Why and How to Go Gray with Long Hair
Going gray with long hair can be fun as well as challenging. Here are some tips to prepare yourself.
If you are a woman who is transitioning to gray hair, you already have to deal with strangers, friends, and family members who question your decision.
If you are a woman who is over 40 and you are growing out your gray hair AND keeping it long, you get the double-whammy of being questioned by the anti-gray crowd as well as the “women over a certain age should cut their hair short” crowd.
Add going gray cold turkey to that equation, and WHAMMO – prepare to get a TON of unsolicited advice! 😜
Which begs the question: Why do so many people feel free to give us their opinions about our hair?
** Please Note: This post contains affiliate links. I only link to products that I personally like or that have been recommended to me by my silver sisters. You can see my full policy here.**
WHY KEEP YOUR HAIR LONG WHILE GOING GRAY?
On social media, I often get asked why I don’t cut my hair short.
I have been told it will hasten my gray hair transition, enhance my self-esteem and free me from worrying about satisfying the sexist desires of the men in my life.
However, none of those scenarios apply to me.
I have a healthy amount of self-esteem, I have a supportive husband who loves me no matter what type of hair I choose to wear, and I don’t want to hasten my gray hair transition because I am loving every slow minute of it!
So why DO I wear my hair long? Let me explain.
For most of my childhood, I had short hair. Really short hair. We’re talking male-pattern baldness short. Imagine Paul Simon in the 1970s and you’ll get the picture.
My best friend, Suzy, had long, golden curls. She had Jan Brady-style blonde hair (clipped back with a barrette, and ringlets coming down on each side).
I envied her hair and wished that we could somehow trade hair. I wanted long hair badly enough that I would parade around my house with a bath towel on my head and pretend that it was my long hair.
Imagine my excitement when I found a lovely red hippie wig at a garage sale.
It was the most beautiful copperish-auburn color, and it was the perfect early 1970s hairdo – long, straight, and parted in the middle. I bought it for 25 cents and don’t remember much about that wig except that I LOVED it.
I also remember scaring the crap out of my parents one morning on our way to church.
They looked in the rearview mirror, expecting to see their little brunette Paul Simon-ish daughter, but instead saw a REALLY short redheaded hippie girl in the back seat.
It’s a miracle they didn’t crash the car!
Years went by, and as I got older, I finally grew the long hair I desired. It was gorgeous, and I adored it. I felt like “me” in my long hair.
So, there’s no deep psychological meaning behind my choice to keep my hair long. Like most women, my hair length is simply a matter of personal preference.
And those old rules about cutting your hair short if you are over a certain age?
I throw those old rules in the trash, where they belong. Who needs ’em?
BUT…WHY GO GRAY COLD TURKEY WITH LONG HAIR?
When I made up my mind to go gray back in February 2018, I researched different ways to go gray. As I’ve said before, I was a brunette for 50 years and knowing myself pretty darn well, I knew that I needed time to shed that identity.
I knew that if I went from being a long-haired brunette to a short-haired silver sister overnight, it would be very traumatic for me. (Some women love the quick transition, but for me and others, it would be super jarring.)
I also knew that I was simply done doing any sorts of coloring or chemical treatments. I’d had a bad experience bleaching a small (thankfully) portion of my hair in college (it turned bright orange and was very damaged).
Therefore, I chose to do a cold-turkey grow out, which basically means not doing any more salon treatments on my hair except for an occasional trim.
Here are some more thoughts on the cold turkey long hair grow out from two of my Instagram silver sisters:
Had a ponder…why cold turkey? Because I’m essentially lazy? First thought, then…no. The@cathrynstruecolours
growoutis a kind of raspberry to all the years of perfectionism and constant dye related stress. And its teaching me to trust more, to accept the seemingly endless waiting, to focus more on other things. It is incredibly liberating once you get used to it. It becomes the new norm
It took me a long time to decide to go gray and stop dyeing but I felt like if a woman had the right to say, “I want to keep dyeing my hair”, then I had the right to say “I don’t want short hair” if I ever did stop.
My dark hair was my identity. So I clung to my dark tresses and when I started to go grey I covered it up for years until it just became a hassle. Every two weeks a white halo appeared.
I researched it watched YouTube videos etc. and finally made the decision with one stipulation; that I would not cut it off but I would go through the process and give myself time to get used to the new hue of color around my face.@girl_gone_gray
I knew it would be hard and people would share their opinions but I need the daily transformation to learn to love my new self and whatever color my hair decides to become.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF YOU KEEP YOUR HAIR LONG WHILE YOU GO GRAY?
Let’s be honest here… going gray cold turkey with long hair is NOT for the faint of heart!
Why? Because, depending on the color of your dyed hair, you can expect to go through a bunch of wild variations of hair color over a period of many months as you grow out your silver roots!
For example, here I am at 17 months dye-free. Before I got to this point, I went through a long “skunk stripe” phase (dark with white roots), which eventually morphed into “calico” (dark brown, light brown, orange, and gray hair), which sometimes ventured into crazy “African Wild Dog” territory!
