Hair Developer FAQ

Frequent Questions About Hair Developer

When looking at hair developer options, there are many and they all have their uses. If you are new at mixing your own dyes or bleaching your hair at home, this may feel overwhelming. But once you are familiar with what hair developer does and how to use it, you can achieve professional results when dyeing and lightening your hair.

Using Hair Dye Without Developer, Is It Possible?

If you are concerned about the health of your hair you may be thinking that using hair dye without developer will be gentler on your hair. However, the only thing you will accomplish is a very bad application of hair dye that will wash out quickly. Permanent hair dye needs developer to open the hair cuticle and deposit pigment on the hair cortex for a permanent effect.

There are dyes designed to be used without hair developer, such as color depositing vegetable dyes and henna, but they are not the same thing as permanent hair dye. But permanent and demi hair dyes require developer and won't really do anything without, as the pigments won't enter the hair cuticle.

So if the instructions say to mix with developer, do not feel tempted to use hair dye without developer because it will be a waste of your time.

So, Do You Need Developer for Hair Dye?

Not all types of hair dye require developer. In fact, you only need developer for hair dye designed to be permanent or semi-permanent. Ammonia-less hair dye doesn’t need developer. Many fantastic hair colors can be accomplished without developer, but they will wash out much quicker than anything that uses peroxide to open the cuticle. Think Manic Panic, Directions or other popular rainbow color brands.

If you want a permanent hair color without developer, try henna. It will not just deposit color on top of the hair, it will actually stain the hair surface and while it may lose intensity over time it will never wash off fully. However, keep in mind that henna is a full commitment, and removing henna from your hair is very difficult and will require significant bleaching.

Hair Developer Options

There are different levels of hair developer, depending on the percentage of peroxide on them. We have written in detail about hair developer options in this article, but in general you will be looking at 10 vol to 30 vol to bleach and dye most types of hair.

But another thing to keep in mind when looking at hair developer options is the consistency.

  • Creme developer is made of deionized water, hydrogen peroxide and other additives such as glycerin (for hydration and conditioning) or pyrophosphate for stronger penetration. They have a creamy consistency and are not runny, and tend to be less harsh on the hair. If your application method of choice is a bowl and a brush, creme developers are usually the best option. They act a bit slower than clear developers, because of the additives.
  • Clear developer is made only of deionized water and hydrogen peroxide, and are a clear liquid. They have no buffers and so they tend to act quicker than creme developers. They are also much less thick and creamy once mixed with dye, which makes them perfect for bottle application but more messy than creme developers.

For DIY hair coloring at home, creme developer is usually more user friendly and less likely to drip everywhere and cause a mess. But some people love clear developers and bottle application more, particularly for full head processing. As long as your choice of hair dye or bleach powder doesn’t specify, you should pick whichever you are more comfortable with.

What Volume Developer for Bleach

Choosing what volume developer for bleach application should be done based on:

  • How many levels you need to lift
  • Health and previous history of the hair
  • How resistant to bleach the hair is (thicker and low porosity hair are usually much more resistant than thin and high porosity)
  • How quick you want the process to be vs how much damage you find acceptable

You can read our indepth guide to which volume bleach developer should I use for all the details, but generally speaking you want to use 30 vol developer for bleaching hair. 40 vol should be reserved for expert application, drastic color changes and hair that is very resilient. Even then, you should be prepared to give your hair extra care in the form of protein treatments and bond builders.

Remember the golden rule of a successful blonde journey: slow and steady will get you there, hard and fast will get you a chemical haircut. Also, if you are using 40vol hair developer for bleach using Olaplex, Smartbond or their equivalent bond protectors from your favourite brand is an authentic life safer.

Does Developer Damage Hair

In general, the process of dying or bleaching your hair damages hair. Unless you are using a 5vol or 10vol developer exclusively to deposit color, the developer will open the hair cuticle and will oxidize the pigments in your hair. So, does developer damage hair? The answer is yes. But if you use it correctly the damage is nothing a good hair mask can’t fix.

High volume developer and bleach, on the other hand, can cause a lot of damage to the hair. Particularly if applied incorrectly, under heat or for a long period. But that’s as much the fault of the bleach as the developer.

How To Use Developer

The general rule of thumb about how to use developer is mixed with either bleach or hair dye using a plastic or ceramic bowl and a plastic brush until the mixture has a creamy consistency and doesn’t drip. But how much developer to use? Always, always use plastic tools and bowls to avoid unwanted chemical reactions.

If you are dying your hair a darker color or a color that is 1-2 tones lighter than your natural virgin hair you should mix developer and dye on a 1:1 ratio.

