Can I Use Conditioner Instead of Developer? Tips for At-Home Hair Dyeing

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Are you tired of using hair developers that damage your locks? Do you wish there was an alternative to the harsh chemicals usually found in these products?

Well, if you’ve ever asked yourself “Can I use conditioner instead of developer?” then we’ve got the answer for you!

Can You Use Conditioner Instead Of Developer?

Using conditioner instead of developer is a big no-no. Conditioner does not contain hydrogen peroxide, so it won’t effectively lighten the hair and prepare it for color absorption.

Instead, it can lead to an uneven hair color result or even cause the hair to become greasy and lifeless.

Nowadays, there are new hair color trends that call for mixing hair dye and conditioner to achieve pastel tones or create a diluted hair color effect. This only works with semi-permanent hair dye.

Developers and conditioners are two different things.

Developers give life to hair color or bleach, while conditioners bring in the moisture and keep your mane soft and untangled.

If you use conditioner instead of developer, your hair will not get the desired look you want.

BUT! There are alternative options that you can use instead of developer. Before we get into mixing different products, let’s understand what hair coloring is all about.

“There is a chemical reaction that takes place between the developer and the dye, adding conditioner can keep that necessary reaction from happening or lead to unpredictable results.”

Onehappydonut, r/HaircareScience, Reddit
Can I Use Conditioner Instead of Developer - girl dyeing her hair image

Understanding Hair Coloring

Hair dye is a combo of two things: color and developer.

The color will give your hair the new look you want, and the developer will activate it and help it get into your hair.

When it comes to hair dye, you have two main options: permanent hair dye and semi-permanent hair dye.

Permanent hair dye uses developer, semi-permanent hair dye doesn’t.

Permanent dye will stay in your locks for weeks or months because the hair color has penetrated your strands, whereas semi-permanent dyes only last a few days or weeks.

So, you CAN use conditioner to dilute semi-permanent hair dye, but you can’t use conditioner in place of developer.

What does developer do to hair infographic - Alkaline hydrogen peroxide causes the hair cuticles to lift and open.Hair color pigments  travel under the cuticle to the hair cortex.

What is a Hair Developer?

A Hair Developer is the MVP of hair coloring! It’s a cream or liquid made with hydrogen peroxide and other chemical oxidizers.

Hair developer is the key to getting those beautiful locks you’ve been dreaming of.

It helps open up your hair cuticles and lets the color molecules in so that dye or bleach can do their job. Plus, it lightens your natural hair color by breaking down melanin.

Volume developers measure the concentration of peroxide in a solution, with 10 being the lowest and 40 being highest – which means more lifting power.

It’s super important to pick the right volume of hair developer so your hair doesn’t get damaged. If you use a higher volume than needed, it can break and cause damage.

If you’re using an at-home box dye, the ratio of hair color and developer will be ready-made. Just be sure to do a patch before you dye your whole head.

If you’re not sure, talk to a professional stylist first and they can help you choose!

developer volumes infographic - 10 volume =  3% peroxide
20 volume = 6% peroxide
30 volume = 9% peroxide 
40 volume = 12% peroxide

What will happen if you use conditioner instead of developer?

Simply put – nothing! Your hair dye won’t work. Your hair will not lighten and you will not achieve the hair color you want.

If you mistakenly use conditioner instead of developer, you will need to rinse the product out of your hair and start again. 

While some people may suggest using conditioner in a DIY hair color recipe, it is not a suitable substitute for developer in professional hair coloring treatments.

Conditioner does not have the necessary chemicals to activate the coloring pigments in the same way that developer does, so you won’t get the same results. 

Aside from creating an unwanted hair color effect, using conditioner instead of developer can also damage your hair.

Conditioner only helps in softening and smoothening the hair.

Using it as a developer substitute can over-moisturize the hair and break down its natural structure. As a result, you can end up with dry and frizzy hair – which no one wants!

