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The Truth About Toner

Published on 14th January 2011

White, platinum, silver, light ash… whatever you want to call it. Shades of light blonde are some of the hardest to attain and maintain which leads to a lot of bad information about how to go about it.

Let me explain how it works.

Getting white hair isn’t really a matter of bleaching the hell out of your hair. There is a hell of a lot of bleaching involved but it’s not the whole process. To bleach your hair all the way to white is not impossible, it’s just not a great idea. Expect a ton of breakage, extreme dryness and hair that resembles spaghetti when wet.

So how is it done?

First you lighten your hair to pale blonde and then you use some colour trickery to make it appear whiter. It’s all to do with colour theory. Remember in art class when you drew the colour wheel? No? Catch up here.
So if you compare blonde hair to white hair, what’s the difference? Blonde hair is really just light yellow hair. To go white you need to mask this yellow with another colour – the opposite of yellow.
If you’ve ever used a white toner, you’ll know that they’re very pale violet in colour. The violet, being the opposite colour to yellow, in effect cancels out the yellowness in your hair giving it a whiter appearance.

How do you get silver hair?

For a shimmery pale silver colour, you’re doing the same process. There’s enough violet in the silver toner to eliminate the yellow tones, but there’s also a hint of blue. This very, very pale blue gives the hair a silvery look. It’s also the same reason old ladies sometimes end up with a “blue rinse”.

So now we understand the colour theory, what is there to confuse? Well, a lot of people think if your hair is dark blonde and you add enough of a darker violet it will go white. Wrong! They’re forgetting lightness. If the base colour is nowhere near white in lightness then there is no way adding more colour can make it lighter.

What happens if you put violet on yellow-blonde hair?

You get a weird neutral greyish brown colour, not quite mousy brown but similar. It’s not pretty like dark ash blonde. It’s a dull muddy colour, not even a cool dark grey. (Hey, want to know how dark grey is made? I have a recipe for you).

So there you have it. I hope this explains how silver and white toners work.

Colour wheel

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