IPSY June 26, 2023



10 Genius Hacks to Lighten Your Hair From Home


There’s definitely a right time to hit the salon. If your end goal is a major hair transformation, with bright blonde highlights or allover color transformations, it’s time to call in the pros. While there’s no such thing as “safe” bleaching or use of hair dye, colorists are trained to make the process the least damaging as possible. 

“Yes, you can lighten hair at home, but results may vary as technique and proper saturation are key to safely lifting hair,” warns Lorena M. Valdes, expert colorist at Maxine Salon in Chicago. 

If what you’re going for is a subtle lightening effect, like you’ve spent a few long days in the sun, you can totally DIY with a few products you might already have at home. Honey, lemon, and apple cider vinegar, for example, can each help lift the hair color naturally and gently without the risk of chemical damage. There are even some lightening shampoos and sprays that can help you achieve that sun-kissed summer look. They all do so with minimal effort, even potentially achieving balayage-level color if done right. 

To find out how to boost your hair color from the comfort of your own home, we chatted with New York City hairstylist Anita Sun, eSalon lead colorist Leianna Hillo, and expert colorist at Maxine Salon in Chicago Lorena M. Valdes. Keep reading for their list of expert tips to lighten your hair naturally, plus product recommendations to scoop up the next time you need to lighten your hair at home.

About the Experts:

Anita Sun is a hairstylist based in New York City. 

Leianna Hillo is a Los Angeles–based lead colorist at eSalon who shares expert hair commentary regularly.

Lorena M. Valdes is an expert colorist at Maxine Salon in Chicago.


1. Give a Fresh Lemon a Squeeze 

Chances are, you have a lemon or two sitting in your fridge right now. Well, it’s time to get juicing, because you’re going to need a good amount of lemon juice for lightening action. It’s an age-old tip that we bet your mom once tried as a teenager back in the day! Sun says this is probably the best and easiest way to subtly lighten your hair at home. All you need to add is a little sunshine, which will help the lemon work its magic. 

“Lemon juice can lighten your hair when activated by the sun,” she explains. “Lemon juice opens your cuticle and lifts color.” First, mix lemon juice, water, and a teaspoon of hair oil (or olive oil) in a spray bottle. Then mix the concoction really well, and spray it all over your hair before you spend the day outdoors. 

“Brunettes will probably lighten two to three shades, leaving a coppery color, a medium brown hair color, or even a dark blond,” Sun says, while blondes will get those sun-kissed highlights. 

2. Mix Honey Well With Water, Then Hydrogen Peroxide 

Honey can also make a stellar hair-lightening ingredient. Lucky for you, it’s probably already on your beauty counter (or in your kitchen cabinet next to your tea), since it’s an antimicrobial natural skincare ingredient. 

“It needs to be mixed really well with water,” says Sun, adding that this is most effective on naturally light hair and blonde hair. “If you really want to assure its effectiveness, add hydrogen peroxide as an activator. Although it’s no longer natural, it may be all you have at home to experiment with at this time.” 

Start by saturating your hair with this mixture for 45 minutes to an hour. Use a clear processing cap, a plastic bag, or a shower cap covering your hair while you wait. If you do add hydrogen peroxide to the honey, you’ll also want to make sure to wash and add a deep conditioner. And remember: Don’t leave hydrogen peroxide in your hair too long! You want blonder hair, not damaged hair. 

3. Use Apple Cider Vinegar for Slight Lightening and Shine

You already know apple cider vinegar is a great detoxifier, but did you know that it can subtly lighten strands, too? But since ACV is subtle on its own, you’ll want to add honey, chamomile, or cinnamon to boost its effectiveness. 

“It can smooth your cuticle and relieve buildup, leaving your hair very shiny,” says Sun. Basically, even if you don’t get the lighter hair you want, you’ll still be left with shiny, glossy hair—it’s a win-win. Here’s how: Mix apple cider vinegar with water at a 1:1 ratio. Apply it generously to the hair with a spray bottle. Once completely saturated, cover your hair for 30 minutes, then rinse thoroughly and use conditioner. 

We always like to recommend the DPHUE Apple Cider Vinegar Revitalizing Shampoo. It will give the perfect boost and lighten your hair (plus give your scalp a good cleanse!)—just enough to kickstart your summer. It’s gentle, and gives such a great cleanse to help you extend your wash too. 

“It may give brunette hair an orange-like glow,” says Sun, though she warns “this process is best for someone who has lighter hair.” 

4. Mix Chamomile Tea With Honey or Apply Solo

Just like what you put in tea to calm your body and mind before bed, chamomile can work to lighten strands when added to honey or just used alone. Though, Sun notes, you’ll see less noticeable highlights but more of an allover light change. 

