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7 Best Natural Hair Bleaching Alternatives + How to Use Them

Published on December 15, 2023


By Kristen Boye BS, Natural Health

Kristen Boye

Kristen Boye is a natural health expert, writer, copywriter, and editor. Kristen was raised on an organic farm in British Columbia which inspired her life’s work. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Health, is a Certified Natural Foods Chef, co-owner of a medicinal herb farm, and is a natural foods and children’s health advocate. Kristen lives with her husband and two children on their medicinal herb farm in Western North Carolina.

https://www.holisticwritingconcepts.com
7 Best Natural Hair Bleaching Alternatives + How to Use Them
7 Best Natural Hair Bleaching Alternatives + How to Use Them

Hair bleaching has been around for decades and is the go-to method for lightening hair and achieving that perfect blonde look.

However, hair bleaching is harsh and damaging to the hair, especially with repeated use.

Plus, hair-bleaching products contain several harmful chemicals that health- and allergen-conscious people wish to avoid.

Fortunately, you have alternatives.

In this article, we’ll explore seven natural hair bleach alternatives, how to use them at home, and answer your natural hair bleaching FAQs.

What is Hair Bleach? + Hair Bleach Pros and Cons

Hair bleach is a combination of chemicals designed to remove color pigments from the hair so hair color will take.

If you’re wondering if it’s different from chlorine bleach (household bleach), yes, it is.

The chemicals used in hair bleach vary slightly based on the product but typically include: 

  • An alkaline agent, such as ethanolamine or ammonia,
  • And an oxidizing agent, such as hydrogen peroxide (also known as oxygen bleach) or persulfate salts.

These chemical combinations are highly effective at lightening hair consistently and preparing it to take color.

However, as you’ve likely guessed since you’re reading this article, there are pros and cons to using hair bleach.

Pros of Chemical Hair Bleach:

  • It’s very effective at lightening hair.
  • Hair bleach is fast-acting versus natural hair lighteners, which may take time to lighten
  • It’s consistent, and you can expect to get the same color results every time, especially if done professionally.
  • It is the most effective way to lighten dark hair several shades, like going from dark hair to blonde hair.

Cons of Chemical Hair Bleach:

    • It can weaken and dry out your hair immediately or over time.
    • It contains harmful chemicals that enter the body via the scalp and inhalation. For example:
      • Ammonium and Potassium Persulfate: These highly corrosive chemicals are considered “hazardous substances,” and inhalation, ingestion, or contact (skin, eyes) with vapors or substance may cause severe injury, burns, allergic reactions, and asthma, or death. Plus, runoff from fire control or dilution in water may cause environmental contamination.REF#3214 REF#3215
  • Hydrogen peroxide: This chemical isn’t that bad on its own when diluted, like the 3% hydrogen peroxide you find in drugstores, and is considered a “green” chemical of low concern. However, excess exposure, the wrong type of exposure (such as ingestion or inhalation), and/or when combined with other bleaching chemicals can cause skin, eye, and lung irritation, skin burns, and internal damage.REF#3216
  • Preservatives: Hair bleaching solutions or hair colors that contain bleach typically contain synthetic preservatives, such as formaldehyde-releasing agents, that may cause endocrine disruption, increase cancer risk, and cumulative effects.REF#3217
    • Hair bleach is typically used in combination with chemical hair color that has its own laundry list of harmful ingredients, including:
  • Cancer-causing PPD and formaldehyde-releasing chemicals,
  • Endocrine-disrupting phthalates, fragrance, and other ingredients 
  • Respiratory irritants like ammonia,
  • And nervous-system disruptors such as heavy metals and toluenes.
  • It is not recommended for home use.
  • Professional hair bleaching can be expensive and time-consuming.

Bottom line: Many people choose hair bleaching because it’s quick, effective, and produces consistent results. 

However, the compromise is the immediate or eventual hair damage plus the potential harm of cumulative exposure to hair bleaching and hair dye chemicals. This is why people seek natural alternatives.

Can Natural Hair Bleach Alternatives Work as Well as Regular Hair Bleach?

The short answer is: that natural alternatives do not work as quickly or dramatically as chemical-based hair bleach. 

They may also not work on very dark hair and cannot lighten hair more than a few shades.

The longer answer is: the effectiveness of natural hair bleaching alternatives depends on the following: 

  • The type and color of your hair
  • The level of lightning desired
  • Which natural hair bleaching products you use
  • The concentration at which you use them
  • How often and how long you commit to using them.

