Hair Toner: Can You Do It Naturally? 10 At-Home Tricks To Try
DIY hair experiments can lead to some very unwanted, long-term results, from disastrous haircuts to dye jobs gone horribly wrong. However, if you are looking for a mild tweak, there are some natural and easy options. A hair toner, for instance, is used to correct any unwanted undertones or to add a personalized hue to your natural hair.
Here's what you should know about natural hair toner before you use it and 10 ingredients you never knew you could use—some that you might have right in your kitchen!
What is hair toner used for?
Toners are different from hair dyes: Traditional hair dye is made with ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, and other questionable ingredients like parabens. Ammonia and hydrogen peroxide open up the hair cuticle and deposit pigment, which is why color changes, but it can result in a weaker, "porous" hair strand. These actives can also irritate the scalp.
Toners, on the other hand, act as a tweakment to your hair color, whether that color be your natural hue or the result of a previous dye job. Toners also come in many forms: There are in-salon options, as well as at-home toning treatments, for example pigmented shampoos and conditioners are even considered toners.
"Something to know when switching to natural hair care is that drastic changes in color are usually not possible," notes naturopathic doctor Tess Marshall, N.D. So don't expect to go from jet black to honey blond in a sitting. Instead, "stick to shades of your natural color." A major bonus: Using a natural toner can even be healthy for your hair, helping with strength and shine of your hair strands.
"We use toners to enhance dull tones or cancel unwanted tones," says hairstylist Natasha Speth. "When we are canceling unwanted tones, we refer to our faithful color wheel to select the proper tones. We would use complementary colors to cancel out unwanted tones." The basics of this are using violet for gold, green for red, or blue for orange. "For instance, if a light blond with soft golden undertones would prefer to be an icy white blond, we may use a violet base toner or send them home with a violet-based shampoo and conditioner." However, if you use a toner to enhance, it acts more like stain rather than a color corrector: "For example, if we have someone who is a natural brown but would like to add a bit of auburn temporarily, we can do that by using a red toner."
And while there are plenty of at-home toner options, if you are more of the salon-type, there are professional-grade natural toners, too. "You can find direct dyes that are up to 98% naturally derived ingredients. The pigments used are derived from ingredients like Indian walnut saffron, ginger—we even use lycopene from tomatoes. These can be added to deepen natural hair color or even blend gray hair naturally."
Finally, how often you use a toner is up to your own discretion—it really just depends on the hue you are trying to achieve. For some, that will mean every week, while others will only need to tone sporadically. Use your best judgment.
DIY natural toner ingredients to try at home
There are plenty of items right in your home you can use to achieve a personalized touch to your hair:
Apple cider vinegar wash
Because apple cider vinegar is mildly acidic, it can help lower the pH of dull hair, which has a higher pH. In fact, research shows that when hair's pH is raised1—be it from alkaline shampoos or hard water—it opens the hair's cuticle, at which point your hair color can fade or lose luster. By rinsing with an acidic wash, you close the cuticle. As dull hair tends to read brass, use an apple cider vinegar rinse to cancel out orange and yellow tones for blondes or light brunettes. It will also secure richer, darker pigments from fading. To use, follow our guide here.
Lemon is rich in vitamin C, a skin care ingredient that is used for its antioxidant properties, as well as overall brightening. For hair care, it's a natural way to "bleach" blond hair, as well as reverse gray tones in lighter hues. But no, we're not talking about soaking your hair in lemon juice and sitting in the sun, as you might have in youth. The modern version is much better for your strands. Combine a mixture of ¾ lemon juice to ¼ conditioner. Apply the mixture to your hair, combing it through from root to tip. Leave on for a minimum of 1½ hours to overnight (putting your hair in something like a shower cap). Rinse with warm water, followed by a deep conditioner to restore moisture, and style as usual.
The Hollyhock flower comes in a wide variety of colors, including blue, pink, purple, red, white, yellow, and even black. However, it's the purple you'll want to take advantage of for removing brassy tones. Boil 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons of hollyhock herb, and 1 cup of water until a thick liquid is achieved. Allow to cool, then apply to your hair for 30 minutes. Rinse, then follow with a conditioner.
This lavender-colored flower is another natural way to tone your hair. You can make a "tea" of the flowers with hot water, steeping them until a vibrant hue is achieved and then allowing to cool before straining and transferring to an applicator bottle. (Use an old shampoo bottle, for example.) Apply to hair, leave on for about 30 minutes, rinse, then condition.
Green tea wash
If you want to bring out warmer tones, use green tea. Take three bags of green tea, boil with 2 cups of water, let cool, and transfer to a spray bottle. Saturate your hair, leaving on for about 30 minutes. Wash it off.
The rich hue of indigo is ideal to "cool" brunettes. You can find plant-based powders that can be applied sparingly in your shampoo or hair conditioner. Leave on for 5 to 10 minutes for copper to tone light browns; 10 to 15 minutes to tone medium browns; 20 to 30 minutes to tone medium to dark browns; and 40 to 60 minutes to tone dark browns.
Chamomile tea wash
Chamomile tea is ideal for brightening blond hair. Steep ½ cup of herbs in 2 cups of boiling water for 45 minutes to an hour. Strain, allow to cool, then add to a spray bottle along with ½ a lemon and some honey.
Hibiscus tea spray
With its vibrant pink-red hue, hibiscus tea is a great natural hair toner for redheads. Steep ½ cup of herbs in 2 cups of boiling water for 45 minutes to an hour. Strain, allow to cool, then add to a spray bottle. Spray onto clean hair, massage throughout, then rinse out with cold water after about two hours.
Sage tea spray
Use sage tea to darken gray hair. Steep ½ cup of herbs in 2 cups of boiling water for 45 minutes to an hour. Strain, allow to cool, then add to a spray bottle. Spray onto clean hair, massage throughout, then rinse out with cold water after about two hours.
Black tea spray
Black tea is a great option for deepening dark-colored hair. Steep ½ cup of herbs in 2 cups of boiling water for 45 minutes to an hour. Strain, allow to cool, then add to a spray bottle. Spray onto clean hair, massage throughout, then cover your hair with a shower cap. Leave on for 30 minutes before rinsing with cold water.
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Alexa Erickson is a California-based writer who specializes in travel, beauty, wellness, and lifestyle. She received a degree in journalism and creative writing from the University of Tampa, and her work has appeared in Reader's Digest, Shape, and more. She has spent the past decade researching and writing about the latest trends and scientific findings related to health and wellness, trotting the globe to review airlines and hotels while featuring cultures around the world.