What Volume Developer Should I Use With My Hair Color?

Did you ever wonder why there are two parts to your 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 hair developer? Why do you need to mix it with your color? Can it damage your hair?

There are several different volumes of developer, and each of them has a different function.

Some of them can be more damaging than others. Some lift your hair lighter while others are made for deposit. 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…

What volume of developer should I use with my hair dye? Find out what all the different volumes of developer are typically used for...

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what Does Developer Do?

The hair dye developer lifts the cuticle of your hair just enough for color to get in or out of the hair. If you didn’t mix developer with your hair dye, the color molecules would not be able to penetrate the hair and would just wash right off.

Hair 101 is what I link to think of as an interesting compilation of hair facts you would learn in beauty school. Did you know that...

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

Hair Levels:

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.

The levels of hair color

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

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.

Just to clarify, this does not explain the hue of the color; it’s just a method used to measure how light or dark the color is.

When coloring your hair, you’ll need to determine your current level along with the target level.

Hint: You can usually find the target level by looking at the number on 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.

Hair color bowl, brush, developer, powder bleach and supplies.

Lift vs. Deposit

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

Lift means that 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 that 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. If you’re going from a level 5 brown to a level 8 blonde, you’ll need to lift your hair three levels higher.

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

The Different Volumes of Developer:

β€’ 10 Volume Developer (10V / 3% peroxide) developer will deposit color and make the hair darker that is was. It works by just barely opening the cuticle enough to deposit pigment. Therefore, if you’re doing any type of color in which you only need to deposit color without lift (including most hair toners), this is what you need to use.

β€’ 20 Volume 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 anywhere around the level your hair already is, or to lift 1-2 levels.

β€’ 30 Volume Developer (30V / 9% peroxide) will lift the hair up to 3 levels higher and is commonly used with lightener.

β€’ 40 Volume Developer (40V / 12% peroxide) will lift the hair up to 4 levels. It is often used with lightener or high-lift blondes. Some high-lift colors even require double-40V for extra lift. Do keep in mind that 40V used with lightener can be tragically damaging if misused.

Clairol Professional Pure White 10 Gentle Lift Creme Developer, 16 ozClairol Professional Pure White 10 Gentle Lift Creme Developer, 16 ozClairol Professional Pure White 10 Gentle Lift Creme Developer, 16 ozClairol Pure White 20 Creme Developer Standard Lift 16ozClairol Pure White 20 Creme Developer Standard Lift 16ozClairol Pure White 20 Creme Developer Standard Lift 16ozClairol Professional Soy4plex Pure White Creme Hair Color Developer, 30 VolumeClairol Professional Soy4plex Pure White Creme Hair Color Developer, 30 VolumeClairol Professional Soy4plex Pure White Creme Hair Color Developer, 30 Volume

Less Commonly Used developer types:

There are some other less commonly used volumes of developer 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. This sounds pretty awesome, but do keep in mind that it’s hard to obtain as most shipping companies cannot transport it.

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

Surprised woman looking at her hair.

General FAQ

FAQ Icon
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.

What Volume Developer Should I Use?

It depends on what you are trying to achieve. If you’re going darker, you should use 10 developer. 20 – 40 developer can be used to lift 1-4 levels. 20 developer is best for grey coverage.

Does 30 Developer Lighten Hair?

30v developer will lighten the hair up to 3 levels.

Do I Need To Use 40 Volume Developer On Dark Hair?

Depending on how many levels of lift you want to achieve, you can use 40 volume developer on dark hair.

Can I Use 10 Volume Developer to Lighten Hair?

10v developer is meant for deposit and will not lift the hair.

Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts Icon

If you’re into DIY hair color, you must formulate your hair color correctly. One of the most important aspects of mixing your dye has to do with using the right volume of developer.

Some developers are meant to lift, while others only deposit color. If you have grey hair, it’s crucial that you 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,


Your Turn:  Did you learn something new about the different volumes of developer? Do you have any questions about how it works? Drop your thoughts in the comments section below! πŸ‘‡πŸΌπŸ‘‡πŸΌπŸ‘‡πŸΌ


Follow this guide to learn the different levels of developer and find out which volume of developer you should be using in your hair color! #HairColor #HairDye #HairTips #DIYHairColor #LevelsOfHairColor

85 thoughts on “What Volume Developer Should I Use With My Hair Color?”

    • I’d imagine that it’s just different brands or different color lines. 30v developer should be the same… but if a color line suggests using a certain type, it’s best to do that.

  1. What volume of developer should I use?
    – i have shoulder length THIN, FINE HAIR
    – i am currently around a level 6 and I want to go to around an icy level 8 or 9
    Also, what is the difference between a bleach and a lightener? Are they the same thing? If not, then do you recommend using a bleach, permanent color, or a lightener mixed with the developer?

