How to Lighten Hair Naturally and Experiment with DIY Highlights

Whether your hair is naturally light, or even if it’s darker brown or black, summer is often a time when our natural shade alters subtly, thanks to the sun’s rays. The results can mean anything from slightly lighter roots or ends to some natural highlights. But, rather than waiting around for the sun, salt and chlorine to get the job done for us (and potentially drying out your hair in the process), what can we do to replicate the results without jetting off on vacation every few weeks? Read on to try some natural hair lighteners!

How Hair Lightening Works

First up, to find out how to lighten your hair effectively (and to avoid any potential coloring mishaps), it’s important to understand how hair color works.

Our natural hair shade is determined by two types of melanin (the same chemical that helps determine our skin and eye color) in our hair shaft. The first type, eumelanin, helps make up the black or dark brown colors in our hair, while the second, pheomelanin, is responsible for golden and red shades. Gray or white hair types are the result of an absence of either melanin.

Lightening our hair involves opening up the hair shaft and allowing bleach to remove the natural color that’s in there. This generally means that, to achieve lighter hair, we need certain chemicals (think hydrogen peroxide, etc.) to achieve even blonder locks.

So, how does hair end up lightening in the summer without any chemical help? Well, in much the same way that UV rays can fade our clothes/towels/outdoor furniture, it can also have a bleaching effect on the melanin in your hair (called photobleaching). Meanwhile, salt water and chlorine can also have a similar effect.

How Hair Lightening Works

Instagram / @chloelecareux

DIY Hair Lightening Recipes

To reproduce similar results from home (but without the damage that goes along with UV rays), we need to look for ingredients that have a similar effect on melanin.

Luckily, there are plenty of natural hair-lightening products that you probably already have laying around right at home.

#1: Honey and Cinnamon

Possibly the most effective natural hair lightener, which works partly due to the low levels of hydrogen peroxide naturally present in honey. Better still, used properly this combo can actually help soften and condition hair, while its lightening results will be more obvious the more you use it. To make your own honey and cinnamon mask, mix one cup of olive oil with one tablespoon of organic honey and one tablespoon of cinnamon into a paste. Apply it to and leave it in your hair for 20 minutes.

#2: Chamomile

More of a long-term solution than a quick fix, chamomile contains an enzyme — quercetin — that inhibits melanin production, making this the perfect choice for those who want to control the rate at which they lighten hair over time. To make your own DIY natural-lightening spray, brew a bag of chamomile tea in hot water just like you would if you were going to be drinking it, then let it cool and then transfer to a spray bottle. Spritz it thoroughly through hair and leave on throughout the day before washing and conditioning as normal.

Chamomile Lightening

Instagram / @justadd000

#3: Lemon Juice

Possibly one of the most notorious ways to lighten hair from home, the citric acid in lemon juice works in a similar way to bleach — by opening up the hair shaft and neutralizing the natural pigment. It isn’t a particularly strong solution, though, so it will work best on hair that is already blonde or very light brown. To use, mix two parts of lemon juice with one part water in a spray bottle before applying through hair and sitting in the sun for one to two hours (don’t forget the SPF!). Then wash it all out. Just remember that this option can be pretty drying, so make sure to step up the hair masks afterward.

Lemon Juice Lightening

Instagram / @cq.aus

#4: Apple Cider Vinegar

Working in a similar way to lemon juice is apple cider vinegar, which also opens the hair cuticle slightly allowing the hair’s color to be bleached when exposed to heat or sunlight. Use it in a spray bottle mixed with equal parts water before spritzing through the lengths and ends. Similar to lemon juice, though, apple cider vinegar can cause damage to hair so stick to the chamomile or honey and cinnamon options, if you can.

Hair Lightening Products

Of course, if you want to skip the DIY steps, there are also plenty of ready-to-use products to help take hair from normal to sun-kissed.

Best for lightening hair naturally when it is brown, a chamomile treatment like IGK’s Summertime Hair Lightening Spray can naturally lighten even light brown shades.

For already naturally light hair shades, Sun Bum’s Blonde Formula Hair Lightener can lift blonde even lighter.

This tutorial shows various application techniques:

Shampoos to Lighten Hair Naturally

Once your hair is as light as you want it, keep orangey or brassy tones at bay with a specific toning product.

Working on the same principle as that color wheel we all learned about in elementary school (and see so much of on Instagram and YouTube at the moment), toning shampoos use the ‘complementary’ (opposite) color to orange in the color wheel to neutralize those pesky brassy tones.

Given that the opposite shade of orange is blue, and the opposite color to yellow is purple, toning products normally come in a shade somewhere in the dark blue/indigo/lilac shade range.

There are plenty of great options on offer, but to pick one that will give you your brightest blonde ever, take a look at your current hair color. Are the colors you would like to tone down more orange or more butter yellow?

For more yellow tones, check out IGK’s Mixed Feelings Leave-In Blonde Toning Drops.

Whereas, for shades that have gone one step beyond the gold category and strayed firmly into the orange camp, take a look at Fanola’s No Orange Shampoo.

Finally, TIO NACHO’s Natural Lightening & Volumizing Shampoo has special formulation of botanical extracts to naturally lighten hair, while keeping it bouncy, healthy and moisturized.

Whichever you go for, though, just make sure to use only your toning shampoo no more than every three washes because the purple or blue pigments can build up in hair, eventually leading to a muddy or dull appearance. If you’ve already gotten to that point, though, don’t stress; a couple of washes with a normal shampoo will help fade out the unwanted tones.

How to Get Natural Highlights

Highlights are pretty much universally flattering, adding a feel of dimension and body to hair, as well as highlighting those areas you want to draw the most attention to (think, around the eyes and tops of cheekbones). But, how do you replicate those salon-like highlights without a trip to the colorist?

Luckily, you can use all of the natural hair lighteners mentioned above, just in a more focused way to achieve that highlighted effect. So, instead of applying a lightening product over the whole head, use a toothbrush to apply smaller amounts of product to targeted areas you’d like to be blonder.

How To Get Natural Highlights

Instagram / @dora.imagines

And Some Things to Remember

The shade you achieve through at-home lightening will depend quite a lot on any other semi-permanent hair colors you already had in your hair. Since semi-permanent hair color sees the hair shaft opened up before pigments are sealed in, the color results you get on these sections of hair may be different on natural hair. So, just go slow, keep a toning shampoo in hand, and don’t be afraid to go to a professional colorist, if you have any doubt.

Also, even when using natural hair lighteners, it is still possible to have an allergic reaction. So, to lighten hair as safely as possible, always make sure to do a skin-patch test, with any product, at least 24 hours before using it in your hair. Equally important is to use products in your hair for a minimum amount of time first to see how your strands react before using them for longer.

Featured Image via Instagram

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