this thing’s incredible

I Turned My Dark-Brown Hair Blonde Using Only Sun-In

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Ellen Van Dusen

I’ve had my hair professionally dyed exactly one time. It was 2015, and I was doing a six-week residency in San Francisco, where I knew basically no one and was cosplaying a new version of myself — the perfect opportunity to try a new hairstyle. So I booked my appointment and went from rich chocolate brown to blonde. $450 later, the dye job wasn’t blonde enough, and I was too shy to put up a fight with the woman at the salon. So I went home, berated myself over spending so much money on something so subtle, and I considered my options: Go to another salon? Attempt DIY box-dye highlights? And then I remembered: Sun-In.

I had last used Sun-In in middle school, when I accidentally turned my hair orange. Still, I decided to roll the dice and bought it online. It showed up the next day in the exact same deep-pink bottle featuring a ’90s beach teen (who looks AI-generated, but can’t be because the design is OLD) that it did before. I sprayed, went in the sun, and my hair lightened exactly the way I’d hoped for. As my hair grew, I sprayed my roots. It continued to grow, I kept spraying my roots. Now, my once dark-brown hair has a base layer that’s dark blonde, and the top layer of my hair has a mix of highlights and lowlights so varied that it could never be a real dye job. And yet! People I don’t know often compliment me on my hair color, and I take no greater pleasure in life than telling them it’s Sun-In.

A bottle costs about $12 and should last you all summer. To use it, you spray it all over your head and sit in the sun. Your hair will turn orange at first, but don’t be deterred: You just have to keep going. (The length of the orange phase will depend on how much sun you’re getting — if you’re somewhere sunny and spend all day outside, it’ll take one or two days.) Interestingly, Sun-In is heat-activated (not sun-activated), so if you have patience — I do not — and want to speed up the process, you can blow-dry your hair for hours, and it’ll work the same way.

In the summer, I keep a travel-size version on my person at all times. I have a bottle in my car, near every door in my house, at my parents’ house, at my friends’ houses in Austin and L.A. … basically, anywhere I go, I have a stash. I justify a warm-weather vacation every winter with the savings I’m holding from not going to a salon. If you’re my friend and we’ve been anywhere in daylight, I’ve asked you to spray my head. It’s an evolving project with many contributors.

Does it damage your hair at all the way a dye job does? Well, yes. So in peak sun season, I use a purple shampoo for blondes — mine is a Walgreens brand one that I picked up in a pinch, but I’m sure there are better ones out there — to cut down on brassiness and to keep it healthy. And the slight damage hasn’t kept me from recommending it to friends — in fact, I’ve converted many friends to Sun-In over the years. We’ll text each other hair shots after a particularly sunny day. We’ll meet up in L.A. in the winter and discuss which color bottle works best (I prefer the pink “Tropical Breeze,” which is the nonnatural, all-chemicals version). We’ll work from our stoops or yards on a rogue warm winter day. Blondes … we have more fun.

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I Turned My Dark-Brown Hair Blonde Using Only Sun-In