How Sun Lightens Hair: Hair Photobleaching Explained

Bleaching your hair is a hell of a process to go through, especially for some people. It takes money, time, effort, and quite a bit of know-how. And even then, there’s still a risk of damaging your hair.

What if there was a natural way to lighten your hair’s color? Do you know how the sun lightens hair? Can something like that be utilized reliably?

Indeed it can. It’s called hair photobleaching.

How does hair photobleaching work?

The whole process is predicated on two simple facts:

  • Our hair gets its color from a pigment called melanin
  • Direct sunlight breaks down melanin and, as a consequence, fades your hair color

Now, as simple as that sounds, there are actually a lot of additional contributing factors that make the whole process infinitely more complicated. Here’s a quick breakdown of the most important ones:

  • The process is more effective on hair colors that are already lighter and is less effective on darker hair colors. This is a bummer for many people as it’s usually those with dark hair colors that want to lighten them up. Yet, the “color scale” of photobleaching goes something like this:
    • Blonde hair gets lighter blonde.
    • Light brown hair gets dark blonde.
    • Red hair can turn into strawberry blonde or ginger-red.
    • Medium brown hair may get lighter brown.
    • Dark brown and black hair tends to be unaffected.
  • Photobleaching is affected by your genetic makeup. Gene testing companies such as 23 & Me have pointed out that there are dozens of genes that affect photobleaching. The gist of it comes down to people of European descent being more affected by photobleaching than other ethnicities.
  • Sun bleaches hair more effectively in combination with saltwater. Both saltwater and chlorine affect keratine which is a protein in our hair. This process can further enhance the photobleaching process but dark brown and black hair will still be unaffected.
  • Lemon juice’s acidity works well with the sun’s UV rays and speeds up the breaking of the melanin. So, if you want to speed up the creation of those “sun-kissed highlights”, you can follow this quick guide:
    • mix the juice of half a lime and half a lemon.
    • add warm water to the lemon & lime juice in a 1:1 ratio
    • load the mixture into a spray bottle and spray your clean but dry hair until it’s soaking wet
    • put some sunscreen on your skin and go sunbathing until your hair dries up
    • shower, shampoo, and condition your hair immediately after that
  • A process like that will speed up the photobleaching effect even more than saltwater would but it still affects the same hair colors as above.

Naturally, whatever you do, you need to keep your skin health in mind too. Sun-kissed highlights are a cool thing for a lot of people but overexposure to the summer heat can do lots of harm to your skin so you need to be careful.

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