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Should I use 20 or 30 developer for gray hair?


When it comes to covering gray hair, the most important decision is choosing the right hair color and developer for your specific needs. Developers come in different volumes, with 20 and 30 volume being the most commonly used. The developer you choose will impact how light or dark the final color is.

What is hair developer?

Hair developer, also known as hydrogen peroxide, is a solution that is mixed with hair dye or bleach powder. It acts as an accelerator that opens the cuticle and allows the color molecules to penetrate the hair shaft. The developer lifts your natural pigment so the dye can deposit new color.

Developers are available in different volumes, such as 10, 20, 30, and 40 volume. The higher the developer volume, the higher the concentration of peroxide it contains. As a result, higher volume developers will lift more natural pigment from the hair.

Key Differences Between 20 and 30 Volume Developer

Here is an overview of how 20 and 30 volume developers compare:

20 Volume Developer

– Concentration of 6% hydrogen peroxide
– Lifts 1-2 levels of color
– Less damage to hair
– Better for delicate, fine, or damaged hair
– Used for glossing and darker hair dye results

30 Volume Developer

– Concentration of 9% hydrogen peroxide
– Lifts 2-3 levels of color
– More damaging to hair
– Best for lightening significantly or removing artificial color
– Used for dramatic color changes

Should I use 20 or 30 developer for gray coverage?

When it comes to covering grays, the developer you choose will depend on:

Your Natural Hair Color

If your natural hair is light blonde or you have 50% or more gray hair, use a 30 volume developer. The higher peroxide concentration will ensure maximum gray coverage.

For darker blonde, brown, or black natural hair with less than 50% gray coverage, a 20 volume developer is usually sufficient for covering grays.

Desired Result

If you want to darken your hair close to your natural shade, use a 20 volume developer. This will provide subtle, natural-looking results.

If your goal is to lighten hair several shades lighter than your natural color, use 30 volume. This will give you very light, bright results.

Hair Condition

The health of your hair is another consideration. If your hair is fine, brittle, or prone to damage, stick to 20 volume developer to avoid breakage. It will still cover grays but be gentler on your strands.

For strong, healthy hair, 30 volume will provide the most complete gray coverage. Just keep in mind it may cause more dryness.

How to Use 20 and 30 Volume Developer

No matter which you choose, here are some tips for mixing and applying developer:

– Always follow the color formula’s instructed developer ratio. Most professional brands will advise 1:1 or 1:2 dye-to-developer.

– Apply to clean, dry hair for maximum results.

– Section hair into four quadrants and start applying color at the back. Apply thoroughly from roots to ends.

– Leave on for 25-35 minutes then rinse until water runs clear.

– Condition and style as usual after. Avoid washing for 48-72 hours.

Other Things to Consider

In addition to developer volume, keep these factors in mind for optimal gray coverage:

Color Selection

Pick a shade that matches your natural or desired hair color. For the most seamless results, go with an ash or neutral tone if your grays are yellowish. Or try a warmer color if your white hairs are toneless. Using a permanent dye rather than a semi-permanent or temporary will also provide longer-lasting coverage on gray hair.

Application Technique

Ensure you fully saturate grays, focusing especially on the roots and hairline when applying color. Pull hair taut section by section to make hair more penetrable. Use a tint brush to touch up tricky areas like around your temples, part and crown.


To keep grays at bay between salon visits, use an anti-yellowing toning shampoo or mask weekly and alternate with a deep conditioning treatment. Limit heat styling and consider taking biotin supplements to support healthy hair. Plan to recolor at least every 4-6 weeks as your roots grow back in.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, it comes down to your unique hair profile and goals. For minimal lift with gentle deposit of color, 20 volume is the safer choice. If you desire a few shades lighter or need brightening, 30 volume will deliver more intense results. Consult with a professional if unsure since going too high with developer can cause damage. With the proper formula and technique, you can keep grays under control and your hair healthy.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I leave the 30 developer on longer to cover grays?

Do not leave any developer on longer than instructed; 35 minutes max for 30 volume. Extended processing won’t improve coverage but can cause chemical burns on your scalp and overly dry, brittle hair.

Does 30 developer damage your hair?

Yes, 30 volume developer contains higher levels of peroxide so it will cause more dryness and damage compared to lower volumes. Minimize risk by using a protein-rich conditioning treatment and avoid overprocessing.

What if 20 developer isn’t lightening enough?

First, determine if the issue is your application method rather than the developer strength. If coverage is still unsatisfactory after proper technique, step up to 30 volume or try a dye one shade lighter than your target color.

Can I use 30 volume to go lighter all over?

Yes, 30 volume can be used for full high-lift color services to lighten your overall shade by several levels. Have your hair professionally done to avoid breakage and ensure an even result on all parts of your hair.

What if I have highlights already?

If your highlighted pieces are darker than your gray roots, do an all-over color with 30 volume to lighten and catch everything up. If highlights are lighter than new growth, just do roots with 20 volume so as not to lift highlights further. The goal is an even color from roots to ends.


– 20 volume developer lifts 1-2 levels of color and is best for covering grays on darker hair or making subtle color changes.

– 30 volume lifts 2-3 levels and works well for significantly lightening hair and combating resistant grays.

– Take hair health, how much gray coverage is needed, and your desired color outcome into account when choosing a developer volume.

– For maximum results, apply on clean dry hair and follow the product’s timing recommendations based on the developer used.

– Maintain your color between salon visits with purple shampoo, deep conditioning, and timely touch-ups on new growth.

– Consult a stylist if still unsure whether 20 or 30 developer is right for your particular gray hair coverage needs. With the proper formula and techniques, you’ll achieve beautiful, vibrant color!