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Can You Tone Wet Hair? Should Your Hair Be Wet, Dry, or Damp?

Cute African American female with blonde hair and orange tones laughing outdoors

When it comes to toning hair, questions come up concerning how long to leave the toner on, which toner to use, and more. But one of the most common questions people have is, “Can you tone wet hair?” We’ve done the research. By the end of this article, you’ll know the answer to this question and much more! 

Can You Tone Wet Hair?

You shouldn’t tone soaking wet hair due to unpredictable results. Toner should be applied to hair that is roughly 70% dry (or damp hair). Some people think they should tone their hair wet to aid in product distribution and ensure a good final result.

The idea stems from the fact that water opens up the hair cuticles. However, there’s a massive flaw in this logic when toning. It’s not a good idea to tone wet hair, and the reason is simple. There’s a limit to how much liquid your hair can absorb – about a third of its weight.

Once your hair has absorbed all it can, nothing else can make it into the hair shaft. So, if you tone your hair while it’s wet, the chances of the toner being absorbed efficiently are very low and the color results will be unpredictable. 

Young black lady outside at the beach with bleached hair color and brassy hair strands

What Happens If You Put Toner on Wet Hair?

When you tone wet hair, the toner can become diluted, which reduces its effectiveness. This means that applying toner to your wet hair can lead to uneven results or even no color change at all.

Another thing that could happen is that the results you get after toning won’t last as long as expected. Some find that a toner that’s supposed to last for 8 weeks will only last for 2. 

Another reason why toner and wet hair don’t mix is that the toner may slide down the hair as you’re trying to apply it. This is most likely to happen if your hair is dripping wet. By no means should you apply toner to dripping wet hair. 

African American lady with freshly toned hair wearing a flannel shirt on a sunny day

Toning 100% Dry Hair Is Not Recommended

Dry hair doesn’t pair well with toner, either. That’s because dry hair is not receptive to toner. While you can put toner on dry hair, we are against it because it won’t allow the toner to absorb fully.

The result may be inadequate toner performance or a short-lived color result. But if you have to choose between toning your hair while it’s dripping wet or dry, we suggest toning it dry. 

You Should Only Tone Damp Hair

Black girl at the beach after leaving the hair salon with an ombre hair coloring treatment

According to hair colorists, your hair should be about 70% dry before toning. At this level of dryness, the toner can easily penetrate the hair and be spread up and down the hair shaft without any trouble.

Also, when your hair is just a bit damp, the hair cuticles will be more receptive to the toner than dry hair would be. 

So, after rinsing the bleach out of your hair, you should towel dry your hair before toning it. Doing so will ensure that the toner will be adequately absorbed and last as long as expected. 

Note: When you use a toning shampoo, you should apply it to wet hair, lather it up, and let it sit for the amount of time indicated on the packaging. This is the only case where applying toner to wet hair is a good idea. 

How to Tone Damp Hair Right

Lady with type 3a curls after using a high-quality hair toner and purple shampoo

You now know why you shouldn’t tone your hair dry or wet. But there are several other things you should do to make sure your toning session is successful. To help you out, we’d like to give you some step-by-step instructions to follow:

  1. Make sure your hair is light enough for your chosen toner. If you want to use a toner meant for blondes, your hair should have been lightened to at least a level 8 or 9. Otherwise, you’ll need to lighten your hair again or go with a toner meant for darker shades. 
  2. Start with 70% damp hair. If you’ve just rinsed your hair after bleaching or dying it, towel dry it with a microfiber towel to remove the excess moisture. To check whether your hair is dry enough, touch it with your finger – you should feel just a hint of dampness.  
  3. Mix up your toner according to the instructions. Get your toner ready. For a permanent result, you may be instructed to mix the toning solution with a 20-volume developer using a 1:2 ratio. For a semi-permanent result, mix the toner solution with a 10-volume developer using the same ratio. Ultimately, follow the instructions on your toner’s packaging.
  4. Section your damp hair into 4 sections or more. Doing so will make your hair easier to work with.
  5. Get started applying the toner. Make sure that the toner saturates all of the sections you want to tone. We recommend using a tinting brush to ensure that the product is evenly applied. 
  6. Allow the toner to sit for around 45 minutes or until you see the color change you desire. If you want to check the results while you tone, simply wipe the toner off of a section of hair and take a peek at the results. If you think it needs more time, reapply the toner and allow it to process further. 
  7. Rinse the toner out after time’s up. Take your time and rinse out all of the toner. The chemicals in the toner are not meant to be left on the hair. Use lukewarm to cool water to preserve the color result. Condition your hair afterward to repair some of the damage caused by the ingredients in the toner. 
  8. After 24 hours, shampoo your hair. The reason you should wait for 24 hours is to allow the toner some time to set. Use a gentle shampoo so that your hair won’t fade prematurely. 
  9. Condition your hair. After shampooing your hair, use a conditioner or deep conditioner to replenish the lost moisture. 

If you want to speed up the toning process, you can put on a processing cap. Doing so will insulate the heat from your scalp and speed up the processing time. Just be careful if your hair is damaged – in that case, you should try your best not to overprocess your hair. 

The Best Toners Available

African American woman with beautiful curls after using blonde hair dye

Not all toners are created equal, and that’s why we’d like to let you in on some of the best toners you’ll find anywhere. 

Wella Toners

Wella sets the standard in toners for blonde-haired folks. Their permanent liquid toners are known to be effective in removing brassiness and keeping it away for months.

WELLA Colorcharm Permanent Liquid Hair Toners Check Price
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You’ll also find an extensive collection of blonde color shades, including ash blondes, natural blondes, platinum blondes, and much more.

Schwarzkopf Toners

Schwarzkopf toners are a bit more high-end, going for twice the price of Wella toners. These are professional quality toners that give predictable, true-to-shade results for those struggling with brassy, yellow tones. 

Schwarzkopf Professional Blond Me Blonde Toning - Ice Check Price
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Manic Panic Hair Toner

Manic Panic is one of the most popular hair product manufacturers around. The company is known for producing some of the best semi-permanent hair dyes on the market. But many don’t know that their toners are also great.

MANIC PANIC Virgin Snow Hair Blonde Toner Check Price
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Their Virgin Snow Hair toner provides outstanding toning results without some of the harmful ingredients people are trying to avoid now, including ammonia, parabens, and animal testing.

When searching for a good toner, you can’t go wrong with purchasing one from one of the above brands. 

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To sum things up: for the best toning results, your hair needs to be 70% damp. We don’t recommend toning soaking wet or dry hair. Doing so will ensure maximum toner absorption and ease of product distribution.

We hope that the information in this article is helpful to you as you take steps to get the perfect toning result. We wish you the best with your hair!