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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  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!!