Can I Lighten My Hair With Just Developer? What You Need To Know

You may have heard of people lightening their hair with just developer. But how effective is this technique? Is it worth it for the color result and does it damage your hair less than using developer with bleach? Let’s take a look.

Can I Lighten My Hair With Just Developer

You can lighten hair with just developer but the result will not be as effective as mixing it with bleach. This is because developer contains hydrogen peroxide which raises the hair cuticles but has limited color lifting abilities.

What Is Developer Used For?

A developer is a creamy substance containing hydrogen peroxide that is usually mixed with bleach or hair dye to color the hair. Sometimes known as ‘activator’ it is what activates the bleach or hair color.

You should therefore not confuse the two products. Developer is not the same as bleach.

The hydrogen peroxide in developer lifts the cuticle of the hair to get the color in. The higher the level, or ‘volume’ of the developer, the more color lift it creates.

Developer volumes come in 10, 20, 30, and 40 volume. Each volume has different concentrations of hydrogen peroxide.

Using developer on its own can lighten the hair color, but it’s not as effective as mixing it with bleach. This is because the resulting shade can be unpredictable and come out brassy.

Many boxed hair dyes come with developer included. However, it is also possible to buy developer separately.

In this case, it’s important to know the correct developer to dye ratio, or developer to bleach ratio, as well as what volume of developer you’ll need for your desired color result.

Also Read: Does Dry Shampoo Affect Hair Dye? ( How To Tell)

Does Developer Lighten Hair?

Yes, developer does lighten hair. This is because hydrogen peroxide, in higher concentrations, also has the ability to lift pigmentation from your hair.

It’s therefore even possible to use developer mixed with shampoo to remove hair dye.

Can I Lighten My Hair With Just A Developer?

Developer alone can lighten hair but we wouldn’t recommend it. This is because using developer alone on the hair is not a hugely effective way of lightening it.

It will lighten your hair, but the color result may not be very good. Mixing developer with dye or bleach powder will produce a better color result and be more effective at lightening your hair.

If you’ve ever dyed your hair with a permanent dye, then used a color removal product, you’ll probably have noticed that the color of your hair underneath is lighter than your original, virgin hair color.

You may also have noticed that it’s not a particularly great shade.

Well, this is what using just developer does to your hair in a nutshell. Developer will lighten hair by itself a little, but the color result may not be what you want.

Does Developer Damage Hair?

Yes, it does. Maybe the reason you might consider using just developer to lighten your hair is you think it’ll be less damaging to your hair than mixing it with bleach.

Well, this is true to an extent. Bleach does damage the hair. But developer on its own is still damaging to the hair as it lifts the hair cuticle. The higher the volume of the developer, the more it raises the cuticle.

While this is necessary in order to get the bleach or dye to penetrate the hair shaft, it is still damaging and exposes your hair to environmental stressors.

This is why professional hair colorists recommend using the lowest volume developer you can get away with.

It is well known that developer of 40 volume or above can cause chemical burns to the scalp and damage to the hair, if not used with extreme care.

So yes, using just developer is still damaging to the hair! So you don’t really benefit from using just developer on its own.

At least if you combine the developer with bleach, yes, it’s harsh on the hair but you’ll get a better color result.

Pro Tip: Use coconut oil before bleaching to help protect your hair.

How To Bleach Hair With Just Developer?

Can I Lighten My Hair With Just Developer

If you still want to go ahead and try lightening your hair using just developer, here’s our simple step-by-step guide.

Because the resulting color may not be very good using just developer, you may want to try using a toner on your hair afterward to get a better shade.

Remember that using just developer alone will not have the same lightning effect as mixing developer with bleach.

Start with a 20 volume developer, to begin with, as 30 and especially 40 can be damaging to the hair and irritate or even burn the scalp.

Don’t forget to do a patch test to test for allergies and a strand test to get an idea of what the results will look like.

What You’ll Need

  • Developer
  • Conditioner
  • Plastic gloves
  • Mixing bowl and brush
  • Hair clips
  • An old t-shirt to wear
  • A timer or clock


  1. To start with, you’ll need damp hair, so wet your hair in the shower and towel dry it so that it is still slightly damp.
  2. Section up your hair ready to apply the developer. Put on your plastic gloves.
  3. Begin applying the developer to your hair in sections. Start with the lengths and ends of your hair before going back to do the roots.
  4. Cover your hair with a shower cap and leave to develop for between 10 to 30 minutes. Keep checking your hair color every five minutes to ensure you are happy with the color.
  5. After the time is up, rinse out your hair with warm water, and condition and dry as normal.

Also Read: How To Dilute Hair Dye Without Conditioner (Easy Guide)

What Can I Mix With Developer To Lighten Hair?

