How to Lighten Hair in 2021

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K, I know this is the opposite of what you wanted to hear, but lightening your hair should almost always be left to the pros. Even if you spent the last year perfecting the art of box dye, experimenting with color waxes, or trying out tinted hair masks like it’s your g’damn job, “lifting” (aka lightening) your hair color requires the help of a legit stylist (especially since bleach is usually in the mix). Sorry, I don’t make the rules—I’m just here to help you save your hair (and scalp!) from some serious damage.

That doesn’t mean you can’t play around with a few safe options though—whether it’s a gentle DIY, a heat-activated hair mist, or a clarifying shampoo that’ll brighten up your color just a bit. Hairstylists and dermatologists agree that you should stay away from the hard stuff (think: baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, white vinegar), and instead rely on ingredients that are going to help the overall health of your hair (hi, honey and cinnamon). And when in doubt? Always book an appointment with a pro if/when you can.

Ahead, the best natural DIYS, shampoos, conditioners, sprays, and more to help lighten your hair at home (without, you know, totally destroying it in the process).

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Lighten Hair With a Mist

Oribe Bright Blonde Sun Lightening Hair Mist

The hero ingredients in this hair-lightening mist? Lemon and chamomile extracts, which come together to gently lighten blonde hair and highlights. The formula is heat-activated, btw, so you’ll need to plop your hair under a dryer or chill in the sun (while wearing a big ol’ glob of SPF, obvi) to really get the brightening benefits. Also, can we take a quick sec to admire the packaging? Talk about pretty.


Lighten Hair Dye With Clarifying Shampoo

Bumble and Bumble Sunday Shampoo

If you’re trying to lighten your hair after a dye job gone wrong, colorist Meri Kate O’Connor suggests loading up with an ultra-clarifying shampoo (something that’s spiked with the stripping ingredients you usually avoid, like sulfates). She’s a fan of this one from Bumble and Bumble—as well as Prell Shampoo—which should be followed immediately with a super-hydrating treatment to restore some of the inevitable dryness that comes with clarifying.

Heads up that no shampoo will strip or lighten your hair color entirely, but it’s a good starting point before heading back to your colorist to chat about more effective lightening options.


Ask Your Stylist About Vitamin C Powder

365 Everyday Value High Potency Vitamin C Powder

The antipigmentary properties in vitamin C makes it a smart choice for lightening hair or removing hair dye naturally, though O’Connor suggests skipping the DIY and having your colorist whip you up a concoction instead (it’s all about getting the proportions right, so there’s a lot of room for error, TBH). Post clarifying and conditioning at home, book another appointment with your stylist and ask them to lighten your hair with a vitamin C powder.


Lighten Hair With Apple Cider Vinegar

Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar

TBH it’s hard to find a hair DIY that doesn’t involve apple cider vinegar, thanks to the fact that it’s loaded with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Along with gently removing product buildup and excess oil from your scalp, ACV can also help lighten your hair (especially if your natural highlights are on the warmer side). Fill a spray bottle with equal parts ACV and water, let it sit on your hair for a few minutes, and then rinse it out. Keep in mind that you probably won’t see immediate results—try repeating this process 2x per week over the course of a month.


Go Lighter With a Cinnamon and Honey Hair Mask

Nature Nate’s 100% Pure Raw & Unfiltered Organic Honey

Honey is another favorite ingredient for lightening hair naturally, especially when it’s combined with cinnamon (a natural scalp clarifier), olive oil (a super-effective moisturizer), and apple cider vinegar. Don’t take my word for it, though—tons of YouTubers have given this DIY mask their seals of approval too. Remember: All of the ingredients in here are gentle and hydrating, so even if it doesn’t lighten your hair, it’s (at the very least) moisturizing it.


Get Natural Highlights With Lemon Juice

Tropicana Fresh Lemons

Lemon juice is a great option for natural blondes looking to go a little lighter. You do have to be careful when lightening hair with lemon juice though, since the super-acidic properties can actually dry out your hair and scalp (along with irritate your face). Word to the wise: Ue it in small doses and always mix it with conditioner to keep your hair nice and healthy.


Try a Brightening Shampoo

Christophe Robin Brightening Shampoo with Chamomile

This fancy little shampoo is a must for anyone looking to gradually lighten their hair color. The chamomile (a natural brightener) and cornflower (an antioxidant-rich extract) in the formula work to gently and effectively lighten both virgin and color-treated hair. It’s lightweight enough to use on a regular basis too.


Use a Brightening Conditioner

Drybar Blonde Ale Brightening Conditioner

Perfect for brightening blonde tones that have gone flat or ashy, this conditioner is spiked with two natural hair lighteners (chamomile and lemon extract) aaaand a super hydrator (sunflower seed oil) that all work to keep your hair soft and silky. After shampooing, slather this bb through your strands and let it sit for five minutes.


Go Lighter With a Honey Spray

Klorane Sun Lightening Spray with Chamomile and Honey

Meet the 2021 version of Sun-In. Unlike its predecessor (which, fun fact is loaded with chemicals that can really f*ck up your hair), this lightening spray is formulated with chamomile and honey to gradually—and gently!—brighten your hair color. Spritz it all over your hair (wet or dry) every day for three to four weeks and your color will slowly lighten. It’s a bit more effective on blondes, but lighter brunettes can expect a few honey-gold highlights with regular use.


Try a Spray In-Between Lightening Appointments

John Frieda Sheer Blonde Go Blonder Lightening Spray

This formula is definitely on the stronger side, so pls only try it if you’ve got natural or color-treated blonde hair (brown shades can go orange or brassy with this one). It’s great for brightening up dark roots in between salon appointments, and the formula’s blend of citrus and chamomile helps make sure you don’t lose any softness or shine in the process. 


Lighten Your Hair With Toning Drops

IGK Mixed Feelings Leave-In Blonde Drops

If your blonde hair goes brassy fast, you kinda-sorta need these leave-in toning drops from IGK. You get tons of room to play around with the formula too, since the amount of toning is totally dependent on the number of drops you use. The brand suggests trying one to three drops (you can mix it in a leave-in conditioner, shampoo, or rinse-out conditioner—up to you) for light toning on blondes.


Try a Heat-Activated Hair-Lightener

DpHue x Kristin Cavallari Blonding Brush

Sry brunettes, but this hair-lightener is also best for blondes (it’s nothing personal…promise). The formula’s lemon juice and hydrogen peroxide are combined with purple pigments (to tone brass) and glycerin (to hydrate) for a truly brightening experience. Know that this pick is activated by the sun or heat, so make sure your blow dryer is queued up before you get started

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