The natural hair bleach alternatives we’re about to discuss work best to lighten hair a couple of shades, for example, from light brown to dark blonde or from dark blonde to medium blonde.

They can also add a few sun-kissed highlights to your hair.

Unfortunately, as of this writing, there are no natural hair bleach alternatives that are as effective as the chemical stuff.

You can find low-tox permanent hair color options with greater lightning power. These typically contain low levels of peroxide.

However, these seven natural hair bleach alternatives are worth trying if you want to lighten your hair a couple of shades or add some highlights.

7 Natural Hair Bleach Alternatives

These seven natural hair bleach alternatives can be used at home to lighten your hair a couple of shades without the damaging effects of bleach.

Note that most of these options work best if used consistently over time. So don’t be discouraged if you don’t notice a dramatic difference immediately.

The application of heat can also help many of them work faster and provide more lift (the technical term for lightning).

1. Strong Chamomile Tea with Lemon

Chamomile Flowers contain natural lightening agents that work wonderfully on all hair types.

The trick here is to brew a strong chamomile infusion—just one or two tea bags are typically insufficient.

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 cups chamomile tea brewed with 6-8 teabags or 2-3 tablespoons loose chamomile flowers
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (optional for faster lightening)

To Use:

  1. Let the tea cool until it’s pleasant to the touch.
  2. Add lemon juice if desired.
  3. Pour mixture into a spray bottle and apply evenly to hair. 
  4. Let your hair dry naturally.
  5. Rinse and repeat 2-3 times a month

Notes: 

  • For faster results, let your hair dry in the sun on a warm day.
  • If you find this mixture drying, consider omitting the lemon juice and/or following it up with hair oiling or a deep conditioning treatment.

2. Lemon Juice OR Lemon Juice + Olive or Coconut Oil

Lemon juice has long been used as a natural lightening agent due to its ascorbic acid (vitamin C), which acts as a natural bleach.

The only downside to using lemon juice “neat” is it can be drying. 

However, this can be avoided by nourishing your hair with oiling or deep conditioning treatments a few days before and after application or combining it with a nourishing oil, like olive or coconut.

Here are a couple of lemon juice options to try:

Option 1: Lemon Juice Spray

What you’ll need:

  • 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice (fresh or bottled)
  • 1 cup water

To Use:

  1. Combine lemon juice and water in a spray bottle. 
  2. Apply a generous application to your hair.
  3. Let your hair dry in the sun or use a blow dryer (the sun works best). 
  4. Rinse and condition your hair. 

Option 2: Lemon Juice + Oil Hair Lightening Mask

What you’ll need:

  • 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) lemon juice (fresh or bottled)
  • 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) olive or coconut oil

To Use:

  1. Place lemon juice and olive oil in a mason jar and shake well to combine. If using coconut oil, heat the coconut oil gently to liquefy, then pour into the jar and add lemon juice.
  2. Apply a generous application to your hair using your fingertips (a squeeze bottle can work well for this). 
    1. If you make too much, put it in the fridge for next time.
  3. Sit in the sun or apply heat for 30 minutes to two hours or more.
  4. Shampoo and condition your hair.
  5. Repeat 2-3 times a month.

3. Apple Cider Vinegar + Honey

You may have heard of the benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) for conditioning, clarifying, and cleansing the hair. 

However, did you know the naturally occurring acetic acid in ACV and other kinds of vinegar also works as a natural bleaching agent?

This is why so many DIYers love using vinegar to clean their homes, remove stains, etc.

You can use ACV on its own as a natural hair lightener. However, it works better and is less drying when mixed with honey, which has its own lightening properties.

Here’s how to use this natural and nourishing hair bleach combo.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, jojoba oil, or sweet almond oil

To Use:

  1. Combine everything in a mason jar and stir or shake vigorously to dissolve the honey and create a cohesive mixture
  2. Pour into a spray bottle and apply generously to your hair.
  3. Leave on 15-30 minutes or overnight (sunlight or heat can expedite the process), then rinse, condition, and style as usual.
  4. Repeat 2-3 times a month.

Notes:

  • Many people swear by using an ACV rinse after shampooing to improve hair health and keep the lightening process moving along.
    • An ACV hair rinse is typically a 50:50 mixture of ACV and water sprayed onto the hair after shampooing. Some people use it instead of conditioner or in addition, while others use it as a shampoo alternative. The best use depends on your hair type.
  • This mixture can lighten porous hair fairly quickly, so check it after 30 minutes to determine if you want to go lighter. You can always re-apply as you dial in the optimal timing.

