Lighten Your Hair with Rhubarb

Photo Credit
Margaret Boyles

Fading blond? Mousy brown? Bring on the rhubarb! Here's how to naturally lighten your hair using nothing but rhubarb and water.

You’ve heard of champagne blond, strawberry blond, and honey blond. Since it’s rhubarb season here in New England, let me introduce the Rhubarb Blond.

But first a bit of background. Rhubarb has a history of medicinal and cosmetic use that spans more than 3,000 years, and people didn’t even begin eating rhubarb stalks until the late 1700s.

Rhubarb originated in Central Asia and still occupies a revered place in traditional Chinese medicine. Scientists around the world continue exploring various rhubarb species for their potential in treating ailments as diverse as dermatitis, pancreatic cancer, and diabetes. (Note: The Rheum genus contains at least 60 species and many hybrids; the succulent species that we bake into pies differs from the medicinal rhubarbs, which are generally considered inedible.)

Because of its high concentration of oxalic acid (the compound that makes the leaves and roots toxic to eat), rhubarb has also found use as an agent for cleaning metal, tanning leather, and controlling insects.

One of the more intriguing uses for the root (actually a rhizome) of this ancient plant: as a lightening agent for blond or light brown hair. The oxalic acid serves as a fixative, so a rhubarb rinse will last much longer than most herbal rinses.

Rhubarb dye rinse

Rhubarb Rinse Recipe

Brave enough to give it a try? Purchase some dried, chopped rhubarb root in a local health food store; if you have rhubarb growing in your garden, dig up a chunk of the rhizome, scrub it well, and dice it.

Herbalists say that the strongest dye comes from the medicinal rhubarb species, but the roots of homegrown pie rhubarb will work, too, with a milder effect. Keep all rhubarb root away from children and pets.

Simmer 3 to 4 tablespoons of dried rhubarb root or half a cup of fresh, chopped root in a quart of water for 20 minutes in a covered stainless-steel pot. (Don’t breathe the steam.) Let the decoction steep overnight, then strain in the morning.

Test the liquid dye on a strand of hair first to see if you like the color. If you do, wash your hair as usual, then pour the rhubarb dye through it, catching the liquid in the pan and repeating two or three times. Air dry without further rinsing.

Did I try it myself? Yes! It gave a soft, golden glow to my tired gray-white locks.

Want to learn more about rhubarb? Check out our Rhubarb Plant Page.

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Aimee (not verified)

4 years 4 months ago

Thank's for your post about Rhubarb's lightening properties--I'd been wondering if oxalic acid would work on hair. Now for another experiment: Docks and sorrels are in the same family as rhubarb, and share higher levels of oxalic acid. Since the rhubarb crop was really, REALLY bad this year, I'm going to try using dock root, and maybe sorrel leaves later.
One final question: have you tried sitting in the sun during the dry time? Would it work the same way that lemon juice or vinegar rinses do?

I haven't used it often enough to know, Aimee. I usually shake my hair dry in the sun (if it's out), but I've never compared cloudy/indoor drying with sitting in the un. Give it a try and let us know!

Kristine (not verified)

5 years 8 months ago

Hi! Just wonder if it should be the root or if other parts of the plant can be used and if the effect will be the same? :)

No, you won't get the same results from the stalks and leaves, Kristine. Dig the roots, or buy roots of the the medicinal variety at a natural food store. Good luck!

corrine conway (not verified)

8 years 5 months ago

I love the idea of "natural color" in hair dyes! thank you for the tips, anything else for rhubarb?