I’d never heard of Sunbabe until an IG ad popped up on my feed a couple of months ago. The late-night scrolling or Zuckerberg’s unholy algorithm worked its magic and I clicked and purchased a bottle of their Solar Hair Lightener ($37) without a second thought. I actually forgot about it until the compact brown box landed on my front door about a week later. Their shipping’s on point.
By the time the package arrived, my IG shopping glee had dissipated. I read suspiciously sunny (read: fake) reviews and sobering Reddit commentary, along the lines of “it totally dried out my hair” to “it bleached my skin and I’m in a lawsuit against them.”
Also, I seemed to have forgotten I wasn’t a 24-year-old strawberry blonde whose hair was going to turn into a midsummer mermaid’s dream with a quick spray of a lemon juice and hydrogen peroxide concoction. I’m a Korean mom-of-two who’s been platinum blonde for ten years and I’m currently growing out my grays. (Hair goal: Silver Sister—but we’ll save that story for another time). My hair is half bleached blonde, half dark brown with streaks of white/gray. If it sounds like a mess, it’s probably because it is.
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Even though Sunbabe says it works on every hair color and type, I wasn’t sure I should add yet another hue to my head. They say it lifts any yellow from gray hair and makes it whiter (which I want), but the bitter reviews dampened my DIY hair lightening ardor. Since Sunbabe doesn’t do refunds, the sleek gold bottle stayed on my kitchen counter, winking at me for weeks, until I left for holidays in Europe. I figured the beaches of the Mediterranean were as good a place as any to try Sunbabe. Like all hair lighteners, it needs heat from the sun or a hairdryer to activate it.
A Sunbabe in the French Riviera
One of the first things I did when I got to my friend’s place in Monaco was corner the two teenage girls in the house, my daughter and my friend’s daughter. I innocently asked them, “Don’t you want to try this spray? It’s going to make your hair like two shades lighter, just from the sun.” (Similarities to Eve, the snake and an apple are purely coincidental.)
While both were initially interested, they quickly Hey Siri’ed, TikTokked or whatever teenagers do to get information and declined.
“It says it dries out your hair,” announced my friend’s 15-year old. “My hair’s already bleached so I don’t want to damage it more.”
I acted surprised by this information, “Really? It’s not supposed to.”
I turned to my daughter and she cut me off firmly, “Mom, I don’t want to do it. I’m growing out the dye from last summer and I want to keep my hair healthy.”
Yet another reason to limit your kids’ screen time, parents. They have way too much information at their fingertips and aren’t as easily scammed by the promising tagline, “Hair like the sun did it.”
Two days of mulling later, I decided to stop being such a chickenshit since it was clear my progeny and her friend wouldn’t be my Sunbabe guinea pigs. Despite flashbacks to the orange streaks I got using Sun-In (the OG hair lightener) when I was a teenager, I somewhat bravely grabbed the gold bottle and read the directions.
This is where things got scary. The directions clearly say not to get the product on your scalp or your skin and to wash it off immediately if you do. Apparently, exposing skin to lemons (followed by UVA rays) can lead to a chemical burn called phytophotodermatitis; hence the reviewers who complained about their skin getting bleached or burned.
How was I going to spray my hair without spraying my scalp? It’s a spray, not a gel or cream! I ignored my growing unease and soldiered on in pursuit of sunkissed highlights.
Sunbabe recommends doing a strand test first. My hair is thick and coarse and has withstood decades of extreme bleaching and coloring with minimal damage, but no way I was spraying my whole head with what was starting to seem like napalm in a bottle.
I grabbed two half-inch, front sections of hair on either side of my face that had all the colors of my coif: blonde, brown and gray/white. If it worked, it would look like face-framing highlights; if not, I could probably hide them beneath a side part. I saturated both sections and did my best not to get the spray on my scalp or my face. I thoroughly washed my face and hands and kept the damp, Sunbabed hair from touching my skin. Then we all went to a nearby beach.
After about two hours on a white pebble beach in 85 degree weather, my friend and her daughter looked over at me and exclaimed, “Your hair got lighter!”
The Results: Kind Of Like The Sun Did It
Sure enough, Sunbabe activated and the natural brown part of my hair turned the shade it does after an entire summer. The whites got whiter and the bleached blonde stayed the same. Sunbabe says their lightener works on bleached hair, but not platinum like mine, where there’s not much pigment left to lift. Hairstylists warn against using at-home lighteners on bleached hair because it’ll get way too damaged, if not completely break off. Oops. Luckily, the platinum ends of my hair didn’t look significantly worse.
A week of sun and beach later, with no reapplication of the product, the brown part of my hair has gotten more coppery, which again, approximates what the sun would do. It’s a bit brassier than natural so I’m not sure I love it, but at least it’s not orange. My white-gray streak is almost a chalky white, which is cool in an X-Men way, but it’s definitely drier than the rest of my grays.
Overall, I’m not thrilled or disappointed, probably due to my extreme caution in just testing two strands. If I’d been reckless enough to do my entire head, I imagine I’d have a more visceral reaction to brassy copper and dry, chalk-white hair.
When it comes to hair lightening, especially on dark hair, my Sunbabe experiment reiterated that it’s best to get bleached by a professional. A $37 bottle of lemon juice and hydrogen peroxide will never, ever equal the results you’ll get from a salon. But if you’re someone who takes risks with your hair and is down for unpredictable results you may love (or hate), it’s only $37. And hair grows. Eventually.
Are you looking to lighten your hair this summer? If so, would you try Sunbabe?