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Lightening Hair Naturally

My hair’s been au naturale for almost seven years– the last time I dyed it was when I had it high-lighted for my wedding. In high school, I stuck to Sun-In and lemon juice for a blonder look, and in college, I used many a drug-store-boxed hair dye, in a variety of brown, auburn and red shades.

Since my wedding though, I’ve let it grow out to its natural color, which, it turns out, I actually like.

A few months ago, I chopped off two long braids (to donate), along with all my summer gold, and now my hair is quite dark. On the occasion that I actually wear my bangs forward, I always get asked if I recently dyed my hair darker.

I’m not sure if it’s the  pregnancy hormones, the dormant surfer girl/beach bum in me, or even the winter blues, but lately I’ve been having a strange longing for something lighter and sunnier.

The last thing I want to do, however, is fill my head of hair with chemicals to achieve a look that’s totally unnatural, so I had to get thinking about natural options for hair lightening.

A Facebook poll told me that many of you are sporting your God-given hair color happily, but several readers mentioned that they were interested in some natural hair color alternatives.

Here are a few options that I’m considering trying.

Photo by Shandi-lee

Lemon Juice

This is the old standard. As a high schooler, I remember my mom suggesting I try the method she used as a teenager: the magic combo of lemon and sun (or another source of heat). I would spray it on, mixed with water, and let the sun do it’s work while sunbathing with my girlfriends. I don’t get as much sunbathing time now, as a mom of littles, especially this time of year, but I hear a hairdryer will also work.

According to homemade beauty/home product expert, Annie Bond, a good recipe is simply pouring a quarter to a half a cup of lemon juice directly on the hair (clean and wet) and then sitting in the sun. Other recommendations I’ve seen include diluting the lemon juice with water, rinsing and/or conditioning your hair afterwards, and using the hair dryer to activate the lemon if the warm sun isn’t available.

Chamomile Tea

Thanks to a couple of Twitter followers (thanks, @Imene_Said and @crzblue), I was urged to consider a chamomile tea rinse as a lightener. It can be applied directly for lightening, or can be added to shampoo or conditioner for a gradual lightening.

Photo by Josef Seibel


It turns out that a form of hydrogen peroxide actually forms in honey (it has to be diluted with distilled water), meaning it can be use as a lightener, too! It’s a slightly more complicated process, and is not used with heat, like lemon. For more information, here is an informative post on using honey as a lightener. Interestingly enough, cinnamon can be used with honey to help the lightening process.


Instead of bleaching, rhubarb and rhubarb root bring a yellow that gives medium-light brown or dark blonde hair a lighter hue. Some recipes use just the rhubarb stalk (boil in water, then use the liquid to rinse through hair), others combine it with the powdered rhubarb root or even chamomile, and some use wine to steep the rhubarb.

My Plan

I have an abundance of lemons this time of year from my parents’ tree– I figure I use them for cooking, baking, and drinking, so it only makes sense that I start there with my hair lightening. I’ll be posting photos of my gradual, natural hair-lightening on our Facebook page, and if you try any of these methods, I’d love to see your photos, too.

Looking to darken instead of lighten? You’ll have to do a bit more research, but I’ve seen mentions of using henna, black walnuts, coffee, tea and more.

Have you tried any natural hair coloring methods? Which ones have worked for you (be sure to tell us what shade you started with for reference)?

Reading Time:

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  1. Betsy (Eco-novice)

    I love you! I have been wanting to lighten my hair (which has gotten darker with each pregnancy), but haven’t found any products that I felt OK about. I’ve read about some of the above in various places, but it’s very nice to have it all laid out here so clearly. And what I am really looking forward to is those photos!

  2. Rebekah

    I’m going to try the chamomile-yogurt hair rinse. I already condition my hair with yogurt about once a week, so it will be fun to see if I can lighten it at the same time– I love my blonde hair but it always gets a little dull in winter.

  3. Hannah

    I am in my early thirties and sadly, have plenty of gray hairs, which I am not old enough to embrace. I have used boxes of henna from the health food store for years. It works well, but you have to have your husband or a friend help you.

