What Volume Developer Should I Use?

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:

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.

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.

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

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! ????????????????????????


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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

54 thoughts on “What Volume Developer Should I Use?”

  1. Hi ive got Strong natural level 2 hair. I Self balayaged my hair (it looks ok!) But the lightened parts are now a very orange lEvel 6/7. I have since let my hair “rest” aNd recover with olaplex treatments and re-bleached again only i cant seem to lift Any more levels! Im using 40vol and Hi bleAch powder like i always have. All i want Is to bleach light enough to leT a cooler toner work. I ideally want level 8/9 balayage, Do i need to drop down to 20 or 30 vol?

    • That is really interesting! I’m not sure why it isn’t lifting… it sounds like your color molecules are tightly packed in your hair! Have you previously colored the hair you’re trying to lighten? Anyways, using bleach over and over the same area (especially with 40v) is a bad idea. It will eventually melt that hair off. While it is best to give it time in between, there is only so much you can repair your hair in between.

      I would definitely drop down to a 20 if you go over it again with bleach, but I would try as hard as you can to not bleach it again…or wait a while at least. Hope that helps!

  2. Hi! I colored my hair With wella PROFESSIONAL no. 5 (with 20volume), but would rather like it to be at a level 6 (my natuRal haie color is about a 6 or 7, but very dull), how whould i go about this??

  3. I desperately need advice in letting my hair color grow out. I am 72, about 50% gray and haven’t seen my natural color since about 16 years old. I have used Keune color professionaly applied for the last 20 years. I went to someone else that used a different product and now my hair is orange and dry. I had it cut fairly short to grow off the color but need help with blending gray roots in the growing out phase. Thanks.

    • Hi Rita! I’m so sorry it took so long to respond. I love Keune color! I used it at one salon I worked at and it’s really good stuff!

      So I would probably go back to your original stylist and see if they can tone out the orange color for now (if you still need it).

      As for growing out your natural color… I guess it really depends on how dark your color is… it’s hard to give perfect advice without seeing what your hair looks like. If it’s really dark, I would probably recommend lightening it to a softer color first. You can also get a lot of subtle highlights added in to match your natural color. I would increase the number of highlights over time until it blends your natural color out. Hope that helps! 🙂

  4. Hi, i am planning to color my GREy root and have the rest of the remaining hair lighter in 2 SHADES.is it advisable on the same color 6% for ROOt and 9% on the remaining hair to COLOR.trying It For the first TIME.please advise THAnks.

    • Thanks for the question! Are you just going to be coloring the grey the same color as the rest of your hair? You can probably just apply the color to your roots and then just run it through the rest of the hair for a few minutes before you wash it out. If you let it process the whole time that the roots need to process, it will probably get pretty dark. Does that help? If not, let me know!

  5. hi there,ihave very resistant white hair and would like to know if i can use a 20 developer on my hair first then put a light blone on top.many tanks

    • That is actually a great idea! It will help open the cuticle so that the color can penetrate. Just use the 20v developer by it self for 5-10 minutes and then wipe it off before applying the color (no need to wash). Hope that helps!

  6. Hi my hair is ViRgin At my roots and aboUt an iNch down i haVe black dyed hair aNd then the rest is bleached To about a level 5.i wanna go A beAutiful meduim-dark red.idk what volume to use for wHat sections of my hair.****im planning on using loreal high color In The color magenta.

    • Thanks for the question! To be completely honest, this sounds like a complicated dye job. The hair that is dyed black will need to be bleached before applying the color. The virgin hair will process differently than the other hair.. and you will have to “fill” the blonde hair before adding in new color (I’d check online to see what filling method loreal recommends before using that line).

      If you could get all of the hair to a solid color (by bleaching the black and virgin hair) and then maybe filling the really light hair before coloring it, that would be your best bet.

      Sorry it isn’t more help, but it really does seem complicated and could end up not looking good. Hope this helps a little at least 🙂

  7. Hi Hollie. I want to highlight my hair at home .I have just bought marjiblond 900S and 20 volume developer. I coloured my hair globally last week to a dark BROWN.Is the 20 volume developer ok for the highlights I want. And can I now highlight my hair

    • I’m not sure what the marjiblond 900s is, but you will definitely want to use bleach to get the best results. A blonde dye might lift out the dark color a bit, but it probably won’t look like you want it to.

      If it is bleach and you give it a try, it’s definitely okay to do highlights now and 20v developer will work (although it might take a while). Depending on how dark your brown is, it might be better to step up to 30v.

      Hope that helps 🙂

  8. I have mostly gray roots And brown/ red shade colOred hair my roots always turn out lighter than the rest if my colored hair and barely Covers the Gray with 20 developer. Should i use 10 developer to cover my grays and have even color?

  9. Hi,
    I’d like to know if there is a way to use 20 volume developer for your roots and a 10 volume mix of the same color on the rest of the hair.
    I don’t want to keep putting 20 vol. All over my head every time.
    I do know about combing the color through the ends the last 10-15 minutes of processing.
    Would mixing up a 10 VOL.be better or even a 15 vol Mixture?
    I just don’t want to fry my hair.
    Any advice would be appreciated.

