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What happens if you put too much developer into your dye?


Developer & Mix

Bullet-Point Summary - which developer to use & how much

The rules for developer choice with Ugly Duckling colors & toners

Use 10 Vol for level on level-on-level coloring and going darker.

Use 20 Vol for 1-2 levels lift, for toning blonde hair and for grey hair coverage.

Use 30 Vol for 2-3 levels lift

Use 40 Vol for 3 levels lift and more.

The mix for Ugly Duckling cream color is 1 part color to 1 part developer.

The mix with Blondify toners is 1 part color to 1 part developer.

The mix for Ugly Duckling cream toners is 1 part color to 2 parts developer.

The rules for developer choice with Ugly Duckling bleaches

Use 20 Vol for up to 3 levels lift and for the regrowth area (hair processes faster there because of the heat from the scalp)

Use 30 Vol for any lift higher than 3 levels lift.

Do not use 40 Vol with Ugly Duckling bleaches. It is not required, as our bleaches lift very fast.

The recommended mix for our bleaches is 1 part bleach to 2 parts color.

The rules for developer choice with Ugly Duckling high lift colors

Use 20 Vol for for 1-2 levels lift.

Use 30 Vol for 3-5 levels lift.

The recommended mix is 1 part high lift color to 2 parts developer.



1. What does the developer do to the hair?

Hair Developer is essentially hydrogen peroxide formulated inside a cream base in order to make it more cosmetic and gentle for the hair and the scalp.

Developer activates the hair color and bleach.

It helps the color or bleach open up the outer layer of the hair (the cuticle, in other words) and allows the mix to penetrate the hair shaft. 

Hair developer is typically formulated in different strengths, from 5 Vol and 7 Vol all the way to 40 Vol.

The developer strength refers to the oxidizing potential of the developer, or how much hydrogen peroxide it contains. 

The higher the "Vol", the more you open up the hair cuticle and the more lift you get.

2. What are the commonly used developer strengths? 

10 Volume Developer

This contains 3% hydrogen peroxide  and is used for no-lift hair color, tone-on-tone and tone-down applications.

20 Volume Developer

This contains 6% hydrogen peroxide. It is the developer strength the most widely used by colorists in salons.

It will lift the hair by one or two levels, allowing color or bleach to penetrate in and do its work. 

Ugly Duckling recommends that you use this strength for most permanent color applications involving 1-3 levels lift.

We also recommend that you use this for blonde toning applications as well as for grey hair coverage.

You should also use 20 Vol when doing bleach applications near the root area or scalp.

Hair here processes extremely fast and you should not use a stronger developer strength here.

30 Volume Developer

This contains 9% hydrogen peroxide.

It is the one to use when you are using high lift color or bleach on the lengths and you are going for lifts of 3 levels and more.

40 Volume Developer

This contains 12% hydrogen peroxide.

You should use this when faced with very stubborn hair situations. For example when hair has been colored darker and is very difficult to remove.

Use thus on the lengths only and never on the scalp.

It has extremely strong lifting power, but because it opens up the hair cuticle so much, it can damage the hair cuticle unnecessarily. 

Sometimes stylists want to use this with hair bleach in order to get their clients very very blonde - for example, to lift it by 7 or 8 levels.

We don't recommend you do this when using Ugly Duckling bleaches, as they have been formulated to lift very well with 20 and 30 Vol developer strength only.

3. So How do I know which developer strength I should use? 

First, refer to the hair color chart below to figure out where your client's hair is currently.

Hair Coloring Levels

Your aim is to give a number to your current hair color level.

Use the left side of the chart below to figure out what level your natural hair color (virgin hair) is on a scale of 1-10.

If you have lengths which have been previously bleached or colored, you can use the right side instead.

So for example if there is orange in your hair, you are at level 5 Light Brown.

If there is a lot of yellow/orange, you are somewhere between level 6 and level 7.

If you see only yellow, you are at level 8 or lighter.

Next, figure out what level you are aiming for.

Use the chart below to guide you.

Hair Color Levels

If, for example you are going for a true blonde color, the answer would be either 9 or 10.

If you are going for a dark or medium blonde color, that means you are going for a level 6-8.

If you are going for any warm vibrant fashion color, red or pink, for example, you will need to take the hair to level 7 minimum.

And if you are going for any cold fashion color, blue, grey or violet, for example, you will need to take the hair to level 9 minimum.

Now subtract the two numbers to figure out the level lift required.

So let's say your regrowth is level 5 and you are trying to take that hair blonde.

That would mean that you need to lift it by 10-5, in other words, by 5 levels.

So in this case you would need to use bleach with 20 Volume, followed by a color also with 20 Volume.

Make sure you do this calculation for every part of your hair, because your regrowth could be one level and your previously colored lengths could be another.

Finally, make your developer choice according to the number of levels of lift required.

