Unstuffupable at-home highlights for under $13

I’ve got to admit, I have fond memories of gradual lighteners. You know, those mousses and sprays that are meant to slowly send you blonde. Not because I ever used them, mind you, but because of the old Sunsilk Custom Highlights commercial where the woman secretly gives her boyfriend a blonde patch at the back of his head.

However, anyone who ever let over liberal Sun-In application turn their hair into an orange, crunchy mess in the 90s might have different feelings about these products.

Everyone else at The Glow is constantly doing fun new things to their hair, and I’ll admit, I’ve been envious. I wanted a change too! But I also have princess/mermaid hair ambitions that I’ve been attempting to realise for three solid years, and having had a few horrifying run-ins with bleach in the past, I didn’t want chemical damage to get in the way of my dreams.

That’s why I gladly embraced L’Oreal’s new Casting Sunkiss Jelly. It landed on my desk promising “Summer in a tube… with a long lasting, radiant gloss,” in three to five uses.  

A gradual lightener seemed like the perfect solution for a hair-colour fence sitter. A highlight slow-burn I could back away from if I started getting crispy.

The product smells good. A little fresh, a little floral and a little coconutty, with only a really vague undertone of peroxide. It has a fine, moist consistency, almost like an aloe gel.

I used the product as directed, combing a 20 cent coin sized blob through my hair every three days for two weeks. You use this product on dry hair, and I always waited a day after I’d washed to apply it. I used the product six times in total. While the package said the jelly could be used for either “All over or precision colour”, I decided neither of those things were really achievable for me, and just took a sort of random approach instead.


I focused my jelly application on the whole lengths of the hair around my face first, then I applied it to the tips of the rest of my hair, like very clumsy balayage. After rubbing the product on as if it was conditioner, I brushed my hair out to distribute it further.

Then I just left the jelly to do its magic for a day or so before washing. Twice after I’d applied the product my naturally curly hair went straight for a day or so, but it didn’t really weigh my hair down while I was wearing it.

L’Oreal suggested that I could blow-dry the product for an extra burst of sunshine, which I tried on one occasion.

I certainly didn’t notice any immediate change, but…

The good news is, it worked. I have vaguely lighter shimmers throughout my whole hair, in a way that’s subtle and natural. No one has really noticed the colour change, but I’ve  been getting compliments on how pretty my hair has been looking.

Best of all, my ends are no more dry, crispy or split than when I started. My hair is weak like a tinder pile, so I'll attribute the minor miracle that is my no-more-damaged tips to the product's key conditioning ingredient: camellia seed oil.

If, like me you have very dark blonde/mousy brown hair, I'd happily recommend giving this product a crack. If you've got darker hair, it might not be your ticket though.  You can get it in selected chemists and supermakerts now for $12.95.

Have you ever tried a gradual lightener? What happened?