Home Hair Can You Use Toner Without Developer?

Can You Use Toner Without Developer?

by Gabbi

When it comes to color treating your hair, the steps can often seem complicated: how long do you leave the dye on, is the color lifting properly, and do you need to use toner, developer, or both could be just some of the questions when it comes to trying to reach your hair color goals.

No matter what color you are after, there are certain steps to follow that will lead to you achieving the hair of your dreams.

Two of the most important parts of color treating your hair are the toner and developer. While they may seem to be similar, or like you could use one or the other, they both serve two different purposes to ensuring the overall look of your hair is carefully colored, balanced, and shiny.

Developer is needed to allow the hair dye to work properly and absorb thoroughly into the hair, while toner is needed to ensure the hair is shiny and the color is well-balanced.

So, can you use toner without developer? These two products work together, and toner is not effective without the use of developer and will not deliver lasting effects. Developer works to activate not only the hair dye, but the toner as well, in order to open the hair shaft enough to receive the color.

Toner is needed to neutralize and balance the color, and while there are color depositing alternatives that we explore down below, the best results from a toner will be used in conjunction with a developer.

What Is Toner?

Toner works to balance the tones in the hair after it has been color treated, especially with bleach. It is used to neutralize any unwanted brassy tones by eliminating any orange, yellow, or red tones mostly seen in blonde hair.

While it mainly works to neutralize the tones in blonde strands, it can also work in other hair colors to naturally balance the tones seen there, too.

Depending on the shade you are trying to achieve, there are different toners available to deposit certain colors or eliminate certain tones.

Toner can also be targeted to specific sections of the hair shaft, for multidimensional color. It can also be used in between color appointments to refresh the hair, or to add an extra bit of shine to dull locks.

Toner will generally last in the hair between four to eight weeks, and salon-grade toner is available to professionals for longer term color treatments.

However, products such as demi-glosses and purple shampoos could also be considered as “toners” for the hair because they neutralize unwanted tones, balance the hair, and deposit some color pigment to the hair shaft.

What Is Developer?

As opposed to toner, hair developer is a lightener that contains hydrogen peroxide. It is also referred to as an “activator” because it activates the hair color, allowing it to become permanent.

Hair dye is not able to permanently alter the existing color of the hair without the use of a developer, as that is what makes it possible for it to be absorbed into the strands.

Developer contains hydrogen peroxide, but is also mixed with either the desired hair color or bleach in order to be activated.

Once activated, it allows the hair color to penetrate the hair shaft by opening up the hair cuticles for the color to be thoroughly coated and absorbed evenly. Especially when lightening the hair, developer is mixed with bleach to achieve blonder locks.

Similar to how there are different shades of toner for your desired hair color, with developer there are different levels that refer to the oxidizing level of the hair, or how much the hair color will “lift.”

The levels are referred to 10, 20, and up to 40. The higher level, 40, is ideal for bleaching the hair while the lower number, 10, is not going to lift the color to be lighter.

Why Are Toner and Developer Used Together?

When getting your hair color treated, toner and developer are used together to achieve the desired outcome you are looking for. Especially when bleaching the hair, the color could lift to have unwanted yellow or orange tones that alter the overall color of the hair.

Toner is used after the hair color has had its time to set in the hair and has been rinsed, allowing it to be absorbed into the open hair cuticles.

The developer and hair dye will sit on the hair longer, depending on the desired color, while the toner will only sit on the hair for about 10-15 minutes before it is rinsed.

Toner is an important step after using developer, because it is going to neutralize and balance the overall tones and shades of the hair to ensure the final color has achieved the goal. It will also add extra shine to the strands which is often needed, especially when bleaching.

Can Toner Be Used Without Developer?

In order for toner to be effective in balancing the hair color, it needs to be used with developer to work properly. Developer is how hair dye is able to actively work and penetrate the hair, and it provides the same function for toner.

Because developer opens up the hair cuticle to make it ready to receive color, it is also able to receive the toner after hair dye has been applied to balance out the color.

Toner used without developer will not deposit any color, or have lasting effects, to the hair shaft overall. The toner needs to have the activation from the developer in order to deposit the color properly to leave hair with the color and shine that it needs.

Toner Alternatives

As there are different types of toners that will deposit color pigment to alter the hair color, there are also several at-home, DIY alternative as well. These toner alternatives will help extend the life of your hair color in between salon visits, as well as provide the added refresh and shine to the hair your color might need.

As mentioned above, products like demi-permanent glosses or purple shampoos are considered alternatives to hair toners.

They are able to add shine and neutralize unwanted tones in the hair color. Purple shampoos are suited for blonde, platinum, and grey-toned hair, as the vibrant purple pigment will eliminate excessive yellow and orange tones that can pop up over time with color treated blonde locks.

Demi-permanent glosses are available in different shades and they add shine to your hair while also deposited color that lasts for several weeks.

If you are looking for a natural alternative, or want to DIY a version of a hair toner, there are various options to try that include items you most likely have already. For example, using an apple cider vinegar wash will balance the pH levels of the hair, that usually are elevated when hair becomes dull.

Mixing about four tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with water and letting sit on the hair for about 10-15 minutes will help to neutralize unwanted brassy tones, while also assisting in removing product buildup.

However, apple cider vinegar can dry out your hair if used too frequently, so be mindful to only use this mixture sparingly, about once or twice a month.

Another natural alternative to hair toner is a green tea rinse, or a black tea or oolong tea rinse depending on your hair color. By steeping three tea bags in two cups of boiling water, you will see the water turn color depending on what type of tea you are using.

Once the tea water has cooled, it can be transferred into a bottle to be applied to the hair for about 30 minutes.

Once the tea water has sat on the hair for the needed time, it can be rinsed away, and your hair will feel softened. This method may require several applications to eliminate all the unwanted tones from the hair, however it is an option that is chemical-free and can be done from home.


Toner and developer work as a pair to deliver you the results of your hair color fantasy, and one does not work as effectively without the other.

When developer is used with bleach especially, it runs the risk of pulling in unwanted warm or brass tones that can be balanced with a toner to eliminate the yellow, orange, or red shades.

Toner is needed to create the natural balance of tones in the hair but needs to have the hair shaft ready to receive the color, which is caused by the use of a developer.

There are many types of hair toners available, and many color-depositing haircare products that can work to balance the shades in the hair in between color treatments.

If you are interested in trying a chemical-free, natural alternative to tone your hair, there are methods for that, too. Depending on your hair type and color, the best toner solution for you will also provide added shine and smoothness to your locks as well.

Related Articles

Hair Too Ashy After Toner – What To Do

What Does Hair Toner Do To Highlights?

Do You Put Toner On Wet Or Dry Hair?

All Types Of Toners – Fully Explained

You may also like

Leave a Comment