I Tried Sun-In, the Popular Hair Lightener from the 80’s

sun in hair lightener review, before & after on brown hair (1 of 1)

This post has been sponsored by the PRIMP Network.  All opinions are my own.

Come fall and winter, many of us swap out our brights and pastels for more muted, darker hues.  When it comes to our hair in particular, we tend to cover those summer highlights and transition our hair to deeper shades for a more sophisticated, polished look.

That had been my routine anyway, until I woke up one morning to discover that one of my style icons – Marzia – bleached a good part of her hair blonde, keeping just a touch of her original dark brown color around the roots.  I loved her results.  She looked amazing and for a second, I thought I’d take the Jenna Marbles route and do the deed myself at home (i.e. watch a Youtube tutorial, grab some bleaching supplies at the beauty supply store, and go to town).

A few seconds later and I was already visualizing the possible disaster that could (and likely would) ensue.  Plus, I’d never gone more than a shade lighter before, so I was hesitant to take the plunge to straight blonde.  So instead, I turned to try something a bit more subtle to start out – Sun-In’s hair lightening treatment.

Sun-In uses a mix of hydrogen peroxide and lemon juice to give you the same natural highlights you get from the sun – only faster.  All you have to do is apply it to your hair, then hit it with heat – either by sitting out in the sun for 30+ minutes or using a hair dryer.  Sounded easy enough…

sun in hair lightener on brown hair review, before & after

I remember seeing ads for Sun-In in my Teen Beat magazines back in the 90’s, but this was my very first time giving it a go.  As with any beauty products, I did my research online beforehand and admittedly, the reviews kind of made me nervous.  Some complained about Sun-In turning their hair orange/brassy, but it seemed a good number of those experiences were from people who had used it years ago, as far back as the 90’s, 80’s and even the 70’s.  I’m assuming the idea back then was to drench your hair in it, and then sit for hours in the sun.

Lately though, it seems more and more people are getting it to work – the reviews I’ve read from 2012 on were, for the most part, horror story-free.  My guess is that has something to do with all the shared tips on the internet.  Here are just a few that I came across online that I found particularly helpful…

Tips for Applying Sun-In

  • Make sure hair is damp – not drenched or super wet – before applying Sun-In
  • Avoid getting the product on your skin (since it contains hydrogen peroxide).  Spray away from scalp and especially your face.  Wash your hands afterwards.
  • Turn the blow drier on full heat and blow dry until hair is completely dry.
  • Apply a conditioning hair serum/oil once hair is dry to lock in moisture and prevent dryness.
  • Space out treatments to avoid over-drying and over-processing your hair.  Wait at least 1-2 days after your first treatment before doing another one, as the lightening process can sometimes continue for a few days.

It also appears that Sun-In has made some improvements to their formula over the last decade or so.  Their most recent version is alcohol-free and formulated with botanical extracts (like aloe, chamomile, and flaxseed), which supposedly help counteract the drying effects of hydrogen peroxide and lemon juice.  It also contains special illuminators to give hair a boost of shine.

sun in hair lightener brown hair review

My One Week Results Using Sun-In

Sun-In is recommended for use on blonde to medium-brown hair, however I’ve seen it work beautifully on black hair as well, to lighten it a few shades.  I started with uniform dark brown hair that had been previously dyed with permanent hair color a few months back – not the best hair situation to start with, but I figured I’d try my luck.

So far, I’ve only used Sun-In three times, applying to the bottom half of my hair only (and somewhat randomly to get natural-looking highlights here and there) with the hope of eventually creating an ombre-like effect.  All three times, I used a blow dryer to ‘activate’ it instead of the sun. 

Having read that it takes most people with dark brown hair a good month’s worth of treatments to reach dark blonde, I’m expecting to reach my desired results after about 6-10 more uses.  In the meantime, I wanted to show you my (fairly promising) results so far.  Take note of the lighter highlights – those weren’t there before!

sun in before & after on brown hair
sun in hair lightener brown hair before & after

As you can see, Sun-In lightened up the lower half of my hair by about a shade, and created some natural-looking highlights (and they’re not orange-y or brassy – yay!).  And from what I’m able to tell by the texture, the formula hasn’t damaged my hair.  My strands however are beginning to feel a bit drier than usual, so I’ve been making sure to use a conditioning serum/oil after blow drying, which seems to be helping.

Overall, I’m very happy with the results.  Will I go even lighter – to blonde – in the future?  I’m sure at some point I will experiment, but for now I’m going to continue my Sun-In treatments over the next 3-4 weeks, and then see how I feel about the change before doing any serious damage with bleach…

Update (1/17/2018): So I continued using Sun-In for about 8 more treatments, applying it only to the bottom half of my hair.  It was difficult to make out the difference in most indoor photos I took (hence why it took so long to get this post updated!) but fortunately, while shooting photos outdoors for another post, my mom caught this one…

sun in hair lightener results, before and after

Not my best hair day, I’ll admit, but at least here you can see the difference in light and dark tones.  Sun-In managed to lighten the bottom half of my hair by about 2-3 shades, taking it from a dark ashy brown to a warm medium chestnut.  I’m not so sure I achieved the ‘gradient’ effect I was going for though… I wish I’d sprayed a bit closer to my roots, maybe covering 2/3 of my hair instead.  But in any case, this stuff definitely works!

The one downside though?  Despite following the tips I’d mentioned above and using a conditioning serums plus frequent hair masks, Sun-In‘s formula really dried out my hair, to the point where it lost a lot of its softness, shine, and manageability.  For that reason, I’d really only recommend using Sun-In if you want to lighten your hair by a shade or two – keeping treatments to a minimum, and stopping once you reach your desired shade.  Then again, if you don’t mind the ‘textured’, messy hair look, then by all means, go all out! 🙂

Update (4/15/2018): My hair has grown out quite a bit since my last post, so I thought I’d share another update.  Below is a photo taken indoors, hence why the shade difference looks a bit more subtle. (Ignore the half-asleep look on my face!)  I’m actually quite liking the effect now that my hair has gotten longer.  The highlights look a bit more natural, with a slightly softer, more gradual transition.

Sun-In hair lightener before and after

I’m really tempted to grab another bottle of Sun-In and take my hair even lighter now that summer is on its way… (If I do, I’ll add another update here!)

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Have you tried Sun-In or another hair lightening treatment?  If so, how did it work for you?


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