Hair Developer 101
An important part of coloring your hair yourself is figuring out what volume developer you should use. Developer, also known as activator or even peroxide for short, is mixed with bleach or dye to lighten or color hair. It’s a creamy product that contains hydrogen peroxide, and the amount of hydrogen peroxide is what determines developer volume.
When you buy box dye, there is usually two bottles one of them being hair dye and the other developer. Alternatively, you can buy hair dye (or bleach) and developer separately, and choose what volume developer you should use based on your hair condition, hair history and desired result. Guess which option will give you the best results when dying or bleaching your hair?
What Does Hair Developer Do?
In order to figure out what volume developer to use you need to first understand what hair developer does. Developers are called activators, and without them hair dye would have absolutely no effect. Developer helps the color penetrate the hair shaft and become permanent. Hydrogen peroxide developer lifts the cuticle layer of the hair and depending on the strength of the activator the cuticle will lift more or less.
Hair developer levels refer to their oxidizing potential, or how much hydrogen peroxide they have. Most bleach and hair color formulas use developer at either 10, 20, 30 or in some cases 40.
Depending on the strength of the developer it can also lift the hair color level a bit. This is why even after removing permanent hair color using color removal products the hair underneath will be lighter than your original virgin hair color.
What Volume Developer Should I Use
The volume developer that you should use depends on the results you want to achieve.
With hair dye low volume developer is enough to lift the hair cuticle just enough for pigment to slip inside, but when bleaching your hair, you’ll need a higher volume developer. This is because you need to open the cuticle enough to allow for the natural color pigment to be removed from your hair.
Hair developer damages hair, as it opens the cuticle. So always use as low volume a developer as you can get away with provided it gives you the desired results.
Use 10 Volume Developer
If you are applying permanent, no-lift hair color. It won’t lift your base hair color significantly, so you should use it when you want to add a tone or tint to the hair, but keeping it at the same color level. Many toners work with 10 volume developer as it’s the least damaging to the hair and all you want is to deposit a tone to cancel unwanted color in your hair. 10 volume developer is only used to open the hair cuticle layer so the color molecules can deposit in the cortex for long term results.
Use 20 Volume Developer
When you want to achieve a lift of one or two levels of hair color or if you have more than 50% grey hair you will need to use 20 volume developer for 100% gray coverage with permanent hair dye. Less than that and you may be able to get away with 10 volume developer, and your grey hair will look like highlights.
You can use 20 volume developer with bleach to lighten hair that is naturally blonde in a gentler fashion.
Use 30 Volume Developer
30 volume developer allows you to lighten the hair while coloring by two or three levels, and allows more pigment to embed into the hair shaft. If your hair is not very damaged and you want a lighter and more long-lasting color, 30 volume developer can be a great option. If your hair is low porosity hair you may find that 30 volume developer works better as your hair is naturally more resistant to color.
30 volume developer can be used with bleach to lighten light to medium brown hair.
Use 40 Volume Developer
When you are looking to create highlights without bleach using high-lift hair color. This is because it will lift your hair up to four shades. If you are bleaching dark brown or black hair you may also need to use 40 volume developer, but keep in mind that this will be the most damaging for hair. It has 12% peroxide, and that can cause burns on sensitive scalps.
If you are bleaching your hair at home it is much better and safer to do several rounds of bleaching with 30 or even 20 volume developer, and use loads of conditioning treatments and protein builders in between.
A Word About 50 Volume Developer
50 volume developer and higher will burn your hair, destroy your hair and generally cause a huge mess. If you really need to lift your hair a lot, use Olaplex or a similar bond builder and possibly several bleaching sessions. Slow and steady wins the race, you don’t want to have a chemically burnt haircut. Always keep the condition of your hair, and your scalp, at the top of your mind.
Using Hair Dye Without Developer
You can use hair dye without developer in some cases, but the results won’t be as permanent as with permanent hair dye. Not all dyes are designed to be used with developer!