  4. Michelle

    I just switched to a lemon/water solution for my no poo hair rinse. I’m right there with you on the feeling the urge for lighter hair. I think it is the pregnancy, because I am also cutting it short next Tuesday. It has been growing out for well over a year now and I’m just ready for the change. Highlights would be awesome but I just can’t imagine the damage they would do. So – lemon juice it will be for starters. I look forward to sharing the experience with you.

  5. Jan

    If you want reddish hair- just rinse with cranberry juice- only lasts until next shampoo though.

  6. Mamabear

    In my teen years my cotton top turned dishwater, and my mom refused to let me lighten it professionally, so I dutifully mixed chamomile tea and lemon juice and applied every time I was outside. I don’t think it did too much! I just gave up highlights after 15 years or so…..and am missing the blond! I was feeling like a hypocrite, going all natural beauty and then paying my stylist to use bleach and who knows what on my head. But after the novelty of being darker has worn off, I miss my lighter hair!

  7. Krissa

    I used to do the lemon juice thing in high school too! I’m trying to figure out a way to go darker, or actually just to cover up my grays! I’ve read some about henna, but I had heard you have to do it when there’s nothing in your hair already. It sure would save me a lot of money to find another way too…although I kind of love my two hour hair appointments!

    • Alicia

      Krissa, you can use henna even when you have products on your hair already. I first converted to henna when my long, dark blond hair was dyed red. The artificial dyes were splotchy and faded, especially on my lighter hair, which looked terrible. After I hennaed, it was pretty uniformly red and a beautiful color that never fades. It also made my damaged hair incredibly healthy. It’s been several years and I don’t plan to ever go back. 🙂 I got all the information to help me take the leap at the extensive forums here: HTH!

    • Stacie Anne

      Actually, henna is very misunderstood by many. Natural body art quality henna w/o any extra additives or chemicals CAN be applied over anything or mess you’ve made of your hair! I have used henna for 6 months now, have applied it 5 different times and have nothing but good to say about it. People ask me all the time about my hair and are surprised to learn that it’s naturally achieved. Generally, people are misinformed or just don’t know! is a great site to check out!

  8. Mandi

    I use chamomile tea. It not only lightens your hair really nicely it makes my very fine hair feel a lot thicker. I just brew a cup of organic tea and let it cool a little. Then in the shower I pour it over my hair and let it set for a few minutes before I rinse it.

    • TiAnna

      How often do you use the chamomile tea? How much lighter would you say it makes your hair?

  9. Steph (The Cheapskate Cook)

    Hmm… these sounds worth trying! I’ve always wanted to highlight my hair, but was afraid of ending up too light and I’ve always avoided commercial hair dyes.
    Thanks for the tips!

  10. Another Heather

    I did lemon juice and sun in high school It made my hair horribly dry and brittle. I’m never doing that again. Am I missing some trick that keeps your hair healthy?

    • Nicole

      I did read that it’s recommended to condition afterwards, either with whatever you use as conditioner or maybe olive or coconut oil.

  11. Cowabunga Ice Cream

    This is a very amazing post. i really like this this post . This post provides us very good good knowledge about Good ideas lemon juice cream. This is very important post for ice cream shop.

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  12. momstarr

    I am not on facebook so would you possibly be posting your progress on your blog?

  13. Elizabeth E.

    I was a blond as a kid and as I’ve gotten older it’s faded to a dull brown (except this weird streak of nearly platinum blond that I have in the front that I’m a completely vain brat about!). I’ve spent years highlighting it to keep that blondish look, but stopped about a year ago.

    That was around the time that I switched to baking soda instead of shampoo and lemon juice instead of conditioner. My hairdresser warned me when I switched that the regular use lemon juice would lighten my hair. I have found it to be true, especially in the summer when I was outdoors for long stretches everyday. It definitely works!

    • cheli

      Lemon juice as conditioner?! How??
      Doesn’t it dry your hair??

