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How to Lighten Hair With Developer in 6 Simple Steps

Applying a lightener or developer to your hair is a crucial part of the dyeing process since it lightens your hair’s natural color and allows pigments to enter the hair shaft. You can also use just developer to achieve a lighter hair color.

Lightening hair with just a developer is a gentle alternative to bleaching your hair, but it’s important to use the right technique to get the result you were looking for.

What Is A Developer?

hair developer

The main ingredient in hair developer is hydrogen peroxide. You’ll find other ingredients added to obtain a creamy formula and make the product easy to apply.

When lightening hair with just developer, peroxide lifts the outer cuticle and gets inside the hair shaft where it interacts with the cells that generate hair pigment. The hydrogen peroxide strips these cells of their pigment and results in lighter hair color.

Professional hair stylists typically use developer along with hair bleach since the peroxide can lift the hair cuticles and allows the bleach to strip the hair shaft of its pigment.

You can then apply permanent hair dye. Thanks to the hydrogen peroxide lifting the cuticle layers, the permanent hair dye can bind with the hair shaft and result in long-lasting hair color.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Using a Developer to Lighten Your Hair?

Is lightening your hair with a developer a good option? Find out more about the pros and cons.

Pros of Using Developer

  • Developers are inexpensive.
  • It’s easy to apply developer at home by yourself with a few simple supplies.
  • You can lighten hair by one to three shades with just a developer.
  • Applying just developer is gentler on your hair compared to bleach.
  • You can create fun and original hairstyles with highlights or ombre effects with some experience.

Cons of Using Developer

  • Results can be difficult to predict if you’ve never used a developer before.
  • You can end up with brassy or orange tones.
  • It doesn’t lighten as effectively as bleach powder.
  • It can leave your hair dry and brittle.

Can You Lighten Your Hair Using Only a Developer?

lightening hair using only developer

The result won’t be as dramatic as if you were using bleach and developer, but you can get your hair to turn a few shades lighter if you use just developer.

Lightening hair with just a developer is gentler than using bleach, and it’s ideal if you have dry or brittle hair from previous dyeing experiments.

However, the results can be difficult to predict, and you can end up with brassy tones. If you want to lighten hair with the developer, it’s best to apply a toner afterward so you can correct your hair color with another gentle product.

Even though a developer is gentler than bleach, it can still cause damage to your hair. It’s best to use developer occasionally and wait for at least three to four weeks before you apply peroxide again.

What Is the Best Developer Volume to Lighten Hair?

volume developers

Developer volume indicates how much hydrogen peroxide the product contains. The higher the volume, the more peroxide the developer contains. A higher volume developer means the concentration is also higher,and it lightens hair more effectively.

The best volume depends on your initial hair color and on the results you want:

  • 10 volume developer has a peroxide concentration of only 3%. The color lifting ability isn’t strong enough to significantly lighten hair, but it’s a great way to prep your hair before applying a dye in the same shade as your natural hair color.
  • 20 volume developer contains 6% of peroxide. It’s strong enough to lift your cuticles, and it’s ideal for lightening hair by one shade. It works best on white, gray, or blond hair.
  • 30 volume developer is stronger with 9% hydrogen peroxide. It can lighten your hair by two or even three shades. It works well on a wide range of natural hair colors.
  • 40 volume developer has an even higher concentration of hydrogen peroxide at 12%. It can be harsh on your hair, but it’s a great option if you have dark hair or want to lighten your hair to get a platinum-blond look.

Note that a lower concentration is best if you have thin or damaged hair. While a 40 volume developer can result in lighter hair, it can cause more damage and isn’t a good option if you’re new to lightening your hair at home.

Materials Needed to Lighten Hair With Developer

You can lighten your hair with a developer at home with a few simple supplies that you probably already have. Here’s what you’ll need if you want to lighten your hair with just developer:

  • Hair developer
  • Applicator brush
  • Bowl
  • Hair clips
  • Shower cap
  • Optional: Hair foils

How to Lighten Hair With Developer

Applying developer is a quick and easy way to change your hair color at home, but it’s crucial to use the right technique to avoid damaging your hair.

Step 1: Section Hair With Hair Clips

steps to lighten hair with developer - sectioning hair

Before you start applying the developer, use clips to section your hair. A developer lightens hair better if you work on slightly damp and unwashed hair.

If possible, take a break from your usual hair care routine for a couple of days before lightening your hair. Products like shampoos, conditioners, hair masks, and styling products can leave residues or form protective barriers that can make it difficult for the hydrogen peroxide to reach the hair cuticles.

Sectioning your hair will help you apply the developer evenly. The easiest way to section your hair is to separate it into four quadrants and use large hair clips to keep the hair in place. You can then work on smaller sections within each quadrant.

You can also use foils to wrap your hair. This technique is ideal if you want to apply developer to some sections in your hair and leave other strands untouched. You can use this technique to create highlights or add some ombre effects to your hair with just a developer.

Step 2: Add Developer Into a Bowl

Pour your hair developer into a small silicone bowl and mix it thoroughly. You should have a creamy texture.

If you’re applying hair color, you can mix in the dye with the developer at this stage. The mixing ratio should be somewhere between 1:1 and 1:2, depending on how strong you want the color to be.

There is no need to add any other ingredients if you want to use just developer. If you have long hair, you can pour the entire bottle into the bowl. Start with half the bottle if you have short or medium hair, and add more developer to the bowl as needed.