  10. Hey I stumbled across your blog by accident. If I can just help you out a bit…
    The volume of peroxide refers to the amount of extra oxygen in the solution. 20 volume peroxide (H2O2) has 20 times more oxygen than water (H2O). The peroxide does 2 things and neither of them is “opening the cuticle of the hair”. Peroxide shatters natural pigment (melanosomes), allowing light to pass through and make the hair appear lighter. It also develops the color molecules, they become larger so they can not wash out of the cortex. The ammonia in the hair color opens the cuticle to allow the color molecules in. 50 volume peroxide is widely used and sometimes 60 volume, you have to know what you’re doing. 10 volume is the most effective for gray coverage, not 20 volume as some color companies would have you believe and all of this depends on the fabric of the hair you are working with. I teach a class on all of this if you would like to attend. coastlineedu.com

    • I have fine very long hair, im trying to blend grey while doing as minimal damage as possible to my hair im using a demi per color with a 10 vol developer , i did 30 mins didnt cover as well as expected. What would you reccomend for best results? Will it hurt to leave it 45 mins?

      • Hi Joy! Thanks for the question! While it wouldn’t hurt to leave the color on for 45 minutes, I don’t think it would do much to help you. Demi permanent colors are not meant to fully cover greys.. in fact, I see a lot of “grey blending” hair colors that are demi-permanent… they just work by toning down the grey a little bit and blending it in better. 20 volume is usually the preferred developer for grey coverage, although I would use the developer that is meant for the color you are using. If you want more coverage, you can look into a permanent color that is designed for grey coverage. Hope this helps 🙂

    • Ok, weird question for anyone who might know…

      I cannot get my hair to bleach white like I have done in the past..22yrs-31yrs old…always easy with 40 vol., clairol blue & 2 packets of “powder”..15-20mins.

      Now…nothing I do works…bumped up the developer & the time.

      I can only get a pale yellow…I’m tryn not 2 use a toner…I just want, literally, white hair..

      Question is; is it due to menopause? Or the absence of natural hormones & having to take replacement hormones..

      It has stumped me… because bleaching shd remove all color from hair. My hair is fine, straight and a natural light fawn or ash blonde. And easily lightens naturally in the sun.

      So what gives? Why cannot 40 vol. 2 packets of activating powder & clairol “blue” for 45mins remove all pigment from blonde hair?

      • That is a really good question and I’m going to look into writing a blog post about it! I’m not 100% sure what is causing your problems, but I would think that it’s likely that menopause has changed your hair composition from what it used to be. The hormonal changes can make your hair react differently to the color changes. Similarly, I think it could be possible that replacement hormones could change your hair as well.

        There could also be other factors like if you had darker color in your hair at one point (that hasn’t grown out yet). I’m not really sure what the solution to your problem would be, besides to tone it or go to a professional. I would definitely not bleach over the previously bleached hair with 40 volume again… maybe after a while., you can try to lighten it more with a very low volume developer, but please be super careful if you do this. I don’t want you to melt all your hair off. Good luck!

  11. Hey Hollie, I just wanted to ask which product is recommended for Indian brown hair to achieve lighter hair, currently my hair is colored and it’s a shade of brown very close to my natural hair color. I would like to color my hair at home and give them a reddish brown color.

    • Hi Sanika! Thanks for the question! Hmmm. It really depends on how dark your hair is now and what the level of the reddish brown you want is. If you want it much lighter, you will need to lighten it before applying the reddish brown color. If you don’t mind it being darker, you can just color over what you have now. Just be aware that if your roots are a different color (like, if your hair has grown out), you might have to process them differently, otherwise they will turn super red. Hope this helps. Good luck!

  12. The person who wrote this is a professional none professional wouldn’t know the difference just saying to those who talking shit and 40% can be used as 20% when watered down

    • i dont think this is written professinaly becauuse they spell colour as (color) but other from that abso great for information 🙂

      • I currently don’t work as a hairsylist (although I’m still licensed and do side work) but I spent 9 years in the salon as a professional. Anyways, I’ve rarely ever seen it spelled “colour”. I always thought that was how countries outside of the U.S. spelled it.

        • Hi, I am going to dye the back of my hair purple. I’ve already done it a few times but I found a purple that is permanent. The package says use 10 developer. I have 20 developer. My hair was bleached to about a 5-6. Will the 20 be ok to use?

          • Hi Mary! Sorry it took so long to write back! 10 volume will be best for deposit. 20 volume will still deposit, but not as much. It will work but probably won’t be as vibrant and/or won’t last as long as it would have with a 10v. Hope that helps!

      • “color” is US, “colour” is Canadian. We also spell “neighbour” instead of “neighbor” .. Canada. We like to put the “u” in everything lol

  13. Hello. I find this article very useful. I would like to ask this. I died my hair with Syoss 6-76 (copper) dye, which is a little bit lighter than my natural hair (medium brown); however, the dye didn’t cover all of my grays. My question is if I can put 6 % peroxide instead of the color developer that comes in the original dye box to get a better result and in what ratio should I put it- the same as with the color developer (1:1)? Thank you.

    • Theoretically, I would think that would work, but of course, I should recommend following the directions provided by the company that makes the product, since I don’t know anything about that product. If you do decide to do it, do a 1:1 ratio. 🙂

  14. Hi 🙂 I am attempting to color my hair myself, for the first time in years! My formula is 1 part level 4 & 1.5 part level 5 with a 20 vol. developer. My friend, who is a stylist told me I should use a 10 vol. developer. My hair is currently colored & at a level 5 with few level 7 highlights & I want to stay at a level 5, what should I do??

    • 20vol will lighten your hair 1-2 shades. Which is good when you’re adding a color on top. I made the mistake of using a 10vol and now my hair is a shade darker. Which I didn’t want, but it’s only semi permanent, lol.
      10vol just deposits color, so depending on the level of the color I’d go with the 20vol. I have always done it that way. But that’s my hair type too, it holds onto color really well.
      It’s really down to your hair….


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