      And my hair has def gone lighter.. i stopped using shampoo almost a year ago, and switched to white vinegar every third day. Since my hair is curly, I use natural chamomille tea everyday to wet it and re-style it.. definitely getting golden highlights..
      And i’m white hispanic.. blond is not in my genes

  14. Anita

    As a hairstylist, I can say agree with the lemon juice, except for those who have dark brown or black locks. It will bring out the red tones in your hair. So be careful there. Lemon Juice works great on natural blonds though. You can spritz it on your hair when out in the sun and the sun will help lighten.

  15. Rebekah

    This is a GREAT post but I would like to know what you do when your in your 20’s(!!!) and going gray. Like…REALLY gray.
    I’ve tried henna and it just turned my hair red, and that would be great if I didn’t have very red skin. I’d go lighter or darker, I don’t care I just want the gray to go away.
    Any thoughts…..

    • Laura

      It was mentioned above to use regular brewed black tea to darken hair…

    • Sara

      Try a mixture of indigo and henna, about 2:1 mixture. There is a video here: on how to use it. It should cover it up with more of a brown tint.

  16. Christine

    I used to use a henna all natural shampoo for bringing out the red highlights in my hair. I got it at a health food store. I loved it. By alternating it with other shampoos I could increase or decrease the amount of red in my hair. It was fun and subtle. I don’t know about the ingredients. It’s been years since I used it. Strangely, my hair has gotten redder with each pregnancy and so I haven’t really needed to use it.

  17. Alicia

    I disagree with Hannah about needing a friend to help if you henna. I henna my hair and do it myself (though my daughter occasionally helps with touching up the back). I buy it in its pure powdered form online and love the results on my naturally dirty-blond hair. I love it but I’ve been wanting to go a little lighter, but I’m not sure how well natural methods will work with the henna. I think I may just aim for lots of time in the sun this spring and summer and go for the old fashioned way. 🙂

  18. hannah

    so i tried the lemon water on my blond hair and it worked great. going to try chamomile really soon. as soon as I was done though I also gave it a hot oil treatment as I didn’t want it to be hurt by the blow dryer(no sun that day:( )

  19. Jeni

    I need to find something less harsh to lighten my hair because when I did it last month I ended up with a red inflamed scalp for a few days:( When I was a kid I remember putting lemon juice on my hair every day and going outside, but it never did anything to lighten my hair. Then my friend got a hold of a bottle of Sun-In and put streaks in her hair, and I was so jealous of her!

  20. sondra meegan

    Has anyone used either the lemon juice or chamomile solutions on hair that has some color or highlights on it already? I’m trying to grow out the highlights that I have and go with natural hair lightening, but how do I get from here to there? Can I use these methods as I grow this off? Thanks so much!!


    I want lighten my hair too. I also consider using natural products that are safe to use for my hair. Anyway, Thanks for your amazing post!


    Hi great post! Been looking for this post, a natural way to lighten hair. And I would give a shot to chamomile tea rinse! Hope it would to my hair. Thanks for sharing.

  23. Ben

    I’ll pass this along to my sister. She used to have really blonde hair in high school, but it has since gotten pretty dark. She doesn’t like dying her hair, but I think she’d definitely go for lemon juice and natural products like that. Thanks!

  24. April

    So wonderful! I, too, am growing out my natural hair color and want it just a bit lighter without chemicals. Do you like how yours turned out?

    • Nicole

      Hi April, to be honest, I got lazy and didn’t do too many “treatments” with the lemon juice. I had a baby this summer so I didn’t go out in the sun as much as I usually do! 😉 I might try doing it more regularly this winter with the lemon juice and hair dryer method; we’ll see! I’d love to hear how it goes for you!

  25. Emilee Tabler

    could i mix the Chamomile tea with lemon tea

  26. Kirstie

    I have light brown/dark blonde hair and also wanted to naturally lighten. One method is to use cinnamon and honey. I started out with towel dried hair, and used a mixture of 1 cup honey, 1 cup water, 1 tbs cinnamon, and 1 tbs extra virgin olive oil. I poured this through my hair, catching the run-off in a container to reuse, until I had coated the ends of my hair. I dipped a hairbrush into the mixture to get the top of my hair. Then I wrapped it up in a bun and wore a shower cap to bed, letting it soak in for about 8 hours. When I woke up and rinsed my hair out, it was noticeably lighter – a couple of shades. It looked just like I had naturally, sunny highlights. Not sure how well this method works on black/dark brown hair, but just throwing it out there.

