Gray Matters: Why and how to stop coloring your hair

Barbara Barnes sporting gorgeous gray hair

Tired of the time and effort it takes to banish your gray hair? Maybe it's time to embrace it.

I remember how it started. I was at the beauty salon waiting to have my hair highlighted when my hairdresser sighed, "This just isn't going to work anymore." He went back to his mixing room — my situation demanded a new set of chemicals. I was relatively young at that time, in my mid-thirties, and didn't think of questioning what he was about to do.

After applying a potion that cleared my sinuses and made my eyes water, my hair was uniformly brown. Instead of highlighting my hair, which he'd been doing for a number of years to disguise the silver threads that were inching their way into my golden brown locks, he'd masked my entire head of hair with a single color.

It was a bit of a shock but much better, he assured me, than having any gray hair. At the time I agreed. A woman in her mid-thirties is too young for gray hair. (I've since discovered that most women, by the time they reach their mid thirties, have started to find some gray hairs in their head. I was neither a freak nor aging prematurely, simply an average woman growing older.)

Although I was free of all gray, I had entered into a different kind of bondage. Dyed hair may retain the color it's been given, but it is a fact of nature that hair does grow — dyeing is only a temporary fix. At the time I didn't anticipate the long-term commitment I'd unintentionally embarked upon. I left the salon with an appointment in five weeks for a touch-up. And so it has gone for the last 20 years. Until now.

Gray's for me

I've decided to stop fighting Mother Nature and to let my hair go gray (or grey as some spell it).

Luckily for me and others struggling with this issue, there's support in unexpected places. I'm referring to the realm of mass culture, which until recently has promoted the look, attitude, and power of youth. But, the days when gray-haired models could only advertise products for the elderly are over. In movies, magazines, advertisements, catalogs, and even in certain Hollywood celebrities, we see and feel the presence of gray hair as a vital life force. Not only do we see women with short, well-groomed gray bobs, but those who let their long, tousled gray flag fly. The gorgeous gray-haired model with the non-nonsense gaze grabs our attention. She is a beautiful woman and would be no matter what color her hair, but with gray hair, she is grand.

Although the choice to grow out colored hair to natural gray isn't a matter of life and death, it touches many of us at levels deeper than the surface. It can force us to test personal resolve, question self-worth, and examine what makes us feel of value to others. It's nice to pick up a magazine and know we aren't alone. 

There are several reasons I chose to stop coloring my hair — the harsh chemicals, the time involved — but the most important was freedom. Freedom to schedule a visit to the hairdresser (or a run to the drug store) when I felt like it, not to have that visit or run dictated by those tell-tale roots. Freedom just to be myself, and not have hair color be an issue.

Going public

Funny thing about going gray. Unlike becoming a brunette or redhead, which can happen in a matter of hours, going gray is a process that takes months. There is no hair dye available commercially, at least none that I'm aware of, that lets you open a tube and suddenly become a grayhead. Going gray is not for the impulsive or those who want immediate gratification. Since the project is long term, it takes a significant amount of commitment, explanation, justification, and soul-searching, directed at yourself, and probably at those you know.

Although making the choice to go gray was a personal one, I was surprised at how many people seemed to be affected by it. Showing my gray hair was like letting a secret out, and people were interested. I'd gone public. When I let my co-workers know I was letting the gray grow out, the reactions were mixed. Most of the women in the office were curious, given the fact that this was a path that sooner or later they might tread.

Some reactions were as doubtful as if I had stated that I was moving to Antarctica. "Are you sure you want to do this?" one colleague asked. Another office mate told me, "I wish I were as brave as you, to do this while you're still working. I'd like to go gray too, but I'm waiting 'til I retire." She also told me that when she retires she'll no longer need nice clothes. I considered these reactions from my colleagues. I wasn't really troubled and I knew that my colleagues weren't, either. The subject of me and my gray hair was a diversion, much needed, in the eight hours spent at the office. They didn't take it personally or tell me not to do it. My mother, however, did.

My Mother's view

My mother's hair started turning gray in her early thirties, and for many years she dyed it, or as she would say, "tinted." But by the time she was in her mid-fifties, she had allowed her hair to return to its natural color, a soft melding of gray, slate, and white. Now, at eighty, her hair is as white as snow. It is striking and beautiful. Yet despite her own choice not to color her hair, her advice to me, her daughter, was this: "I wouldn't advise letting your hair turn gray. People will treat you differently. They won't want to drive behind you."

