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Can you really lighten your hair using lemon juice?

Anna Bonet
·4-min read
Photo credit: NanoStockk - Getty Images
Photo credit: NanoStockk - Getty Images

If you're looking to lighten your hair, step away from the bleach-based products. A natural alternative really does work, and that's using something that's both cheap, easily accessible and 100 per cent natural: the humble lemon.

Not only can using lemon juice in your hair lighten your locks, but it could even leave it looking shinier too, as well as helping to treat dandruff and excess oil.

So what's the catch? We spoke to top London hairdresser and salon owner Ozzie Rizzo to find out how to safely lighten your hair using lemon juice:

Can lemon juice lighten hair?

Lemon juice can indeed produce a lightening effect on the hair, but only if used in combination with the sun’s UV rays.

'This is due to the juice of a lemon containing citric acid which is absorbed into the hair cortex,' explains Rizzo. 'When exposed to the sun’s UV rays, the heat opens the hair cuticles and activates a process to break down and reduce melanin, also known as the pigment of your hair colour - hence the lightening effect.'

Does lemon juice work for all hair colours, then? 'The best results would show on those with lighter hair such as blonde or light brown tones,' says Rizzo.

How to lighten your hair with lemon

To create a lemon hair rinse, you will need:

  • Two fresh lemons

  • Warm water

  • An empty spray bottle

According to Rizzo, a step-by-step process for using lemon juice in your hair would typically be:

  1. Squeeze the juice of two lemons into a bowl

  2. Add one part lemon juice and two parts warm water into a spray bottle container

  3. Spritz your hair with the mixture, concentrating most on the areas you wish to lighten and sit in direct sunlight for 1-2 hours to activate the citric acid

  4. Rinse out the lemon juice from the hair and apply a conditioner to lock in moisture and prevent the lemon rinse from drying out the hair

  5. Repeat this across three to four days for best results

Photo credit: Géza Bálint Ujvárosi / EyeEm - Getty Images
Photo credit: Géza Bálint Ujvárosi / EyeEm - Getty Images

Lemon juice for hair benefits

Not only can lemon juice lighten your hair, but it comes with other uses and health benefits too. Using lemon juice in a rinse with Apple Cider Vinegar can result in shinier and glossier locks.

'This is due to Apple Cider Vinegar lowering the pH of your scalp, closing the hair cuticle and leaving the hair shinier and less prone to breakage,' explains Rizzo. 'You can do this by creating a lemon rinse as mentioned below and adding two tablespoons of Apple Cider Vinegar mixed with water. '

Meanwhile, 'applying a lemon rinse to your hair can also help to eliminate dandruff and excess oil, especially when massaging the lemon rinse into the scalp as well as hair,' adds Rizzo. 'This is due to excess oils and built-up dandruff being absorbed by the lemon juice.'

Lemon juice in hair risks

Applying lemon juice to your hair won’t damage the hair follicle. 'However, prolonged exposure to the sun can damage your hair’s outer cuticle, resulting in a drying effect,' says Rizzo.

'To avoid this, ensure you limit your hair’s exposure to the sun’s UV rays when you have applied the lemon rinse and limit your hairs exposure to the sun in general,' he advises.

Meanwhile, using conditioners which contain zinc oxide will protect your hair and scalp from harmful UV rays. As lemon juice is drying, it can make the hair dull and brittle if applied it too often.

'Caution should also be taken when using lemon water on your hair, especially if you have sensitive skin or a condition such as eczema, as the acidic properties of lemon juice may irritate the skin and scalp,' says Rizzo. 'To avoid this, ensure you perform a patch test – applying a small amount of your lemon rinse to your skin a few days before applying to your hair and scalp.

'As a hairdresser I would always advise seeking a professional hair colour technician or stylist to bleach and lighten your hair to a high standard. Using a lemon rinse and sunlight exposure will only produce a mild lightening effect on lighter hair colours. '

Last updated: 19-04-2021

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