    • Sally

      Hey Kirste,
      I have naturally dark brown hair with natural red tones and in the winter my hair looks closer to black so I tried all the methods above but the honey and cinnamon have worked the best on lightening my hair. It has brought out my red tones which I love. 🙂 i want to try henna next and see how red I can become 🙂 lol

  27. Ashley Marie

    hi, i was a blonde, and wanted a change so my friend dyed my hair “brown” and it turned into like a redish color, and all i want is my natural blonde back! first time dying my hair and i am miserable!! will the lemonjuice work for my hair or will it just make me even more of a red head?!. :'( i am soo desperate to get my gold locks back! i dont want to use dye because i have fine hair, but if nothing else i will have to dye it back blonde,,and idk how to do that! lol PLEASE HELP!! 🙂

  28. rachel

    I decided to try the lemon juice followed by the chamomile-yogurt treatment. My story is so similar, I had summery honey golden hair until I had kids, then it just went away, replaced by an uninteresting brown. I actually wouldn’t have minded a nice warm brown, but this is sort of a dull version that has few highlights and I really want my old color back without chemicals, which I avoid whenever possible, not to mention I don’t have the time or money. I have no time to get out in the sun and I try to protect my skin anyway. So I tried it using strained lemon juice on wet hair, blowing dry until nice and crunchy, then yogurt-chamomile, then wash twice and condition well. My hair came out slightly more golden and not overly dry (I think following the lemon with the yogurt helped). One thing, the lavender essential oil seems like overkill to me – 1/4 tsp, really? That stuff is strong. Maybe they intended it to cover the (also very strong) chamomile smell, but I have never understood covering a scent with another strong scent, and anyway chamomile isn’t that bad. I’d say a few drops of lavender oil is plenty. By the time I was done rinsing my mint-scented conditioner out, I smelled like an Aveda salon. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Anyway, it worked, but to be clear – the effects were subtle and additional treatments will be needed. Plus some sun this summer, in moderation. Now that my kids aren’t babies anymore, we’re getting out a lot more. Here’s to a blond summer!

  29. Lisa

    I have used hydrogen peroxide on my hair, works great, I have curly, frizzy light brownhair with gray mixed in. But I perm my hair every 3 months or so to control the frizz and theI am trying the lemon juce now and going for a perm hydrogen peroxide made my hair very very dry after a perm. perm didn’t work after. I am looking for a way to lighten my hair even though I do perm my hair. the 7th of march hopefully it won’t dry my hair out from the perm. and other suggestions would be helpful. thenks Lisa

    • Denise

      I perm my hair every 3 months. I have tried lemon juice if your hair drys out after using hydrogen peroxide try coconut oil the kind you eat. It makes hair manageable not greasy and it looks good. The perm to use after highlighting or dying hair is one that is for colored hair. My perm work out every time.

  30. Brian Scott

    This is an excellent access of information. I just got interested with your creation on how you explicate even the most simple details regarding with the all natural shampoo. Thanks for sharing such informative one. Keep posting.

  31. Faith

    I have had my hair died before, but I want to know if I can use one of these ways even with highlights. Will it make the highlights lighter too? My natural color is neither very light dark brown(hope that makes sense) but with highlights I have a blonder look. My roots are coming out and I want to save money by using this method, but do not won’t to have a bleech blonde look. In other words, I want my hair to look natural but still noticeable. Any advice?

  32. Amanda Guttman

    Hi Nicole,

    Great article!!! So helpful to me!!! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while.

    How do you recommend I lighten black hair dyed at the hair and nail salon, and also dyed a bit with medium brown color- which gives the black hair a bit of light brownish, subtle red color?

  33. Melissa - Still in the Storm

    Thanks so much for this post! My hair color changed after chemo. I was a true blonde and now it’s brown. I’m looking for a natural way to lighten my hair without the chemicals, and this is a great summary. I’ve been thinking about lemon juice and think it’s time to try. Thank you!!

