What developer to use to darken hair? Hair Coloring 101

materials to darken the hair

  • To darken hair, 20 volume developer should be used, and no more than that.
  • Now, everything depends on the base tone of your hair. If it’s dark already, you’ll only need a 10 volume developer.
  • But I want to make it very clear that if you use 30 or 40 volume developer, the only thing that’ll happen is that you’ll lighten your hair instead of darkening it.

Do you still have doubts?


Don’t worry. Now I’ll explain each of these points in greater detail.

I assure you that in less than 2 minutes, you’ll have zero doubts about which developer to use to darken your hair.


Experience dictates that many women are mistaken about the developer, which we mix with dye to change hair color.

Why do I say this?


A few days ago, I saw Vanessa in my salon, who wanted a change after having long, medium-blonde hair for a long time.

But unlike many women who want to lighten their hair, Vanessa wanted to darken hers. And she came to the salon with the idea that she should bleach her hair to darken it. Nothing further from the truth!


 Because when it comes to putting in a darker shade over a lighter one, it isn’t necessary to subject your hair to bleaching. 

Bleaching is always used for lightening tones; that is when we start from dark colors and want to get lighter ones.


To do this, you should bleach your hair to take out the dark dye and apply lighter tones.

But this doesn’t happen with darker tones, given that you can apply the dye in lighter hair shades without needing to bleach your hair before, using 20 volume developer.


As a professional colorist, I recommend that you’re aware of what it means to darken your hair.

What do I mean by this?


Vanessa wanted to go from a medium blonde to a jet black. It’s a drastic change, excessive, for someone who has always seen herself in the mirror with light hair for ten years.

So, I suggested that she choose a darker tone, but without trying to get a black color. After showing her the color options, we agreed on a chocolate brown.


When I finished dying her hair and saw herself in the mirror, she looked at me and smiled, and there was much more than joy in her smile. There was gratitude. Because the change was evident enough so that you noticed a before and after, but it wasn’t too shocking.

And that should be the idea with a color change, that you feel comfortable, that you can recognize yourself, and that it fills you with happiness and makes you want to look in the mirror again and again.


 For that reason, I recommend that if you’re going to darken the tone of your hair, you do it gradually, darkening by 2 or 3 shades. 

In this way, you’ll get used to your darker hair, and if you don’t, you’ll be able to go back to your previous color.


Now, if you’ve decided to darken your hair, don’t go anywhere, because I’m going to tell you:

  • Which volume developer to use to darken your hair depending on your base tone
  • Special care for hair dyed dark tones


Tabla de Contenidos


Which developer to use to darken your hair depending on your base tone


Check 20 volume developer price on Amazon


As I said at the beginning, when we’re talking about applying dye to darken hair, we should always put in 20 volume developer.

Never, but never, should you use a developer of a higher volume. Do you know why?


Because if you use 30 volume developer, you’ll only lighten your hair. Some extra light blonde dyes come with 30 or 40 volume developer. For this reason, they lighten your hair.

If you apply a dark dye with 30 volume developer, your base tone will lighten when you put it in.

Therefore, the tone you applied won’t look dark like you’d hoped—it will look much lighter, and you’ll lose the tone you’d chosen.


 So it’s vital that you pay attention when you buy the color kit, and that you check that the developer is 20 volume. 
  • For example, if your base tone is a medium blonde 7, and you want to apply a chocolate 5, you should use 20 volume developer.
  • If your base tone is a light blonde 8, and you want to apply a brown 4, you should use 20 volume developer.
  • And if your base tone is a chocolate 5, and you want to apply a black 1, you should use 20 volume developer.

But there are some exceptions, as with everything in life.


And these exceptions have to do with cases in which your hair already has a very dark base tone, and you don’t want to darken it very much more.

  • For example, if your base tone is a brown 4, and you want to apply a dark brown 3, you can use 10 volume developer.
  • If your base tone is a dark brown 3, and you want to apply a black 1, you can also use 10 volume developer.


So that it’s clear, I’ll repeat:

 Only in these cases can you apply 10 volume developer, because otherwise, if you apply 10 volume developer to darken your hair, it won’t absorb the pigmentation of the dye. 

This is only a matter of chemistry that has to do with developers’ workings in terms of coloring.


The developer is applied so that the hair fibers’ cuticles open, and the hair absorbs the dye pigments.

Dark tones, like dark brown and black, are shades that have more pigments. For that reason, it’s not necessary to apply 20 volume developer to put in the dye, given that the hair fiber is already saturated with color.

Do you want one last recommendation before darkening your hair?


Do the hair strand test.

 Because dark dyes contain a molecule called p-phenylenediamine, which despite being found in the majority of dyes and cosmetics, can cause a bad skin reaction, as in swelling, itching, burning, and redness. 

Although full-on allergic reactions are very uncommon, they can happen, and when the cause is a permanent dark dye, they can happen dramatically.


How to take care of your hair after darkening it

  • First, you shouldn’t wash it for 48 hours—if you can wait 72 hours, better, because, in this way, you’ll allow the hair cuticles to trap the dye pigments, letting them set in.
  • Try to replace your regular shampoo and conditioner with specially designed products for hair that has been dyed dark shades. This is very important for making the color last longer, given that it deposits pigments, making the color come back to life.
  • As much as possible, try to do a weekly treatment with a hydrating mask, avoiding those that contain parabens.


The good thing about dark shades is that the maintenance is only at the roots because the quantity of pigment that the dye contains makes the duration longer.

As a result, you should redo your color completely every two months; that is when you notice your roots’ growth.

What shade will you pick to darken your hair?

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