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Is Developer Bleach? | No, It’s Actually Much Different

Are you dyeing your hair and wondering whether you need developer, bleach, or both? Maybe your hair dye calls for a developer, but you only have bleach. Are they interchangeable? We have the answers to your questions. Read on to find out!

What Is Hair Developer?

A developer is used to develop the color of your hair dye. This just means it can get into your hair cuticle. You may notice some dyes require it and others don’t. But first, you should understand how hair dye works.

Demi-permanent and permanent dyes need developer to help get past the cuticle to color it. If a dye isn’t permanent, it just stains the cuticle (and doesn’t require the developer to help it get through your cuticle).

It is important to understand what hair developer is and how it works to ensure your hair turns out well and your hair dye works. Many box dyes come with their own developer, while some require you to buy them separately.

How Hair Developer Works

So if the developer works by getting into the cuticle, how does it alter your hair? 

The Ingredients in Developer

The main ingredient in a developer is hydrogen peroxide. This determines the volume of the developer and how much it lifts the color of your hair. When you use higher volumes of developer, your hair may lift two to three shades.

The hair dye you use should tell you what developer to use. Typically you’ll find there are other ingredients like alcohols, acids, sulfates, and phosphates. You should be careful when choosing your developer because, just like bleach, it can damage your hair.

Anything that gets into the shaft of your hair, which is the layer under the protective outer layer we call the cuticle, can cause damage when used the wrong way.

How It Activates the Dye

Hair developer activates both hair color and bleach. The hydrogen peroxide does this by lifting the cuticle, allowing dye or bleach to get in. After that, the hair dye or bleach can interact with the shaft, making the color permanent.

How Hair Bleach Works

Bleach refers to the product used to lighten your hair. You must use hair bleach to do this, not household bleach. Household bleach is meant to remove stains and clean. If you use it on your hair, it will lead to permanent damage.

Other possible outcomes are your hair breaking or falling out and chemical burns on your scalp. It is a harsh agent that can cause damage to more than just your hair. Hair bleach, on the other hand, is much gentler.

That said, it can still damage your hair or burn your scalp when used improperly, but it isn’t nearly as harmful as household bleach. You need to let your hair recuperate from bleaching before using any other chemical on it or bleaching again.

The way it lifts the cuticle leaves the shaft vulnerable, which is what causes dry and brittle hair after bleaching. You typically need to use bleach before dyeing your hair. This leads to a clean slate for getting the perfect color.

How Bleach and Developer Are Different

If bleach and developer both lighten the hair, how are they different? Bleach lightens hair a lot more than developer does. While hair developers will only lift two or three shades, bleach can lift several.

Hair bleach won’t do much on its own and requires a developer. The developer, like with dye, lifts the cuticle to allow bleach in.

How to Use Hair Developer

When you buy hair dye or hair bleach, if it doesn’t come with the developer, it will give you instructions on what developer to get and how much you need to use. Make sure you read the instructions before using dye or bleach on your hair.

Most often, the ratio will be 1:1 or 2:1 for the developer to hair dye or bleach. Mix the developer and hair dye or bleach (do not mix dye and bleach) together and apply it to your hair per the instructions.

The instructions will also give you a timeframe for how long to leave it on. Exceeding this time limit can lead to severe hair damage. If you experience burning on your scalp, wash the products out immediately.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Woman wondering is developer bleach, as seen by a woman holding straw up to her head

Beauty Stock/Shutterstock

Now that we have distinguished developer from hair bleach from each other, you may still have questions. Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions.

Is developer damaging to hair?

Developer can damage hair. There is always a risk of damage when using a hair developer. It opens up the protective cuticle and leaves the shaft vulnerable. Using the right volume of the developer is important when it comes to minimizing damage to your hair.

What volume of developer should I use?

The most commonly used developer is 20 volume developer. While 5 and 10 volumes will allow some color penetration, they aren’t that great at it. 20 volume is the first level that allows for gray coverage.

Typically, this is the volume you’ll want to use. You likely do not need to use a developer stronger than 20 unless you have dark hair and need to lift several shades. It is harmful to use a developer that is too strong.

Can I use hydrogen peroxide as a developer?

Since hydrogen peroxide is the main active ingredient in hair developer, can it be used alone and achieve the same results? Using hydrogen peroxide as a developer is not recommended.

Hydrogen peroxide is very different from developer, despite being the main ingredient. Developer is made for you to apply to your hair and has a thick, creamy consistency that is good for the application.

Hydrogen peroxide, however, has the consistency of water. Developer is made specifically to use on your hair. The hydrogen peroxide you buy from the store can work unpredictably.

What happens if you put too much developer in hair dye?

Adding too much developer to your hair dye can decrease its effectiveness. The runny mixture that results from mixing in too much developer will give lackluster results with a dull and diluted color.

What does using just developer do to your hair?

The developer alone will likely just lift your hair a shade or two but will probably be very uneven or an odd-looking shade. You need to use a developer with bleach or hair dye and not by itself. If you need to lighten your hair, use bleach.

So, Is Hair Developer the Same Thing as Bleach?

Sure developer can lighten your hair, but bleach does it better and with a more consistent shade all the way through. Developer is used in conjunction with bleach to achieve a lighter color. When used with permanent hair dyes, you get permanent color.

As always, take care when using chemicals on your hair. If you don’t feel good about it or feel pain, stop immediately. Remember not to use household bleach, as this can lead to chemical burns or even blindness if it drips in your eyes.

Like developer, hair bleach is made to work in your hair. Hydrogen peroxide and household bleach are not made to stay in your hair. Now you know what you need to use for your next or current hair adventure!