How to make homemade hair developer

Hair developers are one of those things with understated value. 

You know they play a crucial part in the lightening and coloring process but did you ever ask yourself, “Can I make my own hair developer?” 

That seems like a wild idea but fear not! Today you’ll learn how to make homemade hair developer and an in-depth look at how developers work.


What is the main ingredient in hair developer?

What is the main ingredient in hair developer

If you are curious about hair developer ingredients and how they help you get your dream hair, then you are on the right track.

The main ingredient of a developer is hydrogen peroxide— a bleach activator. Developers also come in liquid or cream form. They may contain silicones and conditioners. 

Before anything else, you must get one thing straight: bleach and developer aren't the same! 

The bleaching process requires a bleaching powder and a developer. Using developer alone will only lift your hair to a maximum of two levels. The results of which may also readily turn brassy. 

Meanwhile, bleaching powder doesn’t do any lightening at all if used without a developer. In other words, you will need both if you want to see significant lightening. 

Bleaching powder contains persulfates which produce a potent alkaline agent when activated by hydrogen peroxide

This mixture softens or “opens” the cuticle layers, allowing bleach to oxidize the melanin pigments in your hair. The degree of lightening depends on the level of the developer used.

Typically, you will need to mix 1 part of powder with two parts of the developer for the lightening process. 

However, an equal part developer and powder may give you better results for highlights and balayage

For root touch-ups, a 1:3 of powder to the developer is preferable because the thinner consistency makes it easier for application. 

If you want to lighten your hair slightly, you can use a 20-volume developer, without bleaching powder, to do it— not 30 vol or 40 vol. 

A more potent developer may fry your hair if not used without caution. It isn’t efficient since you can only achieve further lightening by adding bleaching powder. It will possibly burn your hair, so stay with the 20-vol developer. 

If you are still not convinced, the next section will guide you through different developer levels and how you can use them so that you won’t get stuck with straw hair. 


What is hair color developer made of?

What is hair color developer made of

Whether you purchased an activator, peroxide, or a box dye with a developer, they are the same person with different names. Ultimately, they all have hydrogen peroxide. The distinguishing factor is the strength or percentage of hydrogen peroxide in the formula. 

Here’s a quick guide to show equivalent developer strengths. 

  • 10 volume = 3%
  • 20 volume = 6%
  • 30 volume = 9%
  • 40 volume = 12%

The developer's strength matters because this dictates the level of lifting achieved. The importance of developers also extends to permanent coloring, not only bleaching. 

Don’t even ask if you can ace using hair dye without a developer; you can’t. You will first need to open the hair shaft before depositing color pigments. Think of banks!

10 volume developer

A common developer you can use to add a tint or a tone without changing your hair color. 

If all you want to do is eliminate unwanted colors while limiting hair damage, this oxidizing strength works for you. 

It also works for permanent, no-lift hair colors, i.e., it works enough to open your cuticle layer and let the hair dye deposit without changing your hair color level

If your current hair shade is near the shade you like, this is for you. 

Once mixed with bleaching powder, this can lighten up to two levels. It will not work on level 1 dark hair, which requires greater lightening or providing full coverage for gray hair. 

20 volume developer

A 20-vol developer is probably the most common since most boxed hair colors you can get in stores come with them. 

The developer works well for coloring and bleaching purposes. Opt for this when your current color is one to two shades darker than your desired one. 

When used with permanent hair color, you can get up to two to three levels of lightening from your current shade. 

This can also lift virgin hair by about five levels after mixing the developer with bleaching powder. And if you have gray hair, this will get you sufficient coverage. 

Although this developer is the standard strength in commercial hair dyes, this will still not be enough to take black hair to a light blonde in one application. 

30 volume developer

If you ever find that your hair has become color-resistant or your gray hairs are still noticeable even with a standard 20 vol developer, then you merely need to step it up. 

A 30 vol developer works well when you want to lift out a color. It’s commonly used in the bleaching process and quickly lightens hair. For coloring, it can provide two to four levels of lightening from your current shade. 

Of course, as effective as this developer's strength is, it comes with a warning. Coupling a 30 vol with heat may result in scalp irritation and hair damage. So be aware of your hair’s status before using it. 

40 volume developer

A 40 vol developer offers two to four levels of lift when used for coloring. It is rarely used at home and may cause scalp burns when unsupervised by a professional. 