“This would create almost a tonal change that might be more noticeable in bright lights or in natural daylight,” she says. “It’s less aggressive, therefore also making it more gentle than some of the other natural products.” 

All you have to do is brew chamomile as you would tea. Let it cool and then apply it with a spray bottle. Saturate your hair from root to tip and cover for at least 30 minutes, but no more than one hour. Wash and condition your hair, or use a hair mask if you’re feeling dryness. If you want to intensify its effects, use this scalp-soothing leave-on treatment from ORIBE that features chamomile as a main ingredient.

5. Spritz Sea Salt Spray

You know how when you spend a few days in the ocean and your hair has those natural-looking highlights? That’s thanks to sea salt. Well, sea salt from home can work just as well, especially toward the ends of your strands. 

“It may not be as extreme the first day, but if you apply sea salt continuously, you could see a significant difference,” says Sun. 

Recreate those beach highlights by mixing sea salt with hot water. Wait for it to cool and then spritz the solution onto your hair. Rinse when you’re ready and wash it out. Or, if you’re looking for a sea salt spray specific to your hair type that will give some extra beachy waves, check out our complete list. Sun notes that salt can dry out your hair, so it’s important to use a conditioner, hair oil, and even a hair mask after each treatment. Focus on your ends, as those tend to lose hydration first. 

6. Mix Baking Soda and Hydrogen Peroxide

That baking soda you use to make banana bread can also act as a natural method for lightening hair. There’s just one catch—you need hydrogen peroxide for the baking soda to be effective. Simply mix both ingredients together to create what looks like a paste. Add the mixture into a glass or plastic bowl and apply it to your hair with a brush. This allows you to create a range of different hair color looks. 

“It’s a bit easier to control during the application process because of its consistency,” explains Sun. “If you wanted it to only work on just the ends or in foils like professional highlights, it could work.” Keep in mind it will only make your hair a shade or two lighter depending on the state of your hair. Leave it in for 30 to 60 minutes, then rinse, shampoo, and condition your hair. 

7. Use Henna Powder to Tone

We typically see henna dye used to temporarily ink the skin, but “henna powder is traditionally used to darken hair or deposit color,” says Sun. “It doesn’t have the natural capability on its own to lift color; however, it can change the tonality of your hair.” 

It can naturally turn dark hair more red or orange, depending on what your natural hair color is. However, a word to the wise: It will darken your hair if you have lighter hair—especially if you’re blonde. Sun says henna also isn’t super easy to use because of how it oxidizes to an orange-red. Henna comes in a powder that you mix with water and apply to strands, and you’ll want to be careful how much you apply and where you place the powder, since it’s more difficult to color-correct if you aren’t happy with the results. 

8. Make Cinnamon-Honey Tea

Cinnamon doesn’t just make your chai latte taste better. It can lighten your hair when used in conjunction with honey and water. You can try it alone, but for the brightest color, try adding all the ingredients together. 

“Cinnamon helps activate the hydrogen peroxide traces that naturally exist in honey,” says Sun. Results vary from hair color to hair color, with virgin hair lightening the most easily.

“To make cinnamon effective, add lemon juice water and honey to a runny consistency,” says Sun, who also suggests adding the mixture to a bowl and using a brush to apply it to your hair. You’ll then want to saturate your strands and let them sit for 30 minutes to an hour. Shampoo, rinse, and condition for gorgeous results.

9. Make a Vitamin C Shampoo 

We’ve taken vitamin C when we’re feeling under the weather, and we’ve slathered it on our skin in serum form—but who knew it had a whole other use?

“Lightening your hair using vitamin C tablets easily found at the drug store makes a much gentler alternative to peroxides or bleach,” Hillo says. “Of course, the tablets are also nutrient-rich, so this method offers lots of nourishment to your locks. Using vitamin C and shampoo, you'll make a paste and apply it to your damp hair. Make sure your hair is generously coated with your mixture and leave it on for 30 to 60 minutes, depending on how much time you have. Shampoo and rinse the mixture out completely and condition as usual. 

To make the paste? Simple. Mix three tablespoons of shampoo and seven to 10 ground-up vitamin C tablets.

10. Try Olive Oil Hair Masks

Olive oil having hair benefits is no secret, but we had no idea lightening your strands was one of them.

“This technique is particularly good for drier hair, because as most oils are, olive oil is a wonderful moisturizer,” Hillo explains. “Aside from making your hair feel silky smooth, it contains gentle lightening agents that softly lift the color of hair.”

Easy breezy—take a couple tablespoons of olive oil and apply it throughout your dry hair, coating the strands but not soaking them. Let the hair sit for 30 to 60 minutes, then shampoo and condition. Now if only the olive oil left your hair smelling as good as coconut oil!

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