How To Get Sunlit Blonde Highlights — Without Calling Your Colorist

Erika Stalder

If the return of scrunchies, padded headbands, and stackable barrettes has shown us anything, it’s that '90s hairstyles are having yet another moment. At the same time, hair color is channeling retro influences for summer 2020, too, with the resurgence of blonde-boosting hair-lightening sprays — the grown-up version of lemon juice and Sun-In.

Historically, lightening sprays haven't been all sunshine and salon-quality blonde highlights; those of us who experimented with similar formulations in our youth may recall a certain downside of brassiness or straw-like texture. We've been burned before — so we asked Perry Romanowski, an independent cosmetic chemist and co-founder of The Beauty Brains, who says that these new formulas may impart a bit of hair damage, but not nearly as much as a trip to the salon.

"Since [lightening sprays] contain hydrogen peroxide as the primary ingredient, you can expect that the user will experience some protein damage that can result in hair that is more brittle and that feels more dry,” Romanowski says. “However, the damage will be much less than getting hair colored or bleached in standard ways.”

Unlike whatever was inside that old-school yellow bottle, today's hair-care brands carefully considered the breakage issue, and included conditioning ingredients to help neutralize the onset of damage. Romanowski points to PEG-40, hydrogenated castor oil, glycerin, and even honey, which help mellow harshness brought on by most lighteners' star ingredient.

From a John Frieda top-seller to Kristin Cavallari's favorite Blonding Brush, ahead you'll find the best modern-day Sun-In alternatives to shop, then store in the side pocket of your beach bag — right next to your claw clip.

At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.

<h3>John Frieda Sheer Blonde Go Blonder Lightening Spray</h3> <br>How exactly <em>does</em> an at-home spray lighten hair? Usually, the magic is in an oxidative reaction that occurs via hydrogen peroxide. "The hydrogen peroxide molecule breaks down into a free radical, which then converts hair’s melanin into a colorless version," Romanowski explains. Sure enough, the star ingredient in this blonding spray subtly lifts dull blonde hair to a fresh and shiny version of itself.<br><br><strong>John Frieda</strong> John Frieda Sheer Blonde Go Blonder Lightening Spray, 3.5 Ounce Controlled Hair Lightener with Citrus and Chamomile Blond Mend Technology (Packaging May Vary), $, available at <a href="https://www.amazon.com/John-Frieda-Lightening-Controlled-Chamomile-BlondMend/dp/B004DK7DVC" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Amazon" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Amazon</a><br>

John Frieda Sheer Blonde Go Blonder Lightening Spray


How exactly does an at-home spray lighten hair? Usually, the magic is in an oxidative reaction that occurs via hydrogen peroxide. "The hydrogen peroxide molecule breaks down into a free radical, which then converts hair’s melanin into a colorless version," Romanowski explains. Sure enough, the star ingredient in this blonding spray subtly lifts dull blonde hair to a fresh and shiny version of itself.

John Frieda John Frieda Sheer Blonde Go Blonder Lightening Spray, 3.5 Ounce Controlled Hair Lightener with Citrus and Chamomile Blond Mend Technology (Packaging May Vary), $, available at Amazon
<h3>Vernon Francois Dazzling Spritz Shine Spray</h3> <br>If your goal is more subtle — less sun-bleached and more sparkly, just to enhance any peroxide-lifted highlights — this spray created by <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/black-celebrity-hairstylists" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:celebrity stylist Vernon Francois" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">celebrity stylist Vernon Francois</a> will get you there.<br><br><strong>Vernon François</strong> Dazzling Spritz Shine Spray, $, available at <a href="https://go.skimresources.com/?id=30283X879131&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.sallybeauty.com%2Fhair-styling-products%2Fdazzling-spritz-shine-spray%2FSBS-001099.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Sally Beauty" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Sally Beauty</a><br>

Vernon Francois Dazzling Spritz Shine Spray


If your goal is more subtle — less sun-bleached and more sparkly, just to enhance any peroxide-lifted highlights — this spray created by celebrity stylist Vernon Francois will get you there.

