What Does Hair Developer Do By Itself? Does It Lighten Hair?

What does hair developer do by itself? Does it serve any purpose when standing alone, or is it just a supplementary component for your dye and bleach? We’ll find out soon!

Hair developer goes hand in hand with dye and bleach; you can just go ahead to color or lighten your hair without it. The important role of this product in the coloring process can’t be denied, and sometimes we’re using it with our instinct and habit instead of as a conscious act. 

But what exactly is a hair developer? What role does it play in the coloring world? And most importantly, your burning question when you arrive here, what does hair developer do by itself? Here’s the fact you need to know about the magic behind any gorgeous colored hair! 

Hairstylists can provide you with high-quality products.  
What Does Developer Do to Your Hair Alone

What Is A Hair Developer? 

A hair developer, also referred to as an oxidizing agent or color activator, is a key ingredient in any hair coloring process. 

Hair developers are a key player in any coloring or bleaching process. Without it, the dye or bleach would not fully bring out the intended results. 

Hair developer comes in different concentrations of hydrogen peroxide, which are expressed in units of volume (Vol.) or percentage (%). 

The most commonly used developers are 20, 30, and 40 volumes that respectively contain 6%, 9%, and 12% of peroxide. The higher the peroxide concentration, the more the developer can lighten the hair.

Shampoos Hub
Shampoos Hub

Here are the main applications of hair developers:

Developer + Bleach

The mixture of bleach and developer help remove the natural or artificial pigments or lift the hair color up to 5 shades. 

In this case, the developer is in charge of activating a strong chemical reaction in hair. To be specific, it opens the cuticles to allow the bleaching chemicals to enter the hair fiber and eliminate all the pigments inside.  

High-volume developers are preferred for bleaching as the hair cuticles should be opened up enough so the natural pigments can be expelled. 

For example, a 20-volume developer is a popular choice for gently bleaching natural blonde tresses. For darker hair such as light-to-medium brown hair, a 30-volume developer is more commonly used for any noticeable change. 

Move higher on the scale and there’s higher risk of damage to your hair and scalp. 

A 40-volume developer can offer you up to a 4-level hair color lift. The trade off is that there is a greater possibility of the chemical burning your sensitive scalp, since the concentration of peroxide in this developer is up to 12%. 

Therefore, our advice is to only rely on 20 to 30 volume developers to lighten your hair. While bleaching with a 40-volume developer is still possible, we recommend performing many rounds of lightening with a 30 or 20 volume developer instead to minimize hair damage. 

Keep in mind that protein replenishment and intensive, deep conditioning treatment are vital to your hair’s health between these rounds. 

Developer + Hair Dye

In the same vein, the hydroperoxide in the developer initiates the color-forming process by opening up the cuticle so the color pigments in dye can penetrate the hair fiber and hang on. 

With this application, the choice of developer’s volume depends on the color of virgin hair as well as layers of hair cuticles you want to lift. 

For example, low-volume developers (10-20 volume) are used when you only need to lift 1-2 shades. Higher volumes are formulated for more lifting strength: 30 volume developers for 2-3 shades and 40 volume developers for 3 and more shades. 

What Does Hair Developer Do By Itself?

A hair developer, when used alone, can lighten the hair to some extent, depending on its strength. It can manage to open up the hair cuticles to let some of the hair melanin (which is a natural pigment responsible for the color of your hair) come out.

The process of opening the hair cuticle only happens lightly since developers are not formulated to function by themselves. Therefore, the product only slightly lifts the hair. 

It is no surprise to use a color removing product on your dyed hair to remove permanent pigments. You’ll notice that the hair will be lighter than the virgin color. 

When used alone to lighten hair, the results will not always be on the optimistic side, however. 

  • The hair color has not lifted enough or to the desired level. In this situation, you may want to proceed with one or more lightening sessions, which translates to more harsh chemicals applied on hair.
  • The hue does not turn out the way you planned. It might look muddy, brassy, or shockingly unnatural.
  • You might deal with skin irritation or even allergic reactions with one or some ingredients due to direct application. Harsh chemicals can eventually make it to the sensitive scalp and upset it. 

At the end of the lightening job, you may find yourself re-coloring the hair to achieve the right color. 

As mentioned, the likelihood of the developer not lifting hair enough might entail multiple applications, which causes unnecessary damage to hair. Thus, lightening hair with a developer alone is not strongly recommended.

Advantages And Disadvantages Of Lightening Hair With Just A Developer?

Developer in itself has a slight lightening strength on hair, and there are some positives and negatives when used alone for this purpose:


Less Harsh To Your Hair

The developer itself, or hydrogen peroxide, to be exact, is slightly damaging to your hair strands. 

That said, you should be mindful of the volume you use on hair. Lifting hair color with a developer alone is less harmful only if it’s low-volume, or has a small concentration of hydroperoxide. Going beyond 30-volume still puts your hair at great risk of damage. 

However, using the developer alone won’t cause as much damage as combining it with a bleach powder. Regular hair lightening calls for alkaline and hydroperoxide. 

How do you know it’s time to stop coloring your hair? 
Using hair developer alone is less damaging to your hair

The bleaching process starts with the alkaline agent in bleach powder opening up the cuticles. 

