Can I use conditioner instead of developer

By: | Last Updated: April 28, 2022

You probably encountered hair developers if you’ve dyed, bleached, or toned your hair before. 

What exactly does a hair developer do? 

Hair developers contain hydrogen peroxide, an alkaline agent that deposits or lifts hair color. 

Mixing it with bleach or hair color allows it to activate. And once activated, it opens and penetrates the hair cuticle, resulting in color infiltration. 

Hair developers also come in different levels since their oxidizing potential differs. Most developers come in volumes of 10, 20, 30, and 40. 

The 10-volume developer is ideal when adding a color tone to your tresses of the same lightness level.  

The 20-volume developer, on the other hand, provides 1-2 levels of hair lifting. In contrast, the 30-volume developer lightens your original hair color by 2-3 levels. The 30-volume developer produces a desirable outcome when the color is two levels lighter than your original hair color. 

The 40-volume developer lifts hair color to 4 shades. So it’s suitable if you plan on going blonde. 

But let’s say you ran out of hair developers? Can you use a conditioner instead?

Well, this article is here to answer that! 

Read along to find out whether you can replace developers with conditioners and what are the other alternatives, if any. 

Can I use conditioner instead of developer for toner?

Can I use conditioner instead of developer for toner

Toner corrects hair shade. And to do this, it needs a developer. 

Developers allow toners to chemically bond with the hair so that the coloring pigment can penetrate and stick to the hair fiber. 

Without it, toners are entirely useless. 

But can you use a conditioner instead of a developer for toner? 

Nope, never! 

Using conditioner instead of toner will wreak havoc on the coloring process. 

You won’t achieve your desired hair shade since the color pigments won’t attach to the hair fibers. 

Conditioners thin out the toner too! 

So it’s a big no-no. 

Can I use conditioner instead of developer for bleach?

Bleaching strips off the hair’s original color by lifting hair pigments away from the hair shaft. This process is done using a developer and bleaching powder.

A developer allows color penetration by opening up the cuticle. Without it, the melanin pigments in the hair won’t disintegrate, and your tresses won’t lighten. 

And like toning, you should not use conditioners in place of developers for hair bleaching. 

Conditioners seal the hair cuticle instead of opening it. As a result, the hair pigment isn’t lifted, and your natural hair color remains. 

Can I mix permanent hair dye with conditioner instead of a developer?


Conditioner interferes with the developer used in permanent dyes and causes uneven color application. 

However, mixing conditioners with fantasy colors or semi-permanent dyes is safe.

The question now is, what happens if you mix hair dye with conditioner?

Conditioner dilutes the hair dye and lessens the color intensity. It softens the colors and allows better shade blending. As a result, the color appears more muted and lighter. 

However, this technique only works well with darker dye colors. 

So be careful when using it for lighter colors as it may cause the overall color to fade. 

Aside from lightening, conditioners also nourish the tresses and provide a smoother texture. 

Most hair dyes have harsh chemicals, making the hair weaker, dryer, and more prone to damage. This is where conditioners come into play — mixing conditioner with the dye keeps the hair nourished, leaving it smooth and silky since it serves as a barrier between dye chemicals and your tresses.

Conditioners also provide extra protection from the sun’s UV rays and chlorine in swimming pools. 

But before taking the plunge, make sure you’re using the right conditioner. 

Avoid conditioners that contain formaldehyde, parabens, silicones, synthetic fragrance, and polyethylene glycols. These chemicals cause faster color fading and hair damage. 

Use a white conditioner instead. 

From the name itself, it’s a conditioner in the color white.

This product is highly recommended as it contains lesser ingredients that may adversely interfere with hair dyes. 

Also, a 1:3 ratio is recommended when mixing conditioner with the hair dye formula. Simply mix a spoonful of hair dye with a ⅓ cup of conditioner, and you’re good to go.

Are developer and conditioner the same?

Are developer and conditioner the same?

Not at all! Both products are entirely different

A developer opens the hair cuticle, allowing permanent or semi-permanent dye molecules to reach the medulla. It further oxidizes melanin pigments, causing your original hair color to fade.

Aside from this, developers also create a chemical reaction between dye molecules. This reaction imparts a new color to the mane. 

On the contrary, conditioners are usually used every after shampoo. It’s a creamy product that contains humectants and fatty acids. 

It nourishes and hydrates the hair. It also lessens friction between your hair strands, leaving your tresses smooth, soft, and manageable. 

And unlike developers, conditioners lock in moisture by sealing the cuticle.  

So there you have it, developers open the cuticle while conditioners do the exact opposite. 

Can I use water instead of a developer?

No. You cannot use water instead of a developer. 

Hydrogen peroxide in developers removes the hair’s original color and adds a new one after that. 

Unfortunately, water does not work the same way as hydrogen peroxide. Water does not chemically react with your tresses, so it doesn’t color nor lighten the hair. ​​

Simply put, water won’t work at all. So using it as an alternative is a complete waste of time. 

What can I use instead of hair developer?

What can I use instead of hair developer

To be clear, there’s no other product that fully replicates the functions of a developer.

So expect a less satisfying hair result if you use a different product. 

Below are products you can use as alternatives to a hair developer: 

Industrial hydrogen peroxide 

Although a cream hair developer is the safest and most reliable option, you can still opt for industrial hydrogen peroxide. 

Industrial hydrogen peroxide is available in liquid form and has various strengths. It is commonly used in bleaching textiles and paper and is also a component of rocket fuel. 

The only dilemma here is quantification.  

Industrial hydrogen peroxide should have a maximum of 12% concentration. More than that, you’ll end up burning your tresses.

Also, expect a runny color mixture since industrial hydrogen peroxide does not have stabilizers.

Chemical Oxidizers 

A chemical oxidizer is another excellent option. It is safer and more stable than hydrogen peroxide. 

Oxidizers produce similar results as developers. It reacts with bleach and combines with melanin pigments after that. This process breaks down the hair into minor colorless molecules. 

Aside from hydrogen peroxide and chemical oxidizers, you can also opt for hair dyes that don’t use developers. These are plant-based, semi-permanent, and demi-permanent hair dyes. 

Plant-based dyes

Plant-based dyes are also called “henna”. They are the safest option since they do not require any alkaline agents for activation. 

Simply combine the plant ingredient with hot water, making a thick paste. And allow it to sit on the hair for at least an hour.

Semi-permanent dyes

Semi-permanent colors do not require the use of developers. Hence, no oxidative process takes place. 

Simply mix the colors and apply them directly to the hair.

Demi-permanent dyes

Another option is demi-permanent hair dyes. This product is a hybrid of semi-permanent and permanent dyes. It is made up of an ammonia-free formula that includes a developer. This allows penetration beneath the hair’s outer cuticle. 

Demi-permanent dyes last longer than semi-permanent ones but will wash out over time as they do not fully penetrate the hair shaft. 

Also, they are oxidative, so oxygen is needed for its proper development. 

CHECK OUT: Does developer expire

The takeaway 

Conditioners cannot be used as an alternative to hair developers. It does not open the cuticle, making color penetration impossible. Conditioners merely nourish and hydrate the hair. 

And although industrial hydrogen peroxide and oxidizers can be used as alternatives, using them won’t get you consistent results.  

So as much as possible, always use hair developers when bleaching or toning your tresses.

And most importantly, choose a suitable volume for your hair developer. Doing so will help you achieve your dream hair color!  

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