Do You Need Developer For Hair Dye?

If you buy box dye, you may have noticed that there isn’t just the dye bottle but also another one labeled “developer.” They are packed together because the developer will be mixed with the hair dye to create a mixture for dyeing.

So, do you need developer for hair dye?

For those not familiar with this type of product, this question may puzzle you since the dye’s supposed to give your hair a new color already, right?

So what is the role of the developer here? Read on to find out. 

A developer comes packed with hair dye
A developer comes packed with hair dye

Do You Need Developer For Hair Dye?

Yes, you do, but it depends on the type of hair dye you use.

To know why and when you need a developer for hair dye, you should first understand what product it is.

A developer is also known as an activator.

Basically, it consists of hydrogen peroxide, which opens the hair cuticle so color pigment from hair dye can penetrate into your hair and give it the color you desire. 

At the same time, there are different types of hair dyes: permanent dyes, semi-permanent dyes, and direct-deposit dyes. 

Without developers, permanent hair dyes won’t have any effect on your hair.

Developers help the new color stick to your hair and become permanent. In terms of dyeing hair, developers offer a handful of benefits:

  • Activate hair dye, which occurs when the two products are mixed together.
  • Ensure uniform coverage of color for the hair.
  • Allow for color pigments to slip inside hair cuticles.
  • Help create better color shades and prolong the color effect. 

However, for semi-permanent and direct-deposit dyes, a developer is not necessary.

Rather than penetrating your hair strands, these types of hair dyes only deposit colors on the strand surface, creating a coating on your hair. 

Therefore, they don’t require the hair cuticles to be lifted up, hence no need for a developer.

What does a developer do in the hair dye process?
What does a developer do in the hair dye process?

How Much Developer Should You Use While Coloring?

Based on your desired outcome, the amount of developer used on your hair will vary. 

5 Volume Developer

5 volume developers are activators that create a deposit result. That means the developer of this level slightly shifts your hair’s natural shade without offering a grey coverage. 

You can use 5 volume developers with semi-permanent dyes or on baby hair. 

10 Volume Developer

At this amount, the product won’t make any changes to your hair color. What it does is add a tone or tint to your hair while maintaining the same color level. This volume is also the least damaging. 

You should use a 10 volume developer when you want to open up the hair cuticles to let the color molecules in and achieve a long-term result. 

20 Volume Developer

20 volume developers are the most widely used, offering 1 to 2 levels of lift if paired with permanent hair dyes. If combined with hair bleaches, it can offer 1 to 9 levels of lift.

It works by steadily opening hair cuticles and consuming the pigments. 

This amount of developer is suitable for raising the hair color by one or two levels. If over 50% of your hair is gray, you will need a 20 volume developer to give it 100% gray coverage with hair dye. 

That said, you should not use 20 volume developers for glazes or toner if you want to keep a natural base for your hair. 

30 Volume Developer

Using a 30 volume developer will allow you to lighten your hair color by two or three levels as it lets more color pigment penetrate the hair shaft. 

This method is fine for those whose hair is not seriously damaged and if they are looking for a lighter, more long-lasting color. 

It’s worth noting that you should never apply 30 volume developers under heat. Also, it’s best to test the product before actual use. 

40 Volume Developer

40 volume developers are suitable for open-air processing like balayage. When you want to make your hair lighter but avoid bleach, a 40 volume developer will lift your hair color by four levels.

A 40 volume developer contains 12% peroxide, which can cause damage to your hair and burns to your scalp.

There are also 50 volume developers but this type is the most severe of all and will destroy your hair. You should avoid using this level of developer by all means. 

The higher the volume developer, the stronger the effect
The higher the volume developer, the stronger the effect

How to Choose The Right Developer for Hair Color?

Color Type

Now that you are aware of five different levels of developers, choosing the right one must be based on what type of color you’re looking for.

Specifically, a 20 volume developer or lower is good for temporary colors. You should opt for a developer at 20-30 volumes for permanent color.

And for lightening your hair, stronger developers like 30 or 40 volume will do the job. 

Degree Of Lightening Or Darkening

Generally speaking, each 3% of peroxide in a developer gives you one lightening degree. With that in mind, you can choose the right developer with the right level of lightening or darkening you want.

