What Developer to Use to Darken Hair and Why? 10, 20, 30?

Cute black female with dark brown, fine hair that has been dyed a darker shade with medium brown hair dye.

Selecting the correct developer is crucial if you want rich, lustrous results when darkening your hair. But which one should you choose?

If you’re at a loss as to which developer is best, this article is for you.

In it, we’ll tell you what developer you should use to darken your hair. We’ll also teach you about your other developer options and how they affect the hair coloring process. Let’s get right into it!

What Developer to Use to Darken Hair

You should use a 10 or 20-volume developer to darken hair, depending on the current color of your natural hair. If your hair is already dark, you can get away with using a 10-volume developer. But if your hair is light, you’ll need to use a 20-volume developer to get to those deep, dark shades.

Young African American female with dark brown dyed hair using a dark dye with hydrogen peroxide.

Can You Go Darker with 30, 40, or 50 Volume Developer?

Whether your hair is naturally light or dark, using a 30, 40, or 50-volume developer to darken it will result in lighter hair. And since you’re reading this article, we know that’s not what you’re going for. So, stick to using a 10 or 20-volume developer if you’re doing darker.

An adorable female with a recent hair dye job has a darker tone of black hair on 3B coarse hair strands.

Developer Strengths and Their Ideal Uses

Now that you know which developer to use for darkening your hair, let’s discuss your other developer options. Here’s a rundown of all your developer options and when to use them.

Hair Color Developer: How to Pick the Right One 2021

  • 10-Volume Developer: This is the weakest developer of all widely-used developers. It is routinely used to darken hair. 
  • 20-Volume Developer: This developer is a bit stronger than the 10-volume developer. Stylists and DIYers alike use it to lift hair (or lighten hair) 2-3 shades with permanent hair color. This developer strength is most often used in box dye and bleaching kits, and it can also be used to darken hair that’s on the lighter side.
  • 30-Volume Developer: This developer is quite strong. You can use it to lift hair three to four shades when it’s added to permanent hair dye. 
  • 40-Volume Developer: This developer is potent, and it’s used to lift hair four to five shades with permanent dye. Experts advise against using a developer this strong at home. Many have fried their hair beyond recognition with a 40-volume developer.
  • 50-Volume Developer: This developer strength is relatively new and insanely strong. With just one use, you can lift your hair by six or more shades. We don’t recommend using this at home unless you’re a professional. 
Light skinned black girl embracing herself with dark hair after using a no lift hair color in her natural curls.

How to Go Darker with Dye

Now that you understand developers and how they can be used to darken the hair, let’s get into how to use them to get the darker tresses you’re going for:

Box Dye

If you’re using a box dye to darken your hair, the process is pretty simple. To start, combine the developer and hair color in the provided containers according to the instructions.

Then apply it to your dry hair in sections.

Wait for the amount of time indicated on the package instructions, then rinse the dye out of your hair. Once your hair is free of dye, wash and condition your hair and then proceed with the styling process.

Some of the best box dyes for natural hair are ammonia free and contain nourishing ingredients that leave your hair soft and hydrated. Here are a few choices to consider:

Black lady that used a 10 volume developer and box dye for covering grey hair is showing off hair fiber.

Professional Dye

If you’re using a professional hair dye, the process will be a bit more complicated. You’ll need to combine the developer and hair color in a mixing bowl and stir it with a tinting brush.

You’ll then apply it to your hair in sections using the tinting brush to ensure even coverage. Leave the dye on for up to 45 minutes, and then rinse your hair thoroughly with clean water.

Afterward, shampoo and condition your hair. You can even use a deep conditioner if your hair is feeling dry.

An adorable young female suffered hair cuticle damage after using a 40 volume developer to cover grey hair.

Is Hair Developer Harmful?

A developer can be harmful to your hair. If you use a developer that’s too strong, it can cause breakage and damage. That’s why it’s so important to understand which developer is suitable for your hair type and the look you’re trying to achieve.

If you use the developer as directed, it’s not likely to cause extreme damage.

But every time your hair’s cuticles are forcibly opened by developer-driven color processes, there’s a chance of damage. The lower the developer strength, the less likely it is to cause issues, but even then, there’s always a chance.

Developers’ risks are not limited to the hair.

They can cause irritation if they come into contact with your skin. If you experience any redness, swelling, or itchiness, rinse the area with clean water immediately and consult a medical professional if the irritation persists.

