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What does mixing color with conditioner do?

Adding color to conditioner, also known as toner, is a popular way to refresh your hair color in between salon visits. But what effect does mixing color with conditioner really have on your hair? Here’s a look at what toner does and how it can transform your locks.

How Does Toner Work?

Toner is deposited onto the hair shaft to alter the undertones and hues of your existing color. Rather than lifting or depositing permanent pigment like permanent hair dye, it works by staining the outside of the cuticle for subtle, translucent results. Here’s a quick overview of how it works:

  • Toner is made by mixing semi-permanent hair dye with conditioner, creating a deposit-only formula.
  • When applied to the hair, it adds sheer layers of color that neutralize brassy tones.
  • It does not lift or alter the natural pigment in the hair, only the surface color.
  • The results are temporary, lasting 4-6 weeks before fading out.

This makes toner an ideal option for keeping color looking fresh between salon visits or tweaking the color result after hair dyeing services.

What Does Toner Do?

Here are some of the ways that adding color to conditioner transforms hair color:

Neutralizes Brassy Tones

One of the biggest benefits of toner is that it can neutralize brassy, yellow undertones in hair. When the cuticle opens and loses color, it allows the natural underlying pigment to show through. For gray hair, this results in yellowing. For blondes, orange and yellow brassiness can develop over time.

By applying a toner in a violet, blue, or ash shade, it counters those warm undertones for a neutral, clean blonde. As a quick color corrector, toner brings hair to a more balanced, even tone.

Perfects Color After Dyeing

Toner is also great for fine-tuning your shade after coloring services. After lightening hair blonde, there is often some remaining yellow or orange hue left behind. Toner is applied after lightening to cancel out those warm tones for a perfect, cool blonde.

For brunettes and darker shades, toner lays down sheer layers of color for added dimension. For example, black hair can be toned for a ashier, softer black or rich chocolate hues.

Brightens Highlights

For highlighted hair, toner can help brighten and sharpen color contrast. When highlights start to look brassy or blend into the base over time, a quick toner treatment brings back that freshly highlighted contrast.

Adds Shine

In addition to altering color, toner also enhances shine. The conditioning base helps smooth and seal the cuticle for increased light reflection. Treat toner like a conditioning treatment to boost shine in between washes.

Deepens Hair Color

Toner deposits sheer layers of color to subtly deepen your existing shade. For example, medium brown hair can be toned darker for a rich chocolate brown. For subtle, natural-looking color change, toning adds depth and dimension.

What Color Does Toner Make?

Toner comes in a variety of shades to create different effects. Here are some of the most common toner shades and results:

Toner Color Use Result
Violet Neutralizes yellow tones in blonde Cool, ash blonde
Blue Neutralizes orange in blonde Clean, bright blonde
Silver Brightens and lightens existing color Cool, icy blonde
Green Cancels out red tones Neutralizes unwanted warmth
Red Adds warmth and richness Deepens brunette, cherry tints
Gold Warms up existing color Golden, caramel hues

You can also mix custom toner shades by combining semi-permanent dyes. For example, mixing equal parts violet and blue dye makes an ashy shadow root toner. Getting the right toner result takes some color theory knowledge and experimenting.

What Does Toner Do to Bleached Hair?

For bleached and highlighted hair, toner is essential. Lightening remove warmth from hair, leaving an undesirable yellow/orange base. Toner neutralizes those brassy tones for clean, bright color.

It also perfects the bleach result to your desired shade – for example, taking hair from a brassy yellow to an icy platinum. For lifted hair, proper toning makes all the difference.

Always follow bleaching with toner. Opt for a violet or blue-base to combat brassiness. Or go warmer with red or gold toner for a rich copper or caramel blonde.

Can You Use Permanent Dye as Toner?

While some use permanent color as toner, it’s not recommended. Here’s why:

  • Permanent dye lifts and deposits pigment, while toner only deposits color.
  • The high developer in permanent formula can damage freshly lightened hair.
  • It swells the cuticle more, increasing porosity issues.
  • The results are harder to control and predict.

Stick to semi-permanent dye without peroxide for toning. It gently stains the hair without lifting natural pigment. For best results, always use a conditioning toner formula.

How to Use Toner

Using toner is simple. Here are some application tips for stunning results:

  • Mix with 10 volume developer: For lighter toning, mix 1 part toner with 2 parts developer. For more intense toning, do equal parts toner and developer.
  • Apply to dry, clean hair: Work the mixture through dry hair for even, saturated application.
  • Develop for 5-15 minutes: Time will vary based on desired intensity. Check every 5 minutes.
  • Rinse and style as usual: Rinse until water runs clear, then style and air dry.
  • Condition hair after: Use a moisturizing mask to counter any drying effects.
  • Repeat as needed: Toner starts fading after a few washes. Re-apply every 2-4 weeks.

Always do a strand test first when trying a new toner to preview the color result. Application is quick and low-risk for color maintenance between salon visits.

Toner vs. Color-Depositing Conditioner

Color-depositing conditioners have a similar effect to toner, with a few key differences:

Toner Color-Depositing Conditioner
Made of Semi-permanent dye + 10 vol developer Direct dyes only
Process Applied to dry hair, temps color change Used in shower to refresh color
Results Neutralizes brassiness, glazes color Subtly deepens and tones color
Lasting Power 4-6 weeks 8-12 washes

While toner offers longer-lasting toning, deposit-only formulas provide an easier color refresh between washes. Use both as needed to maintain your ideal shade.


  • Toner refers to deposit-only color mixed with conditioner, applied after primary color services.
  • It perfects color results by neutralizing brassiness and customizing tone.
  • Common toner shades include violet, blue, silver, green, red, and gold.
  • For best results, apply to clean, dry hair and rinse thoroughly after processing.
  • Toner and color-depositing conditioners both refresh color, but work differently.
  • Use toner as needed between salon visits or dye jobs to maintain your ideal shade.

While permanent dyes make long-term color changes, toner offers an easy color correction and gloss treatment for in-between. It banishes brassiness for clean, bright color maintenance. With the right toner for your hair, you can fake a fresh salon-quality color every few weeks.