I was fairly sure she had another reason, which she was too sensitive to voice: With gray hair, I might no longer be attractive to men. Mom loves men and is a devoted fan of romance novels; they are a comforting read, ending happily with the heroine finding her hero.

I like men too, and when I was younger played the role of a heroine in search of her hero — nature and nurture demanded it. Now that I'm older, I don't want to play any part other than myself. I hope the gray in my hair will not make me less attractive to men, or anyone. In the meantime, Mom continues to watch my life as she would read a romance novel and hope it will turn out happily.

But beyond the skepticism and doubt, many of the people to whom I've felt the need to explain my going-gray process have reacted with enthusiasm and support, including my sister-in-law, who has never withheld an opinion, and the barista at a local Starbucks. I also got the nod from my brother, six years younger but completely gray in hair and beard. And even my hairdresser, after I made it clear I was determined to do this thing, has become one of my strongest allies. We are a team in the process of going gray. But how to do it?

What is the process?

Despite all the advice in magazines and on the Internet, sensible and not, on how to achieve a full head of naturally colored gray hair, it boiled down to this: I had to let it grow. That is easier said than done. Despite resolving to be free of artificial coloring, the line of demarcation between the color-treated and natural growth made a more dramatic statement than is my style. In addition, there is the vanity factor. After considerable research, I found what seemed to be a reasonable compromise. I could transition to gray hair gradually, and soften the line of demarcation with a process called lowlighting.

This is where my hairdresser, Kay, came in. When I asked Kay about lowlighting, she knew exactly what was needed. Instead of highlighting my hair with a lighter color, she would weave in a darker one, close to my pre-gray natural color, and let the gray hair become the lighter threads, the highlights. I wanted to get started right away, but it's better to wait until at least an inch or more of gray is exposed before applying the lowlights. She recommended I let the gray grow out as long as I could stand it, which I did.

It was mildly painful but edifying. I finally found out after about three months and an inch and a half of growth how gray my hair was. I discovered that my natural pattern of coloring was not a single drab color but a range of interesting tones and shades. Mother Nature must have known what She was doing, because it wasn't so bad.

Mother Nature's pallette

How does nature trigger the transition from a color such as brown or black to gray? Each strand of hair on our head is the product of an individual hair follicle. The color of the hair that grows from this follicle comes from the melanin or pigment that is produced by a type of cell called a melanocyte. These cells act like little pots of paint, tiny wells of color. How light or dark your hair turns out to be is a result of the type and distribution of these melanocyte cells, which in turn is determined by your genetic make-up. Genetics is also a major factor in when your hair will turn gray.

Most women by age 35 have some gray hair. When the production of melanin by the melanocyte cells slows down, when that little pot of pigment begins to dry up, the color in that strand of hair begins to fade, to gray. Gray hair has less melanin than brown hair; white hair has no melanin at all. Because each strand of hair is colored by its own pigment pot, and because these pigment pots dry up at different times and rates, the graying process is usually a gradual one. Today research is exploring the possibility that melanocyte cells that have stopped producing pigment might be convinced to turn the function on again. The future may give us the option of no gray hair, but it is not available yet.

Gray is grand

In some cultures, gray hair represents qualities — maturity, responsibility, wisdom — that deserve to be valued by everyone. Jean Shinoda Bolen, in "Goddesses in Older Women", cites the connection between aging and wisdom revered by these traditions. After menopause, she explains, women are said to retain the blood in their bodies, doing so being a sign of wisdom. The time for us to make babies has passed, but if we've mated and had children, or just grown beyond the reproductive years, Mother Nature gives us a bit of a break. Creative energy is with us still, and can be shifted to tasks other than the continuation of the species. For some of us, it no longer becomes necessary to maintain the look of a woman in her reproductive years. We can let our hair be gray and know we are as vital and full of potential as ever, which may be more attractive than anything else we could do.

Today as I look at my hair, I see it is neither completely gray nor silver nor white. It is a work-in-progress, some natural shades, some not, but the effect pleases and I know where I'm going with the process.

A happy discovery along the way is that the gray I see makes me feel older, but not old. It clarifies who I am and who I am not, freeing me from much that is unnecessary. I am not a young woman anymore. I've been there, done that. What I am now is a woman in midlife, a time I want to experience fully. Accepting gray hair is part of my journey, and as I continue, it's more and more obvious that gray matters.

Barbara Barnes holds a bachelor's degree in biology and a master's degree in English literature from San Diego State University. She has worked in higher education since her student days, spending most of her career as an academic advisor for undergraduates. Barbara lives in La Mesa, California, with her husband, two dogs, and five cats.

