How to Lighten Hair Naturally and Add Highlights (Black Hair Too) Naturally

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How to Lighten Hair Naturally

Learn how to lighten and highlight hair naturally at home. Using these natural hair lightener ideas saves money and keeps hair healthier!

Last year I wrote an article on how to color hair naturally with homemade herbal hair dyes. Also, my sister Karyn, who naturally colors her hair often, recently asked if I could do natural highlights. So I went to work right away coming up with several interesting and simple options for how to lighten hair naturally.

How to Lighten Hair Naturally: And Add Highlights

1. Lemons

First, lemon juice, diluted half and half with distilled water, will lighten dark blond or light brown hair and won’t leave reddish tones unless your hair already has them. Indeed, this is the most widely used natural hair lightener for a reason.

2. Vinegar

So vinegar, like raw apple cider vinegar, will leave reddish highlights in the same hair color. To start, mix apple cider vinegar 50/50 with distilled water. Next, spray it on all over to lighten all of your hair, or apply it with a cotton ball or brush for strands of highlights. Lastly, leave on for 30 minutes, rinse out, and dry as usual.on

In truth, of all of these options, I’ve used this natural hair lightener the most. Because I have naturally reddish tones to my hair and try to keep it looking natural.

3. Peroxide

Begin by diluting the hydrogen peroxide half and half with water. Next, apply as directed above and test after 15-20 minutes. Note that peroxide will lighten quickly without the worry of drying out like commercial hair bleaches. Lastly, once you get to the shade you want, rinse your hair well. Indeed, for those wanting to know how to lighten hair, peroxide is another very popular method!

4. Chamomile

My grandmother used to swear by chamomile to lighten darker hair. First, brew a really strong cup of chamomile tea and let it cool. Next, apply to individual strands of hair for highlights, or pour over your entire head for all-over color. Lastly, go out into the sun and let it dry, usually about 30 minutes. Finish by washing out and styling as usual. (Find dried organic chamomile here.)

5. Henna

On most hair, henna will only darken, but on very dark brown or black hair, henna can lighten and leave reddish highlights. So if you’re looking for black hair with highlights, this may be your jam. Use about 3 tablespoons of henna powder to a ½ cup of boiling water. Let this sit for 12 hours or overnight. Then apply to your hair and let sit for 2-3 hours. Wash out well and style as you normally would. (Find henna dye here.)

6. Honey and Olive Oil

I’m not sure the exact mechanics of how this works, but it creates nice subtle highlights and softer hair. Warm ¼ cup of honey and add ¼ cup olive oil. Stir well to combine. Apply to your hair where you want the highlights and leave on for 30-60 minutes. About 5 minutes before you wash it out, work it into all of your hair, focusing on ends. Wash out well. If you are using the shower to wash it out, be very careful as oil can create a very slippery surface.

7. Cinnamon

Take half a cup of your normal conditioner and add enough cinnamon powder to make a thick paste. Apply this to your hair and leave for 3-4 hours or overnight. The longer you leave it, the richer the color. In the morning (or at the end of the 3-4 hours), wash it out well and style as you normally would. This will also soften your hair and leave it nice and silky. Bonus: Cinnamon has antioxidants and natural sunscreen that will protect your hair from the damaging rays of the sun.

8. Honey and Vinegar

If you’re learning how to lighten hair, why not get both for the benefits of honey and vinegar at the same time? Use 2 cups of raw apple cider vinegar to 1 cup of honey. Add a tablespoon of warmed coconut oil and blend together well. Apply to your hair, wrap in an old towel, and leave on overnight. Shampoo out in the morning.

9. Rhubarb

This is another old favorite of my grandmother’s. She told me to use ¼ cup of chopped rhubarb to 2 cups of water. Boil these together and strain the juice. (You can add some sweetener and make a nice toast spread with what’s left!) Then after the juice has cooled, apply it to your hair and leave it on for 10 minutes. Wash out well. Rhubarb contains pectin and will get sticky if left on your hair too long.

10. Baking Soda

Simply make a paste with warm water and baking soda to lighten your hair. First, take about a ½ cup and add enough warm water to make a medium paste. I say this because if it’s too thin it won’t cover well and if it’s too thick it will dry out quickly and not work either. Now apply the paste and leave for 15-20 minutes. Check your hair to see what it looks like. If you are happy, wash it out. If you want it lighter, leave it on a bit longer.