“You can dilute developer with WATER…..that reduces its strength. Some salons only stock 40 volume because every strength can be made from this ONE strength simply by dilution.”

middleagepriceless, r/HairDye, Reddit

Watch and learn: How to use hair dye with conditioner

Here’s a great video tutorial that guides you through how you can add conditioner to hair dye to protect your hair from chemical damage.

YouTube video

Understanding Different Types of Hair Dyes

When it comes to hair dye, there are a variety of options available.

It’s important to understand the different types of hair dyes to determine which one is right for you. Here are some of the most common types of hair dyes:

Semi-permanent hair color

Semi-permanent hair color is a type of hair dye that does not contain any developer – ammonia or peroxide.

This type of dye is best for if you want to experiment with some crazy colors, enhance your natural hair color or add a subtle touch of color to your hair.

Semi-permanent hair color typically lasts for about 4-6 weeks.

Demi-permanent colors

Demi-permanent hair dyes are similar to semi-permanent hair color, but they contain a small amount of peroxide.

This type of dye is the one for those who want to add a little more color to their hair without committing to a permanent color.

Demi-permanent colors typically last for about 6-8 weeks.

Permanent dyes

Permanent dyes are the most popular type of hair dye.

They contain developer – both ammonia and peroxide, which work together to lift the hair cuticle and deposit color.

This type of dye is only for those who want a long-lasting hair color that will grow out.

Permanent dyes typically last for about 4-6 weeks before fading.

hair dye boxes on shelf

What does conditioner do to hair?

Hair conditioner is an important part of taking care of our hair health and, well, condition!

It helps keep our hair looking healthy and shiny. After we wash our hair, using conditioner helps to seal water into your hair and keep it moisturized. Here’s a reminder why you need good conditioners in your life:

Moisturizing and Hydrating

Conditioners help keep our hair hydrated and moisturized, because dryness leads to breakage and damage.

There’s a conditioner for everyone — moisturizing conditioners, deep conditioners, leave-in conditioners — all of which can give your hair just the right amount of hydration and moisture.

Protection and Repair

Conditioners protect and repair our hair too.

They’re made with ingredients like fatty alcohols, humectants, silicones, surfactants, amino acids, esters and fatty acids that help protect our locks from all the bad stuff like pollution and heat styling.

Plus they can fill in gaps in the hair cuticle so it looks smoother and shinier.

Detangling and Softening

Conditioners are also just the potion to keep your hair soft and tangle-free!

Their special ingredients help loosen knots and tangles so you can easily brush or comb your locks.

This makes it easier to style by making your hair more manageable.

Natural and Home Alternatives for Developer

If you’re looking for an alternative to chemical developers, there are some home remedies you can try with what you already have in your kitchen cupboards!

#1. Black Tea

Black tea can be used to darken hair while chamomile tea is great for lightening it.

All you have to do is brew a strong cup of tea, let it cool, and apply it to your hair. Leave it in for at least an hour before rinsing out – easy peasy!

#2. Lemon Juice

Another option is lemon juice.

Lemon juice can lighten hair naturally, but be careful not to use too much or leave it on for too long, as it can be drying.

Mix lemon juice with water and apply it to your hair, then sit in the sun for a natural lightening effect.

#3. Henna

If you’re looking for a more permanent option, henna hair dye and indigo can be used to dye hair naturally.

Henna is a plant-based color that can create a range of shades from red to brown, while indigo can be used to create a darker shade.

These natural dyes are a great option for those with sensitive skin or allergies to chemicals.

#4. Red Wine!

For those looking for a more unconventional option, red wine can be used to add a subtle red tint to hair!

Simply mix red wine with water and apply it to your hair, then rinse it out after an hour. (it smells!)

#5 Walnut Shells

Finally, walnut shells can be used to create a natural brown color.

Crush walnut shells and boil them in water, then strain the liquid and apply it to your hair. Leave it in for at least an hour before rinsing it out.

Caring for Colored Hair

Coloring our hair is an amazing way to express ourselves, but it’s important to take care of it the right way.

