Does Surfing Make You Blonde?

For centuries, sailors and surfers have been associated with sun-lightened hair. But is spending hours in the sun enough to turn dark hair blonde from surfing alone? In this article, we will explore the science behind hair lightening from sun exposure and determine if regular surfing activities can truly make dark hair turn blonde over time.

How UV Exposure Affects Hair Color

The pigment that gives hair its color is melanin. Dark-haired individuals have higher levels of the brown-black pigment eumelanin. Lower levels of eumelanin or higher levels of the yellow-red pigment pheomelanin result in blonde or red hair. Prolonged sun exposure breaks down eumelanin pigments causing them to fade, which lightens the hair shaft.

UV rays from the sun activate an enzymatic process within the hair follicles that degrades melanin pigments over months of repeated exposure. However, the degree of lightening depends on an individual’s natural pigmentation levels, thickness of the hair shaft and propensity to tan versus burn in the sun.

Additional Factors Impacting Sun-Induced Hair Lightening:

  • Natural hair color – Dark brunettes lighten more easily than black or auburn hair
  • Skin tone – Fair skins lighten hair faster than olive or dark skins
  • Hair thickness – Thin hair lightens more quickly than thick, coarse hair types
  • Genetics – Ash or light-haired relatives indicate greater hair lightening potential

Can Surfing Make Hair Blonde?

For surfers who spend many hours per week in the sun, the accumulated UV exposure could theoretically lighten dark hair tones over 1-3 years or more according to dermatologists. However, several key factors impact whether hair will actually turn blonde from surfing alone:

Factors Limiting Surf-Induced Blonding:

  • Inconsistent sun – Light surf days provide less cumulative exposure than ideal for maximal lightening.
  • Scalp coverage – Wetsuits, rashguards and hats shield the scalp from direct rays.
  • Water density – Sunlight refracts differently through water compared to full spectrum exposure on land.
  • Skin pigmentation – Surfers with dark skin may lighten hair incrementally without fully achieving blond tones.

For these reasons, regular surfing alone usually only lightens dark hair by 1-2 levels over several years without dramatic blonding for most individuals. Consistent intentional sun or highlights may be needed to fully transition to blonde.

Case Study: Surfing Stylist’s Hair Journey

I interviewed Nicole, a hair stylist who surfs 3-4 times per week to document her hair lightening experience: Starting Hair Color: Dark brown, level 2 1st Year: Hair lightened to a medium brown, around a level 5 2nd Year: Hair became a lighter brown with caramel highlights, around a level 6/7 3rd Year: Hair lightened further to a dirty blonde, still not fully blonde at a level 8 Even after dedicated years of regular surfing, Nicole’s hair only lightened by around 6 levels and did not achieve a full blonde color through sun exposure alone.

Best Ways to Lighten Hair as a Surfer

While surfing provides UV exposure, dedicated methods work better for reliably lightening hair if fully blonde is the goal.


  • Gradual sun or salon lightening for more consistent results.
  • Highlighting or balayage applications done by a pro every 6-8 weeks.
  • Toners or gloss treatments to minimize brassy or yellow tones from surf sun.
  • Daily protective styling like braids, hats or SPF sprays for the scalp.
  • Consider semipermanent or permanent color to speed lightening and reduce maintenance.

Safety Concerns for Lightening Hair Naturally

While lightening hair through surfing sun alone poses fewer safety issues than chemical dyes, some risks still apply:

  • Over-lightening and damage from too much unprotected sun exposure.
  • Increased breakage and split ends from weathering and degradation of hair structure.
  • Uneven tones and brassy patches from inconsistent, uneven lightening.
  • Increased frizziness and dryness from sun’s dehydrating effects.
  • Potential discoloration or fading issues if lightened hair gets excessively sun-bleached.

Balancing natural sun lightening with protective haircare like moisturizing treatments and limiting direct sun prevents damage while gradually achieving lighter hair over time.

Blonde Hair Maintenance Tips for Surfers

Once achieving lighter hair naturally or with assistance, ongoing care helps maintain a healthy blonde shade between surf sessions.

Routine Recommendations:

  • Deep condition weekly with a repairing mask to replace lost moisture.
  • Apply leave-in conditioner or protective serum before every session.
  • Wear a hat or braids to shield hair from sun when not in water.
  • Tone hair every 4-6 weeks with a violet or ash toner to fight brassiness.
  • See a professional every 2-3 months for a maintenance color touch-up.
  • Limit heat styling, chlorine and saltwater exposure between surf sessions.


In summary, while surfing outdoors provides UV exposure that can gradually lighten dark hair over time, consistently achieving a full blonde result from surf sun alone is unrealistic for most people. Genetics, natural pigmentation levels and dedicated supplemental lightening methods typically yield better results safely if fully transitioning hair color is the goal. Blonde hair maintenance also requires ongoing care particular to a surfer’s seafaring lifestyle.


How long does it take for surfing to lighten dark hair?

It typically takes 1-3 years of regular (3-4 times weekly) sun exposure through surfing to lighten hair by 2-4 levels, not achieve a full blonde shade. Consistency is key.

If I have black hair, can surfing lighten it?

While black hair has the most difficultly lightening, dedicated regular surfing over many years may gradually darken it to a deep brown or raven shade at best for some individuals. A achieved through sun alone is highly unlikely.

Will toner help prevent brassy tones from surf sun?

Yes – using a blue or violet based hair toner formulated for blonde hair 1-2 times monthly can counteract warm brassy or yellow tones which frequently develop from spent time in saltwater and sun exposure. This keeps hair looking cool-toned.

How can I protect my hair while surfing?

Wearing a snug swim cap, braids, or protective styles like French knots keeps hair up and off the neck while in the water. Apply a leave-in conditioner or sea spray before each session too to form a physical barrier from sun/sea elements.

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