My Search for a Natural Hair Dye – Does Honey Lightening Work?

by Amy on 09/05/2011


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The recipe reads like a sweet treat…honey, cinnamon, cardamom, coconut oil…along with olive oil and distilled water. But it’s not a dessert, it’s a recipe for natural hair dye.

Recently, I’ve been on the search for a much more natural alternative to traditional hair color, and while some cosmetic companies are making “better for you” colors, with less of the toxic chemicals that are known carcinogens, there are still questions over the safety over the continued use of hair coloring products.

Finding less toxic personal care and cosmetic alternatives is always a priority for me, but since I am a woman of child-bearing age and now on a pre-conception path, I’m even more concerned about these toxins. The majority of them, especially in personal care products and cosmetics, are potent endocrine disruptors and while healthy for no one, that is certainly not ideal when preparing to conceive.

So, my research turned up few options, but one seemed to hold promise. Honey lightening. That is, using honey, in a certain dilution of distilled water to lighten the hair naturally. Since I’m a natural dark blonde, this seemed a perfect fit. I simply had some dark roots that needed a hint of color. Honey lightening is not new. And, there are websites and forums and photographs and testimonials and how-to’s all over the internet about the right way to do it. I researched for days and crafted what I thought was the best recipe- a compilation of all those I could find.

So how is this supposed to work? Well honey has natural peroxide. And, as we ladies know, peroxide is generally used in chemical hair colors to achieve that bleaching effect. The distilled water is necessary for proper dilution, and distilled is recommended instead of tap water because the impurities (and even natural minerals) in unfiltered and undistilled water can deactivate the peroxide, thus rendering it useless. So, last time I went to Whole Foods, I made sure to cart home a gallon of distilled water.

Even though you can use just honey and distilled water, the addition of certain other natural ingredients can heighten it’s effectiveness. By adding other peroxide donating ingredients, like cinnamon, cardamom, coconut oil and olive oil, the effect is supposed to be more potent. Certain honeys will work, and some more than others, so you have to be sure to use the right kind. I decided upon a blend of honey to hedge my bets a bit. There is a honey, called jarrah honey, that is available in Australia and New Zealand that is said to have a much higher peroxide content (and more healing properties as well) and work much better for this purpose, but it’s gobs of money. The shipping alone, over $75, put it WAY out of the budget for simply a trial of honey hair lightening.

This method, while seeming relatively simple, is not exactly a piece of cake. After the ingredients are mixed thoroughly (yes, oil and water and dry spices and honey must mix well- a blender did help somewhat) the solution must sit for an hour to develop the proper strength. Then, the VERY watery mixture must be applied to the hair, catching the drippings so that it can be reapplied 4-5 times, and then you must sit, wet-headed and dripping, for at least an hour and a half. Needless to say, it’d taken me several days and a good deal of planning to find this kind of uninterrupted time, but I did finally manage to carve out a space on Saturday afternoon.

Here is the recipe I came up with, based upon a dozen variations I found online:

4 TBL honey (half local clover honey and half raw wildflower honey)
1 TBL ground organic cinnamon
1 TBL ground organic cardamom
1 TBL organic unfiltered olive oil
1 TBL raw virgin coconut oil
1 cup distilled water

So, as you can see, I did not skimp on ingredient quality, possibly making this the most expensive hair color I’ve ever used! I had all this on hand, (well after buying the water) but that raw honey is no joke- it’s pricey! Anyway, I mixed it, let it sit and applied it, catching the drippings and reapplying it at least 4 times. I did find that a squeeze bottle helped to apply it the first time, and then I just dumped the bowl over my hair the subsequent times. I massaged it in very well and coated each strand of hair. I concentrated on the roots, which needed the most lightening. Then, hair somewhat sticky and dripping wet, piled on top of my head, I wrapped in a towel and waited for over an hour and a half. At least it smelled pleasant…

It took three washings until my hair felt clean in the shower and I got out and towel dried it. It sure didn’t look any lighter, but it often takes a good blow-drying for even the effects of chemical color to be realized. So, after about 15-20 minutes of blow drying (it didn’t seem to want to dry completely) I checked out the results.

Not. one. bit. lighter.