Step 3: Use a Dye Brush to Apply Developer Evenly

steps to lighten hair with developer - apply developer

Using a dye brush is the best way to apply developer and get even results. Work on small sections and apply the developer to your ends first. Hydrogen peroxide will work faster on your roots due to the heat from your scalp.

However, you can apply the developer on your roots first if you want to lighten dark regrowth.

Take the time to brush the developer through your hair and work your way from the back to the front to make sure you don’t miss any hair strands.

Step 4: Let the Developer Sit for 20 Minutes

It’s time to put your shower cap on and let the developer work. The shower cap will speed up the lightening process by concentrating your body heat.

Take the cap off after 20 minutes. You can safely wait until 30 minutes, but it’s best to limit your exposure to peroxide if it’s your first time using a developer. You can adjust the developing time once you have a better idea of how quickly a developer works on your hair.

 Step 5: Rinse Hair With Shampoo & Conditioner

steps to lighten hair with developer - rinse with shampoo and conditioner

The next step is to remove the developer from your hair. Rinse with warm water and lather with some shampoo. Don’t hesitate to wash your hair twice to remove any residues since the peroxide will keep working and can damage your hair.

Apply a hydrating or leave-in conditioner to repair any damage caused by the developer. While a developer is gentler than bleaching agents, using a developer to lift your cuticles leads to oxidation and can leave your hair feeling dry and brittle.

You can find conditioners with formulas that help close your cuticles and repair the damage caused by a developer or bleach. A leave-in conditioner or hydrating hair mask is an excellent option for repairing your hair.

You can also apply a toning shampoo during this stage of the lightening process. Toning shampoos contain pigments that cancel out unwanted tones.

After lightening your hair with hydrogen peroxide, you might end up with orange or brassy tones. You can cancel these tones out with some blue or purple toning shampoo.

If it’s your first time using just developer, wait until you see the results before deciding if you want to use toning shampoo.

Step 6: Dry to Reveal the Final Results

Remember that using a developer can weaken your hair. Avoid exposure to heat, and wrap your hair in a microfiber towel or soft cotton tee instead. Pat your hair gently to remove moisture, and wait for it to air dry.

Your hair will look slightly darker while damp, and you’ll see the final color once your hair completely dries.

If the results are too dark, you can apply more developer after giving your hair a few weeks to heal. If you used 10 or 20 volume developer, you can lighten your hair again after two weeks. Wait up to four weeks if you used a 30 volume developer.

Does Developer Cause Damage to Hair?

A developer works by lifting your hair cuticles. The cuticle is a layer of dead cells that form a protective barrier around the cortex or living part of the hair. Besides protecting the cortex, the cuticle gives your hair its shine.

Because these cells are dead, they can’t repair themselves. After lifting the cuticle cells with a developer, you’ll have to smooth them back down to restore this protective barrier.

You can typically smooth the cuticle cells back down with a hydrating conditioner or hair mask. A mix of leave-in conditioner, cream, and oil can repair your hair after using a developer.

However, it’s possible to damage the cuticles beyond repair. If you use a developer volume too strong for your hair type, you might not be able to smooth these cells back down. You can also cause damage if you leave your developer in for too long or use lightening products too often.

If you damage your cuticles beyond repair, your best option is to trim your hair to allow for healthy growth.

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What Can You Combine With Developer to Lighten Hair?

What Can You Combine With Developer to Lighten Hair

Now that you know how to lighten your hair with developer, you don’t have to limit yourself to using just developer to lighten your hair.

Combining Developer With Bleach

Bleach remains one of the most effective ingredients for lightening your hair. While hydrogen peroxide has a limited effect on stripping your hair of its natural pigment, bleach has much stronger oxidating properties, and the developer lightens hair better when you add bleach powder.

When you bleach hair, the bleach targets melanin cells and causes them to dissolve. It can also remove permanent hair dye from your hair.

You’ll get better results if you mix one part bleach powder to two parts developer. Using developer and bleach together means the peroxide will lift the cuticles and allow the bleach to target the hair cortex.

Combining Developer With Baking Soda

Baking soda alone won’t lighten hair, but it can help you get better results when you mix baking soda with your developer.

The abrasive properties of baking soda mean this ingredient will scrub your hair. It can remove buildups and allow the developer to work better. It can also strip hair of temporary hair dye.

Baking soda can make your hair texture more porous and allow the peroxide to penetrate the cuticle cells easily.

Combining Developer With Shampoo

Mixing developer with shampoo can make the product easier to apply. The shampoo can also help remove oils from your hair and allow the developer to reach the cuticles more easily.

However, shampoo can also make developer less effective since most haircare products contain thickening and hydrating ingredients that will saturate your hair and limit exposure to hydrogen peroxide.

If you want to use developer and shampoo together, choose a shampoo with sulfates and avoid hydrating shampoos.

Shampoo can also be a good way to dilute your developer. If you have some 30 volume developer and feel it might be too strong, add a few dollops of shampoo to reduce the concentration of your hair lightening mixture.

What Other Effects Can a Developer Achieve?

You can lighten your hair with developer, but it can also remove hair dye. Plus, it can add volume to your hair since opening the cuticles will make your hair feel thicker.

Final Thoughts

Lightening your hair with developer is a great way to change your appearance without using harsh products like bleach. Developer is easy to use, and you can typically get good results at home.

However, it’s important to follow instructions carefully and avoid leaving the developer in for longer than 20 to 30 minutes to avoid damaging your hair.

Now that you know the process get some 10, 20, or 30 volume developer so you can do a test and see by how many shades you can lighten your hair with this simple solution!