This is followed by the oxidative agent, or hydroperoxide in the developer, entering the innermost part of the hair – the hair cortex – and interfering with the melanin inside, which is responsible for the natural hair color.  

This combination leaves your hair more porous and can lead to breakage, frizz, and split ends. When they make it to the hair shaft, the bleaching chemicals also break apart the natural fat building blocks – fatty acids – and further weaken the hair strands.

An Affordable Way To Lighten Your Hair

Lightening your hair using developer only (or adding some everyday shampoo, if you wish) will be cheaper. Hair developers are widely available and often cost under $10. 

Therefore, if you want a gradual but gentle way to lighten your hair that just sets you back a small fortune, this is a more sensible choice than traditional bleaching methods or salon bleaching.

Lift Hair From 1 to 2 Levels

This is a great and safe choice for anyone looking for a subtle color change instead of dramatic, appalling transformation. The developer still can guarantee a visible lift of 1-2 levels than the original hue. 

Nevertheless, this means it is impossible if you want to go from dark to blonde; the developer just does not have enough lightening effects for the job. 

If you’re looking for a significant change, you’d better go with a mixture of bleach and developer. 


Might Cause Hair Brassiness

When the developer does the lifting task, it might not remove all the underlying pigments and, thus, unravel the warm tones. 

It all comes down to the effectiveness of the developer itself. Using the product alone is not as efficient as the combination of bleach and developer in getting rid of all the underlying pigments in the tresses. 

If you have blonde hair lightened by a developer, you might unexpectedly welcome the brassy yellow tones when the lightening process is over. The remedy for this situation is washing your hair with a purple shampoo to correct your hair color. 

The same calamity can strike brown and black hair. The developer might fail to remove the orange or red underlying pigments in these hair colors. 

This gives these warm undertones the chance to show themselves after you’re done. You can treat your brunette hair with blue-tinted hair products – the most commonly used is blue shampoo – to neutralize the undesirable warmth.  

Risk Of Severe Hair Damage

Hair lightening is a serious chemical process. Therefore, if you don’t have a full understanding about the chemical mechanism behind it, you might cause irreversible damage to your hair and scalp.  

You might encounter numerous hair issues, from roughness, frizz, increased porosity, dryness, and breakage if you do not use the developer correctly. 

The worst nightmare that ever comes true to the most ill-informed or -advised DIYers are severe chemical burns on skin and scalp. So, you should know what you’re heading into!

There are a few things you can do to prevent any mentioned mishap, though. 

Get off on the right foot by choosing the right concentration of developer and NEVER leave the product in your hair any second longer than the recommended exposure time. 

The Change Is Permanent

Like bleach powder, hydrogen peroxide in a hair developer will bring about a permanent color change to your hair by altering the melanin pigments in the inner hair shafts. This means that you’re left with this final color unless you decide to trim, bleach, or color it. 

Remember to weigh in the possibility of the final hue not coming out the way you want it to. In such a case, this permanency turns out to be a significant drawback. 

How To Lighten Hair With Developer Alone?

Essential Items

  • Creme developer (20 or 30 volume)
  • Bowl
  • Dye brush
  • Hair clips 
  • Shower cap
  • Gloves

Step-By-Step Instructions

Step 1: Choose The Right Developer

Select the right concentration of the developer so you can achieve the best possible results with minimal damages to hair. 

  • A 10 volume developer is the weakest developer because it contains only 3% hydroperoxide. This concentration is only recommended to be used in combination with bleach to achieve a light lifting strength, and in our opinion, is not strong enough to lift the hair on its own with just a single session. 
  • A 20 volume developer has a moderate amount of hydroperoxide (6%) to be able to lift your hair from 1-2 levels. This is one of the most popular developers since it causes no significant damages to hair. 
  • A 30 volume developer has 9% hydroperoxide and is commonly used to change hair 2-3 levels. Despite higher concentration of peroxide, this volume is still forgiving to your hair strands.  
  • A 40 or 50 volume developer is too powerful and usually not recommended for non-professional use. These developers can bring out the most dramatic changes to your hair color at the expense of severe damages to your hair and scalp. 

For these reasons, it is recommended to use a 20 or 30 volume developer to lighten your hair at home if you want to avoid unwanted hair weakening, breakage, and even hair loss. 

Step 2: Add The Developer Into The Bowl

Add the developer and moisturizing shampoo at the 1-1 ratio. You can start with 250ml for each and adjust your hair length and thickness accordingly. Give the mixture a good stir.  

Step 3: Wear Gloves

Put on your gloves. Wear a barber’s cap if you have one, or choose old clothes that you don’t mind getting stained by the developer in the least. Cover the surrounding floor, tables, or anything surface that you think the developer can reach. 

Step 4: Start Applying

The developer works best on damp hair, so wet and towel dry your hair until it is slightly damp. 

Section your hair into 4 small, manageable parts and keep them in place with hair ties. This way, you can easily achieve even coverage later. 

Work in small hair sections bit by bit, and be careful so that the developer can cover your hair as evenly as possible. 

