Inside: What I learned from when I finally decided to let my hair go gray
On February 22, two years to the day that I dyed my hair for the last time, I got the last of my dye cut off.
Which means, after 25+ years of dyeing, I am finally sporting a full head of natural hair:
Did I feel sad about getting the last remnants of my youthful brunette hair (even if it was artificial) cut off? Did I worry about looking older, or like I’d “let myself go?”
Hell, no – I felt FANTASTIC!
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WHY I DECIDED TO GO GRAY
I wasn’t always so free and easy about the whole concept of gray hair. In fact, I spent 25 years (or more – I lost count) frantically covering up the gray.
Did I start dyeing my hair just for gray coverage? No – like a lot of young women, I started dyeing my hair for fun.
As a teenager, I had lovely dark brown (almost black) hair, but got bored with it in college and started dyeing it various shades of mulberry, magenta, and burgundy.
I didn’t feel like I HAD to color my hair, so I just did it when the mood took me… and grew it out without a thought when I was ready to grow it out again.
I started getting gray hair at 16, but just plucked out the gray hairs whenever they appeared and didn’t give them much thought.
I’ve tried to pinpoint when it all changed.
When did I feel like I HAD to dye my hair? When did it go from being fun to becoming a tedious chore?
It was in my late 20s. My husband and I went to Los Angeles’ Chinatown for dinner with friends, and my friend’s husband started to say something and then stopped.
I asked him what he was going to say (BIG MISTAKE!), and he laughed and said he was going to point out how gray my hair was getting but that would be rude.
Looking back all these years later, I think THAT was the moment I started getting self-conscious about my gray hair. I was probably only 28.
What bothers me is this: I consider myself a feminist. I consider myself a non-conformist. But why did I never question the idea that we have to cover gray hair?I consider myself a feminist. I consider myself a non-conformist. But why did I never question the idea that we have to cover gray hair?
Like a lot of young women, it honestly never occurred to me to let my gray hair grow out. I was “too young” for that.
But how could I be too young for gray hair when my body was telling me that it was time? Why did I deny my body and deny Mother Nature?
It seems so anti-feminist to me now.
The Tedium of the Gray Hair Cycle
Was it fun to go to the salon and choose new shades of hair color? Was it fun to sit there for two hours and chat with my hairdresser and read magazines and commune with other women?
Yes, for years it was fun – until it wasn’t.
What was once a fun bit of “me time” in a rather hectic life became just another tedious chore.
It was just such a boring, predictable cycle:
After coloring, my hair would look good for a few days: shiny, glossy, and smooth. Within 2-3 days, the gray roots would start to show… and a week after coloring, the frizz would appear.
I got caught in a cycle of dyeing my hair to not only cover the gray roots but also to get my hair to look shiny and smooth again. Coloring my hair once a month only left me with good-looking hair for about a week. Ugh!
The Expense… Oh, the Expense!
Someone had to pay for all this fun – and pay, I did.
Being a somewhat uncoordinated person, I usually went to the salon to get my hair colored. In Los Angeles, at not-too-fancy salons, this generally cost me around $85-$110 a visit.
Considering how often I “had” to dye my hair, I sometimes alternated salon visits with home dye jobs, for around $8/box of hair dye.
Between coloring cycles, my hair looked dull and frizzy. So, I spent a lot of money on products.
In the hopes of making my hair look (somewhat) decent, I purchased:
Maintaining somewhat-decent-looking hair was definitely NOT cheap!
The Physical Toll of Dyeing
For years, I had no physical reaction to hair dye. But as I got older, that changed.
In my late 40s, the dye started irritating my scalp. I’d get uncontrollably itchy. Sometimes, it felt like the dye was burning my scalp.
And every time I washed or brushed my hair, I lost a LOT of hair. We had to buy a special drain trap to keep my hair from clogging the drain.
Yet I didn’t stop the cycle long enough to connect the dots that this chasing-the-roots business was costing me my time, my money, and my health.
EMBRACING THE GRAY AT 50
By my late forties, I started to really give some serious thought to ditching the dye. I decided (arbitrarily) that 50 would be the perfect age to finally do it!
I confided my desire to go gray by 50 to a couple of my friends, and the general consensus was “You’ll look old” or “you’re too young to go gray.”