A young woman ponders which developer should I use as she considers dark dyes to cover her low porosity hair.

Non-Developer Options to Darken Hair

If you don’t want to use any developer, there are still options available to you. We’ll go over three of the most popular ones below.

Semi-permanent Dye

If your hair is already dark, you can use semi-permanent hair dye to go darker. This product doesn’t contain any developer and doesn’t require you to mix it with one, so it simply sits on top of your hair cuticles and stains them.

You’ll simply apply the dye to your clean hair and let it sit for the recommended amount of time before rinsing it out. The hair color will last anywhere from 4-8 weeks, and it will gradually fade with each wash.

A young female with light brown thick hair used a lower volume developer and hydrating mask to create her look.

Demi-permanent Dye

Another non-developer option is demi-permanent hair color. This type of dye is meant to be mixed with a 10-volume developer and is a bit stronger than semi-permanent hair color.

It slightly penetrates the hair shaft to deposit color just beneath the hair cuticle. This option can be used to darken hair that’s on the lighter side. The hair color lasts about 24 washes and fades gradually over time.


You can also try using henna if you’re looking for a more natural way to darken your hair. Henna is a plant-based powder that stains the hair and can be used to achieve a range of shades.

To use it, you’ll mix the henna with water (and oils if you prefer) and apply it to your hair.

After leaving it on for up to an hour or more, you’ll rinse the mixture from your hair. The downside to using henna is that it can be pretty messy, and it’s not always easy to achieve an even result.

Note: After coloring your hair with henna, you may have trouble dyeing your hair with traditional colorants in the future. 

An adorable female with medium-brown curls styled with brown dye pigments and weekly conditioning treatments.

Note on Protein Fillers When Going Darker

If your hair is extremely light – like platinum blonde – and you want to go very dark, you should add a protein filler to your hair dye before applying it. The product will help to fill in any gaps in your hair shaft so that the dark hair color can better adhere to your strands.

Should I Use 20 or 30-Volume Developer to Darken Hair?

A 20-volume developer is usually the better choice to darken hair, as it provides enough lift for the new hair color to penetrate the hair shaft without causing excessive damage. Using a 30-volume developer could lighten the hair too much, making it difficult to achieve a darker result.

What Developer to Use to Go Darker?

A 10 or 20-volume developer is the ideal choice for darkening hair, as they offer the right balance between lifting the base color and allowing the darker hair dye to penetrate. Using a higher-volume developer may result in excessive lightening, making it challenging to achieve the desired darker shade.

Does 30 Volume Developer Darken Hair?

A 30-volume developer is not ideal for darkening hair, as it lifts the base hair color significantly, potentially causing the hair to become too light. Instead, opt for a 10 or 20-volume developer to achieve a darker result without excessive lightening.

Positive female with a great smile wearing natural dyed curls styled with cream developer and natural color pigments.

Should I Use 10 or 20 Volume Developer to Darken Hair?

A 20-volume developer is generally recommended to darken hair effectively, as it allows the base hair color to be altered without causing excessive lightening. A 10-volume developer might not provide enough lift, leading to a less vibrant and shorter-lasting darkening effect.

What Developer to Use to Darken Hair From Blonde?

When darkening hair from blonde, a 10 or 20-volume developer is generally recommended, as it provides enough lift for the darker hair dye to penetrate effectively without causing excessive lightening. Using a higher-volume developer could lighten the hair too much and hinder the darkening process.

What Developer to Use to Lighten Hair?

A 30 or 40-volume developer is generally recommended to lighten hair, as they provide the necessary lift to achieve a lighter shade. However, always consider the hair’s current color and condition when choosing the developer, and follow the hair dye or bleach manufacturer’s instructions for optimal results. I recommend using a 40-volume developer only if you’re experienced in using developers; try a 30-volume instead.

What Is Hair Developer?

Hair developer is a hydrogen peroxide-based solution used in conjunction with hair dye or bleach to alter hair color. It works by opening the hair cuticles, allowing the hair dye or bleach to penetrate effectively. The developer’s strength, measured in volume, determines the amount of lift and duration of the color process.

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So those are your main developer options, along with some other ways you can darken your hair without using any developer at all. Now you can select the best developer for your individual needs.

Be sure to do a patch test before dyeing hair, even if you’ve used a given product before.

And always follow the instructions from the manufacturer to avoid any unwanted results. We hope that you found this article helpful, and we wish you the best of luck on your hair color journey!

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