4. Baking Soda

Baking soda is another excellent bleach alternative that can be safely used on hair. 

It also acts as a clarifying agent by absorbing excess moisture and styling product build-up from hair, which enhances its effectiveness.

What You’ll Need:

  • 2-4 tablespoons baking soda (use more depending on your hair’s length or area you want to cover)
  • Enough water to make a creamy paste
  • You can add other lightening ingredients such as lemon juice, vinegar, honey, etc. but this is optional
    • Note, adding an acid to baking soda will cause it to fizz. This is normal. Just let the reaction run its course, then apply

To Use:

  1. Combine everything in a small non-reactive bowl, such as silicone, wood, or ceramic.
  2. Apply a generous amount to your hair using your fingertips to work it in from root to tip.
  3. Pop on a shower cap and let it work for 15 minutes to an hour.
  4. Shampoo, condition, and repeat 2-3 times a month.

Notes: 

  • Baking soda can be drying to dry or damaged hair. In this case, you may wish to use this treatment with other hair-lightening options listed here. You can also deep condition or oil your hair before and/or after.
  • Baking soda can also be combined 50:50 with 3% hydrogen peroxide (brown bottle) for greater lightening. We’ll discuss more about why we’re recommending peroxide next.

5. Make a 3% Hydrogen Peroxide Spray

If you’re wondering why we’re including hydrogen peroxide in a list of natural bleaching alternatives, here’s the deal.

As mentioned previously, hydrogen peroxide is a chemical (so is water). However, it’s a chemical of low concern toxicity-wise due to its chemical makeup: two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom: H2O2.

Water comprises one hydrogen atom and two oxygen atoms, H2O.

Hydrogen peroxide breaks down to water and hydrogen, making it an eco-safe and a human-safe chemical, provided it is used in low concentrations and not abused by excessive inhaling, ingesting, etc.

If you look at non-toxic bleaching products used in the green cleaning industry, for example, you’ll often find they contain powdered peroxide (aka oxygen bleach or sodium percarbonate) because of its low toxicity, safety, and eco-friendliness.

Teeth whitening products also contain hydrogen peroxide, and, as discussed in Can You Stop Gray Hair? 7 Solutions to Try, our bodies produce it too.

If you’d still rather avoid peroxide, skip this section. 

However, it is an effective, non-toxic bleaching agent, especially when used in the over-the-counter 3% solution found in the brown bottle and not combined with other reactive hair-bleaching chemicals.

3% means it’s 3% hydrogen peroxide and 97% water.

Here’s how to use it.

What You’ll Need:

  • 1/4 cup 3% hydrogen peroxide
  • A spray bottle or trigger sprayer that fits the peroxide bottle

To Use:

  1. Pour 3% hydrogen peroxide into a spray bottle.
  2. Apply to hair, using your fingers (wear gloves if you’re sensitive) to distribute evenly.
  3. Leave on for 15-30 minutes.
  4. Shampoo, condition, and you’re done.
  5. Repeat 1-2 times a month.

Notes:

    • Hydrogen peroxide will break down faster if not stored in a dark bottle. Therefore, we recommend only measuring the amount you need into a light-colored spray bottle or using a trigger sprayer that fits its original packaging.
    • If you find peroxide too drying, add some olive oil to the spray and/or do a deep conditioning or hair oiling treatment a few days before and after.
    • As noted previously, you can also mix peroxide with baking soda in a 50:50 mixture and apply to hair as a paste to enhance lightening results.
  • NEVER EVER EVER COMBINE ANY TYPE OF VINEGAR WITH HYDROGEN PEROXIDE. The two will create a toxic gas that can harm adults, children, and pets.

6. Make a Sea Salt Spray

Ever notice how your hair naturally lightens during beach trips? It’s not just the sun. Salt also has a natural lightening effect on the tresses.

This natural bleaching action is also why salt is often used to remove tough stains, such as wine, blood, etc.

Here’s how to make a natural salt spray to lighten your hair and get that flowy, beachy look.

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 Tablespoon sea salt
  • 3/4 cup warm water or strong-brewed chamomile tea

To Use:

  1. Dissolve the sea salt in water or tea—for added lightning, by stirring or shaking the mixture vigorously. 
  2. Pour into a spray bottle and apply generously to hair.
  3. Let dry naturally in the sun or using heat.
  4. Repeat several times a month to lighten hair gradually.

