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Hair Color Wheel & Color Wheel Toners

The Hair Color Wheel Explained - The Secrets of Color Neutralization & Tone Correction


BULLET-POINT SUMMARY: The Hair Color Wheel for Stylists

  • The color wheel is a way of arranging colors to show which colors cancel which.
  • Colors which are opposite to each other cancel each other out.
  • You can apply this theory in your coloring by using pure colors or "mix tones".
  • Violet, for example, is the opposite to pale yellow and cancels that color out.
  • Blue is the opposite to yellow-orange.
  • Blue-green is the opposite to orange. Use blue green to cancel orange.
  • Green (also known as ash) is the opposite to red. Use green and ash to cancel red.
  • These mix tones are best combined with base colors to achieve the hair color results that you desire.
  • However, instead of using pure colors to neutralize, you can also use pre-mixed toners.
  • These tend to be easier to use.
  • But remember: before doing color neutralization, always bleach the hair first.
  • The lighter the hair, the fewer color neutralization issues you will face.


There is a lot of confusion surrounding the Color Wheel.

And applying the Color Wheel to specific situations can seem even more confusing.

In this article, we will try to simplify and explain.

In sections 1-6, we will explain how Color Theory theory and which colors you need to use to neutralize and how to use them.

Then, in sections 7-9, we are going to suggest alternative pre-mixed toners which are simpler to use and which also work very well.

In section 10, we remind you that you need to use bleach and lift correctly before you do any color correction.

Then in sections 11-13, we give a list of other Ugly Duckling toners which contain powerful purple, blue and green or ash pigments.

Finally, we answer some commonly asked questions to do with the Color Wheel.

1  The Hair Color Wheel

The Hair Color Wheel

The Hair Color Wheel

The color wheel is a visual representation of colors arranged in a circular format - around a color wheel.

Some of the colors are warm (on the right, in the above picture) and some are cool (on the left).

The color wheel shows you the relationship between these colors.

Colors which are opposite to each other cancel each other out.

Or, to use hairdresser language, they neutralize each other.

2. How to use the color wheel in hair coloring

As a hairdresser, the most common cases that you will typically face are to do with neutralizing tones which are too warm.

For example, very often a client's hair is too yellow, or too brassy, or too orange.

Neutralizing these colors is something that all hairdressers need to be able to do.

So use this chart below to select the correct neutralizing color for the hair situation that you are facing.

And the appropriate choice of "canceling" color you need to make.

These canceling colors are all cool tones.

Neutralizing Colors

Color Neutralizing Chart

3. Which colors or toners should I use to cancel yellow, orange and red?

Ugly Duckling recommends that you use the following 4 colors when you want to neutralize:

Violet is pure purple. It will neutralize unwanted yellow.

Ash Blue Additive is a special Ugly Duckling mix color which contains blue. Use this to get rid of any unwanted yellow-orange.

Ash Grey Additive is a special Ugly Duckling mix color and it contains green and blue mixed. Use this to neutralize unwanted orange and magenta.

Green is a special Ugly Duckling mix color. It will neutralize unwanted red.

These 4 colors and links to them are given below:

Violet Neutralizes Yellow

Violet - use this to counteract pale yellow

ash blue additive

Ash Blue Additive - use this to counteract yellow-orange

ash grey additive

Ash Grey Additive - use this to counteract red, orange and magenta

Using Green to Counteract Red

Green - use this to counteract red

4. How do I use these colors to neutralize?

These pure mix tones should not be used by themselves.

They should be mixed with a base color.

In other words, a natural color.

Now we are going to look at how to choose these base colors and in what proportions you should mix them.

5. Combining Pure Mix Tones with Base Colors

You should always choose the appropriate base color for your hair.

Since we are neutralizing tones at this point and not lifting, we need to be realistic about what level we want the hair to be.

If the hair is showing yellow, choose either level 9 or 10 as the base color.

If the hair is showing orange, choose either level 7 or 8 as the base color.

And if the hair is showing red, choose either level 6 as the base color.

These base colors are given below:

level 10 base

10N - Extra Light Natural Blonde


9N - Very Light Natural Blonde


8N - Light Natural Blonde


7N - Natural Blonde


6N - Dark Natural Blonde

6. In what proportions do I mix my pure color with my base color?

When mixing your pure tone with your base color, follow these rules:

With violet (purple, in other words), add 1/2 inch of Ugly Duckling violet to 1 tube of your base color.

With ash blue additive and ash grey additive, add 3/4 inch of Ugly Duckling blue to 1 tube of your base color.

With green, add 1 inch of Ugly Duckling green to 1 tube of your base color.