Vernon François Dazzling Spritz Shine Spray, $, available at Sally Beauty
<h3>dpHUE x Kristin Cavallari Blonding Brush</h3> <br>If you take hair inspiration from the <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2019/06/235812/the-hills-cast-original-then-now-evolution-photos" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:OG Laguna Beach star" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">OG <em>Laguna Beach</em> star</a> and her very California beach-blonde highlights, you need this Blonding Brush created by Cavallari's friend and in-demand colorist, Justin Anderson. It's actually formulated with real lemon juice, activated by the sun or a blowdryer. Plus, because it's a brush, you can paint babylights on with precision, focused just around the frame of the face.<br><br><strong>dpHUE</strong> dpHUE x Kristin Cavallari Blonding Brush, $, available at <a href="https://go.skimresources.com/?id=30283X879131&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.ulta.com%2Fdphue-x-kristin-cavallari-blonding-brush%3FproductId%3Dpimprod2004626%26sku%3D2546938%26cmpid%3DPS_Non%21google%21Product_Listing_Ads%26cagpspn%3Dpla%26CATCI%3Dpla-294680686006%26CAAGID%3D18002902230%26CAWELAID%3D330000200001749223%26CATARGETID%3D330000200001332369%26cadevice%3Dc%26gclid%3DEAIaIQobChMIwvWxw-P64gIVV8DICh3sRQtWEAYYASABEgLkNvD_BwE" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Ulta Beauty" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Ulta Beauty</a><br>

dpHUE x Kristin Cavallari Blonding Brush


If you take hair inspiration from the OG Laguna Beach star and her very California beach-blonde highlights, you need this Blonding Brush created by Cavallari's friend and in-demand colorist, Justin Anderson. It's actually formulated with real lemon juice, activated by the sun or a blowdryer. Plus, because it's a brush, you can paint babylights on with precision, focused just around the frame of the face.

dpHUE dpHUE x Kristin Cavallari Blonding Brush, $, available at Ulta Beauty
<h3><strong>Klorane</strong> Sun Lightening Spray</h3> <br>Looking for a botanically-driven way to boost blonde? This formula taps chamomile extract to coax pigment out of hair, thus leaving a brighter tone behind. It’s also the most subtly-scented of the bunch.<br><br><strong>Klorane</strong> Sun Lightening Spray with Chamomile and honey, $, available at <a href="https://go.skimresources.com/?id=30283X879131&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.kloraneusa.com%2Fsun-lightening-spray-with-chamomile-and-honey-125ml" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Klorane" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Klorane</a><br>

Klorane Sun Lightening Spray


Looking for a botanically-driven way to boost blonde? This formula taps chamomile extract to coax pigment out of hair, thus leaving a brighter tone behind. It’s also the most subtly-scented of the bunch.

Klorane Sun Lightening Spray with Chamomile and honey, $, available at Klorane
<h3><strong>Sun Bum Hair Lightener</strong></h3> <br>You don’t necessarily have to clock time in the sun when using a hair lightener made with hydrogen peroxide, like this leave-in version. "Hydrogen peroxide will react on its own with hair protein and color," Romanowski says. "But the presence of UV light from the sun will speed up the oxidation reaction," and therefore its lightening effect.<br><br><strong>Sun Bum</strong> Blonde / Hair Lightener - 4oz, $, available at <a href="https://go.skimresources.com/?id=30283X879131&url=https%3A%2F%2Fshop.trustthebum.com%2Fhair-care%2Fblonde-hair-lightener-4oz%2F" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Sun Bum" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Sun Bum</a><br>

Sun Bum Hair Lightener


You don’t necessarily have to clock time in the sun when using a hair lightener made with hydrogen peroxide, like this leave-in version. "Hydrogen peroxide will react on its own with hair protein and color," Romanowski says. "But the presence of UV light from the sun will speed up the oxidation reaction," and therefore its lightening effect.

Sun Bum Blonde / Hair Lightener - 4oz, $, available at Sun Bum
<h3>IGK Summertime Hair Lightening Spray</h3> <br>This vegan, hydrogen peroxide-free formula utilizes lemon and chamomile to help lighten hair <em>and</em> minimize brassiness.<br><br><strong>IGK</strong> IGK Summertime Hair Lightening Spray, $, available at <a href="https://go.skimresources.com/?id=30283X879131&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.igkhair.com%2Fproducts%2Fsummertime-hair-lightening-spray" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:IGK" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">IGK</a><br>

IGK Summertime Hair Lightening Spray


This vegan, hydrogen peroxide-free formula utilizes lemon and chamomile to help lighten hair and minimize brassiness.

IGK IGK Summertime Hair Lightening Spray, $, available at IGK

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