Even for people who have mastered the most complicated of at-home beauty treatments (um, dermaplaning anyone?), figuring out how to naturally lighten your hair can still be an intimidating process. Making a mistake (and possibly causing damage) seems highly likely, and actually getting the exact results you’ve pictured in your head? Let’s be honest, that doesn’t always go to plan—even at a salon.
However, if you’re just looking for a little boost in your color, using natural products to lighten your hair is possible and can even be fairly easy. There are just two things to note up top: These DIYs will only work on already light strands (i.e., blondes and lighter brunettes) and will not brighten your hair beyond a few subtle highlights. OK, PSA over.
As celebrity hairstylist Rita Hazan, founder of Rita Hazan Salon in New York, advises: “If you are trying to lighten your hair more than one or two shades, I highly suggest going to a professional.” Again, we repeat: If you’re hoping to make a dramatic hair change, it’s always worth seeking out a trusted, licensed professional to help you achieve your desired shade. Mike Petrizzi, a colorist at NYC’s Chris Chase Salon, agrees and adds that any DIY lifting (aka lightening) procedures are probably not advised for “overly processed, dried out, sensitized or fragile hair” either.
If you do have healthy, strong hair to start and are just hoping to add a highlight or two to your already fair locks (without using a ton of products or chemicals), then you just might be in luck. We’ll walk you through some tried-and-true methods.
Try a Mixture of Lemon Water & Peroxide
According to Petrizzi, a mixture of peroxide and lemon water could be the trick to adding some overall brightness.
To start, pour three parts water and one part peroxide into an empty spray bottle and give it a good shake. “After your usual shampoo and conditioner routine, spritz the solution all over your head, comb it through evenly and head out into the day,” Petrizzi says. A little sunshine will help activate the solution.
Lemon is already a commonly known and fairly gentle way to brighten your hair (who among us hasn’t put lemon water in our hair before a day at the beach?), but hydrogen peroxide is a more dramatic method of lightening the color. It’s frequently used as a less intense alternative to bleach, but it could still cause damage when handled improperly. With any sort of hair coloring treatment, especially those that can be a little harsher like peroxide, it’s important to test the treatment on a strand or two before applying it to your entire head. This way you avoid any sort of allergic reaction (and, um, potential hair catastrophes).
And if you don’t want to mess with the peroxide at all? Try honey as an alternative, which contains naturally occurring traces of hydrogen peroxide and is also highly hydrating. (The more you know.)
Use Chamomile Tea to Create Highlights
If the idea of using peroxide makes you nervous (or irritates your scalp at any point), Petrizzi says that chamomile tea can be used to create “selective highlights.”
“Separate hair into small sections and then saturate them in chamomile tea. Let air-dry and rinse,” Perizzi explains. Want to add some brightness around your face or on the ends of your hair for a subtle ombré effect? Apply accordingly to those areas.
If you want to give the chamomile an extra boost, combine the tea with some lemon juice before applying it to your hair. Lifestyle and beauty YouTuber Jessica Lee shared a similar at-home treatment that she says brightened her hair a couple shades after a few uses. (Tip: For an even easier lift, Lush sells a hair treatment that contains lemon and chamomile and is intended to lighten blond hair gradually over time.)
Try a Cinnamon Hair Mask
If you’ve already heard of using lemon, peroxide or chamomile for brightening hair, this next ingredient might be a surprise. Yup, that’s right, the holiday spice that’s regularly used as an ingredient in growth-stimulating hair products also works for lightening hair, according to Petrizzi.
“A cinnamon mask is a great way to nourish your hair while lightening it,” Petrizzi says. “Just mix a sprinkle of cinnamon into your favorite deep conditioner or mask, apply it all over your hair, cover it with a shower cap for 20 to 30 minutes and then rinse thoroughly. For even more dramatic results, sit in a sauna or steam room to really pump up the results.”
Curious about just how much cinnamon to use? Petrizzi suggests a 4:1 mix of cinnamon to conditioner.
Grab Something from Your Liquor Cabinet (Really)
“The obvious way to lift your color at home is to use lemon juice, but vodka works just as well. If you’re about to go out in the sun, add some fine salt to the vodka, apply it to your hair and let it bake naturally. It will give you natural sun-kissed highlights,” Dorram tells us. (We’d just suggest a thorough shampoo afterward lest you want to smell like spring break.)
Add Some Vitamin C to Your Shampoo
Looking for one simple ingredient you can easily mix in with something you already have in your shower? Look no further than your friend vitamin C. (Cue “Graduation Song.”)
“You can easily give your shampoo lightening power by adding some vitamin C to it. This will give you a gentle, gradual sun-kissed effect,” Petrizzi explains.
If you have some extra vitamin C tablets at home, then your job is already halfway done. Simply crush a handful of the vitamins (most recipes suggest 15 to 25 tablets) into a fine powder, add it to your shampoo and wash as usual. For a more intense brightening effect, let the shampoo sit on your hair for 20 minutes or so. (If it’s good enough for Kim Kardashian’s hair…)
Bottom line: While all these DIY treatments may help you get slightly lighter hair, it’s not meant for drastic changes in your color. Also, it’s worth remembering that they work best on already light-colored, healthy hair, so if your locks don’t fall into that category (or you want a more dramatic makeover), then it’s probably best to save up some money and see a professional. In the end, it could save you from a hit-and-miss DIY experiment at best and a total hair disaster at worst.