In other words, the blonder the hair, the less of the additive you should add.

And the darker the hair, the more additive you should add.

7. Using pre-mixed colors and toners instead of pure mix tones.

If you find the idea of using pure mix tones combined with base colors too daunting, there is another way.

You can use Ugly Duckling's pre-mixed purple based, blue based and ash based colors.

Let's now look at some of the particularly useful ones that we would recommend that you use in color neutralization cases.

8. When the hair is yellow and level 9 or 10, use these toners

If your hair is predominantly yellow and level 9 or level 10, use the following Level 10 toners.

Use the Natural Ash Blonde to neutralize orange-yellow and use the Natural Violet Blonde to neutralize pure yellow.


Natural Ash Blonde 10A


Natural Violet Blonde 10B

9. When the hair is orange and needs toning down, use these toners

If the hair is very orange, then it would be better to use these level 9 toners.

These pre-mixed toners will cover over and tone down orange.

They are blue and violet based and will do an effective job of color neutralization.


Blue Ash Blonde 9B


Violet Blonde 9V

10. Use bleach to lift your hair before you attempt to color correct

Ugly Duckling bleaches

Use Ugly Duckling bleaches to lift before you color correct and you will get much better results

A gentle reminder before you color correct: Always lift the hair up as far as it will go using bleach first.

Once you have done that, your color correction problems will literally melt away.

You will get much better color results that way.


Purple based toners and colors: Use these when you need to counteract pale yellow.

11. Other purple based toners you can use

Any Ugly Duckling color or toner with a "V" (meaning "Violet") or the number "2" (meaning "Purple") is a purple based color.

Intense Pearl Blonde 100V and Pearl Blonde toners 10V are both purple based, for example. 

10.2 is an intensely pigmented purple based blonde color which will also achieve the same result.

Pearl Blonde Toner 10V was used on this client, for example:

Pearl Blonde 10V

Hair by Elona Taki


Intense Violet Blonde and Purple Grey are also purple based colors and can be used for extra strong toning.

They achieve spectacular and really unique color results.

Below: we used Intense Violet Blonde to color correct yellow and brassy Hair

Intense Violet Blonde Toner - Before & After

Hair by Michelle Kim

These are the purple based colors that we would recommend. Some of them have extra lift ("Intense") and others have more pigment.

Choose the one most appropriate to your client's needs.

Intense Pearl Blonde 100V

Intense Violet Blonde

Pearl Blonde 10V

Pearl Blonde 10V


10.2 Violet Blonde

Intense Violet Blonde 7.22

Intense Violet Blonde 7.22

Purple Grey

Purple Grey

12. Other Blue based toners you can use

Ugly Duckling has a wide range of blue based toners.

Intense Silver Blonde 100B and Silver Blonde toners 10B are both blue based, for example.

Ugly Duckling's 10.1b and 9.1b are also blue based ash blonde colors.

Extra Cold Ash Blonde 10.1b was used on this model:


Hair by Brittney Perez


Hair by Brittney Perez.

Ugly Duckling's 8.1b. 7.1b and 6.1b are also blue based ash blondes, but at a slightly lower level.

These are also excellent as color correctors and great for clients looking to go medium or dark blonde.


These are the blue based colors that we would recommend. Once again, "Intense" means that there is a booster or high-lift ingredient inside.

Choose the one best suited to your client's needs:

Intense Silver Blonde 100B

Intense Silver Blonde 100B

Silver Blonde 10B

Silver Blonde 10B











13. Ash based colors & ash additives: use these to counteract red & to tone down

For color correcting orange and tone down, use Ugly Duckling's pure ash colors such as 5.11, 4.11

These are double ashes and have a lot of neutralizing pigments build in.

Use them when you are looking to neutralize orange or red tones and you are looking for a brunette final color result.





Remember that at any stage you can always add in additives to reinforce the toning. 

Ash Blue Additive adds in blue for bases 6 and up. You can add in an inch of this into your color mix. This helps counteract brassiness (yellow) in blonde hair.

Ash Grey Additive adds in green for bases up to level 6. You can add in an inch of this into your color mix. This helps counteract brassiness (yellow/orange) in brown hair.

The recommended technique here is to squeeze in a little of your chosen ash additive (around 1 inch is good to start with) to a full tube of the blonde color that you are using. 

Note that these additives will tend to take your color level down by about 1 tone.

Ash Blue Additive

Ash Blue Additive

Ash Grey Additive

Ash Grey Additive

Q: I hear a lot about using green to fix red hair. Can you show me a video of this being done?

A: We only really recommend this technique when you are in situations where you can't lift any more.