4. Do I need to use the same brand of developer as my color or bleach?

Not necessarily. As long as the developer is a cream based one and it is fresh, it will work well on any brand of color or developer.

What is important, however, is that you choose the correct strength of developer and follow the correct mix instructions.

These may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. 

Ugly Duckling developers are very effective.

They are all batch controlled, stable and extremely consistent in the amount of lift that they give.

They are also enriched with cosmetic elements.

They can be used with any major brand of hair color and bleach.

If you are using Ugly Duckling colors, toners and bleaches, follow the instructions given here and you will get excellent results. 

5. How do I mix 20 Vol developer with hair color?

Mix developer and color in a plastic mixing bowl.

Experienced colorists can get the developer mix right by just pouring in & looking at the mix - but we don't recommend this!!

Use a weighing scale or the markers on the bowl to get the mix ratio right.

Keep stirring or using a whisk until you get a totally cream smooth paste.

Ugly Duckling colors have been designed to give very good product saturation but you do need to get the mix right. 

This is what a mix of Ugly Duckling color and developer should look like:

Hair Color & Developer Mix:

Developer and color mix

Developer & Color Mix

6. How do I mix 20 Vol developer with bleach?

Mix using a weighing scale or the markers on the plastic bowl.

If you are using the Ugly Duckling bleach scoop, you can use the same scoop to measure out the developer.

The Ugly Duckling scoop is 1 oz. For every scoop of bleach you would need 2 scoops of developer.

This is what a mix of Ugly Duckling bleach and developer should look like:

Brilliant Blonde Blue Bleach & Developer mix

Brilliant Blonde & Developer Mix

Brilliant Blondexx Bond Protect Bleach & Developer Mix:

Brilliant Blondexx Mix

7. What happens if you use developer by itself?

You will manage to open the cuticle and you will get some of the hair's natural melanin to come out.

So you will lighten the hair as a result to some degree.

But the color result will be very imperfect and we don't recommend it.

You will just end up needing to color again to get it right and the multiple applications of developer will do unnecessary damage to your client's hair.

8. Why use 20 Vol for Toning? 

Toning is level on level, so 10 Vol, right?

Umm...not so fast!! Not if the hair has been incorrectly pre-lightened.

See the pictures below:

Brassy Hair

Brassy Hair

As you can see, the hair is really very brassy actually dark blonde in some places.

As a hairdresser you should really be using bleach to lift up the dark parts first.

That would be the correct thing to do.

You could instead use Ugly Duckling's Intense Pearl Blonde toner with 20 Vol & that would work too, as Ugly Duckling's intense toners do have lift.

What would not work is to tone with 10 Vol on this type of hair.

9. Why Use 20 Vol developer for grey hair coverage? 

So when I am doing grey hair coverage, that's level-on-level. So I use 10 Vol, right?

Umm...once again...not so fast!

If you have 25% grey hair or less than 10 Vol will be OK.

But once again, the fact that 10 Vol developer does not penetrate deeply into the hair cuticle will penalise your end result.

For more than 25% grey hair, we recommend 20 Vol rather than 10 Vol.

You will be softening the cortex more by using 20 Vol and you will be depositing color pigments deeper, not just coating the outside.

The hair color will also last longer that way.

10. How much developer should I use for Ugly Duckling color, toner & bleach?

The recommended mix ratio for Ugly Duckling Color is 1 part color to 1 part developer for most of our colors.

The recommended mix ratio for Ugly Duckling cream based toners (Intense Pearl Blonde, Intense Silver Blonde, Pearl Blonde Toner, Silver Blonde Toner) is 1 part color to 2 parts developer.

The recommended mix for Blondify liquid toners is 1 part toner to 1 part developer.

The recommended mix For Ugly Ducking High Lift Colors (anything beginning with the number 100) is 1 part color to 2 parts developer.

The recommended mix for Ugly Duckling Bleach, is 1 part bleach to 2 parts developer.

11. If I use more developer will I get more lift?

No, it does not work like that.

Whatever strength you use, the mix should always stay the same. 

People sometimes think they can put in more developer to achieve greater lift. Not true. 

You can add in a little more developer if you want a runnier mix in order to work fast. 

You can also add in a little less developer for a thicker mix in order to do balayage techniques.

Both these cases are explained more fully later on.

But in general, if your hair is too dark and you want to lift a lot, you need to adjust the developer strength as above, not the mix.

If that does not give you the lift you are looking for, the answer is to use high lift color or bleach, not add in more developer.

12. Does more developer make the bleach mixture stronger?

No, it will not do that. All bleaches are designed with a certain mix in mind.

Ugly Duckling bleaches function very well with a 1:2 mix and will give you the lift that you need.

For the root area and for 1-2 level lifts, use 20 Vol developer and in most cases that should be perfect.

For higher lifts, use 30 Vol developer. Re-apply if necessary if the hair is very dark.