  • No lift developer and 10 volume developer: This is equivalent to 3% peroxide and will darken your hair by one level. It can only be used for dyeing your hair to a darker shade.
  • 20 volume developer: This is equivalent to 6% peroxide and will lift your hair color by one or two levels. It can be used with permanent dye or temporary color.
  • 30 volume developer: Containing 9% peroxide, this means 3 levels of lightening, which is suitable for dyeing, lightening hair, and coloring gray hair. You can mix it with lightening cream, lightening powder, or permanent color.
  • 40 volume developer: It contains 12% peroxide with up to 8 levels of lightening for your hair. It helps when you want super platinum blonde hair. It can be mixed with a lightening cream or powder. 

Hair Type

Each hair type reacts differently to developers, so one developer will produce varied outcomes on different people. 

Fine hair is very responsive to developers, they get darker and brighter easily. Therefore, you should use a lower volume developer with this type of hair, or the outcome may be too much. 

Normal hair, on the other hand, tends to have the same color reaction as one may see in the product’s instructions. If your hair belongs to the normal type, you can apply the recommended volume. 

Those with thick hair will find it harder to lighten or darken their hair. Gray hair and white hair are also resistant to developers. In such cases, you can consider using a higher volume developer than the recommended volume. 

Hair Quality

The quality of your hair is another factor to consider when choosing hair dye developers because it affects how the product is absorbed. 

Porous hair

This hair quality allows for easy, effective brightening and color absorption. However, the color also fades quickly on this hair quality. 

You should apply a lower volume developer or leave it for a shorter time to lift the hair shade. For darkening, you should apply a higher volume developer.

Healthy hair

Dealing with healthy hair is easier as it poses a normal coloring reaction that you can totally project beforehand. Therefore, you can simply follow the product’s instructions. 

Keep in mind key factors like hair type, quality, and desired color when choosing a developer for hair dye
Keep in mind key factors like hair type, quality, and desired color when choosing a developer for hair dye

How To Mix Hair Color With The Developer?

Let’s take the following steps to mix hair color with the developer:

  • Prepare a plastic bowl. Dry and clean it beforehand. 
  • Put the hair dye with the developer with a ratio following the manufacturer’s instructions. Generally, the ratio of dye to the developer can be 1:1, 1:1.5, or 1:2, depending on the result you want to achieve. 
  • Use a brush and stir to mix the products completely.

On a side note: There are liquid and cream hair developers. You should opt for the cream form as it’s much easier to use and control at home. Liquid developers can drop everywhere and are often harder to apply on your hair. 

Refer to this YouTube video for a visual step-by-step guide:


What happens if I put too much or too little developer on hair dye?

If you mix too much developer with a hair dye, the mix will be wetter and runnier. Also, the result will be more lightening, lack color, and not as long-lasting as you may expect. 

On the other hand, if you mix too little developer, the mix will end up being too dry.

Hence, it will be much harder to apply the mix to your hair while the color won’t be distributed evenly. Eventually, your hair won’t be lifted as much as you want. 

Can I use a conditioner instead of a developer?

No, you can’t, because they work differently.

While a developer lifts the cuticle layer so color pigment can enter hair strands, a conditioner doesn’t. So, you cannot replace a developer with a hair conditioner. 

If you worry about the damages a developer can cause to your hair, you can look for temporary, friendlier solutions like dyes that do not contain ammonia instead. 

How to minimize damage when using a developer?

There are a few tips you can rely on the minimize hair damage when using a developer. 

  • Use low volume developers, 10 or 20 volume are the best. 
  • Don’t leave the product on your hair for too long or it can fry the hair. Always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions. If you want stronger results, you can repeat the process after a few days.

Wrap Up

Hopefully, this post has helped you answer the question “do you need developer for hair dye?” 

It’s crucial that you mix a developer with dye since it allows color pigment to penetrate hair strands, producing the best coloring outcome in the end. A developer also ensures even color distribution on your hair.

With that in mind, choosing the right developer is equally important. You need to pay attention to your hair type, hair quality, the color you want, and the degree of lightening or darkening you aim at.

All in all, the larger the volume developer, the stronger the effect.


Think of Well-Kept Beauty as your personal beauty professional – advising you on whether to switch up your beauty routine, re-up on a must-have product you are running low on, and even pinging you the best deals on the market. Now, let's take your beauty routine to the next level and keep your products doing what they promised!

Recent Posts