Keeping your colored locks vibrant and shiny takes a little extra love and care – these are some tips we’ve picked up over the years that help us keep our hair looking its best!

Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize

Colored hair can be more prone to dryness and breakage. So let’s make sure we keep it hydrated and healthy by deep conditioning it once a week.

This will nourish your frazzled strands, and replenish moisture and elasticity to your hair.

Avoid Harsh Chemicals

Harsh chemicals can strip the color from our hair and cause damage.

Say goodbye to harsh chemicals! Choose hair products that are color-safe and gentle on the strands. Look for ones without sulfates or parabens. Your hair will thank you for it!

Protect Your Hair from the Sun

Just like our skin, our hair can be damaged by the sun.

Keep your colour poppin’ by donning a hat or spritzing on some UV protectant when you’re out enjoying the sunshine!

Use Protein Treatments

Coloring our hair can cause it to break more easily.

To help our strands stay strong, we use protein treatments each month. These treatments can help repair damage and prevent future breakage.

Go easy on the heat

Hot styling tools like flat irons and curling wands can cause our hair to become brittle and break.

So take it easier on the heat styling – if you must use heat, make sure you apply a protective product beforehand.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you use conditioner instead of developer for hair dye?

No, you cannot use conditioner instead of developer for hair dye.

Conditioner and developer are two different products with unique functions.

While developer is used to open up the hair cuticle and activate the dye molecules, conditioner is used to nourish and hydrate the hair. Using conditioner instead of developer may not give you the desired results and may damage your hair.

Developer substitute for bleach?

If you don’t have a developer on hand for bleaching, you can use hydrogen peroxide as a substitute.

Hydrogen peroxide is a common household item that is often used to disinfect wounds!

It can also be used as a bleach substitute because it has similar properties to developer.

However, keep in mind that using hydrogen peroxide may not give you the same results as using a developer, and it can be super harsh on your hair!

What can I use instead of 10 volume developer?

If you don’t have 10 volume developer, you can try a few different things.

One option is to use 20 volume developer, but you will need to dilute it with water to get the same results as 10 volume developer.

Another option is to use a hair color that does not require developer, such as a semi-permanent color.

What happens if you don’t use developer?

If you don’t use developer, your hair color will not process properly.

Developer is needed to open up the hair cuticle and activate the dye molecules.

Without developer, the dye molecules will not penetrate the hair shaft, and your hair color will not change!

Parting words

To sum up, if you’re interested in dying your hair, it’s best to avoid using conditioner in place of developer.

Developer is specifically formulated with hydrogen peroxide to lighten the hair and prepare it for color absorption.

Only a developer has the right ingredients to safely and effectively dye your hair when used as the instructions say.

As always, be sure to seek professional advice from a licensed hairdresser whenever considering any drastic changes to your appearance.

With the right information and products, you can achieve the look of your dreams without damaging your beautiful locks!


  • Nicola Freeman, Creative Director & Content Lead

    With over two decades of passionate hair dyeing experience, I've experimented with nearly every shade imaginable. My journey began long before blogging; as an award-winning copywriter in London and New York, I shaped narratives for iconic brands. However, when friends sought advice during lockdown for at-home hair dyeing, I realized my true calling. Beyond being your hair color expert, I'm a mom of two girls, wife to artist Tony, and an avid soccer player!

  • Enza Piazza, Hair Stylist & Color Consultant

    I’m Enza Piazza, your go-to hair stylist and color consultant with over 23 years of professional salon experience bringing vibrancy and life to hair of all hues. My Italian roots from sunny Sicily infuse passion into every snip and color, a passion that’s been recognized with top honor awards including bridal and party hair at the National Hairdressers Federation’s Championships. After training in Surrey, UK’s most prestigious salons including Head Master Academy, I embraced the entrepreneurial spirit and set up Enza Hair Styling, offering tailored hair care for 13 years, and treating each client like family. Away from the salon, I cherish moments as a proud Nonna to grandson Joseph and as a playful companion to my Jack Russell, Bo.