Nope, not a shade, not a glint, not a shine lighter. And, my hair still has honey residue and/or oil in it…it’s soft, but it looks unwashed, and I just don’t have the energy or desire to wash it yet again. That will have to wait until later, so up in a clip it went. I certainly won’t be leaving the house today…

So, what happened here? Was it the wrong kind of honey? The wrong recipe? Was there a detail I missed that is crucial to the success of honey lightening? I’m not sure, but I’m not eager to try again and waste more money and precious real food resources to find out. I’d love to hear about your experiences with natural coloring techniques- have you tried any? Found any that work? Comment and let me know :)
For more on natural hair color, including honey lightening check out:
Home Safe Home by Debra Lynn Dadd from ktani
Toxic Free by Debra Lynn Dadd
Naturopathy in the 21st century
10 Essential Herbs



Sarah September 5, 2011 at 3:11 pm

I used to naturally color my hair as a teen all the time. Granted, I have very dark hair naturally. That said, I have lightened with Henna, giving it a nice auburn look, and gone even darker using black walnut hulls. The black walnut, made my already chocolate dark brown hair nearly a bluish black in the sun. At 14, I thought it was pretty cool. Now… I prob wouldn’t use it, or I’d figure out a nice middle ground to just pull off a nice espresso shade of brown. With both, I used homemade mayo or eggs as the base.


Amy September 5, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Hey Sarah! Thanks so much for your comments and suggestions. I love using the mayo as a base- great idea! I bet the bluish black would be pretty- I had some fun shades as a teen too. :) I usually go darker in the winter, so I might give henna a try. I do try to stay away from reddish tones (though I’ve been a redhead in the past as well) and I really enjoy bringing out my blonde highlights.


Lauren September 6, 2011 at 6:51 am

What shampoo are you using? If it has silicone it might leave a residue on your hair that natural ingredients can’t penetrate. A baking soda rinse and scrub might get at that. We used to use lemon juice with water in a spray bottle as kids to get highlights. I’m using nettle and lavender in my ACV rinse to darken my mid-brown hair a bit after every wash; I hear on the long hair forum that camomile is good for blondes. Thankfully tea bags are a lot cheaper than honey!


Amy September 6, 2011 at 8:43 am

Hey Lauren! Thanks for your comment :) Good idea on the shampoo, but mine is all natural- either Tate’s or a shea/neem blend and I use baking soda a couple times a week. I’d read about the lemon juice, but several websites warned against it citing damage to the hair. I will have to give the chamomile a go. Yes, a lot cheaper! Thanks again! :)


Alyssa July 7, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Unfortunately, chammomile will only lighten your hair for a few days, so if you’re looking for something a little more permanent it’s probably not your best option. Also, I’ve heard that with honey and all the other natural products you used it could take a minimum of one week to see results, sometimes even about 3 or 4 weeks.


Nancye September 6, 2011 at 11:44 am

The lemon juice works, particularly in the sun. We did it all the time as young teens, but it’s really hard on your hair. Very acidic. You will need a deep conditioner afterwards. I wonder if you mixed the lenon in with the honey and oils…. hmm… Now if only there were a better way to hide the gray.


Amy September 7, 2011 at 11:21 am

Yes, that’s what I’d heard- that it could be very damaging. Interesting about mixing them together….I will do some research on that. In the book Home Safe Home by Debra Lynn Dadd, she has a few recipes for covering gray (and natural hair colors too). The chamomile trick is mentioned there as well…guess I’ll be buying some chamomile next. (I don’t keep it on hand because the tea seems to bother me, though I haven’t tried it in quite a while)


Janice September 19, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Hate to sound stupid here, but what does your abbreviation TBL mean? TBS is tablespooon, tsp teaspoon….wasn’t sure what the L stood for…..thanks!


Amy September 19, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Hey Janice! TBL is tablespoon- I’ve always written it that way- sorry for the confusion! :)


Pippi October 30, 2012 at 2:57 pm

I have actually tried a variation of the honey recipe. I have long and thick dark brown hair. I used raw honey, regular filtered water from the fridge, and olive oil. I made a huge sticky mess getting it on my hair. The recipe I read said to leave it for 8 hours. By the 3rd hour I had had enough. Even though I wrapped my hair, the runny mixture had dripped all over my neck and shoulders and I was a mess. I had no results whatsoever!!!! What a waste of time.


Amy October 31, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Hi Pippi! Yeah, it was definitely messy! Sorry it didn’t work for you either…We’ll keep searching!


Irina November 13, 2012 at 5:03 am

So. I’ve been lightening my hair naturally for two months. I’m going to write about it soon on my myspace blog.
Honey isn’t the best working lightener.


Ashley January 30, 2013 at 10:20 am

I actually just tried a different mixture of honey to lighten my hair a few days ago, and although my results weren’t drastic like if I were to dye it I was pleased and I did see a difference. My hair is a dark brown and now there are some baby strands of light brown and other medium to dark brown shades. I used raw honey because it has the highest amount of natural peroxide found in it. I also left mine on for 5 hours instead of just 1, and I’m sure if I had left it on overnight I would have seen even more results. This is definitely messy, but after wrapping my hair up with a clip and a shower cap, then wrapping and securing a towel around it I was able to go about my normal day to day things around the house. Although it took several washings to get most of the olive oil and cinnamon out my hair smells great and looks/feels gloriously silky.