11. Vitamin C

You can crush 8-9 Vitamin C tablets and mix them into the amount of shampoo you would normally use on your hair. Shampoo as usual and follow with conditioner.

12. Salt

Dissolve 1 tablespoon salt (any kind) with ½ cup of warm water. Leave on 15 minutes and rinse out. We all know how salt will highlight our hair after swimming in the ocean. Now you can do it at home. Be sure to follow up with our Sea Salt Spray to get those nice beach waves!

Black Hair with Highlights

It is worth repeating because we have so many people ask, that you can use Henna to highlight black or dark brown hair. Use about 3 tablespoons of henna powder to a ½ cup of boiling water. Let this sit for 12 hours or overnight. Then apply to your hair and let sit for 2-3 hours. Wash out well and style as you normally would. (Find henna dye here.)

Notes on Results of Natural Hair Lightener

When talking about how to lighten hair naturally, I should point out that results can and will vary. Everyone’s hair is different and will absorb color or lose color at different rates. The ingredients and the type of water you use will all vary, resulting in slightly different outcomes.

Allow plenty of time and have fun experimenting with natural hair lightener.

What About You?

Did you already know how to lighten hair at home?

Have you ever experimented with natural highlights? Why not give one of these a try?


About Debra Maslowski

Debra is a master gardener, a certified herbalist, a natural living instructor, and more. She taught Matt and Betsy how to make soap so they decided to bring her on as a staff writer! Debra recently started an organic herb farm in the mountains of Western North Carolina. You can even purchase her handmade products on Amazon!

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DISCLAIMER: Information on DIY Natural™ is not reviewed or endorsed by the FDA and is NOT intended to be substituted for the advice of your health care professional. If you rely solely upon this advice you do so at your own risk. Read full Disclaimer & Disclosure statements here.


  1. Sara says

    To everyone with thick dark or black hair. I tried vinegar, lemon, and baking soda. Cut 3 bundles of my hair and put them in each one and left them for 5 hours. None of them brightened my hair. Baking soda made my hair matte and not pretty.
    It doesn’t work for dark and thick hair.

  2. Debra Maslowski says

    Hi Cynthia! I don’t have any experience with cancer survivors, but I’m guessing your skin may be more sensitive. And having the same type of hair that I do, mature hair (I’m 57), the color often won’t take it hold. I would try a strong coffee or tea. These will dye your hair while leaving subtle highlights. Sage is also a good choice for gray hair as it can penetrate the hair shaft easier than other types of coloring agents. Make a strong tea from sage leaves. You may want to try it twice to get more coverage. Cinnamon may be too harsh for you, but it does leave nice highlights. Try mixing some cinnamon powder with olive oil and apply it to your hair. Leave it in for a hour if you can, then wash out the excess oil. Be careful, as it can get slippery! The olive oil will temper the cinnamon while leaving your hair soft and well conditioned. Hope all this helps!

  3. Cynthia G. says

    I would also be interested in reading more on this subject.
    I am primarily light gray now with darker in back. I’ve had oral cancer so I want more ideas for mature women and use natural products because of my medical experiences.
    Unfortunately I don’t seem to see many replies. Also what about natural conditioners for gray hair? Thank you.

  4. Sarah says

    I LOVE these natural highlighting tips thanks SO much ladies! :)) I have been chemically colouring my hair for years and the bleach stunts my growth and breaks my hair constantly. I also have a phobia against hairdressers because they can also damage your long earned locks in a second with applying colour on top of colour creating instant breakage. So if I can do it myself I’m definitely going to try a few of the concoctions above and save on the heartache of constant breakage and save alot of pretty pennies :))

  5. mAMABEAR says

    20-30 vitamin C pills–Crushed up almost powdered)
    clarifying shampoo and a good ol grocery plastic

    Crush up the vit c pills, mix with claryfying shampoo……apply to all hair….I think this is more of a color stripping method….but it sure WORKS…it lightened up my hair like 2 or 3 shades. As always when putting acidic substances in your hair ALWAYS give your hair a little extra TLC aka Deep conditioning after. HOpe this helps some of you out ! 🙂

    • mAMABEAR says

      sorry missed like 3 steps lmao….after saturating hair with mixture….wrap hair up with plastic bag and wait 30-60 minutes… do 15 min checks to make sure it doesnt lighten more than you would like….Happy Lightining 😉

  6. Casey says

    I have dark auburn hair if I do the peroxide wash how much will it lighten and will it damage my hair?