With Ugly Duckling bleaches you should never have to use 40 Vol developer & we don't recommend it.

Bleach & Developer mix

Ugly Duckling Brilliant Blonde mixed with 30 Vol developer in a 1:2 mix.

This fairly runny mix will be easy to apply, give you good product saturation & will enable you to work fast.

13. What happens If I put too much developer in the dye?

Your mix will be more wet, & more runny.

If it is way too runny, you may end up lightening the hair, but not depositing enough color.

It will end up thinner, flatter and last less long.

14. What happens If I put more hair color than developer?

Your mix will be too dry, and you won't be able to saturate the hair properly with product.

You will also not be opening up the cuticle enough. 

You will not be lifting out enough of the hair's natural melanin.

This will mean you may end up with darker hair than you wished for.

And results that are less vibrant and last less long.

15. Are there any cases where it is a good idea to deliberately put in extra developer?

Putting in more developer will give you a runnier solution.

This is helpful when you want to saturate the hair (cover the hair with product) really really well and evenly.

You will get a more even color result and you will tend to avoid patches.

This is particularly important in full head applications.

A runnier solution will allow you to work fast.

This may be an important factor when your client's hair is long and you want to give all the hair the same processing time roots to ends.

Very often, expert colorists tend to go with a runnier solution for the above reasons.

Many of the artists who produce video tutorials for Ugly Duckling do in fact use fairly runny mixes (See below).

Working fast is of course very important in a salon, and it helps them achieve consistent results from root to ends.

Even when going with a runnier solution, aim at a maximum mix of 1:1.5 for Ugly Duckling Color and 1:2.5 mix for Ugly Duckling Lighteners and toners.

Any more and you may be compromising color results.

16. Are there any cases where it is a good idea to deliberately put in too little developer?

It will help if you want to do a balayage technique (free painting with dye brush).

And if you want to position the color accurately and not have any product dripping off the brush.

Balayage artists tend to work with thicker color mixes.

This helps avoid putting on too much product in one go and thus avoid visible lines of demarcation.

It will also help if you are looking to do grey hair coverage and your client has difficult to cover grey hair.

You will get a darker color result, but you will be able to improve grey hair coverage.

Even when going for a less runny solution, aim at a minimum mix of 1:0.8 for Ugly Duckling Color and 1:1.5 mix for Ugly Duckling Lighteners and toners.

17. How long will developer keep?

You need to discard your developer bottle within 12 months of opening.

In any case, in a busy hair salon developers will not last that long!

Care needs to be taken to always store developers (and indeed, color) in a cool and if possible dark place where it is not exposed to sunlight.

18. Is developer the same as bleach?

No, the 2 have very separate chemical properties.

Bleaches contain persulfates and are made for stripping color out of hair.

Think of developers as activators. You need developer to activate the bleach.

You also need developer to activate hair color. 

19. Does developer damage the hair?

Excessive chemical processing damages the hair. When you have lightening or coloring or toning to do, do it once and get it right.

That would be our motto.


Choose your developer strength according to how many levels you need to lift.

  • Don't try to short-cut the coloring process by either using a higher developer strength than you should be using, or by pouring in more developer than you should be using - we guarantee you that that will not work!
  • If you need to lift by more than 3 levels, you will need to use bleach or a high lift color before you tone.
  • Use 10 Vol for less than 25% grey coverage and for going darker.
  • For anything else 20 or 30 Vol should be the natural choice.
  • For Blondify liquid toners you have the flexibility of 7 Vol, 10 Vol and 20 Vol. But make sure that the hair is well prelightened.
  • In general, Ugly Duckling products have been made for stylists looking to take their clients' hair blonde and very blonde. 
  • Follow the coloring rules we have provided and you will excellent coloring results.

Video of a toner & developer mix 

In this short video, you can see the application of Intense Pearl Blonde Toner 100V with 20 Vol Developer.

The stylist, Ashley, has done a mix of 1 part toner to 2 parts developer - which is what we recommend for toners.

It allows you to work fast - and in this case, our model's hair was super long and we needed to work fast.

The toner sat on our model's hair for about 20 minutes in total.

Hair by Ashley Betancourt.

Watch Video of Ugly Duckling Hair Color 10.1b Color & Developer Application:

In this video, the stylist Brittney is applying 10.1b which is once again a color.

The mix here is 1 part color to 1 part developer.

You can see the thickness of consistency that our stylist got with this mix.

The color was left to process the full 30 minutes in order to get the full richness and intensity of this very unusual blue based ash blonde color.

Hair by Brittney Perez.


Hair by Ashley Betancourt, NY

Looking for your personalized guide to developer choice (including full recipe)? Then go here:

About the author

Sally has been a hair colorist and trainer for many years in both the US & Europe. She currently does hair color training for Ugly Duckling. She also helps develop new & awesome products for the brand.

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