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
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.
Photos by Mathea Millman.