  7. Charlotte says

    I have very dark, black hair. Which of these do you recommend I try to just slightly lighten it?

  8. Susan says

    Should my hair be dry when I put lemon or peroxide on it? Do I need to just rinse it out or do I need to shampoo? Thanks!

  9. Joy Ekowa says

    Hi, can any of this natural hair dyeing methods turn my black hair into wine?

  10. Bridget John says

    I love this site a lot
    Pls am a Nigerian, I needed to darken my hair naturally
    Pls what can I use

  11. Donna Bazen says

    Will any of these methods help to cover gray hairs? Would love to know a way to cover them naturally. Thank you.

  12. Marcia says

    Hi, I am really interested in these natural hair lightening ideas. I have been using chemical hair dyes for years and recently had a bad reaction to one. I have also had a very itchy scalp and have been told I now have seborriac dermatitis. I have quite a lot of grey and wondered if any or all of these products would be safe for me to use.

  13. Ashlan says

    Tried the peroxide on my medium/dark blonde hair. I naturally have reddish and honey highlights. I left the solution in for about 25-30 minutes and rinsed out. After towel drying and brushing my hair I noticed some lighter strands in my hair where it was already lighter in color but not by much. May try again with a more concentrated solution or try lemon juice instead to achieve the color I would like.

    • Ashlan says

      So, I kept doing some research and tried out another method, which is a combo of two shown above: hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. I mixed equal parts of H2O2 with baking soda and applied from root to tip. After making sure my hair was saturated, I wrapped my hair in sedan wrap (so I could see) and put a towel over to conduct more heat. I made it about 35 minutes before needing to hop in the shower, the hydrogen peroxide can irritate your scalp (much like hair dye). After rinsing out and conditioning my hair for about 10 minutes, I towel dried but did not wring my hair in order to prevent more breakage. Once my hair was as dry as I could get it I used Moroccan Argan oil all over to make my hair soft and shiny. I definitely noticed my hair was brighter but had a somewhat orange tint to it, so I will use a purple/blue shampoo to remove brassiness. I wish I could post results so you could see the difference! If you don’t have argan oil, it’s fairly inexpensive or you can add warm coconut oil to your H2O2/baking soda mix.

  14. khadija says

    I love the natural homemade hair lighten. Thank you. My hair is natural i need homemade shampoo and condition i.e how to make it. Thank you! waiting for your reply

    • Natasha says

      I put a box dye in my hair to lighten my hair .. and it came out a yellow ish kind of blonde trying to lighten it naturally . But not any luck yet .. any suggestions tried salty water etc and nothing yet

  15. Maura says

    I put orange essential oil in my dark brown hair every day just because I love the smell. My hair is MUCH lighter since the beginning of summer. It’s very reddish now and in the sun it looks almost gold. It’s very possible that I’m damaging my hair by going out in the sun wearing photosensitive essential oils. But wow the results are really pretty!

    • Monica says


      Be safe in the sun when using photosensitive oils. If you’re adding those oils to your hair, your scalp is coming in contact too. So, keep your head covered if exposing immediately after application.
      Most undiluted photosensitive oils require 12 hours before sun exposure but some require up to 48 hours. Be aware that the amount you use and whether you dilute, both affect the concentration of photosensitive compounds—and always remember that sunscreen helps you stay safe in the sun, even after the recommended wait time. Good luck!!

  16. Valerie says

    I am a natural golden blonde, but after menopause, my hair is turning to a dirty blonde…but no grey. I did the lemon juice and left it on over night. My hair felt dry and sticky in the morning and tangled. BUT when I washed it out in the morning, not only was my hair slightly lighter, but it was soft and silky like it was in my younger days. I am disabled and one of the crazy things that my body does is that I only sweat on the right side. I used to wear my hair long, but cut it very short hoping that it would help with the sweating, but it didn’t. However, I sweat so much on the right side that my hair looks like I just got out of the shower and looks greasy and dry at the same time. ..only on my right side. After the lemon treatment, my hair. ..ALL of it…looks and feels great again! I plan to use it before every shampoo simply to keep my hair feeling so healthy!