Amy February 2, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Thanks for sharing your tips, Ashley! So glad it worked out well for you :)


Amber March 18, 2013 at 9:27 pm

I never hear people mentioning this when talking about honey lightening but honey starts producing hydrogen peroxide when mixed with water. In a study it showed a peak in the hydrogen peroxide after around 24 hours since the honey had been mixed with water. I plan to do this but I’ll apply it after the mixture has sat for around 20 hours, then leave it on overnight (with a shower cap of course.) Not sure if this is 100% accurate, but something I read that went into much more detail than most articles about it…


Aymsikal April 12, 2013 at 11:56 am

I add honey to my daily conditioner. About a 50/50 ration. While it works beautifully to shine my hair (dark ash blonde w/light blonde hi-lights), I wanted to see if I could lighten my overall hair color more. So I used my concoction as a deep conditior and covered it with a shower cap for 8 hours. The results? My hair DEFINITLEY lifted a shade lighter! I am very pleased :) Some of the color has turned from ash to more strawberry blonde, yet still isn’t too red. I’m excited to try this several more times to see how much more it can lift!!!


Aymsikal April 12, 2013 at 11:57 am

Sorry I meant to type RATIO lol.


Anna May 17, 2013 at 3:49 pm

I actually tried the honey lightening treatment recently and I saw a slight change, so did my mum. My hair is a chestnut brown with natural coppery/reddish undertones and I used 2 tbsp raw honey (the cheapest I could find), 12 tbsp distilled water, 1 tbsp cinnamon and 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil. You have to test the ratio of honey to water, my previous experiments failed because I used incorrect amounts. I applied the mixture with an applicator brush and then dunked my head in the bowl, reusing the mixture until it was all gone. I piled my hair on top of my head and wrapped it in a plastic bag, then a shower cap AND a towel on top. I left all this on for 2 hours, no mess, no drips. After my hair was washed and dried I definitely saw more copper and auburn in it versus brown. My mum actually gasped when she saw it because she hadn’t expected it to work, ha!


Elizabeth July 13, 2013 at 12:43 pm

From what I read, the honey lightening method is a pretty gradual change and I’m pretty sure in some youtube video I watched, they said it took like 3-4 times before it actually worked.


Susan November 24, 2013 at 9:13 am

All you need is raw honey and distilled water. I have mousy blonde hair when it is not exposed to the sun. Last night, I mixed 4 parts honey to 1 part water, stirred well, and let the mixture sit for an hour. Then I applied it to my hair, covered in plastic wrap, and put a tshirt over that to keep it from running. I left it on overnight and now have shiny honey colored highlights!


Crystal January 12, 2014 at 8:14 pm

The honey method works but I had to leave it on for 8 hours before I saw any difference. I am a dark ash blonde and it got me to a medium blonde with a golden hue to it. Hope this helps. And cinnamon and cardamom will add a red hue to your hair and the coconut oil will dilute the effects and leave your hair feeling unwashed.


Andra April 26, 2014 at 10:50 am

Hey Amy!

It is reccomended to use darker coloured honey as theres a higher chance of it having a high peroxide level. and for every table spoon of honey, you add 6 table spoons of distilled water, and then put about a table spoon of one or two add ons such as 100% EXTRA virgin olive oil .
Mix until diluted, put in the shade so it doesnt heat up by accident and leave it there for one hour. Then apply evenly all along the hair and wrap it up in a swimming cap or shower cap so it doesn’t drip so much. After one hour you can wash it out. Make sure you shampoo well, feel your hair thoroughly during the wash so you can check for residue.

Hope I help! it’s exactly the method i’ve used and over time i’m so happy with my result because I was always weary of dying my hair and I didnt want to eventually get such outrageous regrowth
and if you do lighten it considerably that your hair is much different from your regrowth. I reccomend leaving it a bit until you can see it a bit more, then start the above process again but just using an applicator brush to get the roots. Every time before you wash your hair. You shouldn’t have the whole sitting waiting around issue because your whole head shouldn’t be wet, just having a bowl of the mixture near you to reapply while you do normal tasks.

I have been a blonde all my life until I hit 18 and my hair gradually became darker and darker, due to genetics I guess. I realised that it was getting darker so i did some research,
and i started applying the above mixture, and even though gradual, my hair became lighter and lighter and i felt like me again!

It’s a good thing that it’s gradual as you have better control over your end result.


Andra April 26, 2014 at 10:55 am

also for those who say it doesnt work and have very dark hair. it’s significantly easier for those who are a light brown – blonde to lighten their hair then black or very dark brown hair.

For example the back of my head is more brown than the rest and its taking much longer than the rest of my hair that was naturally lighter, to lighten.

I found out I could buy jarrah honey at my local supermarket so i’m going to try that!


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