Barb
Wish Ms. Barnes had written this article two years ago when I, too, decided to give up the "highlights" and let nature take over. The freedom to have a glowing head of silver hair sans dyes and chemical treatments-not to mention saving the nearly $90.00 a month in hairdressing fees- is wonderful....and several of my male acquaintances have commented favorably on my hair( an occurrence that never happened when I was a "bottle blond).
Visitor
I too started growing out my colour about eight months ago. The responses from people were mixed ... my daughter protested the loudest until the gray (silver really) was down around ear level, and then she saw that "it really suited me", and her fear disolved, as she felt okay about it. The one who protested most was my father, who insisted that it looked messy. I have a nice cut, and take care of my locks - I have black hair with a great patch of silver that frames my face ... I think I am pretty cute. So, thank you for writing this article, as you don't see much in the way of great cuts for us silver gals. I do get urges to pick up the bottle again, strong urges to get some colour happening ... then it passes ... they come in waves ... feelings of a desire for the salon experience... then I think of all of the chemicals that I would be putting into my body, and the feeling passes. I am a single woman, and a single woman with gray hair at that... regardless, I am still a rocker, and I still feel GREAT!!!
Visitor
If you wish to go silver thats fine. I do not know what your former hair color was. I hate my silver strands. If I were to go all silver at once I might try it. I have very dark hair and the silvers are not flattering on me. -- Caderea Parului
Nancy
Your article struck a chord with me. Letting my natural gray hair come in was part of my version of Freedom 55. At 55, I have decided to let go of things that have been weighing me down. Those things include resentment toward anyone who has hurt me in the past, extra pounds, and yes, coloring those gray hairs. As my hair is now considerably more salt than pepper, I am getting more and more compliments from my co-workers. Even my husband tells me that he prefers the natural look. Someone told me that people who let their hair go gray act older. I disagree. I feel younger, lighter, free of the slavery of that monthly chemical assault. Letting my hair go gray has been a lesson on embracing who I am.
Visitor
I was 15 when I started plucking out silver hairs and by 17 was coloring my hair regularly. Spring forward about 40 years and I'm REALLY tired of this. My hair is completely beautifully silver where it has grown out, and although it's a temptation to continue, as I don't look my age, I'm going to join my free sisters and just "let it shine." Thanks for the encouraging entries.
Terri
I researched and read numerous articles about returning to my "natural" color. Your article not only suggested a way for me and my hair stylist to make the transition, but also addressed some of the psychological, emotional and social aspects. Today I put the change into action. I know it will take months before I see the final results, but your article gave me the courage to finally say, "OK, let's do it!"
julie
I know that with all the problems in the world today, my decision of whether or not to go gray is such a nothing problem, but for some strange reason, it's still not easy to do and makes me very nervous to embark on the journey of going gray. I'm ashamed to say that I think it's probably the vanity factor that makes it so hard. I tried 5 years ago and was doing fairly well with it until my daughter's engagement. That's when I gave in and started coloring again; I felt like I would look too old in the wedding photos. Now, I'm ready to try again, really ready this time. I'm now in my fifties, and besides being tired of the coloring sessions, I want to be an authentic person, hair and all. I was feeling weak today thinking about the holidays and having my gray roots showing, but Barbara's article has inspired me to keep going! I also appreciate the practical advice about lowlighting. Thank you so much.
Kathy
I had dark, dark brown hair, coloring it from age 20 to age 50. I decided it was time to get rid of one hassle in my life. My colorist stripped some color from hair, lowlighted, highlighted and probably in-between lighted! I came out with silver, white, light brown and dark brown blended hair. In the year since, I've had it cut several times (I wear it short), lopping off most of the artificial color. It's now about 80% natural, and I'm done with any other coloring. It's bright white in the front and top, with a little darker hair in the back. Be sure to check the color clothing you're wearing and your accessories. I rediscovered the convenience of the old "seasonal" coloring palette (I'm a winter); lo and behold, it's so flattering to wear those jewel tones and black and white! I'm very happy with my decision, get favorable feedback from some people and silence from others, and truly don't care. I'm at the point in life where if I like something, I don't need approval from others. Reclaim your freedom from hair color!
Sharon Danley