  17. Monica says

    I, too, am looking for a natural way to lighten/brighten my current “salon highlights”. I do use the Purple shampoo once a week, however, it only brightens a tad bit, not enough to really tell.
    So, out of all the suggestions above, would anyone mind commenting below and include; what they used, how long it was kept on hair and then tell us if it “worked” for you or not! This would help everyone out tremendously.

    • Monica says

      I guess I should go first……
      I have tried using Peroxide diluted with water and I’ve also tried using just plain Peroxide. Both had no effect.

      I’ve also used, Sun-In leave-in spray (not mentioned above) then was in the sun for several hours. I did see a change but nothing drastic. I think if I used it several more days, the change would have been more drastic. Well, there you go!

  18. Melissa says

    Can the chamomile method be like, just chamomile tea made from a tea pouch?? And will it lighten dark dark brown hair? If so, to what color?

  19. LaVern says

    This list seems full of great ideas but has anyone tried using these on African American hair? If so, which has been most successful?

    • Mya says

      Well, I’m not an expert, I have Asian thick dark brown hair, and the best for me was peroxide. It may be damaging if you apply it too often, but it sure does really work! I have it on right now and I already have a few golden streaks in my hair. I hope this helps!

      • Vanelle says

        MYA…I’m Asian as well and want to try the hydrogen peroxide solution. How long did you leave it in. And did it make your hair red. I would like to avoid red. Thanks!

  20. lisa says

    I have dark blond but want to lighting my hair with natural products I have dry scape. I am going to a wedding next week. what do you recommend????

  21. Mya says

    I thought I just left a comment, but it just disappeared. I tried lemon juice, salt and baking soda, and all didn’t turn out so well. Any suggestions for dark brown thick hair? I could really use your help. Thanks!

  22. Mya says

    Hi! I have been looking for ways to lighten the tips of my hair without damaging it. I’ve tried salt, that didn’t work out. I tried baking soda, that slightly lightened one strand of my hair, then I tried lemon juice and going into the sun, and it didn’t work so well, but it worked the best out of my previous attempts. I have a dark brown type of hair, so its really hard to color, lighten or highlight it without using bleach. If possible, I could really use your help! Thanks!

  23. Marion says

    I love all of these tips and comments. I color my hair – it is over 50% gray and dull medium brown these days – so I have to color. Of the formulas mentioned above, are there ones that work better for colored hair and/or require some tweeking? Starting with a base of light brown or dark blond, I would like to end up with subtle blonde and subtle golden (aka red-ish or strawberry) highlights. Any tips or comments welcome. Thanks, Marion

    • Tracy says

      Marion, I’ve been using a nopoo (no shampoo) method for abot two years. I wash my hair with baking soda and water, then rinse. I condition with 50/50 water and vinegar solution. My natural color is salt & pepper and the texture is curly. After a few months, Someone said my hair was blonde. I’ve never been blonde in my life! The white turned blonde and the dark strands turned a lighter brown. Looks completely natural and it’s gradual from roots to tips.

      • Debra says

        Same. I have not used shampoo for years and I only have to wash my naturally greasy hair once a week as opposed to every day. I use baking soda (I rub it dry all over my scalp) and squirt a generous amont of lemon juice all over it and scrub it in good. It fizzes. Then I rinse it out. My naturally dark brown/gray hair is a nice dark blond

          • Mia says

            I have been using Vinegar 50 % and 50% water over my hair after I wash it and no tangles! After it is dry the smell is gone

      • Mary says

        Thank you for sharing your hair care routine Tracy. I have salt and pepper curly hair too ever since i was a teenager. But i had been chemically dyeing it for so long it has damaged my hair badly. Now im in my early 30s im starting to embrace my natural colour and will definately try this instead of chemical hair dye when i decide to colour my hair again.

      • Tiffany Marqui says

        Hi Tracy, I am salt and pepper also and was wondering how your color is doing now? Is the baking soda and water and the vinegar still working well at lightening your hair? I would love to make my dark hairs blond!! I am chemically sensitive and am allergic to hair dye, so I am anxious to hear what you have to say!!

