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What Volume of Developer Should I Use With My Hair Color?

Let’s talk about the different volumes of developer!

Have you ever wondered why there are two parts to your permanent hair color and why they only start working when you mix them together? Well, one of the tubes contains the actual color, and the other is a hair color developer.

And one doesn’t work without the other.

But what is a hair developer? Why do you need to mix it with your color? Can it damage your hair?

There are several different hair developer levels, each of which has a different function.

Some of them can be more damaging than others. Some lighten your hair, while others deposit a darker color Oh… and some are better for grey coverage than others…

This ultimate guide to the different volumes of developer will answer all of your questions…

💡 TIP: Don’t forget to pin this to your Hair Color board on Pinterest so you can always come back when you need to! 👇🏼👇🏼👇🏼

Ready to take your coloring game to the next level? Discover how the different volumes of developer can revolutionize hair color results.

What Does Developer Do?

The hair dye developer works by opening the hair cuticle just enough for color to get in or out of the hair. If you don’t mix developer with your hair dye, the color can’t get into your hair and will wash off easily.

Hair Structure: Cuticle, Medulla, Cortex

The volumes of developer refer to how much hydrogen peroxide that developer contains. Furthermore, the amount of peroxide determines how much the cuticle layer will open during the process.

Levels of Hair Color

First things first, we should talk about the levels of hair. This will make it easier to understand how the different volumes of developer work.

As you can see, we measure hair color levels on a scale from 1-10.

Do you know what type of hair color developer to use? Which level is best for your hair dye? If you're into DIY hair color, you need to know the facts and ratios. Find out what all the different volumes of developer are typically used for...

Level 1 is black, and level 10 is a very light blonde. As the hair gets lighter, it will have a higher level number. For instance, medium brown is a level 4.

To clarify, this doesn’t explain the color’s hue; it’s just a way to measure how light or dark the color is.

When coloring your hair, you’ll need to determine your current and target levels.

Hint: You can find the target level by looking at the number of the hair color you’re using. For instance, 5N means your end result should be a level 5 with the right volume of developer.

Find out more with my guide to reading hair color numbers/labels.

Lift vs. Deposit

It’s also essential to determine if you want to lift or deposit.

Lift means we are “lifting” the hair color to a lighter level. For instance, if your hair is brown and you want to go blonde, you’ll have to lift it.

Deposit means we are depositing hair color molecules into the hair to make it darker.

You’ll also need to determine how many levels of lift or deposit you want to achieve. You’ll need to lift your hair three levels higher if you’re going from a level 5 brown to a level 8 blonde.

Keep in mind that virgin hair color (hair that has never been colored) reacts differently than colored hair. Read more about the golden rule of lifting hair color.

What Are The Different Volumes of Developer?

Hair color being mixed in pink tint bowl with a pink brush.

• Volume 10 Developer (10V / 3% peroxide) developer will deposit color and make the hair darker than it was. It works by lifting the cuticle layers just enough to deposit pigment. Use this for depositing color without lifting (including most hair toners and demi permanent hair colors).

• Volume 20 Developer (20V / 6% peroxide) is the most commonly used. First off, it is optimal for covering grey hair. Also, you’d use it to stay around your hair’s existing hair color level or lift 1-2 levels.

• Volume 30 Developer (30V / 9% peroxide) lifts the hair up to 3 levels higher and is commonly used with lightener.

• Volume 40 Developer (40V / 12% peroxide) will take the hair up to 4 levels lighter. It is often used with lighteners or high-lift blondes and may be needed for hair that is dark. Some high-lift colors even require double-40V for extra lift. Do keep in mind that 40V used with a lightener can be tragically damaging if misused.

Less Commonly Used Developer Types

There are some less commonly used developer volumes, such as 5V, 15V, 50V, 60V, etc. Based on what you just learned, you should be able to figure out what each of them does.

Disclaimer: I would never ever recommend using anything higher than a 40V. However, there is a 120-volume developer, in which you can make any other strength by diluting it. While this may sound awesome, keep in mind that it’s hard to obtain as most shipping companies cannot transport it.

Sounds like something you’d want to put on your head, right?


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What Are The Different Volumes of Developer?

10 volume developer is meant to deposit pigment into the hair without lift. 20 volume developer is intended to lift the hair 1-2 levels. 30 volume developer lifts the hair three levels, and 40 volume developer lifts four levels.

Should I use 20 or 30 volume developer?

The choice between 20 and 30 volume developer depends on the desired level of lift and the hair color you’re aiming for.

20 volume developer is commonly used for minimal lift or to cover gray hair.

30 volume developer provides more lift and is suitable for darker hair colors or when you want a more significant change.

Keep in mind that using a higher volume developer can be harsher on your hair, so it’s important to consider the current condition of your hair and how much lift you need

What is 20 volume developer used for?

20 volume developer is commonly used in hair color formulations for various purposes. Here are some common uses:

Gray Coverage: It is often used to cover gray or white hair by providing sufficient lift and color penetration.

Tone-on-Tone Color: When you want to go a shade darker or maintain your current color without lightening, 20 volume developer is suitable.

Minimal Lift: If you’re looking for minimal lift or going only a couple of shades lighter, 20 volume is a gentler option compared to higher volumes.

Low-Lightening: When adding lowlights to your hair, 20 volume developer can be used to darken specific sections.

It’s important to note that the choice of developer depends on your specific hair color goals. If you’re unsure, consulting with a professional hairstylist is recommended to determine the right developer and color formula for your hair type and desired results.

Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts Icon

If you’re into DIY hair color, you must learn to formulate your hair color correctly. One of the most important aspects of mixing your dye involves using the right level of developer.

Some developers are meant to lift, while others only deposit color. With grey hair, it’s recommended to use a 20-volume developer for optimal coverage. If you’re toning your hair, you’ll likely want to use a 10-volume developer for deposit.

Depending on what your hair currently looks like and what you’re trying to achieve, you can use this guide to formulate the perfect color for your hair!

Until next time,

Hollee Wood Headshot


Hollee is a licensed cosmetologist with over nine years of professional experience in the hair industry. With her unique insight and versatile experience, she’ll help you discover the latest hair trends or even crush your next DIY hair project.

Learn more!

🌟 Your Turn: Did you learn something new about the different volumes of developer? Do you have any questions about how it all works? Drop your thoughts in the comments section below! 👇🏼👇🏼👇🏼

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Sunday 29th of October 2023

I’m very confused. My hair is light brown and I bought a 5RM so it will darken it with red violet. But, I have a few gray hairs. So basically is it a 10 or 20 volume that I need?

Hollee Wood

Sunday 29th of October 2023

It's hard to tell without seeing your hair, but if you're trying to go darker, you'll want to use a 10v developer. 20v is typically best for grey coverage, but if you have a few grey hairs, it should be fine. Hope that helps!


Friday 9th of June 2023

My hair is white mixed with light blonde I want an ALL OVER COLOR OF CREAM blonde. What color should I use? I am afraid of hot roots, how to prevent this?


Saturday 3rd of June 2023

Hi, I had really dark brown hair and recently used L’Oréal high color in magenta and red and mixed with 30 V developer as I’ve seen so many reviews on this. Anyway I didn’t get a bright vibrant red like others. Wondering if I should now try the same with 40 V developer to achieve the brighter look?


Sunday 16th of April 2023

Thank you for the clear explanation on hair coloring.

Cheryl S

Friday 17th of March 2023

Using SoColor 11 A & maybe adding 1/4 11 N to cut gold with 40 V developer (Matrix). Can I add a powder bleach (Brite White) to developer. Then sun up that total amount & add the right amount of color to the developer/ per bleach.