I'm in the process now of letting go and graying it up. I found your article and wanted to thank you for your shared experience. I am a pro makeup and hair artist and have had difficulty finding hair wefts of not only various shades, but any of gray in order to make the variety of hairpieces I often wear to augment my volume and for ease and speed of styling. <!-- But lo and behold I found a supplier and now I'm on the gray trail and documenting the process for my own clients. If you're interested you can follow me on facebook for free daily beauty tips. Just click "like". http://www.facebook.com/sharondanleybeauty. And here's a note with a picture at Stage One http://www.facebook.com/#!/notes/toronto-makeup-artist-hairstylist-high-def-specialist-sharon-danley/embracing-your-gray-hair-stage-1/181662995197572 --> Thanks again for sharing - much appreciated. Sharon Danley Celebrity Master Artist
Linda
I am 58 and have been highlighting my dark brown hair for 32 years. I am ready to gray. Thank you for your story....I'll bring it to my next hairdresser visit to guide her.
Ellen 1
Where can I find the stylist mentioned in this article "Kay" in San Diego who can help me through this process? Thanks
river
How do you do it yourself? Many color their hair successfully, and it would be great if we didn't have to go to a stylist for low lighting to blend the natural with the dyed hair.
Kristin
Thanks for the encouragement. I'm 42 and have made it 5 months into the grow out process. About 6 weeks ago I was tempted to color it but I'm now starting to like it!!! I'm working on not needing others' approval to make my choices feel validated, and this is the perfect opportunity! I'm pregnant with my 4 th child right now and am so thrilled to keep the chemicals and their fumes away from me! Not to mention I don't have to bother to do it every single month. Hoping nobody thinks my baby or other kids are my grandiose, but what's so bad about that! I'm hoping I keep my resolve if that happens.
julianne
Hi kristin... I just decided yesterday when i was sitting at the salon that i have had it with hair dye burning my scalp...i have long hair...i am 45 years old...and i am ready to be my authentic self! My mother was gray at a very young age...i am a bit nervous about the transition....do you think getting low lights is a good idea! You inspire me. Here's. to the silver sisters! Sincerely,julianne
Jill Dolan
Letting my hair go natural was rather like unwrapping a birthday package....wondering what was going to manifest.. This was a process that took place over a couple of years - internally and externally. Here is the secret; find a hairdresser that thinks gray hair is "sexy" - this is what I did and he helped me through the entire process of letting my hair grow out naturally and was encouraging. I had been coloring, highlighting, blending, processing - you name it - the whole nine yards since my 20's and keeping my hair up entailed more and more money, more and more time - I was married to the hair chair! I have never felt so liberated and enlighted until I let my natural hair grow in. No more lengthy visits to the salon, watching my hair turn brassy, keeping it out of the sun, etc and the list can go on! I thoroughly embrace my silver hair and get compliments. The key I feel is eating well, exercising and re-invention it all works together. Here is a toast to gray hair and all the wonders this can bring..
Jan
Thanks for your encouraging comments. After coloring my hair for 15 years, and at age 57, I've decided to go natural/gray. I've developed an allergy to hair dye that has become intolerable. Since I was unsure how to go about letting my hair go gray, I really appreciate your recommendations about using low lighting. I'm ready to "embrace" the gray.
Visitor
This is beautiful. I too am getting tired of the effort (and self-delusion) it takes to remain medium brown when nature is effortlessly threading my hair with silver. I'll have to think some more, but mentally I feel poised to make the leap in the not terribly distant future.
djaz
A couple people, actually, displayed a 'deer eyes in headlights' look when I started to let the silver come out. My natural color is dark brown to black, so, I guess, it is a shock to some. I've been gray/white since I was 24 years old and went through a physical and emotional trauma. Covering it is not an option, because it's resistive, even, to salon treatments and is over conditioned with coloring. I have one more trim to go and the rest of the last coloring will be gone. My silver is shiny, bouncy and volumnous, as my hair always was before the world of dyes. I do suggest that if you want to grow it out, get a nice short(er) pixie, or, layer cut. Your artificial color will blend in better as it grows out. Also, the salons now have an actual "will wash out" temporary color for transitions. For me, as an active 53 year old, I just can't be bothered any longer with such things. My perspective these days is how I see the world around me and not so much how people see me. Enjoy!
Mrs. P.
I have found this particular article and the comments the MOST inspiring I have come across. I have been growing out my hair (gray) for 6 mos. with mixed reviews from friends and Husband. I am beginning to feel more confident since I am newly 58, that my decision to go gray now is for me. I was coloring my hair for them. I have an appt. tomorrow for a cut, which will cut more of the color off. I finally am determined to do what is right for ME, not what they think I should do. And this decision feels right for me. Thank you all for your inspiration as we march forward in our Sister-hood. Peace to the World