7. Try Cinnamon Mixed with Conditioner

It may seem counter-intuitive, but reddish-brown cinnamon has natural bleaching effects for hair.

Note: Cinnamon can irritate some skin types, so always do a patch test before applying it to your scalp. If you experience any redness or itching, do not continue using cinnamon topically.

What You’ll Need:

  • 1/4-1/2 cup cinnamon (the more you add, the stronger the bleaching action)
  • 1/2 cup your favorite non-toxic conditioner
    • For extra bleaching power, you can add a bit of lemon juice or vinegar

To Use:

  1. Combine the cinnamon and conditioner.
  2. Apply generously to your hair.
  3. Let sit 3-4 hours or overnight. You can wrap your hair in plastic wrap or use a shower cap to prevent drips.
  4. Rinse, shampoo, and repeat once a week to lighten your hair gradually.

Natural Hair Bleaching Alternative FAQs

Switching from chemical to natural hair bleaching can seem intimidating and raise many questions. It is your hair, after all!

Here, we answer some natural hair bleaching alternative FAQs.

Q: How long will it take natural bleaching alternatives to work?

A: It depends on which method you use, how often you use it, and your hair type.

Some hair is very porous and lightens quickly, while thicker hair may have several applications.

The fastest-working options are usually peroxide, peroxide with baking soda, or ACV + honey.

You can also enhance the speediness of these formulas by going out in the sun, applying heat, or combining more than one natural bleaching alternative (but again, NEVER combine vinegar with peroxide as it will create a toxic gas).

Q: Can these bleaching alternatives be combined?

A: Yes! But DO NOT EVER combine vinegar and peroxide.

As mentioned above, you can create custom, non-toxic hair bleaching solutions by combining two or several of these ingredients.

The only caveat is (at the risk of sounding like a broken record) you must NEVER combine vinegar with peroxide, as it creates a toxic gas that can harm adults, children, pets, etc.

As long as you do not combine vinegar and peroxide, it is safe to play around with formulations.

Q: Will these methods lighten dark hair?

A: Maybe, but not significantly.

As previously mentioned, most natural bleach alternatives will not dramatically lighten dark brown or black hair. 

They may create warm or red tones but won’t take you from dark to blonde hair.

Q: Will Henna lighten hair?

A: No, but it’s a great non-toxic color alternative.

As discussed in A Guide to Coloring Your Hair Naturally Using Henna and Herbs, Henna is an excellent natural, non-toxic hair color option. However, it cannot “lift” or lighten hair, because that requires a chemical reaction…and Henna contains no chemicals.

However, you can use these natural hair-lightening alternatives in addition to Henna to create natural highlights.

Q: How Long Will Natural Hair Bleaching Last?

A: It depends on your hair and how often you bleach.

It also depends on how much you wash your hair and how much time you spend in the sun. 

The idea with most of these natural hair bleaching alternatives is to use them a few times a month to provide cumulative lightening benefits and freshen your color. 

The exception would be hydrogen peroxide, which will likely last 3-4 weeks.

Inspired to learn more about Non-toxic Hair Color and Care?

There are many more non-toxic and natural hair color and care options than a few years ago.

However, not all “natural” hair dyes, hair strengthening products, or general hair care products are created equal.

For more details on how to choose the best non-toxic hair color and hair care, check out the following articles:

REFERENCES:

  • 1. , "National Center for Biotechnology Information (2023)", PubChem Compound Summary for CID 24412, Potassium persulfate.. 1 1. , "National Center for Biotechnology Information (2023)", PubChem Compound Summary for CID 24412, Potassium persulfate..
  • 2. , "National Center for Biotechnology Information (2023)", PubChem Compound Summary for CID 62648, Ammonium Persulfate. . 2 2. , "National Center for Biotechnology Information (2023)", PubChem Compound Summary for CID 62648, Ammonium Persulfate. .
  • 3. , "National Center for Biotechnology Information (2023)", PubChem Compound Summary for CID 784, Hydrogen Peroxide.. 3 3. , "National Center for Biotechnology Information (2023)", PubChem Compound Summary for CID 784, Hydrogen Peroxide..
  • 4. , "Formaldehyde And Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives", Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.. 4 4. , "Formaldehyde And Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives", Campaign for Safe Cosmetics..