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Last updated: December 02, 2021

Toning: How To Formulate For Brunette Hair

PRAVANA How To Formulate and Apply Toner For Brunette Hair Color Express Tones After Dark
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PRAVANA Product Development Manager Lissette Cruz (@lissettecruz) spilled the tea on all things brunette toning below.

Your Complete Guide To Toning Brunettes Level 7 & Lower

Are you bored with brunettes? Not 👏 anymore 👏 It’s time to rethink the way we approach brunette color services—instead of tossin’ on that slap-and-go color, let’s get creative AF with toning formulas that not only freshen up our dark-haired beauties, but create rich and multi-dimensional balanced browns. Here’s how: TONING!

Products Used


Before we get down with some juicy formulation tips and tricks, here’s what you need to know: PRAVANA’s Express Tones (14 intermixable shades) dropped three new toner shades for brunettes: Dark Neutral Pearl, Dark Mahogany and Dark Neutral Ash. Why? To create rich, lower-level deposit on Level 7 and below. OK, let’s break it down…


PRAVANA Express Tones Toner Hair Color After Dark Collection Hair Swatch Chart


1. Formulating Toners: From Warm To Cool Brunettes

  • Prevent Ash From Turning Green: A common problem with ashy brunettes? If the toner is too cool on darker levels, it can result in green hair. For Level 7s and lower, try Dark Neutral Ash—it leans toward the cooler side, but prevents unwanted green tones and creates a balanced cool brunette.


  • Warmth Without Brass: While a traditional Pearl shade features a pink and silver base, Dark Neutral Pearl has a slightly mauve base that prevents gold. This keeps a level of warmth without going brassy.


Pro Tip: Brassy brunettes? Adding Dark Neutral Ash will kick unwanted brass, but if you want to balance brass (NOT neutralize it completely), add Beige to the formula.


PRAVANA How To Formulate and Apply Toner For Brunette Hair Color Express Tones After Dark
Aspen applies Dark Neutral Pearl for 5 minutes. // Instagram via @itsaspenrae


  • Diversify Rose Gold Formulas: For a deeper, more muted pink on darker hair, add Dark Mahogany to any Rose Gold formula. By adding a brunette toner with a mahogany base, you’re able to deepen a shade that’s originally intended to go above a Level 7 for darker results.



2. Progressive Deposit: Control The Process

What’s the best way to avoid over-toning? After Dark Express Tones Shades have a progressive deposit, so here’s a quick cheat sheet:

  • 5-Minute Process Time = Level 7
  • 10-Minute Process Time = Level 6
  • 15-Minute Process Time = Level 5


Pro Tip: Clients with a LOT of hair? Instead of rinsing as you work, add Express Tones Clear to dilute the toning formula so you have more time to work through the application.


PRAVANA How To Formulate and Apply Toner For Brunette Hair Color Express Tones After Dark
What can happen in 15 minutes? PRAVANA Artistic Educator & Brand Specialist Becky Pawson applies Dark Mahogany to the roots. Then, melts alternating sections with Dark Mahogany, Dark Neutral Pearl and Dark Neutral Ash. // Instagram via @becky_pawson


3. Root Smudge & Tone At The Same Time

For root smudges, shadow roots—whatever you call them!—colorists often reach for a permanent color that takes up to 30 minutes to process. If it doesn’t get the full development time (in speedy applications), you end up having to overcompensate with other pigments. That’s why Lissette uses Express Tones to smudge and tone at the same time, it’s fast and deposits a lot of dark pigment.


PRAVANA How To Formulate and Apply Toner For Brunette Hair Color Express Tones After Dark
Lissette applying the root smudge in Dark Mahogany.


4. Toner Cheat: Add THIS To Beige Formulas!

Are your toners getting TOO dark TOO quickly? We’ve got you. Add Express Tones Clear to any After Dark formula to cut depth and bring in light, so the color doesn’t get dark too quickly. Apply the formula to the base, then quickly comb it through—the tonality will pick up on some of the lightened hair as you pull it through to create a glossy blend.


5. Color Placement: Bright Brunette & Money Piece Technique

The easiest way to ruin a money piece, especially on brunettes, is to over-tone the section with too dark of a formula. Instead, try this money piece placement:


  1. Apply a highlight to frame the face. At the shampoo bowl, 5 minutes before you rinse, apply Express Tones to the base between the foils.
  2. Process, then pull the foils out and rinse everything.
  3. Then, apply then same toning formula and smudge the base.
  4. Apply a lighter toning formula to the money piece area for a burst of brightness.
  5. Rinse everything.



BONUS: Use Level 7 & Lower Toners For Repigmenting Too! 

We know everything about toning brunettes, now what?! Let’s talk filling. Are your blondes looking to play with darker colors? Lissette recommends using Express Tones After Dark as a demi-permanent dark option to avoid complex mixing and drab color uptake.


PRAVANA How To Formulate and Apply Toner For Brunette Hair Color Express Tones After Dark
Lucy mixes Dark Neutral Pearl with Ash to fill the hair. // Instagram via @lucy_vie

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