    • “Lightener” is a less-frightening way to say “bleach” haha… but they are the same thing. You’ll have to lighten your hair or strip the hair color out before you can get to a level 8 or 9. Just be careful because fine hair has a harder time with bleach, but that would also be your best bet to get light enough… You can always try doing a test strand to see how your hair tolerates the bleach (maybe do a small section behind your ear, so you can cover it up). Once you get your hair light enough, you can tone it with an icy toner. Hope that helps!

  2. My hair is naturally, probably, level 4. I want silver from root about halfway down the shaft into lavender the rest of the way to the tops. I have ‘n rage white out kit, ion color brilliance permanent creme (silver pearl) color, and ion color brilliance brights semi-permanent (lavender) creme color. I didn’t realize until after I bought them that I would need developer for the silver, but am unsure of what volume I need to use. It’s probably been 10+ years since I have put color of any kind in my hair. Please help!! I don’t want to destroy my hair

    • That sounds really cool but definitely a lot of work! You’ll want to use 10V with the silver to deposit (since your hair will have been previously lightened). The only thing I recommend is probably contacting the manufacturer (the phone number should be somewhere in the box), and asking if it’s okay to mix the semi-permanent and permanent colors together. I’d assume that you’ll be coloring them at the same time, and if they overlap, I don’t know if it will cause a bad reaction or not. Since they are from the same manufacturer, they should have some good insight on that. Hope that helps!

  3. This article was exactly what i needed. Also I DON’T KNOW if this comment will be in all caps because it doesn’t seem i can change it. However, I just wanted to say that this article was the most useful, elaborated, and easily understood thing i’ve ever read about hair developer/coloring/lifting Vs. depositing and i’m extremely grateful for this.

  4. Hi, first thank you so much for all this incred information. Its super detailed. I nust want to make sure im understanding correctly. Im a 4, but i want to be blonde. I want to use the willa t18 toner to be a light ash blonde. So like a 9? Do i need to use two Levels of Developers? A 40 to bleach and another level to tone?

    • You would have to lighten your hair with bleach before toning it. If you don’t have any color on your hair, you can use a high-lift color, but usually, you’ll need bleach to go that much lighter. I probably wouldn’t use 40v with bleach… maybe 30 to be safe (40 is really harsh on the hair). And you would definitely use a different developer for the toner… usually, toners need 10 or 20v, but I always recommend following the manufacturer’s directions because all color lines are different. Hope that helps!

  5. Hi my natural color is 5 dark Bland Blond, I used a Swortzkof 3.5, now I have gone 3 before in another brand and at Salon but this color is terrible and my roots look like 10 growing out. I want to get back to a 6 or 5 my hair is Polynesian Thick!
    What should I do?

    • That sounds like it could be a lot of work to get back to normal, but if you’re willing to try… I would probably recommend stripping your hair or lightening it with bleach, before coloring it with a level 5 or 6 of your choosing. If your hair is brassy after lightening it/stripping it, you can use an ash-based color to tone out the warm tones. Obviously, my best advice was to have a professional do this process, but that’s hard right now with the salons closed down. I hope everything goes well!

  6. Thanks a lot for the arTicle- really useful! Q: i intend to use 10vol Loreal inoa wItH majirel to geT the cOlour in. MaJirel instructs to use the ratio 1:1.5, but only 20 or 30 vol. 10 vol inoa Says to use raTio 1:1. What would yoUr advise be on the ratio? Thanks

    • I’m not familiar with those color lines, but I would recommend using the developer that is meant to use with the Loreal and following manufacturer directions. Hope that helps!

      • Hi, I’m touchin up my grey roots on MEDIUM dark brown hair & USUALLY use 2 colors mixed together 6.0 (to cover grey) & 5.35. Should i use 6.0 or just 6. I find mixin two colors gives a highlights effect. Also how much 20vol to use… 1:1 or more 20vol than color?? Please

      • It’s perfectly fine to mix two colors together if you want… I’d just recommend that they both come from the same color line. Usually, developer is a 1:1 ratio, but double-check with the manufacturer directions of the color line. Every color line is different and it’s best to double-check. Hope that helps πŸ™‚

  7. So say I want to use 40V to get the really dark out in order to place very bright and vibrant colors, would I mix the vibrant colors with 10v? I ask because I’m doing my sisters hair soon. She bleached it a few months ago so she has kinda orange blond hair so I get I would to 20v for that part, but since its been a few months her natural hair has grown out, would I be able to use 30v on the roots? I want to make sure these bright colors stick in her hair long term.

    • For the vibrant colors, it depends on what type of color you’re using. If it’s semi-permanent like Manic Panic, there is no need to mix it with the developer. If it’s a permanent color, I’d just follow directions. Typically, you’d want to bleach it first and then add the colors over it, which you’d use a 10 or 20v to do.

      30V is safe to use with bleach on the roots, but make sure the bleach is safe to put on the scalp. Also, note that bleach processes faster on the scalp because of body heat. 20V is good to go over the previously bleached areas, but just watch it carefully and deep condition before and after. Hope that helps!


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