Updated: Apr 3
There seems to be some confusion in the industry when it comes to the different options for toners, in particular Alkaline vs Acidic. I want to cover the main differences between the two and why you would choose one over the other. If you want to go a little further into the difference, take a listen to my podcast here.
Before we can get in to the different chemicals, we have to bring up the main thing that differentiates the two...and that goes back to chemistry. I'm talking about the pH scale.
Remember back when you were in beauty school, and you had to learn all about chemistry? Most of us didn't really pay too much attention to what was being taught because all we cared about was getting our hands in some hair. #amiright?! Little did we know that understanding the chemistry of the products that we use is just as, if not more, valuable to our success behind the chair as learning any "skill".
If you're looking for more in depth information on the pH scale, stay tuned for a new blog post in a few weeks!
Anything below a 7 in pH is considered ACIDIC
Anything above a 7 is considered ALKALINE.
7 is "neutral"
When it comes to the chemicals in hair color...all of them are alkaline in their tubes or bottles. YES. ALL. ALKALINE. The dye intermediaries would not survive if they weren't in an alkaline environment.
When you put a chemical with an alkaline pH on the hair, its the alkalinity that softens and swells the cuticle layers open so that the hair color process can occur. (NOT necessarily the developer) The lighter the level of color, the more alkalinity it has.
When you put a chemical with a "neutral" or ACIDIC pH on the hair, it has the reverse effect. It can constrict the hair and help "seal" cuticle layers. Developer is Acidic. Conditioner/Leave-in is usually acidic.
When it comes to toners, it is imperative to know if you are working with an acidic or alkaline product. Be aware that some manufacturers make permanent shades and will market that "when mixed with a low volume developer, it becomes Demi-permanent". The truth is that it becomes LIKE a Demi-permanent but it is still permanent color. What can happen at times is when you use a permanent color with a low volume developer, if the color is light in level, it could SHIFT or BUMP the base...creating a color correction.
Remember, its not just developer that helps fracture melanin and lighten the hair. It's the combination of the AMOUNT of alkalinity along with the developer that causes pigment shift. So a high level permanent color with a low volume developer is still very alkaline and could cause undesired results.
When it comes to ACIDIC Demi-permanent, you are getting a true "deposit-only". Acidic color will always be alkaline in the tube or the bottle (albeit very low in alkalinity) and when mixed with developer, drops to a 7-8 in pH. so TECHNICALLY speaking, its still "alkaline" but there isn't enough alkalinity to cause a shift or base bump.
When to use an ALKALINE TONER:
*If you do a global bleach out and want a very even deposit, an alkaline toner would be very helpful. If you had spotty lift, or some areas that needed to lift about 1/2 a level more, then using an alkaline toner would help correct that.
*If you still have slight warmth in the hair and you want a bit of additional lift.
*If there is no virgin hair on the head, and you want your toner to last longer.
*When toning with level 7 and below.
When to use an ACIDIC TONER:
*When you want a soft and subtle deposit of color.
*Any time there is virgin hair on the head and you want a level 8 or lighter.
*If the client isn't ready to fully commit to a certain shade, an acidic toner will rinse out a lot quicker, especially on porous hair.
I hope you got some clarity on what the difference is between the two, and more importantly when to use one vs the other. At the end of the day, the power is not in the products, the power is within us and our knowledge.
If you are unsure whether or not the toners that you are using are acidic or alkaline, you could always order pH test strips and test for yourself. You might be surprise at what you'll find!
If you're looking for a more in-depth explanation, listen to episode X on my podcast here!
Until next time,
Happy Hair Coloring