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Zero Lift Developer

Time to bust some myths.

In order to understand WHY there are ZERO lift developers on the market, and more importantly HOW they work, we need to understand DEVELOPER.

Developer, on it's own is acidic.

This means that it actually can constrict the cuticle layers and tighten up the hair.

So if you hypothetically apply straight developer on someone's hair, it will corrode the hair and cause porosity, it will not "open" the cuticle layers and lighten the hair.

*fun fact, a dated method for pre softening the hair was to use straight developer. The ONLY reason that COULD works is that it created excess porosity in the hair, and we all know that porous hair uptakes color darker and faster, so we were under the illusion that we got better gray coverage when using developer to pre soften.

*Another fun fact, back in the day, people used to put straight peroxide in their hair and go in the sun to "lighten" their hair..*cough cough SUN-IN cough cough*

The peroxide would corrode the hair and the UV rays + peroxide would expose some undertone.

This is why people like me with very-dark-hair-who-thought-they-could-be-blonde...our hair turned red. or orange. it was BAD.

So let's talk a little bit about the developer- in the hair coloring world (not bleaching). h

What even is developer?

At it's base, it's hydrogen peroxide. Well, chemically is H202.

2 parts hydrogen, 2 parts oxygen.

+ many additives including stabilizers, surfactants, solvents, water + thickening agents along with conditioning agents.

So no, using just hydrogen peroxide in place of developer will not work, for those of you who are little rebels, lol.

Different developer strengths:

In the US, developers typically have a numeric value, followed by VOLUME.

In other countries, developers are labeled with a %.

Here's a breakdown:

10 volume is 3%

20 volume is 6%

30 volume is 9%

40 volume is 12%

The % is the amount of hydrogen peroxide in each bottle so in a bottle of 10 volume, you have 3% hydrogen peroxide.

Developer IN COMBINATION WITH oxidative hair color (with an alkali...and they ALL have alkali's) is essentially how the hair color process works.

Think of the developer as the GAS in your tank, and when you mix the developer and the color together, it's like filling up your tank and pushing down on the gas pedal.

Mixing the two ingredients initiates the hair color process to begin.

The hair color + alkalizer used is what is going to determine how far you're going to go.

The developers role is this:

#1- The developer DEVELOPS the dyes. In a tube or bottle or hair color, there are tiny colorless molecules called precursors, and it's the oxygen in the developer (the 02 of the h202) that releases and DEVELOPS those dyes so that we can see color.

#2- The developer also delivers those dyes to the hair. It's like the GAS in your tank. The more oxygen that is available (based on the volume of peroxide + type of alkalizer used) the further into the hair those dyes get delivered.

#3- Fracturing melanin + creating undertone. The amount of oxygen that the developer releases (again, based on available oxygen + alkalizer used), the more melanin that is fractured, and the lighter the undertone becomes.

So now that we had a little RE-CAP on developer, let's talk about ZERO LIFT DEVELOPERS.

Chances are, if you were to call the manufacturers of the zero lift developers and asked them what the volume is, or what the % of hydrogen peroxide is, they would not say its zero.

If it's zero, nothing can happen. Might as well put water in with your color.

It's highly likely that the zero lift developers are somewhere around a 5 volume, or 1.5%.

The role of developer doesn't change just because it's at a 5 volume.

It will still develop + deliver the dyes and it can still fracture melanin.

What matter most when using a zero lift developer is THE COLOR THAT IT IS MIXED WITH.


This is where knowing a little bit about the different alkalizers is going to be your friend.

If the color line that this zero lift developer is intended to be used with is using AMP as an alkalizer, you will not get any lift and get a straight deposit- which is likely the case.

If they are using MEA as the alkalizer, there is a slight chance that you may get some lift, but most likely, there is a heavier "dye load" to counteract and deposit down any potential lift.

If they color line that this zero lift developer is intended to be used with is using AMMONIA as the're going to get lift.

It's likely that most of these lines that have a "zero lift" developer are using AMP or MEA, so that they can legally claim "zero lift" but there is a high likelihood they are using ammonia.

So why are there zero lift developers on the market

A lot of brands make the claim that their color can be permanent and demi...

This way a stylist only NEEDS to carry one line but you need to know that this a half truth.

The whole truth is that it is in fact a permanent line (using ammonia +/or MEA) and by using a lower developer, it can make it ACT like an alkaline demi.

There's definitely some pro's to this, but we need to understand the whole picture and not just half truths.

But what you need to know is this:


This is chemistry, these are chemicals, and brands spend a ton of time, money and resources for their products to work synergistically.

You can't just be a mad chemist in the color lab...I mean you can, but there's no consistency and no guarantee on the outcome unless you understand the whole, big picture.

Hope this helps clear up some things about developer and zero lift developers.

Until next time,

Happy Hair Coloring!


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