Haircare Dirty Secrets #4 – The Truth about Toners

December 22, 2021

Haircare Dirty Secrets #4 – The Truth about Toners

Does your colour change or fade too quickly? Does your comb snag on coarse dry ends? You may be getting the wrong toner.

When things aren’t going right in life, it may be a small problem or perhaps a disaster. So often, only the symptoms are addressed which makes it all better for now. And then the problem comes back again!

In business, I try to teach my team that solving the problem isn’t good enough. You have to solve the problem that caused the problem. 

I see it in haircare too, where quick fixes are offered with no mention or awareness about the full consequences. Toners come into this category, a helpful adjustment to colour when used correctly, but these days mostly not, leading to unnecessary hair damage and unstable, shorter lasting colour.

Let’s talk about toners

The last ten years have seen a love affair develop between colourists and toners. For many it’s become an auto-add-on at the end of highlights or balayage. “We’ll just pop a toner on!”

What used to be a loose term for a palette of colour tools has become concentrated on one type, a diluted peroxide wash. In many cases this is the wrong choice and unnecessarily damaging to hair.

From my early days, the different strengths for toning were;

1. A simple coloured water rinse
Applied at the backwash after shampooing, these were popular in the colour wave of the 50’s and 60’s and have largely been replaced by colour shampoos

2. A colour shampoo
If you want a bit of fun, or a boost for your existing colour, this gentle colour enhancement will just sit on the surface of the hair, and last until your next shampoo. It cannot make the hair lighter than the natural base, and has minimal effect on white hair.

3. A colour gloss/vegetable colour/colour conditioner
This is a single product (no mixing) that you apply directly from the tube/bottle which also sits on the surface, but goes that bit deeper. It will wash off entirely in about 6 to 12 washes. It cannot make the hair lighter than the natural base, but can also tone white hairs marginally to give a highlighted effect.

4. A diluted peroxide-tint wash
Peroxide toners have an impact on condition making the hair more porous, and were usually reserved for adjustments to blonde hair, or where the colour needed to end up lighter than the base. But this type has now become the tinters favourite go-to. On long hair in particular this can cause unnecessary problems.

If you were looking to deepen a tone on longer hair that’s faded then you should rarely use an overall tint wash toner on the ends. Why? Because if colour fade is the problem, or browns losing depth and throwing off a red cast, or reds rapidly fading, or blondes that have gone too ash and are throwing off khaki in some light, the problem causing the problem is that the hair is too porous. Hence colour isn’t lasting or is unstable in UV light.

What you don’t want to do is solve the problem in a way that makes the hair even more porous, which is what a tint wash toner will do if repeatedly applied over long periods. This can mean the same piece of hair having a peroxide wash 20 times over. Instead, a vegetable-based colour gloss conditioner is the best solution. It may not last quite as long (though often does), but crucially it causes no additional porosity to the hair structure. Whereas toners using a weak peroxide tint wash, to ‘tone down’ your colour can make it lift quicker next time.

Porous hair is hair that is breaking down, cannot hold onto enough moisture, and doesn’t hold onto colour well. 

Red Case Study – Kirsty

Kirstie has five inches of natural regrowth and the ends of the hair are about three years old on the top layer. Her previous colourists had been combing tint through to the ends each time and putting tint washes over the whole hair to get the deeper richer effect she wanted.

Colour fades from the ends because the hair is damaged and porous. Combing tint through to the ends or putting weak peroxide toner washes over the whole head every time solves the problem for a few weeks but just damages the hair more making it even more porous and prone to colour fade.

We chose a more natural and conditioning colour gloss to get the same effect. This does not change the structure of the hair or make it more porous.

Brunette Case Study - Lauren

Lauren likes a rich brown tone but had multiple tints across her long hair. This inevitable porosity meant excessive fading and more unwanted red hues. We used only a rich brown Colour Gloss to even out texture and add lustre. This will wash out over 6-12 shampoos and is easy to reapply.

Blonde Case Study - Emily

Emily’s hair had become faded at the end. Whilst she doesn’t like too warm a blonde, the porous ends had faded too far and were throwing off khaki in some light. So as not to make the hair any more porous we used vegetable gloss to restore just a little warmth which was enough to cancel out the khaki tone and restore this beautiful ash gold lustre with depth a texture. Regular LifeSaver Treatments ensure this colour stays as long as possible.


Each of our colourists is a great artist and they’ll use a broad range of tones and techniques to tailor a unique colour for you.

There are other skilled colourists out there but I’ve found none that also have the respect for hair health and colour longevity. They can achieve a result today but most do this at the expense of unnecessarily declining hair health and a shortening window of the colour actually looking how it should.

A poorly thought out strategy and over-colouring hair sets you up to recolour it quicker and quicker as the hair colour changes tone and fades quicker.



Healthy hair holds colour longer, so if you want to make your colour last, use LifeSaver Prewash Treatment. LifeSaver will extend the colour and style by keeping the structure of the hair together. No other product we’ve come across gets close to this. 

Combine it with our Cashmere Protein UV Protective Shampoo and Conditioner to retain colour vibrancy and extend the life between tints.

 Michael Van Clarke


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