  24. Jessica Pitts says

    I use natural lemon juice all the time! I put it in a spray bottle and spray it in my hair after I shower and before I lay out in the sun, There’s definitely a change in my hair color since the beginning of the summer.

  25. Ashlee says

    Is there an alternate I can use for coconut oil? I am allergic and it leaves rashes!! Any other recommended oil I can use as a substitute?

      • Debra Maslowski says

        You bet, Grace! Yes, Ashlee, you could use almost any other type of oil. Or, of it’s one brand of coconut oil, try something difference, like maybe a fractionated coconut oil. That’s the one that is liquid all the time. If it’s a coconut allergy, then try one of the others.

  26. diana says

    I would love a recipe that I can use on my white hair for a home made shampoo to keep it bright.

    • Debra Maslowski says

      The only thing I’ve found that will work, Diana, is laundry blueing. I’m not sure if it is natural or what it will do to your system, but I have known people to use it. I would try the shampoos made for white hair, like Silver Fox. They have been tested and are safe.

      • Grayson says

        Im a cosmetology student and we use shimmering lights shampoo on our clients with white and or gray hair it makes it absolutely radiant and cancels all yellow tones

  27. Lisa Graham says

    I decided to try the hydrogen peroxide first because I had some and I was afraid if I did the vinegar it would get too red. I diluted it with water, half and half, as specified. I squirted it on all over my head while I was standing in the shower, and I came to notice light spots and streaks all along my legs, belly, and arms! It was like the hydrogen peroxide was immediately making my skin lighter. So I washed with soap and water over and over my body and finally those light spots went away. Whew. I was worried about my hair in that regard too, so I rinsed it off maybe 5-10 min, and so my hair doesn’t look really any lighter.
    I will definitely try the other options too, maybe the vinegar or baking soda next time.

    • Debra Maslowski says

      Yes, Lisa, peroxide will lighten spots on your skin, but it’s only temporary. You do need to leave it on longer, but how long exactly is a mystery. It depends on your hair-how porous it is, if it’s really clean, if there’s any color-so many things can make a difference. Try it for a bit longer next time. You’ll find your balance!

      • Amy says

        Will the peroxide lighten my hair its so dark brown almost black or know something that will work better thanks in advance

  28. Carmen Estrada says

    Thanks for this great list of simple tips for creating natural highlights. I especially like the idea of using cinnamon with the added benefits. Will try it out next time i wash my hair 🙂

  29. Lexie says

    I’ve found that a paste made out of cinnamon, chamomile, and lemon juice works really well at putting soft honey blonde highlights in my dark brown hair. I gently massage in the paste to a couple of strands, and then find an excuse to sit outside for an hour or so. I’ll be trying vinegar next; thanks for the tips!

    • Carey says

      What do you mean by chamomile? Is it tea or essential oil or something else? And is it equal parts? Looking forward to trying this! TIA

      • Debra Maslowski says

        I use chamomile tea, Carey. I’m not sure what the essential oil would do and it’s frightfully expensive! Make a double batch of tea and let it cool. Rinse your hair with that.

  30. cindy says

    Honey works because it is also a natural & safe Hydrogen Peroxide 🙂
    I have a bag of dried beet powder, has any one tried this for the hair?

    • Debra Maslowski says

      I want to try beets, but I’m afraid it might look like I colored my hair with Kool Aide! A lot of the kids at the college are doing that. At least it’s not toxic!

    • Rachel says

      These are great tips! How do they work on previously colored hair? I mean chemically colored at a salon, not the at home box stuff. Do the treatments still work?

      • kristina says

        they don’t seem to work on my hair anymore, and i’ve professionally gotten mine done three times before & at home box four

    • Debra Maslowski says

      I’ve used a lot of these on both box hair colors and professional color. The results were different each time, but I don’t think it had to do with what type of hair color I used. I was happy with the results both ways.

      • Morgan says

        My natural hair color is dirty blonde, and I’m a red right now. I’m trying to go back to my natural color naturally, because I’m done dying my hair. Any suggestions?

        • Liz says

          If you used a natural coloring dye to get red hair then it will fade away eventually. If you colored using chemicals then most probably it will go when your new hair grows. This means the roots of your hair will soon start turning blonde. That’s your hair growing actually. When the new hair grows to desired length you can cut off the colored part. But it will take a long time. But for some people the color just fades with time too.