10 Best Hair Toners of 2020 and How to Use Them According to Pros

hair toner

Sanchi Oberoi

As much as I love getting my hair highlighted, I can’t say I’m a fan of the maintenance (but, lol, who is?). When I’m not busy worrying about my roots coming in, I’m scrutinizing the harsh, brassy tones that eventually peek through my blonde highlights. And since seeing my colorist for touch-ups every few weeks isn’t reaaaally in my budget, I’ve gotten pretty crafty when it comes to maintaining my hair color at home. The key? Using hair toner—aka a super-easy product that neutralizes brass and adds shine all at once. Seriously, if you color-treat you hair, you need one of these bbs. Lemme break it down for you:

What does hair toner do?

“Hair toner is any semi- or demi-permanent hair color that helps enhance the tone of your hair,” says Meri Kate O’Connor, colorist at Tabb & Sparks in Santa Monica, California. And if that sounds a little general, welp, that’s because it is—hair toner is basically an umbrella term for any pigment-spiked product that cools, tones, and enhances shine (like purple shampoo or a tinted gloss). They aren’t just for blondes, either—any hair color can benefit from a toner. “I’m a dark brunette and my hair goes red in the sun, so I tend to tone my hair a cooler shade to help counteract those warm tones,” says O’Connor.

The only thing hair toner can’t do is lighten your hair. Toner doesn’t have any bleach—a nonnegotiable for lightening your hair—so it’s best for bringing your color down (like, say, going from warm and brassy to cool and ashy).

How to use hair toner at home

Remember when I said hair toner was an umbrella term for brass neutralizers? Yeah, that means you have a lot of options re: finding the right formula. Purple and blue shampoos are arguably the most popular hair toners, since they’re (A) easy to apply and (B) pretty foolproof (no mixing or measuring required—just a quick lather and rinse), but you also have options like glosses (temporary dyes that amp up your color’s vibrancy and shine), deep conditioners spiked with pigments, and hair masks that help deepen your color.

DW, though, I’m not going to leave you to figure it out on your own. Nope, I handpicked the 10 best hair toners on the market right now (including a couple of O’Connor’s favorites) and am telling you exactly how to use them. Prepare to trick your friends into thinking you went to the salon.

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1

Best Deep-Conditioning Hair Toner

DpHue Color Boosting Gloss + Deep Conditioning Treatment

One of O’Connor’s go-to picks for toning at home? This deep conditioner that leaves your hair soft, shiny, and vibrant for 10-ish shampoos. It comes in 10 hues (everything from light blonde to jet black) as well as a clear, pigment-free option for straight shine. Just comb it through damp hair after cleansing and conditioning, let it sit for 30 minutes max, and rinse it out.

2

Best Hair Toner Gel

Christophe Robin Temporary Color Gel

Don’t be fooled by the professional-looking bottle—this temporary hair-dye gel is actually v easy to apply. Just shampoo your hair (no conditioner), rough-dry with a towel, and then saturate with this gel. Pro tip: You can also use the included brush to color targeted areas, like grays or roots. When you rinse it out after 40 minutes, your color will look as rich and smooth as when you first got it doneand it’ll stay that way for five to seven shampoos, after which, you can apply it again. (Psst: O’Connor loves this one too.)

3

Best Hair Toner Drops

IGK Mixed Feelings Leave-In Blonde Drops

If combing a gel through your hair feels a bit extra, you’ll love the ease of these toning drops from IGK. They come in two shades (purple pigments for blondes; blue for brunettes) and can be mixed into to your favorite styling product (like a few drops in your leave-in conditioner or gel) for quick and easy toning. And, thanks to the formula’s pickly pear cactus extract, it also leaves your hair softer and shinier with each use. 

4

Best In-Shower Hair Toner

Rita Hazan True Color Ultimate Shine Gloss

Unlike toners that are limited to weekly or bi-weekly use, this in-shower gloss can be used up to four times a week. It comes in five shades (Breaking Brass, Clear, Brown, Blonde, and Red) and works to cancel out harsh, brassy tones in between salon appointments. Lather a pump through your hair after shampooing, leave it on for three to five minutes, rinse, and follow with conditioner.

5

Best Toning Shampoo for Blonde Hair

Redken Color Extend Blondage Color Depositing Purple Shampoo

Speaking of in-shower toners, blondes can’t go wrong with a good ol’ purple shampoo. This one from Redken not only cleanses and hydrates your hair, but also blasts it with neutralizing violet pigments. The result? Smoother, cooler-toned blonde hair with zero brass. Just don’t overuse it, k? Think of it as a spot treatment for when your hair is looking dull or brassy.

6

Best Toning Shampoo for Brown Hair

DpHue Cool Brunette Shampoo

Brunettes should look for toning shampoos with blue pigments, like this pick from DpHue. The formula helps gently cleanse, neutralize warmth, and enhance shine (hiiii, silk proteins). Just know that this guy comes out of the bottle suuuuper pigmented, so keep it away from your shower curtain (speaking from experience here, folks).

7

Best Toning Conditioner for Red Hair

Davines Alchemic Conditioner Red

Yup, this toning conditioner is made especially for redheads with warm undertones. Smooth a dollop through damp, freshly washed hair and the formula works to smooth and soften your hair while also adding shine and dimension throughout your color. Oh, and it smells straight-up heavenly (and who doesn’t want that?).

8

Best Hair Toner Conditioner

SheaMoisture Purple Rice Water Strength + Color Care Conditioner

I get it: Color-treated and highlighted hair is super prone to damage (my brittle-AF ends are proof), which is why it’s so important to use a strengthening conditioner. This one from SheaMoisture combines antioxidant-rich rice water with orchid and violet extracts to hydrate, detangle, and neutralize brass. That’s what I call a win win.

9

Best Hair Toner Mask

Four Reasons Color Mask Hair Toning Treatment

The coolest thing about this toning hair mask is that it comes in a whopping 14 shades (they’ve got everything from a rich copper to a creamy blonde). Color aside, it’s also deeply hydrating and strengthening (courtesy of the formula’s keratin derivatives and pro-vitamin B5), so prepare for your hair to feel soft and healthy with this one.

10

Best Drugstore Hair Toner

Kristin Ess Signature Hair Gloss

An affordable (but equally effective!) option from Kristin Ess, this drugstore toner is alllll about shine. It does require a little prep work—you’ll need to mix the developer and gloss, and throw on a pair of gloves—but the end result is totally worth it. Think: Shiny, defined, and richly pigmented hair.

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