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I think it’s safe to say that hair-lightening sprays have a somewhat unsavory reputation. And you know what? I get it. I was, after all, one of the countless people who experimented with a certain lemon-scented lightening spray circa 2007 (it shall remain nameless). My hair, which started out as a light “bronde” color, soon lifted several shades to become brighter, brassier, and much more damaged. Somewhere along the way, I realized the unnatural orange tone and the countless split ends weren’t worth it, and I placed my darkening hair in the hands of an experienced colorist who could grant me the golden blonde color I wished for… All that’s to say I have first-hand experience, and because of that first-hand experience, I know how tricky hair-lightening sprays can be. While the promise of brighter hair with minimal effort is alluring, the potential damage they can cause is scary, to say the least.

However, the past is the past, and today, hair-lightening sprays are different. They’re much more subtle and much less damaging. That’s according to Justin Toves-Vincilione, Hairstylist and Authentic Beauty Concept Advocate. “When we think of traditional hair-lightening sprays we tend to think way back to lemon water, hydrogen peroxide, and sunbathing,” he says. “Fortunately, hair-lightening sprays have come a long way since then and there are some pretty solid options available.”   So, what are these options? Well, as opposed to the “damaging and unpredictable” products of yesteryear, “these days, hair-lightening sprays include a more well-balanced formulation of lightening agents and moisturizers and can be safe for daily use.” Keep scrolling to learn more about modern hair-lightening sprays, including who they’re best suited for, how to use them to achieve the best result, and which products are worth your hard-earned money.

Toves-Vincilione says hair-lightening sprays are a good option for anyone who’s looking for an easy way to add illumination to their hair and who doesn’t plan on bleaching or lightening their hair in the near future. “Hair-lightening sprays are best suited for low-maintenance lifestyles and for individuals who plan on using products like these as their only source of hair-lightening,” he says. “If you plan on bleaching, highlighting, or lightening your hair professionally at all in the future, using a hair-lightening spray is not the best idea. Bleaching your hair in any way after using a hair-lightening is not recommended and could cause unnecessary and unwanted damage.”  While these products can be used on both natural and color-treated hair, be warned that the latter may lead to a more unpredictable result. “Using them on hair that has never been color-treated is ideal and will provide the most dramatic result,” he says.

Using these products on dark hair isn’t recommended either, as it can lead to brassy orange tones. That’s fine if that’s what you’re going for, but if you’re going for an icy shade of blonde, you’re going to need bleach and an experienced colorist. After all, hair-lightening sprays aren’t magic. While it’s true that they can help brighten and illuminate the hair, they simply can’t lift color that dramatically.

One more thing. You don’t necessarily need to bake in the sun for a hair-lightening spray to work. While some of them are UV-activated, most are actually formulated to respond to heat. “Make sure to read the labeling and instructions for clear direction on this,” Toves-Vincilione says. “Some products are designed to be used in the sun and others state that the product can be blow-dried in for gradual lightening.” 

Now, let’s get to the point. How do you prevent dryness and damage while using hair-lightening sprays? Easy. It’s all about the products you use before and after. “If your set on using heat or sun-activated hair-lightening spray, there are a few things you’ll want to do to make sure you see results,” he says. “Prep your hair with a hydrating hair care routine. If your hair feels dry or damaged, you’ll want to improve the health of your hair before using a lightening spray.”  He recommends using products from Authentic Beauty Concept’s Hydrate range. It’s vegan and free from sulfates, parabens, micro-plastics, and mineral oil. “This range can provide ideal preparation for lightening,” Toves-Vinciliione says. 

If you plan to use a lightening spray that requires blow-drying, make sure to have your blow dryer and hairbrush ready to go,” he says. “Map out your hair and decide where you’d like the lighter pieces to go. Work in clean sections and be mindful to avoid spraying directly on the roots as this could create lightness in undesired areas.” 

“If you plan on going out into the sun while wearing a lightening spray, consider using a product that will provide UVA and UVB protection. Similar to sunscreen for your skin, you’ll be able to protect your hair while still receiving benefits from the sun.” He recommends this hair oil, which contains vitamin E to protect against UV-induced damage. “It’s also very lightweight and can minimize split ends,” he says.  Still, you must be conscious of sun exposure. “Try putting a limit on how much sun exposure you get, being mindful that you have a lightening agent in your hair,” he says. “Take care of your hair before and after the use of lightening sprays. Haircare will be key to avoiding damage and dryness. Prep your hair with moisture before using a hair-lightening spray and follow up with a replenishing post-care routine.” 

This hair-lightening spray is my personal favorite. It uses chamomile and lemon extract to lighten hair without any harsh bleaching agents. That alone can help mitigate damage, but the addition of coconut oil and coconut water further protect and condition vulnerable strands. 

This classic hair-lightening spray from Klorane is best for naturally blonde or color-treated hair. It uses chamomile, along with honey, to add subtle highlights to strands while giving them a hit of moisture. Simply spray it on dry hair, and with continual use, it will work its subtle magic. 

If you’re really serious about protecting your hair from damage, I suggest reaching for René Furterer’s Brightening Spray. Instead of using hydrogen peroxide, which is the traditional (and potentially damaging) star ingredient of most hair-lightening sprays, it uses antioxidant-rich ingredients to reinforce the structure of the hair. 

Even Oribe, which is one of our favorite luxury haircare brands, has a hair-lightening spray. This mist lightens, brightens, and illuminates blonde tones over time. It also hydrates the hair with a bevy of fruit extracts (the best part? There’s no hydrogen peroxide in sight). 

This product does contain hydrogen peroxide (that, along with lemon juice, is its main lightening agent). So even though it contains the most traditional ingredients, its delivery is the most untraditional. Get this—it’s not a spray at all. It’s a brush that you can use to “paint” highlights onto the hair. This targeted application is super convenient for creating face-framing highlights and blending grown-out roots. I think it’s pretty cool. 

This shampoo is full of ultra-violet pigments that get rid of brassy tones in blonde hair.  

This has the same brass-busting formula as the shampoo but in conditioner form. 

Brighten blonde tones, boost moisture, and protect the hair from heat damage with this serum.

You can blend or touch up your grown-out roots with this color-depositing spray. 

Plant butter and ultra-violet pigments simultaneously nourish and color-correct blonde hair. 

This is my favorite shine serum for giving my hair a bright, glassy finish. 

No matter which hair color you’re working with, heat protection is a must. 

Next, I’m not so secretly obsessed with copper hair—here’s my inspiration board

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