Lighten Your Hair; No Dye Necessary


If you’ve been bleaching/highlighting/balayaging so hard you don’t even remember how your natural hair looks, going cold turkey on coloring is like quititing a serious habit—and there’s a similarly high relapse rate. So before you break and wind up in the hair care aisle at Duane Reade muttering to boxes of Clairol, let us introduce you to the nicotine patches of lightening methods.

Gradual lifters will give you warm, sunny highlights without going full-blast blond, they’re pretty much foolproof (unless you are truly insane), and they’re much, much cheaper than a dye job. Below, a few of our favorites broken down by target demographic:

For the Traditionalist
Do you enjoy convenience? Are you the kind of person who “washes” his or her “hair”? Then you will probably really like John Frieda’s Go Blonder line. This shampoo and conditioner are easy to sub in as a hair-cleansing routine, they work, and they smell comparatively nice (the fragrance is a blend of vague yet inoffensive floral notes with a delightful plastic-squeeze-y-bottle accord to finish). We saw subtle results after about two weeks of daily use, although if your hair isn’t already at least dark blonde this probably won’t work—just sayin’.

For the Naturalist
Dear You,
We’re sure you’re lovely, but everyone is tired of hearing about Level 6 Vegan certifications and artisanal cold-pressed buttons and gluten-free dating sites, so please just do the polite thing and use Lush Marilyn without making a fuss. This stuff has all the time-tested natural blond enhancers: chamomile, linseed, lemon, etc. It gives dishwater-blond hair a fetching spun-gold tint and makes it incredibly soft, too. The jar says to run it through your hair, leave it on for twenty minutes, then wash it out. But instructions are for losers, so we dump half the pot on ourselves, wrap our entire heads in Saran wrap, then sleep on it. Works like a charm!

We’d do the Saran-and-Marilyn-goop thing every night, except that most of the humans we’ve dated have decidedly not been like “ooooh, sexy” when confronted with a crinkly, lopsided plastic head monster who has linseed mucilage leaking down the sides of her face. Perhaps this is how we will know we have found The One.

For the Sentimentalist
Are you nostalgic for middle school? Does the phrase 'Nouveau Spice Girl' make you think "YES. NOW"? Then we recommend classic blonder-ing spray/follicular event-horizon Sun-In. It works, it costs less than street-cart juice, and it won’t dry your hair out nearly as much as bleach. Plus, you will be emotionally transported back to 1998—if not physically transported, though if a hair product were going to be a functional time machine, it would totally be Sun-In. Spray it in all over, comb it through, then blow dry; you don’t want weird patches of lightened hair where you spritzed and didn’t work it through. (In case you missed it, one of our fave blondes, Melissa Coker, swears by this stuff.)

For People Living in 1845
Find a lemon, put it in your hair, be done. This is the solution that self-conscious Neanderthals probably used (“Ugg look goooood! So face-framing highlight!”), and it definitely works. It’s pretty easy to squeeze some ripe citrus onto your head, but don’t blame us if you end up with an itchy scalp, because lemon is, unsurprisingly, incredibly acidic. Also, you will have pulp in your hair, and it will be sticky. If this whole messy thing sounds right up your alley (perhaps you are a masochist in addition to being some ancient person?) why not add it to conditioner or a masque or—heck, go wild—an avocado, and lighten up a little less…harshly? That way, you don’t dry out your follicles and scalp.

—Lacey Gattis

Photos by Mathea Millman. 

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • Talia Shulze

    Don't forget this very easy to use and very common chloride.

    • ITGLacey

      Excellent photo research ;)

  • Jess

    Heat styling after using the John Frieda products makes hair even blonder!

    • Kelsi

      I also looove the John Freida spray from the same "Go Blonder" line. I see a lot more of a difference using it than the shampoo. Its effect is a lot more natural and less brassy than Sun In as it's all cammomile and citrus vibes. I use that after every shower and shampoo/condition with Shimmerlights (purple) once a week to tone down the warmth.

  • Definitely Pauline

    I remember using Sun-In in my teenage years and I ended up with the weirdest colour ever, so horrible that my mom drove me to the best hair salon in town to get it fixed :P But I do use Lush's Marylin which I really like, and of course Lemon is always a good one :)

    • ITGLacey

      True story: In 8th grade for our Junior High graduation superlatives I received the "Sun-In Award" for most frequently altered hair color. It was from the teachers, not the other kids...

  • Lila

    Last summer I mixed concentrated lemon juice and 3% peroxide in spray bottle and it worked! But I am so lazy to do this regularly.Also there is lightening oils from EUGENE PERMA and farmavita. Pretty rare, just For you to know

  • Christine

    Dear Lacey,
    Please write many more articles for ITG. You had me chuckling quietly at my desk and rescuing me from the 3pm doldrums.

    • ITGLacey

      You just completely made my day—thank you so much for reading! :)

      • Christine

        Anytime! :) I had to show my appreciation as I nearly lost it when I read: (“Ugg look goooood! So face-framing highlight!”). In fact, I was giggling to myself thinking about it again this morning. I can't wait to read your next article!

    • Bike Pretty

      This. Lacey's style is awesome, awesome, awesome. Can't wait to read more.

  • aline

    hahaha, loved the writing!

  • Alexandra

    I have honey blonde hair to begin with but achieve some extremely convincing (like, "Wait...that's natural?! You've never dyed your hair before?!") highlights by squeezing a lemon, dumping the juice over my head, working the juice through with my fingers, and then sitting in the sun for about 1/2 an hour or until it dries (or longer!). I only really do this in the summer, but man does it work! Follow up with a shower and a John Masters avocado hair mask and viola! Silky blond tresses.

  • Dimanne

    Klorane Camomile! I swear my hair is lighter since using it, even though I'm naturally light brunette. Or maybe I am just going gray.

    • ITGLacey

      Well, I love anything with chamomile, so I'm sold.

      • Dimanne

        If you give it a try, make sure you leave it for 2-3 minutes, like suggested. Otherwise you will just end up examining your hair in the mirror, hoping for some blondness (that won't be there).

        • ITGLacey

          Hahahahahahaha; thanks for the pro tip!

  • kat

    klorane chamomile shampoo:)

  • Nina

    that ocean spray is a LEGEND!

  • Speedy

    Is there really any difference btwn Sun-In and peroxide? Peroxide is the main ingredient, so I do wonder if everything else in SI is just placebo & a chance to mark up the price of a 99 cent bottle of peroxide 400% or so. I'm also wondering about the Go Blonder products, since someone mentioned they work better with heat (a telltale sign of peroxide doing its thang). Peroxide makes the ends of my hair gummy and stretchy like taffy if I use it for a while. I don't know if there's actually a damage-free solution...

  • Heather P.

    Thanks for taking me back to high school with this one! I can still remember the burning smell of Sun-in when trying to use a blow dryer. As a lifeguard, I used to just put it in and sit in the sun. Got paid for awesome was that idea?!

    Nowadays, I'm a medium brown. Boring, old medium brown. No way I'm going back to Sun-in, but maybe a salon trip instead...

  • Tanya

    Dear You,
    I like your writing.

  • Louise Devlin

    Don't use John Frieda! It made some of my hair fall out and took a year to grow back the hairs on the very top of my scalp! The hairs were like baby hairs and I needed to use kirby grips to flatten them, it was a horrible experience, don't use John Frieda hair lightening products, they might make hair blonder but having hair fall out is not worth it.


John Frieda Sheer Blonde
John Frieda Sheer Blonde Go Blonder Lightening Shampoo
Sun-In Hair Lightener Lemon
LUSH Marilyn