I let the fear of looking old hold me back for a while, but then I lost a childhood friend to cancer. And it was a BIG kick in the pants…
How could I fret about looking/getting older, when some people would give their lives for just ONE more day with their family or friends?
So I moved forward with my plan. I got held back a bit by an unsupportive, anti-gray hairdresser, but at age 50, I decided I’d had enough.
On February 22, 2018, I bought a box of hair dye, colored my hair at home in time for my 25th anniversary. And I never dyed it again.
HOW I WENT GRAY FROM DARK BRUNETTE HAIR
After making up my mind, I realized I had to figure out exactly how to go gray.
My husband had it easy – he’s a natural blonde, and the gray that came in blended beautifully with his natural hair color.
But I had to go gray from dark dyed brunette hair! I felt a little flummoxed as I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
After giving it some thought, I came up with these paramaters:
1) I wanted to keep my hair relatively long
2) I was DONE with chemical treatments
3) I did not want to go gray quickly
That only left one route open to me – going gray cold turkey with long hair.
As I reiterate over and over on this blog, there are SO many ways to go gray.
But for my personality and my temperament, the cold turkey grow out was the only option I considered. My brunette identity was important to me and I knew it would be traumatic for me to go gray quickly.
And boy, did it NOT go quickly. My hair grows faster than average (about 3/4″ a month) and it still took me exactly two years to grow my silver hair out to shoulder-length.
And you know what’s crazy?
I loved every freaking, crazy minute of it!
WHY I LOVED GOING GRAY COLD TURKEY
The day I decided to stop dyeing, I felt like a huge weight had been taken off my shoulders; I felt this incredible sense of liberation that hasn’t abated in the two-years since I started my gray hair grow out.
Like a lot of women, I found the cold-turkey gray grow out NOT as daunting as I thought it would be.
Feeling confident about my choice to ditch the dye made it so much easier to go out in public with a massive skunk stripe running down the center of my hairline.
It takes balls (big balls!) to go out in public with gray roots, and I felt rebellious for the first time in years. It was a great feeling!
It might seem silly to some people, but growing out your gray hair over a long period of time – in a culture that wants women to conform to beauty norms – is a GREAT way to bolster your self-confidence and reassess what’s important to you and what you’re willing to put up with.
The #metoo movement definitely triggered something in me and it informed my feelings about the gray hair grow-out. (It forced me to question why we think it’s acceptable for women to be shamed into hiding any signs of age, for one thing!)
It also helped to see this gray grow-out as one long science experiment. It was FUN to watch my hair change over time.
For instance, since I alternated between home and salon dyes the year before I ditched the dye, it quickly became apparent that salon dyes are definitely worth the money if you are interested in long-term color that doesn’t fade easily.
The only thing that drove me a bit crazy during the transition to gray hair was that my dyed ends eventually turned brassy orange.
I used blue shampoo to combat the brassiness but eventually, even that stopped working and I just decided to live with orange ends.
MY TWO YEAR GRAY GROWOUT IN PICTURES:
Do you want to know how long it took me to get used to the idea of no longer being a brunette? 22 months! ?
So I definitely made the right choice to go gray the slow way. It gave me time to get used to my silver hair. I love it now!
And the texture? It’s not coarse & wiry, as I feared… Instead, it’s shiny, frizz-free, and thick.
I no longer lose a ton of hair in the shower. I honestly figured I was losing hair due to my age (hormones!), but it seems to have been a reaction to the dye.
What a relief!
REACTIONS TO MY TWO-YEAR GRAY HAIR GROWOUT
I was lucky that I had very supportive friends and family members.
My husband is the kind of guy that would NEVER tell me what to do (for his own safety, haha! – no, but seriously, he is the most supportive sweetheart of a husband and he loves my gray hair).
One of my children is on the spectrum, and he had a hard time at first – he doesn’t like change, and he worried that my hair turning gray meant that I was rapidly aging and about to die (yikes!).
Once we sorted that out, he’s been fine with the change from having a dark brunette Mom to a gray one.
I have to say, in the two years since I started this process, I’ve only had one or two in-person negative remarks about my gray hair.
People snickering at my skunk stripe or looking astonished when they saw me going gray? That’s a different story! But since I felt good about my choice, it rolled off my back.
