In any discussion of haircolor, it is important to talk about color level and
developer. Level refers to the lightness or darkness of a particular haircolor. It's shown
on a scale of one to ten with 1 being black and 10 being palest blonde. The haircolor
formulas available also have a level on this same scale. This tells you how light or dark the finished color will be.
Developer is the oxidizing agent that allows the haircolor to do its job. Most
permanent haircolor today uses hydrogen peroxide as a developer. The peroxide opens
the cuticle so that the color can penetrate. It also disperses the existing color and can
lighten the hair's color level depending on the strength of the peroxide formulation.
The peroxide developer's oxidizing potential is denoted as its 'volume'. Most haircolor
formulas today work with a 10, 20, or 30 volume developer. The effects of these developer strengths are as follows:
(Click to enlarge)
10 Volume Peroxide is a standard oxidizing strength for permanent, no-lift
haircolor. Designed for use when you simply want to add a tint or color tone to hair of
the same lightness level, 10 Volume Peroxide opens the cuticle layer of the hair
allowing the color molecules to penetrate and color to be deposited in the cortex.
20 Volume Peroxide is also a common strength with permanent haircolor and
opens the hair cuticle like 10 Volume, but also offers lifting of the hair's level by 1-to-2
levels. 20 Volume Peroxide is used to best effect when the hairs starting level is no
more than one shade darker than the color you are trying to achieve.
30 Volume Peroxide works just like 20 Volume except that it will lift the hair's
starting color by 2-to-3 levels and works best when the target color is no more than two
levels lighter than the starting color. It's important to remember that the stronger the
developer is, the harsher it can be on your hair. You should always use a moisturizing
conditioner after applying a stronger haircolor.
There are Hydrogen Peroxide Developers that are stronger than 30 Volume (there
is also 40 Volume and 50 Volume formulas), but you should NEVER use these strengths
on your own. Developers above 30 Volume strength work very quickly, and without
careful monitoring, these formulas can destroy the integrity of your hair.
Right now, you're probably asking yourself "If 30 Volume Peroxide is the strongest
developer you recommend, how do I get my dark brown hair (level 3) to blonde
(level 8)?" The answer is relatively simple. You'll need to use a lightener first.
Lighteners are bleaching agents that are mixed with developers to decolorize - or lift
the color from - the hair, usually in preparation for adding a lighter color tone, or for generating dramatic highlights.
Lighteners come in two basic types - on-the-scalp lighteners and off-the-scalp
lighteners. They're classified as such because they are designed to be safe when
applied on or off the scalp as the name indicates. Off-the-scalp lighteners are much
stronger and should never be used so that they come in direct contact with the scalp
because they will cause chemical burns. These lighteners are generally designed for
use with highlighting or frosting caps where they don't rest on the head.
On-the-scalp lighteners are formulated to be safely applied to the hair and in the
scalp area. Often, on-the-scalp lighteners are slower working, but infinitely safer for the scalp.
Using any lightener requires careful monitoring of the hair as it is being
decolorized, because it can easily be over-processed. However, once you get your hair
lightened to the desired level, you can then color it as you desire, and know that you'll get the color you are trying for.
You should also remember that while haircolor when mixed with a developer goes
inert after 30 minutes, lighteners will remain active as long as they are moist. As a
result, even a lightener mixed with only 10 Volume Peroxide can result in over-processing if not watched carefully.
You also want to be careful that your hair is in good condition before you lighten it.
Damaged or porous hair can become irreparably harmed by lightening.