There are times you want a major hair transformation, with bright blonde highlights or all over color, and it’s best to hit the salon. Colorists are trained to make sure you don’t damage your strands. But for a subtle lightening effect, you can totally DIY with a few lightener products you might already have at home. Whether you have black hair, brown hair, blonde hair or something in between, you can achieve a brighter look in just one treatment.
To find out how to boost your hair color from the comfort of your own home, we chatted with Anita Sun, hairstylist at Eliut Salon in New York City. We got to the bottom of which ingredients from your fridge will make the biggest difference in your hair and how to get the lightest strands without bleach. So turn on TikTok, press record, and get ready for a new, gorgeous look.
The best natural hair lighteners to try now
1. Lemon juice
Chances are you have a lemon or two sitting in your fridge right now. Well, get juicing because you’re going to need a good amount of lemon juice for lightening action. Sun says this is probably the best and easiest way to subtly lighten your hair at home. You just need a little sunshine.
“Lemon juice can lighten your hair when activated by the sun,” explains Sun. “Lemon juice opens your cuticle and lifts color.” Mix lemon juice, water, and a teaspoon of hair oil (or olive oil) in a spray bottle. Mix it 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, or even a dark blonde,” she says. Blondes will get those sun-kissed highlights.
Honey can also make a stellar hair lightening ingredient, but it takes a bit more time and effort than lemon juice. “It needs to be mixed really well with water,” says Sun. This is most effective on naturally light hair and blondes. “If you really want to assure its effectiveness, add hydrogen peroxide as an activator,” adds Sun. “Although it’s no longer natural, it may be all you have at home to experiment with at this time.” Saturate your hair with this mixture for 45 mins to an hour. Use a clear processing cap, a plastic bag, or a shower cap covering your hair to increase the process.
If you do add hydrogen peroxide to the honey, you’ll want to make sure to wash and condition your hair well. Don’t leave hydrogen peroxide in your hair too long! You want blonder hair, not damaged hair.
3. Apple cider vinegar
You already know apple cider vinegar is a great detoxifier, but it can subtly lighten strands too. It’s pretty subtle though, so add honey, chamomile, or cinnamon to boost its effectiveness. “It can smooth your cuticle and relieve build up, leaving your hair very shiny,” says Sun. Basically, even if you don’t get the lighter hair you want, you will get shiny, glossy hair. It’s a win-win.
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, rinse thoroughly and use conditioner. “It may give brunette hair an orange-like glow,” says Sun, though she warns “this process is best for someone who has lighter hair.”
Just like what you put in tea to calm your body 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 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 it’s feeling dry.
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 towards 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. 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.
6. Baking soda
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, rinse, shampoo and condition hair.
7. Henna powder
“Henna powder is traditionally used to darken hair or deposit color,” says Sun. It doesn’t typically lighten the hair like other DIY products. “It doesn’t have the natural capability on its own to lift color, however it can change the tonality of your hair,” adds Sun. 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.
Henna also isn’t super easy to use because of how it oxidizes to an orange-red, explains Sun. Henna comes in a powder that you mix with water and apply to strands. Just be careful how much you apply and where you place the hence. It’s more difficult to color correct should you not like the result.
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, add all the ingredients together. “[Cinnamon] helps activate the hydrogen peroxide traces that naturally exist in honey,” says Sun. Results vary hair color to hair color and virgin hair will lighten the easiest.
“To make cinnamon effective, add lemon juice water and honey to a runny consistency,” says Sun. Add the mixture to a bowl and use a brush to apply to your hair. Saturate your strands then let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour. Shampoo, rinse, and condition for gorgeous results.