shaft and cover greys.
What Kinds of Hair Toner Are Available?
There are a few different types and formulations of hair toners available:
- Semi-permanent toners: These penetrate the outer cuticle only and wash out within 4-5 shampoos.
- Demi-permanent toners: These last around 24 shampoos since they have a small developer that allows toning action to take place deeper in the cortex.
- Permanent toners: These combine peroxide developers with pigment to permanently alter hair color.
- Color-enhancing toners: These clear formulas without pigment amplify shine and reflection.
The most common toner shades are:
- Violet cancels out yellow tones on light hair.
- Blue neutralizes orange and brassy tones in darker blonde and light brown hair.
- Green reduces redness in brown hair.
- Silver or ash enhances cool undertones in grey hair.
Does Toner Work on Natural Grey Hair?
While toner can help control brassy tones in naturally grey hair, it does not provide complete gray coverage. However, there are ways to maximize the effectiveness of toner on natural grey hair:
- Opt for a demi-permanent or permanent grey hair toner.
- Choose a toner with blue or violet pigments to neutralize yellow or orange undertones.
- Boost shine and brightness with a clear, glossing toner.
- Focus toner application only on discolored grey sections rather than all over.
The bottom line is permanent gray hair dye or demi-permanent color will still be needed to fully cover grey hair. But toner can help enhance and improve the appearance of natural or colored grey hair in between full coloring services.
Can You Use Blonde Toner on Grey Hair?
Blonde toners designed to neutralize brassiness in lightened blonde hair are ineffective at covering grey hair. Most blonde toners deposit very subtle violet or blue tones to counteract warmth. They do not contain enough pigment to actually alter grey hair’s color.
Violet-based blonde toners may reduce the yellowing of grey hair conditioned with purple shampoo. However, for toning and coloring grey strands, it is best to use demi-permanent or permanent toner and color formulated specifically for resistant gray hair.
How to Cover Gray Hair
Now that we have established that toner alone won’t fully cover your greys, here are some of the most effective ways to conceal gray hair:
- Permanent hair color: This will provide complete grey coverage and long-lasting results.
- Demi-permanent hair color is Less damaging option that lasts up to 24 shampoos.
- Highlights and lowlights: Strategically placed highlights around your face can help blend greys.
- Root touch-up products: Temporary sprays, powders, and root concealers help disguise new grey growth.
Things to keep in mind when covering greys:
- Match your natural hair color, or go slightly lighter or darker for the most natural results.
- Consider your skin’s undertone when choosing a flattering shade.
- Schedule regular root touch-ups as grey hair grows out quickly.
- Always patch test hair color products before full application.
What Hair Color is Best for Hiding Grey Hair?
The most effective way to conceal greys is to use permanent hair color in an appropriate shade for your natural color and skin tone. Here are some recommended shades for different hair colors:
- For dark brown hair, choose a shade matching your natural color or go slightly lighter to avoid looking flat.
- Medium golden brown shades flatter those with warm, peachy complexions and brown hair with golden undertones.
- Dark ash blonde or medium champagnes nicely cover grey while brightening skin with fair, pink undertones.
- Dark chestnut brown shades complement olive complexions and add richness to salt and pepper hair.
The shade choice ultimately depends on your desired maintenance level, grey percentage, and overall hair goals. Always consult your colorist to determine the optimal hue to conceal greys while enhancing your natural beauty and complexion.
Does toner cover gray hair? The Bottom Line
While toner can help control brassy tones and brighten up grey hair, permanent or demi-permanent color is needed to completely cover grey strands. However, well-formulated grey hair toners can extend the vibrancy of color treatments and enhance shine between full coloring services. Consult with your colorist to find the right regimen.
Rather than fighting the greys, embrace this new chapter with well-toned, glossy silver strands. But when you want full coverage, reach for hair color over toner for the most effective grey disguising. With the right techniques and products, you can keep your hair looking its best at any age.
Founded by Sophia Rodriguez, IGXO Cosmetics is a PETA-certified, cruelty-free, and vegan makeup brand.