Do Natural Hair Lighteners Work?

I did some hairdressing work during quarantine today-real, colorist labor.

Pulling out my test hair swatches, I decided to follow up on a combination of 80’s anecdotes and a blog I read about using kitchen products to lighten hair.

I compared five ingredients to a soft formula of traditional salon powder lightener (hair bleach 10vol), and created a grid for each labeled swatch, then I got busy.

Using strict hair colorist testing techniques, I made sure to time my experiment and to use the exact same surfaces, shampoos, water and environment for all six swatches.

Grid used to compare lighteners

The test variables were as follows: lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide, apple cider vinegar, chamomile tea, and salon-grade powder lightener.

I split the four natural lighteners into two groups: one indoors and one in direct sunlight at the window. All swatches processed for sixty minutes.

I remember as an eleven-year old that we would spritz our hair with lemon in summer and it would lighten. Those of us that couldn’t sneak lemon juice past our parents, found hydrogen peroxide under the bathroom sink and used it instead. It did work!

Here are the results from my lightener test. I would like to say that, except for the chamomile, all of these are painful to the eyes-if you want babylights around your face, you must exercise caution.

1. Lemon: 1/2 shade lighter
2. Hydrogen Peroxide: 1/4 shade lighter
3. Salon Lightener: 1 shade lighter
4. Chamomile Tea: no change
5. Apple Cider Vinegar: 1/8 shade lighter

After: Lemon works 50% as well as hair bleach 10vol

Overall, lemon juice is the winner for hair lightening at home and apple cider vinegar is a great hair brightener. Hydrogen peroxide came in second and chamomile lost. This is sad because chamomile can be used on the eyes and it has a safe pH-it would be miraculous to have a safe lightener! The others must be used with care, especially hydrogen peroxide and salon bleach, which can both cause blindness.

Sunlight accelerates the lightening process

I did not see positive results from any of the swatches put in sunlight, but I do know that the sun can lighten hair. I recommend at least five days of full sun exposure for soft, seasonal highlights.

An important thing to note is that these products may not like being in traditional aluminum foil strips like the ones your colorist uses in-salon to isolate pieces of hair. Do a test first by applying your desired lightener to the foil and waiting an hour to see if there is a chemical reaction. When in doubt, braid the hair instead and apply the lightener spray over it.

Babylights from salon lightener. Applying lemon to the same strands everyday will produce similar results

Also, the salon-bleached strand was the dryest and most porous of all the swatches, so enjoy your at-home lightener and apply liberally for many days until you reach your desired result. It’s not likely to harm your hair and you don’t need the safety knowledge of a technician to use these home products.

Spritzing lemon juice on your dry, curly hair will create babylights over time

If your skin tone cannot carry golden blonde well, you will need a purple toner from the store or made from berry juice. Dilute in a spray bottle and use as desired to neutralize brassy hues.

Rebecca Schembri is a Writer and Published Hair and Makeup Artist from Reno, Nevada, USA