Begin with the ends of your hair and walk your way up. Save the roots for last. Always ensure your hair needs to be saturated with hydroperoxide when you proceed.

Step 5: Let It Sit

When done, place a shower cap over your hair to lock in moisture and body heat because the developer works better when interacting with these elements. 

Wait for 10-30 minutes for the mixture to work. The optimal time you should leave the developer in is in the first 10-20 minutes. 

When the 20 minutes hits, you may want to check the progress to know if you get the desired shade. If not, allow for another 10 minutes at max. 

You should never let the developer sit on your hair for more than 30 minutes. Going beyond this threshold, the developer might lose its effectiveness and your scalp is more prone to irritation than ever. 

Step 6: Rinse Your Hair

When the time is up, or the hair turns into that color you want, rinse your hair well with warm water! 

Step 7: Follow Up With Shampooing And Conditioning

Wash your hair with shampoo as usual. Make sure you don’t skip the conditioning step, too.

While using a regular conditioner would be fine , it’s best to give your weak hair a deep condition treatment to replenish moisture that was stripped off by the developer. 

Step 8: Dry Your Hair

Air dry your hair to allow it to reveal the final color. You should have lifted your hair from 1 to 2 shades compared with the original hue, depending on how strong the developer is and the exposure time.

Note: If you feel like the hair is not lifted enough, you can repeat this treatment around 3 or 4 weeks later. In the meantime, keep your hair well-moisturized following the below tips. 

Hair Care Tips After Lightening Your Hair With Developer 

Provide Moisture And Protein For Your Hair

Your damaged hair is in desperate need of moisture and protein after lightening. Therefore, it is essential to meet your hair’s needs by using a deep leave-in conditioner or a deep condition treatment once a week. 

Natural moisturizing agents such as shea butter, avocado oil, argan oil, and coconut oil, to name but a few, are also your hair’s best friend. 

oil treatment for hair
oil treatment for hair

Although lightening with a developer is not as harsh as bleaching, the process can still break down the hair’s keratin structure. If you notice your hair getting extremely brittle, a dose of proteins from hydrolyzed quinoa or eggs can be the remedy.

Vitamins and minerals are also beneficial for the recovery process of your hair, so be on the lookout for these ingredients in any product you want to use. 

Use Sulfate-Free Shampoo And Conditioner

Sulfates strip away the much-needed moisture from the hair, leaving it drier and more damaged. Therefore, it is a good move to include sulfate-free, color-safe shampoo and conditioner into your washing routine. 

For heavily damaged hair, you are better off with products containing less synthetic ingredients, more natural-derived elements, and moisturizing agents. 

Skip Hot Tools While Styling

Heat styling can further add to the dryness, and even breakage, so it pays to wait for your hair to heal before touching any hot tools again. 

If there is an important occasion where heat styling is a must, you can apply a heat protection spray onto your hair beforehand to minimize damage. In addition, only use the tool at a low-setting to keep heat exposure to your hair to a minimum.

Can You Lighten Hair By Using A Developer And Baking Soda? 

Yes, you can. Mixing baking soda and developer is a popular lightening method that you can come across on many online sites. 

A strong developer can lighten hair by itself. Nevertheless, it will do a better job if used with an alkaline. Technically speaking, baking soda is an alkaline substance, and, therefore, it can be mixed with peroxide to boost its lightening effects. 

You can lift from 1-to 2 shades using this mixture. Yet, it is worth noting that baking soda is quite abrasive and can cause dryness, frizz, and even breakage. So, if you take this route, it’s best to give your hair a deep conditioning treatment to replenish moisture. 

you can lighten your hair with the mixture of developer and baking soda
you can lighten your hair with the mixture of developer and baking soda

Here’s how to use baking soda and developer for hair lightening:

  • First, mix 1 ½ tablespoon of developer and 2 tablespoons of baking soda into a paste. 
  • Divide your hair into small sections for even application. Use a brush to apply the paste so it can spread more evenly. 
  • As soon as the hair is covered with the paste, wrap your head with a shower cap to prevent the mixture from dripping to your face and clothes. The cap also helps to speed up the lightening process as it allows the paste to work with the heat released from your scalp. 
  • Depending on the level of darkness of your hair, let the solution settle on your hair from 30 to 60 minutes to achieve the desired shade. 
  • For the best result, leave the paste in for at least 30 minutes before doing the first visual check. Wipe off a tiny bit of the product and examine your hair color. If you have yet to achieve the desirable hue, add more paste and let it sit for another 30 minutes. 
  • Finally, rinse your hair thoroughly with cold water.

The Bottom Line

What does hair developer do by itself? Hair developer can be used to lift hair color to 1-2 shades when you choose the right volume. However, if you want to go beyond this for a more serious lifting job, you need to turn to a mix of bleach and developer. 

We hope now you know the role of a developer when combined with other products or used alone. If you attempt to lighten your hair with a developer at home, double-check our stepwise guide and post-lightening care tips.

Edna Feber

I’m Edna. I'm here to guide you about hair products and maintenance tips. You'll fine here product reviews regarding hair tools, hair color, hair care and more along with tips to keep your hair healthy!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Recent Posts