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Developer is a necessary ingredient for performing hair color or lightening services. Because of the confusing array of product choices, it may be difficult to determine which type of developer product you should use for your hair color needs. Although they perform the same basic task, creme and clear developers do have some differences.


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Developer or peroxide is used to activate hair coloring or lightening products in order to create a specific effect on the hair. According to Hairfinder, developer works by opening the cuticle, or outer layer of the hair shaft, to allow coloring or lightening agents to penetrate. Developers can be used to deposit or lift color depending on the strength of the peroxide.


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Developer strength is available in four different levels that are known as volumes that range on a 10 point scale from 10 volume to 40 volume. Deposit only or semi-permanent developers are in the 10 volume range, whereas permanent color starts at 20 volume. Any developer above a 20 volume level is used to lift or lighten the hair. Higher levels of peroxide cause more damage to the hair shaft.


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Developer is mixed with either color or lightener to activate the product. These peroxides are added to creme, liquid and powder products to create a formulation for hair application. The oxidizing agents in the developer are necessary for any color change to occur in the hair shaft. Most colors have specific developers that are specially made to be used with their specific product line. Although generic developers are sometimes used, the consistency of the product may be questionable when formulation instructions are not followed.

Clear Developer

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Clear peroxides contain deionized water and hydrogen peroxide. These developers when mixed with color product create a very liquid consistency. They are best used for bottle formulations to avoid any mess. Because they have no buffers, they tend to work faster than creme developers and must be watched carefully.

Creme Developer

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Creme developers contain the basic ingredients of a clear developer, but also have added ingredients included by the manufacturer. These may include glycerin for conditioning purposes and pyrophosphate for increased penetration. Because creme developers have these buffers in place they may require more processing time and may be less harsh on the hair. In addition, creme developers increase product viscosity and are useful for products that are bowl and brush applied.

About the Author

Robin McDaniel

Robin McDaniel is a writer, educator and musician. She holds a master's degree in higher educational leadership from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton as well as a bachelor's degree in elementary education. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in adult in community education. McDaniel enjoys writing, blogging, web design, singing and playing bass guitar.