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How much developer do I use for hicolor hilights?

Getting the perfect highlight can seem like an artform. The amount of developer you need can vary based on your natural hair color and tone, the level of lift you want, and the brand of lightener. Having the right ratio of developer to lightener is key for maximizing lift while minimizing damage. Here’s a guide on how much developer to use to safely achieve beautiful hicolor hilights.

What is Developer and How Does it Work?

Developer, also called hydrogen peroxide, acts as an activator for lightener powders and creams. It comes in different volumes that relate to the percentage of hydrogen peroxide in the solution:

Volume Percentage
10 Vol 3%
20 Vol 6%
30 Vol 9%
40 Vol 12%

When developer is mixed with lightener, the hydrogen peroxide opens up the cuticle and enables the lightening ingredients to penetrate the hair shaft and dissolve melanin. Higher volumes provide more lifting power. However, they also create more damage by overly swelling and weakening the hair’s structure. Milder developers around 20 Vol are often recommended for fine, fragile, or previously lightened hair.

Choosing Your Developer Volume

Here are some guidelines on choosing the right developer volume for your hilights:

  • For minimal lift (up to 1 level) on uncolored hair, use 10 Vol
  • For up to 2 levels of lift on uncolored hair, use 20 Vol
  • For 2-3 levels of lift on virgin hair, use 20-30 Vol
  • For 3-4 levels of lift on virgin hair, use 30-40 Vol
  • For lifting pre-lightened hair, use 20-30 Vol

Keep in mind, the condition of your hair and your desired end result will impact your ideal developer strength. Always do a strand test first to assess lift and damage before applying to your whole head.

Developer to Lightener Ratio

Getting the right mix ratio is also key. Mixing lightener with too much or too little developer can affect performance and contribute to damage. Standard professional mixing ratios are:

Lightener Form Developer Ratio
Powder Lightener 1 part powder to 2 parts developer
Cream Lightener 1 part cream to 1.5-2 parts developer

For low-volume developers, you can use slightly less (1:1.5 for powder, 1:1 for cream). For high-volume developers, increase the amount slightly to help cut the mixture (1:2.5 for powder, 1:2 for cream).

How Much Product Do You Need?

The amount of lightener and developer needed depends on your hair’s length and thickness:

  • Short, thin hair: 20-30g lightener + 40-60ml developer
  • Medium, average hair: 40-60g lightener + 80-120ml developer
  • Long, thick hair: 60-90g lightener + 120-180ml developer

For hilights, divide the total amount by the estimated number of foils you’ll be using. Having too little product can lead to hot spots and banding. Too much can cause overlapping and waste.

Lightener Amount for Partial Hilights

Section Lightened Lightener Needed
Face framing (10-20 foils) 10-20g
Money piece (10-15 foils) 10-15g
1/4 head (20-30 foils) 20-30g
1/2 head (30-40 foils) 30-40g
Full head (40-60+ foils) 40-60+g

The developer amount should be 1.5-2 times the lightener amount. Always have extra product on hand for any touch-ups needed.

How to Mix Lightener and Developer

Properly mixing your products ensures the color lifts evenly without hot roots or bands. Follow these steps:

  1. Start with a clean, dry bowl and brush.
  2. Measure out the desired amounts of lightener and developer.
  3. Pour the developer into the bowl first.
  4. Slowly incorporate the lightener powder or cream into the developer.
  5. Mix to a smooth, creamy consistency without lumps.
  6. Allow to sit or “marinate” for 5-10 minutes so the product can fully activate.

Avoid overmixing, as too much air can cause the lightener to swell and lift unevenly. Mix small batches as you go to keep the mixture fresh.

Applying Lightener

Once mixed, work quickly and systematically to apply the lightener:

  1. Section hair cleanly for your desired hilighting pattern.
  2. Use foil or plastic sheets to isolate the pieces being lightened.
  3. Apply lightener directly to mid-lengths and ends first.
  4. Then apply lightly through roots, keeping saturation minimal.
  5. Smooth each section and fold foil over.
  6. Keep edges sealed to avoid leakage and uneven lift.

Monitor frequently for your desired level of lift. Rinse, shampoo, and tone as needed. Adding too much product or overlap can cause hot spots, so apply carefully and strategically. With the proper ratio and saturation, you’ll get beautiful, bright hilights!

Maintenance & Troubleshooting

Here are some tips for maintaining your hilights and troubleshooting any issues:

  • Use a purple shampoo 2-3x a week to keep blonde tones bright and reduce brassiness.
  • Deep condition weekly and use bonding treatments to strengthen hair.
  • Avoid hot tools to limit damage to lightened strands.
  • Schedule a root touch-up every 4-6 weeks for regrowth.
  • If highlights seem brassy, tone with a violet toner to neutralize.
  • If too light, use a toner shade close to your natural level to darken.
  • Hot roots can mean too much overlap at regrowth. Apply lightly next time.
  • If highlights are spotty, increase weave sections and fully saturate ends.


Perfecting your hilighting technique involves finding the right developer volume for your hair goals, mixing it in the ideal ratio with lightener, and applying carefully for even lift. With some practice and these tips, you can master beautiful hicolor highlights. Consult a professional colorist if you have any concerns about damage or want a major change. But for touch-ups and subtle brightening, learn to safely hilights those locks and turn heads with your gorgeous, dimensional color!