What does hair developer do by itself

Temporary hair dyes are an easy and safe way to try that new color you have been eyeing. These dyes only coat the surface of the strand. Because the color is not secured inside the hair strand, it will fade after several washes.

But if you found the color that you love and are ready to commit to, you would want it to stay for a long time. This means the dye cannot stay unprotected on the surface of your hair. 

It would have to go beneath the surface of your hair strand to avoid being washed off by shampoo. But how do you let the dye into your hair?

Imagine the structure of the hair strand as a shrunk roll of tissue paper. The hair’s medulla is the roll’s core, and the cortex is the paper around the core. The cortex contains melanin which gives your hair its color.

Surrounding the cortex is the cuticle. The cuticle maintains a good amount of moisture inside your cortex, keeping your hair hydrated. 

While you can use permanent dye without removing your current hair color, the result would not be as vibrant and pronounced as you expected.

You need a developer to remove or lift your present color to give room for the new dye to be deposited inside your hair strands. Developers are made for hair color transformations. 

Salons have this routine mastered. A professional hairstylist can do all the hair coloring magic for you while you relax and read a magazine. So, a visit to your local salon is the best judgment call. 

But it would not be the worst idea to dye your hair yourself. And pulling it off gives you this sense of pride when you go out with your new hair. 


Lifting your hair color with developer

Whether your hair was done at home or the salon, you cannot escape the familiar chemical smell each time you color your hair. That smell is caused by the chemical reactions in the hair’s cortex.

Does developer remove hair color?

Definitely — it can remove hair color to a limited extent, depending on its volume. The lifting power of hair developers depends on how much hydrogen peroxide is present in the product. 

Hydrogen peroxide will not lift your hair color when it can’t go where the pigment is present. So, ammonia acts like a doorman that opens the doors of your hair shaft. It allows hydrogen peroxide to penetrate the cuticle and eject the color from your hair’s cortex.

Does developer remove hair color?

In a more technical sense of how hair dyeing works, hydrogen peroxide oxidizes the chemical bonds of the pigments in your hair. The pigments give a specific color because of their chemical structure. When the hydrogen peroxide tweaks that structure, the pigment will no longer produce color.

What can I mix with developer to lighten my hair?

While hydrogen peroxide can lift the hair color slightly, bleach adds a stronger punch to the mixture.

Their teamwork results in hair color that is several levels lighter, allowing for more color options. And a light-colored hair makes for a better canvas because the dyes will produce vibrant and pronounced colors.

What happens if you put developer in your hair by itself?

Nothing will happen. Sans any agent that opens the cuticle layer, your developer cannot get inside to lighten your hair. 

Will developer lighten hair without bleach? 

Yes, this can happen when the hair developer gets into the cortex of your hair strand. But in the absence of dye or bleach, you will only have slightly lighter hair color. And its lightness will depend on the volume of the developer indicated in the box. 

Aside from lifting colors, the developer also works with your hair dyes to bring out the hue you intended, or at least close to it. After the previous color has been removed, the cortex can now show a new color. Ammonia provides an alkaline environment for this hair color chemistry to work. 

READ NEXT: What Color Can I Dye My Dark Hair Without Bleach

What developer should I use?

You can choose from different volumes of developers: 10, 20, 30, or 40 volume. The choice depends on what you want to achieve. Since developers alter your hair’s natural state, you also have to consider how much stress your hair can take at the moment. 

Due to its mild formulation, a 10 volume developer does not lift much hair color. Although it is technically a hair developer, the small hydrogen peroxide concentration is insufficient to lighten your hair significantly. Salons use 10 volume developers to adjust the tone or tint of your hair.

If you want to bring your hair a shade lighter, start considering developers starting from 20 volume. 

But can 20 volume developer lighten hair by itself?

It is a safe bet. It is powerful enough to make your hair one or two levels lighter than your current hair color.

What happens if you just put 30 developer in your hair?

You can get several levels lighter than what a 20 volume developer can give. If you want to sport a bold color change, 20 volume developer falls short of its color-lifting power. You have to up your game with a 30 or even 40 volume developer. 

Stronger developers help you achieve bolder and brighter hair colors: Think vibrant pinks, romantic reds, and deep blues. 

In principle, the higher the volume, the stronger the effect of the developer.

The strength also comes with inversely proportional drawbacks — stronger developers tend to cause more damage to your higher. 


Does developer damage hair?

You would want to skip dyeing your hair with permanent colors frequently. Going back to ammonia and hydrogen peroxide works, you can see how frequent hair coloring can damage your hair. 

If you keep opening and closing the cells in your cuticle, they may no longer fit together as well as before. 

This compromises the protective layer of your hair strand. Your new hair color may fade faster than usual. And your hair won't be able to retain as much moisture as before, resulting in dry and brittle hair. 

Does developer by itself damage hair? 

On their own, hair developers don’t necessarily damage your hair. They are meant to work inside your hair. Without ammonia, hair developers can’t go inside your hair strand and cause any damage.

It is a different story when you pair developers with strong chemicals like bleach and ammonia. These are still chemicals that change your hair from the inside.

Although they work together to change your hair color, misuse and shortcuts would spell disaster for your tresses. 

So if you’re still testing the waters in hair coloring, you should not jump to 40 or even 50 volume developers right away just because you want the lightest result immediately.

After the new color has been deposited, it must stay inside the cortex. This means that the cuticle has to be resealed.

Conditioners help close the cuticle as if closing the door to your hair shaft. By sealing it inside, your new hair color will last for a long time. 


When you have dyed your hair, give it time to rest.

It has been through a stressful episode with the strong chemicals that you used. Maybe take a rain check for that hair straightening or perming appointment.

Last Updated: November 9, 2021

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