What is Toner and why would you need one for the hair colour you want?

We get a lot of questions from clients about what toners are.  As Hair Stylists we use the term so often that sometimes we take for granted our knowledge.  We just head off to mix up your custom formula and breeze back to apply it without taking a pause each time to explain.  I thought I would take that pause here so hopefully next time while you wait ever so patiently, laid back in the sink with that extra towel under your neck for comfort, you’ll remember exactly what a toner is and when you need one! Don’t worry though…..we’ll be there to happily explain it all again!

When are toners used?

Toners are used after lightening the hair.  After you’ve had your foils or your balayage processed, shampooed out and your hair towel dried, you will often hear us say ‘I’m just going to go and mix the toner’.  When hair is lightened it goes through a series of stages, each with their own underlying tone.  These stages take time to move through (hence our favourite ’10 more minutes’ speech) and always result in warm tones of red, orange, gold and yellow before getting to the king daddy, of underlying tones which we refer to as the ‘clean slate’ (a bit more on that later).

What does a toner do?

TonerToners are used to change the ‘tone’ of your hair colour. See why we take explaining them for granted? A correctly formulated toner takes the naturally warm tones of red, orange, gold and yellow and either enhances or neutralizes them.  That’s it.  In the example to the left you can see that toner has neutralized the yellow tones and created a beautiful, cool silver effect.  Since our goal at the Studio is to make your experience with us as transparent as possible we want you to understand we reach for and use a toner only when necessary.

Why would you need a toner?

If after towel drying your hair your desired colour differs from the canvas your hair has presented with after lightening, that is when we reach for a toner.

I’m going to keep this as straight forward as possible and simply say that lightening the hair from point A to point B while keeping it healthy is not easy.  The reasons why your hair might not have been lightened to your target colour in one session will be addressed in an entirely different blog post about colour correction.  This is why trusting your Stylist to have your best interest at heart to tell you when your target colour isn’t achievable today is very important, so we’ll just leave it at that.  That’s another day……with another 1000 words…..

What is the ‘clean slate’?

TonerAs I mentioned before the king daddy of underlying tones to apply a toner to is the ‘clean slate’.  The reason for this is simple – whatever tone you apply to that clean slate will be the tone you get.  There is no pigment left in the hair that will interrupt the colour you are adding to it.  The clean slate is a very, very pale blonde which is about the colour of the inside of a banana.  Once the hair is lightened to that point (and no further to prevent damage!!) the sky’s the limit for what tone you can create.  Silver, pastels pinks and blues, lilac or even more natural tones like vanilla, honey, hazelnut, butterscotch and pearl are all achievable with a clean slate. In the example to the right, the hair was pre lightened further to a clean slate and then toned to this soft, iridescent pink.

So why are you just hearing about toners now? Maybe as long time client you are wondering why are we introducing this process and are using it frequently?  Toners have come a long way in the last few years.  With the very popular technique of balayage in the forefront of our industry, 99% of the time toners are an absolute must after this method of lightening. Colour manufacturers have also dedicated entire new product lines to toners, improving their performance, making them gentler on the hair than in years past and providing entire tonal ranges that make colours options endless.  This has left the door wide open for us as Stylists to carefully test and measure their performance and in turn provide these high performing products to you as the client.

I hope this has answered any questions you may have and if not please pop a comment below and I’d be happy to follow-up!

Thanks for listening,




Salon Hair Colour vs. Drugstore Hair Colour

The differences between Salon Hair Colour and Drugstore Hair Colour have been debated for some time. Of course as hairstylists we recommend salon hair colour for clients and warn against the use of drugstore colour products for a variety of reasons. One of our priorities is to keep client’s hair in the healthiest condition possible making colours vibrant and shiny, as well as leaveing the hair easier to style. The following information should help in understanding why we strongly stand behind the use of salon hair colour. There is a lot of technical information here but the purpose of sharing the fine details is to show the solid, scientific facts* of why we feel as strongly about this issue as we do!

The facts on Drugstore Hair Colour:

Type of Dyes – Drugstore hair colour contains two types of dyes as mentioned above. Direct Dyes are like food color hair colourtype dyes that stain the hair’s cuticle and don’t get all the way inside the hair because of their size. As a result, the intensity of the colour they provide fades out quickly. Even though this stain fades quickly it is very, very difficult to remove completely from the hair (if you are able to get it off at all) which can cause future problems when you are looking to change your hair colour.  There are professional hair colours that contain direct dyes.  Having those dyes applied in the hands of a professional is imperative so they know how to deal with the inevitable removal process.

Level of Peroxide – Because of these larger molecules, drugstore colour needs to use a higher volume of peroxide to open up the hair shaft so the colour molecule can get inside. Many times 25 volume peroxide is used.

Level of Ammonia – The larger the hair colour molecule the higher the level of ammonia needs to be to work with the peroxide to open the hair up wide enough for the molecules to get in.

Application – Most clients colour their roots once a month if they are covering grey or approximately 6 times a year if they are choosing to maintain a different colour then their natural. With drugstore colour your only option is to use the same formula you have applied to your roots to freshen up the ends of your colour. For vibrant shades, using the same formula on the ends can lead to off toned or less vibrant results.

End Result – Drugstore hair colour can cause damage from the combination of higher levels of ammonia and peroxide which leaves the hair rough in texture, lacking shine and causes the hair colour to fade out sooner. This damage is increased with each application, applied directly over already coloured hair.

Salon Hair Colour differs in many ways from Drugstore Hair Colour but it’s not just as simple as choosing any ‘Salon Hair Colour Line’ and using it. We choose to use Compagnia del Colore salon hair colour because in our opinion not only does it outperform Drugstore hair colour, it can also outperform other professional salon lines as well.

The facts on Compagnia Del Colore Salon Hair Colour:

hair colour

Compagnia del Colore Professional Hair colour

Size of Colour Molecules – 100% oxidative micro pigment colour molecules which are smaller than regular oxidative molecules. They resemble the size and texture of powdered sugar.

Type of Dye – The oxidative micro pigment colour molecules are pharmaceutical grade. Since the molecule is very small it is not necessary to be aggressive with opening the hair shaft. More of these micro molecules can stay inside the hair providing far more vibrant hair colour that will not fade like traditional colour.

Level of Peroxide – Salon Hair Colour lines provide a range of peroxide levels to choose from when creating a colour formula so we are able to add the exact strength necessary. Many times this can be as low as 7 volume.

Level of Ammonia – Since the colour molecules are smaller, a lower level of ammonia works well in combination with the peroxide to drive the colour into the hair shaft without needed to open it up too wide.

Application – There are so many options! As professionals we know that previously coloured hair must be treated differently than virgin hair. When getting a salon hair colour your stylist should be mixing two separate bowls of colour – one for the roots and one for the ends of your hair. Using a different formulation that has less (or no) ammonia and a lower volume of peroxide on the previously coloured hair makes a phenomenal difference in the health of your hair, your hair colour results and how long your colour will last. If your stylist isn’t doing this – be sure to ask them why!

End Result – The combination of all of these factors result in shiny, healthy hair and hair colour that lasts and lasts.  Combine salon hair colour with a knowledgable and technically gifted hairstylist and the sky’s the limit!


We hope you find this information helpful in understanding what makes salon hair colour and specifically Compagnia del Colore so amazing! We have taken the time to educate ourselves on the differences between Salon Hair Colour and Drugstore Colour and hope that our description here helps in understanding why we feel so strongly about it!


Thanks for listening,



*data source:Mags Kavanaugh, Trichologist/Cosmetologist and International Brand Ambassador for Compagnia del Colore

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