  34. Jane

    Yu can use tap water to mix the honey in to lighten hair, it took me from medium brown to golden blonde but it takes a lot of tries, took me 10 months to get there and no damage, works well mixed in conditioner too and less messy

  35. jasmine

    okay so i’m still in my teens but, i hate the outdoors (i live in texas). so ove the past 2 years my hair has gotten REALLY dark i used to be a plat. blonde, now i’m a dirty blonde do you think the lemon thing would work or should i do the peroxcide stuff? i don’t have any pics of me cause i’m hate my hair so much.

  36. Rosie

    I tried the Chamomile trick but instead of lightening my hair its turned it a reddish color! But I’m happy with it 🙂

  37. annonamous

    I had a carmel blonde hair color and i recently dyed it o what i thought was to be light brown but turned out to be dark redish brown which i hate and i dont know what to do because a local hair stylist said if i try to dye it back to my carmel blonde it will turn bright orange:/ but i cant go out in public with my hair looking like this anyone know of what i could do without my hair turning bright orange or red and have my old hair back???

    • Erica

      Use “Color Oops”! There a different versions so choose based on how long yours been dyed. Your stylist should know this

  38. Abott

    I would say try to dip your hair in petrol (in platter or bigger vessel) making sure its not touching the scalp and then let the petrol vanish. You will see in some attempts your hair becomes much lighter and better then using other remedies! Especially for newcomers with dark-dark hair. (-_-)

  39. Monica Lovett-Turner

    I have just started tinkering with no poo. And whilst doing some research foung that oil strips colour from dyed hair so carefull using homemade castile soap based shampoo when you have dyed locks. Back to the point. Am growing out old dye and thought lightening it and adding some contrast should ease the transition. So I mixed 4 tblspn lemon juice 1 tblspn seasalt and 1 tblspn rapeseed oil. Decided the lemon juice always used to dry out my hair and the oil should combat that also juice should stop the oil making it greasy.

  40. Kelss

    I havee been wanting to lighten my hair naturally with lemons but i heard it only works on blondes! ( i am abrunette) is this true? plz reply!

  41. Dounia

    This homemade remedy I’m trying right now.. Argan oil, cinnamon, lemon juice and honey. Does wonders for my dry hair!!

  42. Dounia

    There is this homemade remedy that does wonders to my long brown dry hair.
    – Argan oil
    – Cinnamon
    – Lemon juice
    – Honey.

    • judy g

      amts. of each,please, would love to try this, got hair bleached back in feb to get rid of color which turned out way too dark, almost ruined it, still very dry, using coconut oil each morning before i dry it so it isn’t so dry. frizzy, and looks so bad, it is also naturally curly with just enough wave to frizz with the humidity up here- i am in mo. thanks, Judy

  43. Lucy Liu

    Will the rhubarb one work with vinegar instead of wine?

  44. Tara

    lemon is bad for your hair , it can damage it if you keep it in for a long time .

  45. Jenny

    I started of with dark brown hair naturally and then added some lemon juice and honey to get the blonde hair I wanted it at first turned reddish and then I slept with the lemon juice in my hair and it was really blonde. If your hair is brown just adding honey will give you a lot of color it looks best if you add it to your hair at random places and mix it with water.

  46. Madison

    A hairdryer will not work with the lemon solution, its only the suns UV rays that activate it.

  47. reem

    i have put the Chamomile Tea on my hair and it didn’t get lighter ,my hair is dark brown
    can someone reply at me as soon as possible
    thank you

  48. Amy Blonde

    I’ve been buying the Organic Chamomile Natural Hair Lightening Spray from but will try some of these free methods and see if I can get same effect for nothing – thanks!

  49. sofia

    I have an abundance of lemons this time of year from my parents’ tree– I figure I use them for cooking, baking, and drinking, so it only makes sense that I start there with my hair lightening.

  50. Michael

    I’m enoying this post thank you for sharing

  51. Chanelle

    I had dark brown hair and atarted lightening it with vitamin c powder and antidandruff it works well if you keep on doing it and moisturising afterwards. And my artificial haircolour is stripping down quick and my hair is still in a great condition.

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