The usual way to lighten your hair is by mixing developer with bleach. This is a more effective way to lighten your hair than using just developer.

The volume of the developer to use depends upon your natural hair color and how much you want to lighten your hair by.

A 20 volume developer will lighten your hair by 1 or 2 levels.

A 30 volume developer will lighten your hair by 2 to 4 levels.

A 40 volume developer is only used for lightening hair and can provide 4 to 8 levels of lift. So it depends on your hair color and what you want to achieve. If you want to lighten your naturally blonde hair, you can use a 20 volume developer.

If you want to make your medium brown hair a couple of shades lighter, you can use a 20 volume developer. If you want to bleach it to get a blonde shade, however, you would use a 30 volume developer.

You could also try to dilute your hair dye with a conditioner to get a lighter shade.

If you have black or dark brown hair and you want to get it blonde, you could use a 40 volume developer.

Please note however that this can be very damaging to the hair and can cause irritation to the scalp.

It is better for your hair and scalp health to use a lower volume developer, and do repeat treatments with fortnight gaps in between.

How To Bleach Your Hair

First, do a patch test (very important) as you may have a reaction. You can also do a strand test to test what the resulting color will look like on your hair.

The ratio of bleach to developer should be 1:2. For 1 part of bleach, you will need 2 parts of developer.

What You’ll Need

  • Developer
  • Bleach powder
  • Shampoo
  • Deep conditioner
  • Plastic gloves
  • Hair clips
  • Mixing bowl and brush
  • An old t-shirt to wear
  • A timer or clock


  1. Mix the bleach powder and developer in a large plastic bowl, making sure you have enough solution to cover all of your hair. Section up your hair and put your gloves on ready.
  2. Begin applying the bleach mix to your hair, leaving the roots until last.
  3. Put on a shower cap and leave the bleach to process. Keep checking it every few minutes to check the color. Don’t leave bleach on your hair for longer than 30 minutes as it can damage your hair.
  4. Wash your hair thoroughly with warm water and shampoo to remove all the bleach from your hair.
  5. Apply a deep conditioning mask to help restore your hair’s condition. Leave on for the specified time as per pack instructions.
  6. Rinse out the deep conditioning mask, and let your hair air dry naturally to help it recover.

If you see yellow tones in your hair after bleaching, don’t worry; this is normal if you have bleached hair that is naturally darker in color. Using a purple shampoo can cancel out these unwanted yellow tones.

Also Read: How To Bleach And Dye Hair On The Same Day!

Can You Lighten Hair With Developer And Baking Soda?

You may have seen that combining hydrogen peroxide with baking soda is a popular method of lightening hair on the internet.

2 tsp of baking soda are mixed with 1 ½ tsp of hydrogen peroxide and mixed to form a paste that is applied to the hair. If left on for 30 minutes to 1 hour it can produce a noticeable lightening effect.

This is an effective way of lightening hair by one or two levels. It can be very drying for the hair however and irritating for the scalp. This is because baking soda has high alkalinity. It can cause hair to become dry, frizzy, and more prone to breakage.

If you’re going to use this method, use a deep conditioner afterward to restore lost moisture. Only use the baking soda method for lightening hair sparingly.

What Else Can You Use To Lighten Your Hair?

Can I Lighten My Hair With Just Developer

There are a few other options if you want to lighten your hair without the use of bleach. But these options will create more subtle effects and you will have to wait longer for the results.

You can purchase lightening shampoo and conditioner to slowly lift the color of your hair. Results will vary based on your natural hair color, and you might have to persist for a time to notice any visible difference.

Also, these products do not create the same kind of lift that bleach does; your hair might only lighten by one shade.

But if you’re looking for a subtle, sun-kissed effect that won’t damage your hair, lightening shampoos and conditioners might be the way to go.

There are also products you can use from your kitchen cupboard or from the grocery store. Have you considered using lemon juice, chamomile tea, or honey to lighten your hair?

Again, these will not produce the same effect as bleaching your hair, but they may be just what you’re looking for if you want a subtle hint of blonde without damaging your hair.

Final Thoughts

You can lighten hair with developer and no bleach if you use a developer with the right strength and volume. However, if you want to dramatically lift the color of your hair, bleach mixed with developer is the only way to go.

While it’s true that this method is damaging to your locks, with the right care you can mitigate the damaging effects.

Disclaimer: This site is not intended to provide professional or medical advice. All of the content on is for informational purposes only. All advice should be followed at your own discretion. Ingredients may change at any time so always check the product label before using. Check our full disclaimer policy here.

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Nicola Sloan

Nicola is a freelance writer and researcher whose specialisms lie in health and wellness, beauty, and psychology. She has fine, wavy hair and is a big fan of co-washing every alternate day between shampoos (as dry shampoo makes her sneeze!)