How To Get Sunlit Blonde Highlights — Without Calling Your Colorist

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.

More from Hair

R29 Original Series