Now I’m at what some have called the “Salt, Pepper and Paprika” phase of the grow out. My hair is mainly white, with dark brown/black underneath, and a smattering of faded, orangey brunette dye on the ends.
(If you are going gray from blonde or light red hair, I assume you will not go through as many wild variations as us dark brunettes. Or do you? Let me know in the comments!!).
HOW TO DEAL WITH YOUR DEMARCATION LINE
Many women are afraid of the demarcation line (the obvious line between your dyed hair and your gray roots).
There are two main ways to deal with this fear:
You can fade your hair dye or learn to love your demarcation line. Or you can do both at the same time, like me!
METHOD #1: FADE YOUR HAIR DYE
There are a few articles out there about how to fade your hair dye, but I haven’t tried many of them myself yet, so I’m not comfortable recommending many methods.
The method I used to fade my dye was very simple: Once a week, I washed my hair with a clarifying shampoo. Clarifying shampoo can be VERY drying for your hair, so I always followed it up with a deep conditioner.
Did it work? Yes! My dye faded fairly quickly from a dark brunette to a light orangey-brown (aka “blorange.”)
I had to wash my hair once a week with blue shampoo to tone down the brassiness. By the time I passed the 14th month of my transition, blue shampoo did not work as well and I just gave up trying to cover the blorange.
By that point, I’d gotten used to the orange and it didn’t really bother me.
Hot tip: If I were to start this whole grow-out over again, I think I might do what my friend Jonie did: She kept dyeing her ends (not the gray roots) a dark brunette color, to avoid the whole “blorange” problem.
If you go this route, make sure to find a gray-friendly hairdresser who won’t “accidentally” cover your gray roots!
METHOD #2: LEARN TO LOVE YOUR DEMARCATION LINE
Everyone is so damn afraid of the “skunk stripe”. But I ask you – what’s wrong with skunks? They are so darn cute!
I mean, seriously, look at that face:
If you are interested in going gray cold turkey, the easiest thing for you to do is learn to find the beauty in transitioning hair. Embrace your skunk line!
BEAUTIFUL EXAMPLES OF TRANSITIONING-TO-GRAY HAIR
Take a peek at the following photos, and maybe you’ll appreciate how unique and interesting the demarcation line can be!
There is so much negativity around the concept of growing out your gray roots, but once you start the process, I bet you will find it not only easier to deal with your demarcation line, but you’ll also be able to find the beauty in it!
LONG GRAY HAIRSTYLES
Another advantage to the long gray hair growout is the versatility of hairstyles.
Don’t like your hair down? Pull it into a ponytail, high bun, or braid!
When gray hair and dyed hair blend together in a braid, the result is gorgeous, as evidenced by silver sister Nikki:
Carla, aka @silvergirlmx, is a great account to follow on Instagram if you want examples of beautiful long gray hairstyles:
There’s something about braided silver hair (and braided gray/dyed hair) that is super-beautiful, don’t you agree?
ALTERNATIVES TO THE LONG GRAY GROWOUT
Don’t want to go gray cold turkey with long hair? You have alternatives!
If you want to keep your hair long but not go through the long calico phase, you can always look into salon processes for going gray from dyed hair.
There are a few possible downsides to this route:
1) You will need frequent visits to the salon, so it can get expensive.
2) Depending on the color of your hair, it may need to get bleached, which can be damaging.
3) You’ll miss out on what some of us consider a really fun aspect of going gray the long way: it gives you a lot of time for introspection and self-reflection!
There’s nothing like going out in public with long gray roots and calico ends to force you to face your fears, trust me! I found it super-freeing and being liberated from the fear of aging changed other aspects of my life as well. Who knew?
But, many women have gone the salon route with long hair and are very happy with the results. Just make sure you find a salon that specializes in gray blending so you are happy with the results. Check out my list of gray-friendly salons for help finding one in your area.
And, of course, if you are being driven crazy by your long calico hair and just want to be done with the transition, you can always chop it all off!
Check out my Silver Hair Transition Stories for women who went the pixie route. They have great tips and rock their shorter hair!
PROS AND CONS OF GOING GRAY COLD TURKEY WITH LONG HAIR
- Prolongs the gray hair transition, so you have time to get used to the “new you”
- Avoids the damage caused by toning, bleaching or blending
- Long hair can easily be put up into a ponytail, bun or braid if you want to change up your look
- Saves money as you only need occasional trims
- You will get a lot of comments/suggestions to just “cut your hair off” to hasten the transition
- Your gray hair transition could take a year or two, depending on the length of your hair
How about you?
Long gray hair or short gray hair? Let me know why in the comments!
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Katie is the founder of Katie Goes Platinum. After constantly dyeing her hair for over 25 years, in 2018 Katie decided to stop the madness and embrace the gray. Since then, she’s been sharing her favorite gray hair tips, resources, and stories to empower women to feel beautiful during and after their transition to gray hair.