Using it alone will lighten hair to a noticeable degree, so mixing it with bleaching powder isn’t a common practice. However, professionals may apply it to bleach stubborn black hair. 

If you ever bought a concentrated hair developer which doesn’t suit your hair, you can opt to dilute it rather than trashing it or buying another. Follow the dilution ratio below to get yourself started. Below is the developer: water mixture.

  1. 40 vol to 30 vol developer — mix in a 3:1 ratio a 40 vol developer with water
  2. 40 vol to 20 vol developer mix in a 1:1 ratio a 40 vol developer with water
  3. 30 vol to 20 vol developer — mix in a 2:1 ratio a 30 vol developer with water
  4. 20 vol to 10 vol developer — mix in a 1:1 ratio a 20 vol developer with water

Getting the developer's strength correct shouldn’t be nerve-wracking. 

After all, if you are a DIY fan, you are stuck with the box dye that includes a 20-vol developer. 

And when it comes to bleaching, you only have to remember that using a low concentration of developer multiple times is better than dousing your hair with a stronger developer. The latter may cause irreversible damage to your hair. 

If you already bought a permanent color that doesn’t include a developer or want to bleach your hair ASAP, can you make a homemade hair developer instead? It turns out, yes!


What can I use instead of hair developer?

What can I use instead of hair developer

There is a DIY for everything; this goes for developers too. 

So what can you substitute for hair developer? 

Since hair developers are essentially hydrogen peroxide, you can buy a 3% hydrogen peroxide and use it. The commercially available antiseptic is suitable enough to be a hair developer alternative. 

Although of a lesser percentage than most hair developers, your skin may still get irritated, so it’s better to do a patch test first. 

  1. Remove excess oils in your hair by washing and air-drying to limit the damage caused by heat.
  2. Section your hair with clips 
  3. Soak a cotton ball with commercial peroxide and dab it on a section while keeping away an inch from the scalp
  4. Once finished, wrap the section with aluminum foil. Repeat. 
  5. Leave for 30-45 minutes.
  6. Wash your hair thoroughly with gentle shampoo and condition afterward

Remember that 3% hydrogen peroxide equates to a 10 vol hair developer. When a hair developer isn’t around, you can use the medical hydrogen peroxide to mix with bleaching powder for lightening or coloring. 

A warning: Hair developers include ingredients that ensure your hair does not suffer too much from putting hydrogen peroxide on your hair. 

By using commercial hydrogen peroxide, you are subjecting your scalp and strands to the full corrosive effects of the chemical. 

You can also opt to mix commercial peroxide with baking soda for quicker and more effective lightening. 

Mix a  cup of baking soda and three tablespoons of 3% hydrogen peroxide in a bowl. Then apply this mixture using a brush. Follow the same instructions listed above. 

It’s wise to assume that this will leave your strands brittle as baking soda is a strong degreaser, so always post-hydrate. So if in doubt, always consult a professional. 


What can I use if I don't have developer for bleach?

Bleaching without a developer wouldn’t work. 

Again, bleaching powder doesn’t activate itself. It needs an oxidizer— the developer— to lighten your hair. Before you go into all sorts of experiments, shampoo or conditioner does not and will never be a substitute for a developer. 

Bleach powder is ammonia, an alkaline chemical. If you add that to regular shampoo, which is also alkaline, the only thing it will give you is ruined hair. It will dry your hair and eventually cause breakage. 

Additionally, bleach powder and conditioner are other terrible ideas. 

Conditioner has the opposite nature of a developer. A conditioner seals the cuticles and keeps the hair shaft hydrated while a developer opens the cuticles to let bleach or dye into the cortex. 

If you must lighten your hair and don’t have the proper bleaching kit, there are a few DIY mixtures you can try at home.

  1. One part lemon juice and two parts water
  2. One part ACV diluted with five parts water
  3. Chamomile Tea
  4. One tablespoon of sea salt and ½ cup of warm water for 20 minutes
  5. Baking soda and water (paste-like consistency)

If you want to dye without using a developer, opt for semi-permanent dyes since they do not require developers. They do not last long as permanent dyes, but they will give you the color you want. 

Developers are vital if you want to bleach or dye your hair. It’s best to purchase them before doing any lightening or dyeing process. To avoid irritation, have a game plan on what developer strength your hair will need to ensure minimal damage. 

Last Updated: July 3, 2022

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