Why do I need to use bleach to get highlights? What is a toner for highlights?

It sometimes can be a shock watching hair color process  whether changing an all over color or toning highlights. Usually when someone wants their natural hair more than 2 shades lighter, or lighter than thier hair after it’s already been artificially colored; the stylist will use bleach to lift their hair color lighter .  Let’s take a step back, and look at the reasoning behind using bleach and and touch on what a toner is.See the source image

Do you remember art class  when you may have learned about the color wheel. If not, no worries, we will skim the surface. For the sake of simplicity, I’m not going to touch on the tertiary colors. To make the color brown, you need all these colors that are either warm or cool. The warm colors are yellow, orange, and red; the cool colors are green, blue and violet. Note, all the cool colors are opposite of the wheel from the warm colors, so they neutralize the opposite color.

Bleach is a chemical used to remove colors from the hair, all the cool colors leave first. An accumulation of cool colors make the hair darker, so some of the cool (ashy) colors need to be removed to lighten up the hair. By doing so  yellow, orange OR red are exposed aka underline pigments (or some variation of the colors). Therefore, your stylist will apply a hair color solution back on the hair to counteract or complement (aka. tone) those colors. Here are some examples below:

Ashy Blonde Highlights
Ashy Blonde Highlights
 Jane has a dark blonde hair color. She wanted a light blonde hairstyle. Jane’s hair was bleached out to remove the dark blonde hair color  to a yellow color. Then we applied an ashy toner to counteract (cancel out) the yellow and neutralize her color to a soft neutral light blonde.



Warm Brown Highlights
Warm Brown Highlights

   Julia wanted warm brown highlights,  we bleached her hair then used a toner that does not cancel out the orange but added some dark pigments to add a brown color.


A toner is hair color, which adds pigments (hair color molecules) back in the hair. It can be a semi-permanent  or a demi-permanent hair color that is more gentle on the hair than permanent hair color. Permanent hair color usually has a swelling agent (a chemical to swell the hair), like ammonia or MEA, for the color molecules to penetrate in the hair.  Semi and demi -permanent solution does not usually have this swelling agent. Less swelling means less damage on the hair. Toners are meant to stain the outside of the hair strand. Toners can fade between 4-12 weeks, more or less, depending on the porosity of the hair, hair care products used and how often the hair is washed. When the toner washes out, you will be left with seeing the underline pigment again (red, orange, or yellow). This is a lot of information to absorb, but this is just to help you understand the process of coloring hair with bleach and toners. It sounds complicated, but rest assured, leave it to your stylist to do all the formulating!  Cheers to a new hairdo!

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