It dismayed me sometimes to see the countless remarks in the gray hair Facebook groups about how to avoid the “ugly” phase of going gray. Hearing your hair described as ugly definitely takes one aback!
Someone also asked me how they could avoid having their hair look like mine when they went gray. Ouch!
I also received myriad “helpful” comments to “just cut off your hair” or “just dye it gray.”
Hint: It’s not that easy to dye your hair gray. You can choose salon methods to go gray, for sure – and that’s a great option for many women. But for me? My hair was already very damaged and I was tired of throwing money and time at it, so the cold turkey route worked best for me.
For some women, the cold turkey option is NOT the best choice, and that’s fine! We all have our reasons for choosing the path we take, and all the methods of going gray are equally valid.
In the long run, feeling good about my choice helped me get through all this. Being an extrovert and a person with strong boundaries also helped.
The cold-turkey transition to gray is probably not the best option if you don’t like people getting all up in your business! Because, believe me, they will!
But the good news? Once you get through the transition phase and are all-gray, it seems to be universally true (according to my fellow silver sisters in the gray hair Facebook groups) that most people LOVE your gray hair.
I get more compliments on my hair now than I ever did when it was dyed. It’s a nice boost!
THE SILVER SISTER COMMUNITY
Without a doubt, that online silver sisterhood is what kept me going. It made going gray so much easier and fun!
The week after I decided to start letting my gray grow in, I posted my concerns about losing my brunette identity in one of the groups and got this amazing response back from one of the Admins:
“Welcome Katie? I could never picture myself without dark hair either..but now, I could never imagine having dark hair again! I thought I was losing that girl..the pale faced, dark-haired tall girl..but I wasn’t..I was just hiding a badass silver-haired chick under all that hair dye..I’ve had a lot of compliments from young people..they think it’s cool..and I bet it will be the same for you..I can tell you’re going to totally rock your grow out and your silver will look gorgeous?????”
That kind of support makes this kind of change so much easier!
When we are constantly bombarded by messages that gray hair is ugly, or that it will make you look old, or it means that you’ve “let yourself go”, hearing that it’s OK to be gray is very helpful!
MY FAVORITE PRODUCTS
I’ve written extensively about gray hair products on this blog, but here are the products that I used while I transitioned from brunette to gray hair:
BTWCo. Daily Moisturizing Shampoo and Daily Moisturizing Conditioner: These products were made by our fellow silver sister, Lauren Stein and I love that they are cruelty-free, sulfate-free, and silicone-free. My whole family uses them – they work for all hair types!
Joico Blue Shampoo – I used it once a week to combat orange brassiness as my dye faded (I put it on dry hair for 5 minutes before lathering in the shower). It helped for at least the first year, and then it got to the point where my ends were so orange NOTHING would help.
I tried Overtone on the brassy ends, with mixed results. Overtone’s customer service warned me that my dyed ends were probably too dark to work well with their products, and they were right.
Neutrogena Clarifying Shampoo: I used this once a week to remove product build-up and to fade my dye. In hindsight, clarifying my hair once a week may have made my ends more brassy. C’est la vie!
Joico K-PAK Intense Hydrator Treatment – I used this in place of conditioner any time I shampooed with blue shampoo or clarifying shampoo since those can be very drying. I left it on anywhere from 10-30 minutes before rinsing out. It’s amazing!
Now that my hair is all-natural, my main concern is to avoid yellowing in my gray hair.
To that end, I always spray my hair with thermal protectant before I use heat styling tools. And I have started letting my hair air-dry most of the time.
Contrary to the myths we’ve all heard about gray hair, my air-dried naturally gray hair is smooth, shiny and frizz-free!
To keep my gray hair bright, I use Pantene Pro-V Silver Expressions once a month or so – it’s not harsh or drying, and it really does make my silver hair shine. (I follow it up with the Joico K-Pak)
And my hands-down favorite product is QuickSilverHair Clay – I use it once a month to clarify my hair and to brighten my silvers. It’s fantastic!
I started this blog because I wanted to show women that going gray can be fun and liberating, but I would never suggest that all women should stop dyeing. It’s such a personal choice!
But for years, it didn’t feel like I had the choice to embrace my gray. I’m so glad that I finally saw the light. I feel like “me” again. It’s a great feeling.
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