If you are dying your hair using a high lift hair color, you will need more developer, on a 1:2 ratio (dye:developer). This is the best choice if you want to dye brown hair blonde without bleach, as it's a single process and doesn't require separate toning.

Bleach is slightly different. Most bleach products for hair come as a purple/violet powder, so you will usually mix it 1:2 ratio with developer to achieve a creamy and fairly runny mix. Why do you want a runny mix? Because the key with bleach application is speed.

Bleach starts lightening hair the moment it touches it. So if you are slow in your application, parts of your head will process more than others. This is not a problem if you work from the middle down, because the extra heat from your scalp will reduce the processing time needed and will make the bleach work quicker. But if you do the right side of your head, then go to the left side, and you are slow… you may end up with an unwanted duo-tone effect.

So, runny bleach may be more likely to accidentally stain your t-shirt or towel, but will make it a million times easier to saturate the hair in a timely manner. However, make sure it's not so runny it drips and it's difficult to control, because you want a speedy yet accurate and even application.

What Strength Developer Do I Need?

You will need different strength developers depending on what you want to do, and the type of application. For bleaching, you will usually need developer at 20v or 30v. Scalp application should use 20v, whereas intense lightening on the lengths can go up to 30vol, for example for balayage. A bleach bath for hair would use low volume developer, and shampoo to dilute it further.

With hair dye, the developer strength will vary depending on whether you want to lighten and color hair, or just do a deposit-only application to darken or tone hair.

What Volume Developer Should I Use With Hair Dye

When wondering what volume developer should I use, I always stick to the following rule of thumb:

Level on level coloring? 10 vol developer. Some people like using 5vol on very damaged hair, but I find 10 vol is usually ok.

Lifting 1-2 levels? 20 vol developer

Lifting 2-3 levels? 30 vol developer

Hard to lift/dye hair, many greys and want to lift 3 levels? 40 vol developer on the lengths, 20-30vol on the root regrowth.

If you are just doing the roots, reduce the developer strength by one level because the heat from the scalp will make the developer more effective.

Which Developer Should I Use

There are many brands of hair developer, and if you are wondering which developer should I use you’ll love to know the choice is all yours. Besides the personal preference towards either creme or clear developers making on your application method, everything else is about consumer choice.

Many people choose to stick with one brand, and so they’ll use the developer and dye from the same brand. Personally, what developer to use is not a question I ask myself often because I usually go with whatever I have around. Or buy more at the same time I am buying dye and bleach, and just go for a creme developer with glycerin so it conditions my hair as it works.

Is There A Substitute for Hair Developer

I’m afraid the answer is no. If a dye requires hair developer, then you need to use hair developer and there is nothing you can substitute it for. If you are concerned about the hair developer damage to your hair, choose a color depositing hair dye or even a no-peroxide toner, or use a very light 10vol developer.

Best Developer for Dark Hair

Generally speaking dark hair requires stronger developers to go blonde. This is because you need to lift many levels to get there. Not all dark hair is the same, and some are much more fragile than others. For example, curly afro hair can be incredibly delicate and needs lots of love to go blonde without breaking. Some types of black hair, such as asian hair, are also very resilient to bleaching so require stronger developers.

Choosing the best bleach for dark hair and a developer with conditioning additives can make all the difference between healthy blonde hair and a straw-like blonde mess, so do your research and strand test just in case.

What Is The Best Hair Developer

To be honest, most hair developers are basically the same. It really depends on the additives (if we are talking about creme developers). Too many conditioning ingredients and the developer may become really slow and non-effective. But as long as you buy it from a reputable retailer or beauty supplier and you stick with the recommended volume developer you have plenty to choose from.

Is Developer Bleach?

No, but they work together and many people refer to the developer and bleach mixture as “bleach” which tends to confuse people. The developer is a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water, with additives. The bleach powder is a combination of persulfate salts and other additives that is inert until mixed with developer. At that point the chemical reaction happens that lightens the hair:

  • The peroxide swells and opens the cuticle
  • The bleach oxides/lifts the pigments in the hair that give hair color. Starting with the darker brown ones, then the redder ones, then up to the yellow ones

To make things a bit more confusing, there are also high-lift hair dyes or lighteners, that aren’t bleach but lift the hair color by up to 3 levels. Those also require peroxide, and only lift natural/virgin hair color. They lighten at the same as they color so you will end up with an actual blonde color after application instead of a pale yellow that needs to be toned afterwards.

Those are the most frequent questions about hair developer from our readers, but feel free to comment if you still have questions and we’ll try to answer!

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