The Easy Way I Got Blonde, Natural Highlights At Home (Sans Beach Days Or Salon Trips)

January 11, 2021

“Is this all just from the sun?” my hairdresser asked, waving her hand through my messy, sandy tresses. (Somehow my family had convinced me a salon trim for my two feet of tangles qualified as an “essential trip.”)

“No. It’s accidental highlights from shampoo,” I explained.

I had seen my hair in a video one day and gawked at how streaky it looked from the back. Flattered as I was to be a bit blonder, I couldn’t explain how this happened to my all-natural hair. Maybe from wearing it in a baseball cap, where only parts saw the sun? Not convinced by that theory, I googled things that can bleach hair and was flabbergasted by what I discovered.

These 10 vegan household ingredients can cause hairs to lighten:

  • Salt (sodium chloride)
  • Vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Lemons and limes
  • Chamomile (as in the tea)
  • Rhubarb (boiled)
  • Vitamin C powder
  • Cinnamon
  • Cardamom
  • Vodka (yes, vodka — I was as shocked as you!)

Searching my shampoo bottles, I was surprised to realize they contained both sodium chloride and citric acid (Vitamin C). In fact, these ingredients are so exceedingly common in shampoos, they’re difficult to avoid. Limonene is another ingredient I suspected, as it’s derived from citrus, but I didn’t find any info about it affecting color. The shampoo at my favorite hotel was a clear culprit though as it had lime juice!

Basically, hair care companies are slowly stripping the pigment from people’s tresses without their consent. No mention of “May permanently lighten your mane” anywhere on the bottles. In shampoo makers’ defense, the effect on brown, red, and blond hair is generally subtle. Black hair should remain unchanged.

Fortunately, this is good news for those of us with blond, brown, or red hair who do want more brightness! Although streaks may occur, shampoo is great for natural-looking highlights as opposed to a more dramatic salon chic. The shampoo ingredients subtly lift your shade through daily, weekly, or monthly use — meaning you’ll get a continuum of color rather than obvious roots.

So before you spend money at the hairdresser, pick a shampoo with sodium chloride, citric acid, or another highlighter higher up on the ingredients list. Or, purchase a shampoo specifically formulated to lighten hair. These include “blond shampoos” which typically contain lemon juice or chamomile extract. You can adjust which shampoo you use and how often, depending on the desired degree of “sun.”

A second option, instead of showering with shampoo, is to use bath bombs, bath salts, or infuse the tub with your own at-home magic. The bath products I saw at my local health food store were loaded with citric acid and sodium chloride. You can take a baking soda bath, which soothes and softens skin as well as clarifies hair. Or just ocean-ify your bathwater with a pinch of salt. Go play in the sun after, and it’s equivalent to spending a day splashing around at the beach. Hot water may also increase the rate of bleaching.

Jet-black hair, of course, maintains its color purity no matter how many chamomile teabags you soak in your bathwater. Lemon juice might work slowly with repeated use, but it does damage. Instead, rely on more powerful agents like the Bleach, Please Complete Hair Lightening Kit by Arctic Fox.

Peroxide-based vegan lighteners like this one take you safely from ebony to brown or blond in a single go. (In addition to being cruelty-free and vegan, Arctic Fox donates 15% of their proceeds to preventing animal cruelty.)


Besides going blonder, there are two other common hair color tricks that natural ingredients achieve. You can go darker (which also diminishes the appearance of gray). You can go redder as well.

For reddish-orange, try carrot juice; for a deeper red, beet! Henna is the most famous solution for vivid hair and it’s supposed to be longer-lasting. Rooibos tea, pure cranberry juice, and paprika are just a few of the other substances credited for making strands rosy. Reddening ingredients like these are more effective for already-redheads and brunettes. Apple cider vinegar (as opposed to white) and calendula oil are said to produce reddish highlights.

To ditch grays or turn hair darker, there’s black tea, boiled sage, and brewed coffee and coffee grounds. The oil, hull powder, or boiled shells of walnuts will work as well! All of these ingredients can be mixed with shampoo, tossed in baths, or blent with coconut oil and left on as a 60-minute hair mask for stronger results. Or browse the array of darkening shampoos, color-depositing shampoos, blue or purple shampoos, and other specialty shampoos on the market.

There are so many ways to play with hair color. The best depends on the person. Using gentle ingredients in shampoo or bathwater is an appealing approach. It’s cheap, easy, and the effects are subtle and natural-looking! Even if you’re broke, staying home, or live nowhere near the sun or ocean, effortless highlights can be yours.

Now that I know why my dirty-blond mane was mysteriously getting brighter, I have options! Will I avoid conventional shampoos or try walnut dye to go darker again? Will I bring on the carrots and beets to give auburn a chance? Ingredients mentioned in this article have diverse and nuanced properties. It’s fun to research people’s at-home results with each substance and experiment on our own beautiful heads.

Happy hair care!

Also by Phoenix: I Gave Up Sugar A Year Ago. Here’s How You Can Still Enjoy A Sweet Vegan Life

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Photo: Joshua Rondeau via Unsplash; Bleach, Please

Phoenix Huber
Phoenix Huber writes about personal growth, compassion for all, and daily vegan life. Based in Arizona, her hobbies include taking notes to remember her phone calls with friends, leaving effusive comments, and journaling. (She’ll get back to you once she finds some real hobbies that don’t involve writing.) An aspiring freelancer and researcher, Phoenix loves getting to amplify people’s messages of joy and kindness. Oh, and her family rocks! Find more articles from her on Medium, or donate to her via Ko-Fi and receive her eternal gratitude.


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