Chapter 4 – Lightening Virgin Hair and Regrowth

4.6 Formulating the Toner

Anytime a colour is applied over pre-lightened hair in order to change the tone, it is referred to as toning. Toners can be used to neutralize or enhance underlying pigment or simply to deepen the level. Generally, a non-oxidative or low alkaline product will be used to tone, such as a semi- or demi-permanent colour product. These options are gentler to avoid excessive swelling of an already compromised hair strand.

Before formulating a toner:

  • Determine the level that the hair has lifted to,
  • Assess the pre-lightened hair to determine texture and porosity, and
  • Decide whether you will be enhancing, neutralizing, or deepening the level.


To create an optimal toner formulation, you will need to determine what level the hair has lifted to. This is crucial for a couple of reasons:

  • Underlying pigment is different at each level of lift, which means the neutralizing or enhancing tone will also be different at each level.
  • When choosing the toner level, it is always best to tone on-level (or slightly darker if a deeper tone is desired).

Let’s take another look at the underlying pigment chart:

The 10 levels of underlying pigment and correlating neutral tone.

Refer to the chart, and compare the neutralizing base at a level 8 to a neutralizing base at a level 7. At a level 8 yellow, the recommended neutralizing tone is violet:

Yellow plus violet = neutral.

Whereas at a level 7, only one level darker, the recommended corrective tone for the yellow-orange underlying pigment is a blue-violet:

Yellow-orange plus blue-violet = neutral.

This visually explains why it is so important to tone on-level.

For example, if the hair is lifted to a level 7 and a level 8 violet-based toner is applied, the violet will tone out the yellow but leave the orange, which will make the orange stand out even more against the neutral background.

Look at it this way:

Yellow-orange plus violent = orange.

The violet will neutralize the yellow, and you will be left with an unwanted brassy tone.

Note: The exception to this tone on-level rule applies only if you should choose to use an oxidative toner. Oxidative toners have the ability to shift your pre-lightened hair by approximately ½ to 1 level or so, allowing you to use a slightly lighter level to tone. However, please be aware that an oxidative colour should only be used on hair that can cope with additional swelling!

When performing a bleach and tone service, you should avoid lifting past the target level, as this will put undue stress on the hair.

Another scenario to consider: The client was lightened in the past and would now like to be a bit darker. When toning in order to deepen the level, think of the above scenario reversed.

For example, it is not ideal to use a blue-violet-based level 7 toner on pale yellow level 8 pre-lightened hair. This will give us a bluish over-toned result.

Yellow plus blue-violet = blue.

The violet will neutralize the yellow, and you will be left with a bluish tinge.

A better approach would be to use a violet-based toner mixed with some natural to create your deeper target level.

Consider this example formula to be used on existing level 8 pre-lightened hair where the client would like a neutral level 7:

40ml Semi Activator + 10ml 6N + 10ml 8V

This formula would create a natural violet level 7 (by mixing level 6 and level 8), which will neutralize the yellow and darken the level, without creating an over-toned result.

Note: Remember that anytime you colour hair more than 3 levels darker, you will need to fill the hair with the missing underlying pigment! More on this in Chapter Chapter 7 – Corrective Colour.

Texture and Porosity

When assessing the hair structure and integrity, there are some considerations to keep in mind:

Medium Hair

Medium textured hair that has been lightened without any resulting porosity concerns can be formulated using the colour wheel according to basic colour theory. A semi-permanent toner that has been formulated with a complimentary colour tone will generally neutralize effectively. When enhancing, choose the warm tone that will give you your desired result and mix according to manufacturers guidelines.

Fine Hair

Fine hair will generally be more porous after a lightening service, especially when lifted to the lighter levels 8–10. Porous, fine hair is at risk of soaking up cool tones and over-toning to a grey or muddy appearance. A good tactic to combat this is to add a little gold to your formula, even when neutralizing. Although this may seem counterintuitive, porous hair will reject warmth and absorb cool tones, so adding that bit of warmth will help to balance out the end result. Let’s look at this example:

If the client has level 9 pre-lightened hair, the underlying pigment will be pale yellow. The natural instinct to neutralize this would be to tone with violet, right? After all, the colour wheel shows that Yellow + Violet = Neutral.

