How to tone haircolor at every level


Ever watch your color process to bright orange and panic about what on earth is going to make that look normal? Ever lifted a vivid color only for it turn bright pink when you need a clean even slate? Yeah, we’ve all been there. Thats what i’m here to help you with.

I’m on a lot of different hair forums and groups and I consistently see questions about “formulas for this tone” or “what should I use to get this color” but they lack the back story or the starting level. Guys, we can’t advise you on toners if we don’t know where you’re at. So, I figure its time to nail down a post about how to go about your toning, regardless of the color line you use. A little “toning 101” if ya will. This is going to be a guide for you to look back to when you’re watching that color process to some strange tone and you’re sweating to figure out what you’ll need to use.

  1. We need to look at the starting level first, especially if our goal is to neutralize unwanted tones. Knowing your underlying pigments will help you determine what level your client is at before you mix so that you know what level to tone with.

    1. black - underlying pigment: DARK RED

    2. darkest brown - underlying pigment: RED

    3. dark brown- underlying pigment: RED/ORANGE

    4. medium/dark brown- underlying pigment:ORANGE/RED

    5. medium brown- ORANGE

    6. light brown- ORANGE/YELLOW

    7. dark blonde- YELLOW/ORANGE

    8. medium blonde- YELLOW

    9. light blonde- PALE YELLOW

    10. lightest blonde- PALEST YELLOW/WHITE

      *this is debatable, some see a level 6 as a dark blonde- but the remaining pigments are pretty much the same. Refer to your professional color chart to know what rules your line goes by.

  2. Now that we know the underlying pigments at every level, we can take a look at what we will need to neutralize said tones. Complementary colors are the same as the neutralizing color.

    • RED: neutralized by green

    • RED/ORANGE: neutralized by green/blue

    • ORANGE/RED: neutralized by blue/green

    • ORANGE: neutralized by blue

    • ORANGE/YELLOW: neutralized by blue/violet

    • YELLOW/ORANGE: neutralized by yellow/blue

    • YELLOW: neutralized by violet

      • The reverse is true for all of these. blue is neutralized by orange, green is neutralized by red .. etc.

  3. Now that we understand the basics of toning, we need to remember to tone at the level we’re working with. You can’t slap a blue based 9 on a level 6 orange and expect it to neutralize. It’s just not how the law of color works. This is when you explain to the client that her hair lifted to a nice brown, and that it will take at least one more session before she sees blonde. Then you work your magic with a level 6 ash based toner (blue or blue/violet) and you will get the full neutralization you’re looking for.

  4. But what about that pink that I mentioned earlier? or what if someone has muddy green hair from over toning or some other strange factor? The color wheel works the same regardless of the pigment you’re fighting. I have neutralized pink with a green based toner in about 5 minutes flat. The same goes for green - grab a color at the correct level with a red base and don’t panic. It will work. A good example of this is using Redken shades 09RB with a clear to dilute on level 10 muddy blonde. You’ll get the most gorgeous neutralized blonde and your client will think you’re a magician. Im seeeerious!

So there ya have it, your go-to guide for the next time you get confused and only have a few minutes to mix. Bookmark this one and keep it on standby just in case you find yourself in a pickle. Got other questions about toning? I encourage you to comment below and I’ll be happy to answer anything you’ve got!