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, most of us take our look on a dark side, switching up our nail colors to grey, mauve, navy, browns, wine, and black.  We swap out white shorts and skinny jeans for darker denim and black jeans.  And finally, we tend to cover up those summer highlights and transition our hair to darker hues for a more sophisticated look to pair with our leather jackets, trench coats and peacoats.

This was my philosophy, until I woke up fairly recently to find that one of my style icons – Marzia – bleached a good part of her long 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.  Sounds 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 using 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 out in the sun for hours.  However, it seems more and more people are getting it to work – likely thanks to all the shared tips that spread across the interwebs over the years – because the reviews between 2012 and 2017 are practically horror story-free.  Here are just a few tips I found across online that I found particularly helpful:

  • Make sure hair is damp – not drenched or super wet – prior to 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 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 (dark hair definitely won’t turn to platinum blonde, but it will lighten it several shades).  I started with uniform dark brown 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. 

Having read that its takes most people with darker hair a good month to get it to lighten to a 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.  However, it does tend to dry it out a bit, 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 (1/17/2017): So I continued using Sun-In for about 8 more treatments, applying it only on the bottom half of my hair.  It was difficult to see the difference in most photos (hence why it took so long to get this post updated!) but luckily, which shooting photos outdoors for another blog post, my mom took the one below…

sun in hair lightener results, before and after

Not my best hair day, I’ll admit, however here you can clearly see the difference in light and dark tones if you compare the top half of my hair to the lower half.  Sun-In managed to lighten my hair by about 2-3 shades, taking my hair from a dark ashy brown to a warm medium chestnut.  I’m not so sure I like the ‘gradient’ effect I was trying to create… 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 clearly works.

The one huge 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 (hey, it does seem to be in style these days…), then by all means, go all out!

Available at Target, Walmart & Amazon

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

  • Paige Cassandra Flamm

    I’ve always wanted to try these products! I have lighter hair so I think it would work even a little more!

  • Mitchelle

    Yeah looks natural. I like it when it’s just subtle. The hair is prettier to look at.

  • Ooooh, that looks so good! My hair is naturally blonde. Like, almost white-blonde, so I don’t dye it or lighten it, but it’s so cool to see different products like this! I remember my sister walking around with lemon juice in her hair. It was hilarious. At least she…um..smelt nice?

  • WOW! This would be so tempting if I had my natural color. It looks great.

  • Annissa Slusher

    What a blast from the past! I remember using Sun-In when I was in high school! I didn’t realize it was still on the market. You had really good results with it.

  • Justina

    This looks so nice on you!