But, if the hair is porous, it is like a sponge, ready to soak up that violet in a much greater concentration. So what you are left with looks more like this:

Yellow plus violet-violet = violet-neutral.

You may end up with a violet-tinged neutral, which will look drab and darker than a level 9, since cool tones do not reflect light and they tend to look darker to the eye.

Adding a bit of gold to our formula will give us:

Yellow-yellow plus violet-violet = neutral.

The extra gold will balance the extra violet that will be absorbed by the porous hair and you will be left with a brighter, more neutral level 9 result.

Alternatively, if you want your result to be refined without complete neutralization, you can add a small amount of natural or a small amount of clear to your formula. Both of these options will dilute the violet pigment. The natural will create more of a beige result, while the clear will create a more translucent outcome.

If your goal is to enhance the underlying pigment for a warm result, formulate with the assumption that hair with high porosity will not absorb warmth as easily and may need a bit more of your enhancing tone to achieve the ideal result.

Note: Whether you are neutralizing or enhancing fine/porous hair, remember to formulate 1 level lighter than the desired result due to the tendency of fine hair to process darker than intended.

Coarse Hair

Coarse hair has a larger concentration of melanin, which generally results in a stronger underlying pigment following a lightening service. In contrast to a fine hair scenario, coarse hair may need more neutralizing tone added to the formula to neutralize effectively.

If the client has level 8 pre-lightened hair, the underlying pigment will be an intense yellow.

The colour wheel tells us that yellow + violet = neutral.

But if the hair is coarse with a saturated yellow undertone, what you are left with looks more like this:

Yellow-yellow plus violet = yellow-neutral.

The hair will end up with a warm golden result, rather than a true neutral. This will work great if you are looking for a refined yet warm result without complete neutralization.

For a truer neutral result, adding a bit of extra violet to our formula will give you:

Yellow-yellow + violet-violet = neutral.

Additionally, be aware that although the bleach product will have opened up the cuticle layer to some degree, you will still need to assess for resistant porosity at this stage on a coarse-haired client. Resistant, coarse hair will need a more alkaline colour product to swell the hair strand to allow for optimal toner processing. In this scenario, you may choose to use an oxidative toner such as a permanent colour product.

This will not only allow for greater penetration of the colour molecules for a more opaque result, but will also work to diffuse underlying pigment. In this scenario, you will need to formulate for the target level of underlying pigment.


  • XL: Prelightened level 7
  • TL and tone: Level 8 Neutral
  • Underlying Pigment: Intense yellow
  • Formula: 40ml 20volume + 20ml 8VV – for 1 level of lift and extra corrective tone

Uneven Porosity

Hair with uneven porosity will need to be formulated accordingly. Assess each area of porosity individually for an even result.

Using what we’ve learned so far about toning, let’s look at the following scenario:


Your client has just had a global virgin bleach lightening service and has lifted to an even level 9 with a pale yellow underlying pigment.

  • Texture: Medium
  • Porosity: Regrowth and mid-lengths are average, ends are extreme.

How would you formulate for an even neutral result?

  • XL and tone: level 9 pale yellow
  • TL and tone: level 9 neutral

Regrowth and mid-lengths: Because these areas have medium hair texture and average porosity, formulate according to basic colour theory:

Formula: 40ml semi activator + 20ml 9V (to neutralize pale yellow underlying pigment)

Ends: The ends have extreme porosity and will absorb a greater concentration of corrective tone. Add a bit of gold to the formula to avoid over-toning.

Formula: 40ml semi activator + 15ml 9V + 5ml 9G

Many colour lines also carry a product known as a porosity equalizer. This is a liquid product that is applied to the damp hair and combed through prior to toning.

Note: As with any situation in which you are unsure of how the hair’s texture or porosity will affect the result, a test strand is recommended prior to toning the entirety of the hair.

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Hair Colour for Hairstylists: Level 2 Copyright © 2021 by Arden Magtiza is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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