In this case use Green to neutralize & fix magenta or red hair

The case below shows a customer whose hair had been colored many times.
It was basically impossible to lift it up beyond a certain level without damaging her hair.
Our stylist used green to neutralize an impossibly orange hair color.


Hair by Elona Taki

Q: Can I Use Toners to Kill Brassy, Orange or Yellow? Without Using Bleach?

A: Yes, you can. Of course you won't get the same white blonde result as when you use bleach, but you certainly can kill brassy.

Use Intense Pearl Blonde 100V or Intense Silver Blonde 100B for first time applications or when the color is still yellow (level 9)

Use Pearl Blonde Toner or Silver Blonde Toner when the lift is correct (level 10).

Q: I'm doing all that but I am still not getting the Ashy Blonde Result that I am looking for. What am I doing wrong?

A: Almost certainly you need to lift the hair more. 

  • If you are looking for a white blonde or an ashy blonde, color neutralization from a dark level will not work.
  • Almost certainly you need to lift the hair more. 
  • Use a quality lightener. We always recommend you use Ugly Duckling bleaches because they do lift all the way.
  • Lift the hair up, ideally all the way to level 10.
  • That way you will get rid of all yellow and orange.
  • Then apply a toner as above.

Examples of Hair that has been correctly lifted to level 9/10

Level 9

Hair that has been lifted to level 10

Q: How do I tone hair which is really really yellow, bordering on orange? PS I don't want to use bleach!

A: Use Ugly Duckling Intense Toners

In general, we always recommend that you first lift the hair correctly (see picture above) before attempting to tone.
If you have done that, and the hair is still yellow, use Ugly Duckling's Intense Pearl Blonde Toner 100V or Intense Silver Blonde Toner 100B.
These toners have a special "booster" in them which will get rid of any remaining yellow.
This is what makes them among the most effective toners on the market today.
Use with 20 Vol developer in a 1:2 mix.
Try & work fast because these toners are very fast acting & you want to give all the hair an equal processing time as much as possible.
If you have long hair, tone the root area the last - it will process very fast there because of the heat from the scalp.

Q: My hair pulls orange. What should I do?

A: Sorry, there is no such thing as hair that "pulls orange."

There is, however, such a thing as a stylist that does not lift enough!
Don't misuse the color wheel and think you can just dump in ash and more ash and kill brassiness. It doesn't work like that.
Hair has its natural melanin which is causing that orange and that brassiness. You need to remove that first.
Lift up the hair to a true level 9/10. Use a quality lightener that works well on dark hair.
Then apply your ash toners as above. You will get a much better result.

Q: My customer has dark hair. She wants to go blonde. How do I get rid of all the red and orange as I lift?

A: Just keep lifting all the way up. It will transition from orange to yellow to pale yellow as you do so.

Once again, using poor quality bleaches is the most common reason that we encounter when stylists have difficulty lifting & transitioning all the way to pale yellow.

We do recommend you use Ugly Duckling bleaches whenever possible. 

Brilliant Blondexx with Bond Protect is what we recommend when you need to go in near the scalp and when you need a gentle bleach. We would recommend this for almost all cases. It has 7 levels of lift using 30 Vol developer only

You can also use Brilliant Blonde if the hair is very very dark hair or has color build-up. It has up to 8 levels of lift.

Watch This Video to See Dark Hair Bleached Correctly and Toned to Pearl Blonde All the Way from Dark Brown

Products Used:

  • Brilliant Blonde Lightener
  • Intense Pearl Blonde Toner 100V
  • Purple Shampoo and Mask
  • Developer

Hair by Ashley Betancourt

Q: Help! I put toner on my client's hair and it turned green! Why is it doing this & what did I do wrong?

Green Hair

This is a classic "Color Wheel" mistake. The reason her hair turned green is because her stylist did not bleach her hair enough.

It was too yellow. Then she dumped in blue based toner in an effort to try and get her hair blonde.

Of course, it did not work!

What happened? Sure enough, as Color Theory and the Color Wheel would predict: Yellow + Blue = Green!

What we advised her to do, is what we would advise anyone to do:

Bleach one more time, really well. Use a bleach that works really well - we always recommend Brilliant Blondexx Bond Protect Bleach.

Once you do that most of the yellow will get lifted out.

Once you have done that, you can use your blue based toner and all will be well.


  • The color wheel can help you understand which colors to use to neutralize unwanted undertones and unwanted colors in your client's hair
  • But please remember to lift the hair first with bleach as far light as you can possibly take it. 
  • After that, apply your choice of Ugly Duckling's purple-based, blue-based and ash-based colors & toners.
  • You will get excellent results if you follow these recommendations.
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.

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