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How to choose the right toner for your highlighted hair


Looking to transform your client's hot mess?

Does your client have yellow, orange or brassy hair - even after you have lifted it with bleach? 

Do you need to transform it from a hot, orange, yellow mess to something that she can actually be proud of?

Or are you looking to just give her a quick gloss and tone and maintain for in-between regular bleach and coloring sessions? 

Either way, you are going to need to choose the right toner for you and your client.

Let us help you do that! Keep reading !

What exactly is a toner?

Toners are products that color correct hair. They are used a lot by stylists looking to neutralize yellow, orange and bleached hair.

Use the right toner (and the right method, of course) and you can change the color to ashy or platinum. 

Look at the transformation in the picture above done by our stylist Ashley Betancourt and you will see what I mean.

A toner also helps give you a finished, 3-D color shiny and elegant. Even if your client's hair is not brassy and just dull and faded, you can transform that using a toner.

And of course you can eliminate unwanted yellow and orange, using the principles of the color wheel.

Good toners are not just color correctors, however. They also serve to freshen up and re-condition your client's hair, eliminating frizz and dryness. If you have bleached hair, it’s mandatory to use a toner.

What does a hair toner do?

A toner typically contains pigments, very often green, blue and purple pigments. These pigments are on the opposite side of red, orange and yellow respectively on the hair color wheel and act to cancel or tone these colors out.

Color Wheel

hair color wheel

Purple cancels out yellow, blue cancels out orange, and green cancels out red.

Color Neutralization Chart

Color Neutralization Chart

Here are the rules for toner selection:

To get rid of palest yellow, you need to use a violet-based toner.

To get rid of yellow, you need to use a blue-based toner

To get rid of yellow-orange, you need to use a blue-green based toner (also known as "ash" toner)

If the hair is level 6 and darker, you need to lift first and then tone. You can use a lifting toner for that (see below) or a bleach.

Does a hair toner also lift?

In addition, there are also some toners (Ugly Duckling's Intense toners) which lift as well. They are able to do this because they have an extra "booster"ingredient. This is very helpful when the hair has been insufficiently lifted or insufficiently highlighted.

Hairdressers typically find these products very useful to "kick out extra yellow"

Liquid or Cream Toner?

Cream toners, which need to be applied with a brush after mixing with developer are typically more strongly pigmented. Ugly Duckling's cream toners are all permanent (they contain ammonia) & typically for clients whose hair is really very brassy and who are looking for a substantial hair makeover, cream based permanent toners would be the way to go (after bleaching really really well of course). That is the way to achieve stunning white blonde transformations.

But what if your client is just looking for a quick gloss tone or a glaze? And what if you as the hairdresser want to do a quick service? In that case, a liquid toner is the answer. You can mix the liquid toner with the developer in an application bottle and you can apply really fast. It's the ideal quick salon glazing service.

Permanent, Demi-Permanent or Semi-Permanent Toner?

A permanent hair toner means that it contains ammonia. These are usually cream based toners. They will give you vibrant colors, stunning white blonde results & last really well. They are what you should use for major hair makeovers, white blonde & platinum blonde transformations.

Ugly Duckling's Pearl and Silver Blonde toners are all permanent. Go here to learn more about them.

A demi-permanent typically uses ethanolamine in place of ammonia to create the coloring base that will open up the hair cuticle and recolor the hair cortex. They typically work fast (10 or 20 minutes at the most) and are good for quick glaze and gloss toning effects.

Ugly Duckling will be launching demi-permanent toners in the fall. They will be liquid toners and they will be offering quick toning results for yellow and brassy hair in only 10 minutes. They will be ammonia-free.

Lastly, there is also such a thing as a semi-permanent toner. This will typically be purple/blue toners built inside hair care and hair treatment products that when rubbed into hair will help to neutralize yellow. These are extremely convenient products to use to finish at the backwash, and you can also recommend clients to take back and use for regular home maintenance of blonde hair.

They do an excellent job of fighting yellow. But they will not lift and they are for finishing only. Not for major toning.

Ugly Duckling's Purple Shampoo and Mask are very popular as semi-permanent toning products. They are low pH, sulfate free and gluten free. Learn more about them here.

What should I do before toning my client's hair?

The most important thing you can do is of course to bleach or highlight the client's hair extremely well. This step is too often ignored by stylists. Not bleaching or highlighting correctly is the main reason for stylists failing to achieve good toning results.

Asa hairdresser, you will disappoint your clients who are looking for a gorgeous blonde makeover if you do this. So use a quality bleach (like Brilliant Blondexx with Bond Protect) and saturate the hair really well and try and lift out all the red, orange & yellow from the hair before even beginning to tone.

Hair Bleaching Levels

Hair Bleaching Levels

Your aim should be to het the hair as near to level 10 as you can before toning.

How should I choose the right toner for my client's highlighted hair?

Best toner for icy white pearl blonde hair

Pre-lighten hair first very well to level 10. Then use intense pearl blonde 100V with 20 Vol.

Intense Pearl Blonde is one of the fastest acting and whitest toners on the market, and is both intense pigmented and contains lift.

You need to be mindful of that and rinse as soon as you get the result you want - 10 or 20 minutes may be enough if the hair is already very very white.

Icy white blonde

Best toner for natural, silver-white hair

Pre-lighten and use intense silver blonde 100B.

Hair by Elona Taki.

Natural Blonde Hair

Best toner for platinum blonde hair

For platinum blonde hair like the result below, first pre-lighten very very well so that there is no yellow whatsoever left in the hair.

Then color with 10V. Note: this is a regular color. The V means violet. You need to mix it with developer 1+1 and leave it for a full 30 minutes.

You will get the best, most vibrant color result that way.


Hair by Ashley Betancourt

Best gloss toner for neutralizing yellow-orange hair

Sometimes a quick gloss toner is all you need. For neutralizing yellow-orange hair use Ugly Duckling's new Natural Ash Blonde 010A

It's ammonia-free & it only takes 10 minutes.

It's a liquid gloss toner and it also contains Bond Protect to condition the hair during the toning process.

Watch how we used the Natural Ash Blonde 010A with 20 Vol to turn yellow-orange into a beautiful natural ash blonde.

(Coming out in Fall 2021)

About the author

Sally has been a hair colorist and trainer for many years in both the US & Europe. She currently does hair color training for Ugly Duckling. She also helps develop new & awesome products for the brand.