Can You Really Lighten Your Hair With Lemon Juice?

While bleaching still remains the most popular option for those looking to make their hair lighter, using lemon juice has long been viewed as an alternative for those who would rather not use strong chemicals. From light blonde hair to black, there's no doubt that bleach works, though it is notoriously damaging without the right set of precautions.


Whether your hair has been damaged in the past or you're simply looking for a cost-effective change, you might be wondering how well the do-it-yourself approach of lightening hair with lemon juice actually works. Hair colorist Joel Warren told The New York Times that the technique is "an old wives' tale," but tutorials for it have continued to appear all over the internet, including this one from Prose that promises overnight results.

From whether or not it can lift hair to the same levels as bleach to if the effect is really all in your head, we've broken down if you really can lighten your hair with lemon juice.

You can lighten your hair with lemon juice

First up, there is some good news. You can, in fact, lighten your hair and provide it with some additional benefits with the help of lemon juice, according to Healthline. Roger Clemens, a professor of molecular pharmacology, countered Joel Warren's view of lemon juice's effectiveness in The New York Times, saying that this is a "scientific fact" that lemon juice will work to lighten the hair.


How? Hair colorist Guy Tang explained to Byrdie that it relates to the acidity of the lemon juice, saying, "The sun will always affect the tone of the hair, but it is magnified with lemon juice due to the high acidity level." This is also why tutorials such as those provided by Healthline mention the need for sunlight following the application of lemon juice.

Hair colorist Gretta Monahan added to Byrdie, "When combined with exposure to sunlight, the citric acid accelerates the bleaching process and basically this reaction breaks up hair pigment to expose the underlying lighter color(s)."

The technique probably won't do much

For anyone looking to go ultra blonde by using lemon juice, it is only really possible if you start with blonde hair first. Healthline points out that lightening with lemon juice probably won't work for anyone with darker hair. Gretta Monahan also brought up this point to Byrdie, explaining, "As an example, someone who has very dark hair naturally has a lot of pigment and isn't likely to see a noticeable result or can actually experience a red-orange/brassy result."


Joe J. Cincotta, Ph.D., seconded this to SELF, saying, "Darker brown hair tends to go orange." While this might not be what everyone wants to hear, bleach can have a similar initial effect on darker hair; the lemon juice will just take far longer to get to get the hair to lighten. Moreover, both Cincotta and Healthline caution that using lemon juice can be drying.