There's a lot of chatter on the internet about toning hair and why it's so important to make sure to tone the hair after bleaching it so that you can close the cuticle. I mean some of y'all straight argue about it on some of these Facebook groups 😅
I think this concept has been misconstrued and I want to offer some perspective, here.
As with most things these days we hear an idea, a thought, a concept....and then as this thought or concept grows, it gets distorted.
Think about the game "telephone" in kindergarten.
The teacher would whisper something in the first students ear, then that student would whisper it in their neighbors ear and so on and so on until it gets to the last student.
The last student would repeat what they heard out loud and the whole class would burst into laughter.
10 times out of 10, what the teacher said, and what the last student heard were not even closet to the same phrase!
Now, imagine playing telephone, but as grown ass adults, with the internet, the brands, the marketing departments, the chemists, the scientists, the influencers, social media, the teachers etc....
Things can get twisted around a bit.
So first, let's talk about the cuticle:
The cuticle is not a single "thing", the cuticle is made up of layers of dead cells..7-10 layers generally.
The cuticle is what surrounds and protects the cortex of the hair (which is where all the coloring and lightening action happens)
Now, when we use a product that is highly alkaline (like bleach), those cuticle layers expand and swell.
Nothing is opening.
The higher the alkalinity of the product, the more softening and swelling occurs...so right after a bleaching service, the hair can be swollen up to 25%.
Ok, back burner that thought for a second, let's move onto another concept.
Let's talk about the chemicals that we use, and the importance of pH.
Taking it back to beauty school here. When a product has a lower pH, it is considered acidic. When something has a higher pH it is considered alkaline.
Products that are alkaline, have a tendency to soften and swell the hair.
Products that are acidic have a tendency to constrict the hair.
And hair? well hair technically doesn't have a pH..it takes on the pH of its environment..this is why different products with different pH's can shift the hair into a more acidic environment or a more alkaline environment.
Hair looks the best when the cuticle is constricted...around a 4.5-5.0 pH. We call that happy hair.
So with all of that said, I have a question for you.
Have you ever tested the pH of the toners you work with?
...cuz I have.
And the truth is, every single toner that is oxidative (meaning you have to mix it with any developer, even "zero lift", is ALKALINE).
Even acidic toner...in their tube and in their bottles, they are alkaline.
Now, developer, zero lift all the way up to 40 volume, is acidic!
Yes, developer doesn't OPEN the cuticle, in fact, it can constrict it.
What a concept, huh?
So what happens when you mix an ALKALINE product (high pH) with an ACIDIC product (low pH)...does the lower pH win and drop that mixture down to acidic? NOPE.
The lower pH will contribute to lowering the pH of that mixture but it will NOT bring it down to the same pH of itself...it just lowers it a bit.
If your toners pH is 8.5 and you mix it with developer that is at a 3.0...the working pH of that mixture will still remain ALKALINE.
And what does alkalinity to? Softens and swells the hair.
So let's break it down:
You start your service with hair in its happy place- 4.5 - 5.5
You mix up your highly alkaline lightener with an acidic developer making you working pH around 11.0 (depending on your brand)
*at this point hair is incredibly swollen*
You shampoo the hair...most shampoos have a pH of 4.5 - 6.0
The low pH of the shampoo brings down the pH of the hair and brings down some of that swelling.
You then mix up your toner because tOnEr cLosEs ThE cuTicLe
Remember, all toners are alkaline in their tube/bottle..pH around 8.5..with an acidic developer making the working pH still somewhere around a 7.5 - 8.0...
Guess what, a 7.5-8.0 pH product is NOT acidic.
Will it acidify the hair and help bring down that swelling and pH? Sure.
Is it closing a sealing the cuticles? Nope.
Your toner formula, no matter the brand, is still alkaline...especially to the hair that lives in its happy place at 4.5 - 5.5.
When we bicker about toners being necessary to close the cuticle..I want you to understand what's really happening, what are we really doing to the hair.
The truth is, you do not HAVE to tone the hair to close the cuticle because:
A) the cuticle don't CLOSE
B) you can't bring down that swelling with one product or one treatment...
Remember, to acidify the hair, every time you put a product with a low pH on the hair, it brings down the pH little by little.
Toner can help bring it down, but so can shampoo, a conditioner and a leave in.
What I'm here to say is this:
You don't HAVE to tone the hair for any reason other than you want to shift the TONE.
If you are looking to "close the cuticle" I want you to remember...there is no opening and closing of hair, just swelling and constricting.
Once the hair is swollen, we have to work on constricting it.
If the hair is constricted and we want any kind of permanent color, we have to swell it.
If you love the raw lift you achieved on your client..you do not have to toner her.
Use shampoo, condition twice, use an acidifying conditioner and a leave in....that will be enough to bring down the swelling to make the hair manageable...
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Happy hair coloring!