Lighten Up! These DIY Hair Highlighters are Natural and Cheap

A woman brushes her hair in her bathroom at home.
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With summer comes a lot of fresh looks and opportunities for experimentation, and if you’re like me, your hair is the go-to first stop.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve counted the days until the sun was shining so that my seemingly dull brown locks can get their much needed dose of blonde. My mom was born with a gorgeous blond mane, and I spent my summers on the beaches of New York’s Long Island trying to get my own hair as close to the color of hers as possible.

While I was successful at developing some blond streaks, as I got older I became adept at finding ways to spruce up my brown locks with any hint of color.

Now every time summer (or really any new season) comes around, I can choose my color preference depending on my mood rather than some ideal of mom’s “perfect” blonde. The best part? I don’t have to dish out loads of cash at a hair salon every time I need some color — all the necessary ingredients are in my kitchen (or bathroom) cabinet, meaning they’re super budget-friendly and au-naturale.

1. A Lemon A Day…

The oldest trick in the book has some validity and is the easiest way to get some blond color, stat.

Simply squeeze lemon juice into a bottle and dilute it with 3x as much water. I find that two lemons do the trick (note: buy lemons, not lemon juice concentrate!). I also buy an empty plastic spray can from my local dollar store. The total cost of two lemons and a spray bottle? Less than $1.50!

This spray is the best to bring to the beach, as it’s important to spritz some on your locks right when you get out of the salt water and start laying in the sun again. There’s no cap on how much to spray (just don’t use the whole bottle — it should be enough for you to use for a good dose of beach trips throughout the summer).

For darker hair colors, these streaks are noticeable for about one to two weeks.

2. Steep it (with Chamomile!)

If you’re after a pretty nice gold tint, this trick is for you. It’s made my brown hair at least two to three shades lighter. Chamomile tea can be found for just a few bucks online.

For the best results, steep five chamomile tea bags in two cups of hot water. Once it’s ready, let it cool and take a shower, rinsing completely with shampoo and conditioner. Then, pour the cooled chamomile water on your hair (over a bucket outside or in the tub), and then let your hair air-dry out. Voila!

And even better? I’ve found this method lasts longer than lemon juice — just under two weeks!

3. Just Beet It

I must admit this is my favorite natural dye because it’s so pretty and has a handful of powerful benefits for hair you probably don’t even know about.

You know that awesome color you get on your hands when you’re cooking beets? That natural dye is called betalain, which is a powerful antioxidant that fights free radicals and premature aging. It also happens to make your hair have noticeable red streaks with just a few simple, non-fussy steps. Just buy (or order) beet juice, and you’re halfway there.

Next, pour the beet juice over your hair. Do this outside over a grassy area to avoid staining your kitchen or bathroom. Sit outside in the sun for an hour to allow the juice to stain your hair and repeat as often as necessary to achieve the color you want. Note: some people have immediate results.

Results also last about a week, so I recommend dipping into this method once every few days for staying power.

4. Vinegar Wash

Although it doesn’t have the best odor, this apple-cider vinegar wash method still gets the job done.

Simply mix it with equal parts water in a spray bottle and spray around your hair for an all-over naturally lighter hue or use your hands or a cotton ball to get the streaky highlight effect. Depending on how thick your hair is, you may want to leave it on for 20 to 30 minutes, then rinse it out completely. This method not only gives your hair a nice hue upgrade but also gets rid of any chemical buildup you might have from other methods. Nature’s finest!

You might have to use this method a few times before it shows up in your hair, so feel free to experiment.

5. Best (and Sweetest!) For Last

Ahhhh, the smell of cinnamon is one of my absolute favorites. It’s also one of my go-to hair highlight methods because it’s fun to make. Add just enough cinnamon powder to ½ cup of your sulfate-free conditioner to make a paste. Put the paste in your hair, and leave it in for three to four hours (or overnight if you put a towel over your pillow). Then rinse completely, and you’ll have ultra-smooth locks with an envious cinnamon glow.

Apply this mixture about once or twice throughout the week to get the best highlight results. One wash will produce about about 10 days worth of new highlights.

There you have it: five tried-and-true ways to naturally highlight your hair without breaking the bank. With summer in full swing, give one of these recipes a go, and, come fall, you’ll be ready to try out an even fresher look. These ‘dyes’ won’t stay long, so experiment away.

Disclosure: Here’s a toast to the affiliate links in this post. May we all be just a little richer today.

Arielle Crane is a lifestyle and travel writer based in Brooklyn, NY. She’s also a freelance content manager and strategist for startups around NYC. Find her on Twitter @ChirpingCrane.

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