Despite growing up in the '90s before the internet was a mainstay in every household, I can barely remember a time when "google it" wasn't the standard response to a question that you don't have an immediately definitive answer to. So I definitely wasn't surprised to learn that there were at least 3.3 million beauty-related questions googled in the last 12 months, according to a study by Fragrance Direct.
Broken down by country, the results make for interesting reading. In Germany, the citizens are clearly keen to weigh up the risks of a major hair transformation before taking the plunge with "What hair colour is best for me?" coming out as the most-searched beauty question. While in Norway, they're all about multitasking beauty tools, with "How to curl hair with straighteners" at the top of their list of beauty questions. (FYI, we have the answer to that here.)
Interestingly, it was hair-related questions that were being asked way more than things like skincare and makeup. In fact, questions relating to hair generated over 482,000 Google searches in the last 12 months alone. But what was it that us Brits wanted to know?
Well, it seems as if UK residents have already taken the plunge with hair colour and now want to know how to look after it best, with the most-googled beauty question in the UK this year being "What is hair toner?" Honestly, as someone who has never experimented with hair colour, I wasn't too sure either. So on behalf of all my dyed-hair ladies, I called on the help of some experts to get this answered once and for all.
"A toner is something that can either remove yellow or orange tones or can be used if you want to take the hair down a shade or to add more depth," explained Francesca Dixon, creative colourist at Hari's Salon. And contradictory to what I previously thought, toners aren't just for blondes—they work for brunettes and redheads too.
"Toners are also great if you have just got back from exposing hair to the sun," said Dixon. "The sun can lift coloured hair and cause it to go brassy or fade. A toner can fill this back into the hair shaft as well as add shine." (Basically, if you want to brighten your overall hair colour or remove unwanted hues from your strands, you need a hair toner.)
"Toners are usually used straight after using a form of a bleaching technique," said Dixon. "When lifting hair, you expose undertones of red, orange and yellow. Depending on the base and the desired result, a toner can be applied to damp hair to neutralise any unwanted hues or even mute colours."
"Toning isn't a quick fix to be performed at home; done correctly, it's actually a pretty technical professional service," said Adam Reed, L'Oréal Professionnel UK editorial ambassador. "Consumers are becoming more sophisticated in what they're asking for and really wanting to feel like they own their colour, but toning and what this means is still a bit of a mystery to most."
Having said that, there are some great new innovative toners on the market that make it possible to refresh your colour at home, but be careful not to overuse them. "Too many toners can cause buildup," advised Dixon. "If you have a buildup, gently cleanse the hair so you have a fresh clean palette; then reapply toner. You should only use a toner when necessary—like when the hair has been lightened from sun exposure or has faded, unwanted hues."
"The conversation around toning is a big one for this season," said Reed. "Blondes are the largest group of colour clients we see in salons at 54%, and blondes and consumers are talking more about tonal blondes—with toning becoming a bigger consumer conversation throughout the industry. Professionals are celebrating the diversity within the blonde palette and the possibility of diversifying blonde with toners. [Stylists are] taking inspiration from mother of pearl to include a nod to the pinks and blues within the colour palette."
If you're heading into salon for your hair toner, Dixon has some suggestions: "My favourites are the L'Oréal Dia Light, as the toner only treats the coloured hair. It deposits tone and doesn't lift the cuticle. I always recommend using Smartbond to help with shine and hold the toner for longer."
The effects can last anywhere from two to six weeks, so if you want to keep up the results of using a hair toner at home, it's best to use shampoos, conditioners and hair masks that are formulated with a toner to help maintain your hair colour.