Gina
I am a salon owner who decided to stop doing chemical services at the salon in January of this year. Personally, I made the decision to grow my natural color about 6 months ago. I am 44 and I naturally have medium to dark brown/auburn hair. The gray is mostly in the temples and around the part line. I do get tempted to color every now and then, but the feeling usually goes away after a while. This whole process so far has given me more confidence in myself as well as self acceptance. I started out doing it because I did not want to deal with the harmful chemicals anymore, but it really opened my eyes to a whole new view of the world. My boyfriend's mom has strikingly beautiful silver hair and continually gets compliments by men and women of all ages. I think beauty really is an attitude. It really does come from inside. I respect women's choices and the decision to color or not is a very personal one. Maybe someday in the future I will color again, but for now I am embracing nature. Peace and Blessings, Gina
Visitor
I had a hair that was gray at the end then turned dark towards the root. Can't find explanation on that one.
Jane
Thank you, Barbara, for this beautifully written account of your experience thus far. I don't know what you looked like before, but you're beautiful now. Over the last few years, I have been on and off the fence about going gray. I'm now 43 and so tired of salon trips, large salon bills, stinky, harmful chemicals and all the other hassles. I've been doing this since my early 30s. My BF is supportive, and my friends and family are also supportive (in fact, my big sis and I are doing this together). I am enjoying my age and my life. I am grateful for good health and wonderful friends and family. I feel that my life is more or less complete and I'm caring less and less what others may think I should look like. It's time. And your post here is encouraging and inspiring. I'll revisit this anytime I feel I'm losing my resolve. Already, I have about an inch of grey and white! Yes, white! Wow. My mom grayed early and is now a beautiful silver and white at 70. I hope my path follows hers. Peace and love, Jane in Virginia
Susanna
Thank you for writing this article! One thing you didn't mention and I'd like to mention is the numerous illnesses associated with some women when they subject themselves to coloring their hair. Bladder infections, migraines and allergies were a few of my maladies that I suffered with for years before I associated them with hair coloring. And yet...... I continued to dye my hair and suffer. (Note to anyone reading this -- Google 'hair dye and health' and spend the afternoon reading the plethora of information out there) I've decided to go with the grey hair as a direct results of the 'hot' celebrities that I've noticed who have gone gray.. Jamie Lee Curtis and Helen Mirren (to name a few), I've decided to embrace my greys. I've made my mantra 'They look great -- I can too!' Barbara, seriously thank you for this article, as there is so little information on this process out in the cyberworld... Like you stated few professionals are supportive of the process and insist that I am too beautiful to go gray! Hogwash! I feel I will be healthier, a little wealthier and all the more better being true to my authentic self... It is a process and one that I will enjoy until I have a shinning star of silver up above ... Chuckle a bit when you read this, as growing my hair out is a process for everyone in my life... my kids and husband are getting used to the process. I tell them all that I've earned every grey hair... and they helped make them!
Sunny Markham
I'm 57 and have been a dyed-in-the-wool redhead for the past 38 years. The red hair has been my "signature" look. But my hair has been falling out by the handful for the past couple of years. I'm now sobering to the fact that it's better to age with beautiful silver hair than with no hair at all! Just about an hour ago, I decided no more hair coloring for me! It's a scary revelation, so I looked online for support and immediately found your generous article. I'm ready to let the dye go. Plus, PLUS I'm relieved that I'll be putting fewer chemicals on my skull. Sunny Markham
Martina
Just read your post. If your hair is falling out, may be a good idea to have your thyroid checked. It's one of the first symptoms of an under-active thyroid gland. Good for you for stopping the colouring. M/.
Susan
Found this when I was seeking advice just before a visit to my hairdresser for a cut and - normally - fresh highlights. Was dithering about the highlights this time and now have definitely decided to stop. Your comments about work colleagues were particularly useful, since like you, I work in higher education, so it's a very young work environment.
Linda S.
Wonderful article. Thank you so much for this great article. I started going gray in my 30s. I also started having my hair dyed because the hairdresser said I needed it to hide my increasing gray hair. And yes, too young to go gray. Well I just turned 59 and am tired of the three hourly visits to the hairdresser every six weeks, not to mention the money it's costing. I'm tired of "pretending" to have "young" hair. I kept the gray at bay for over 25 years but now I feel it's time I let the "real" me out. I'm still a little worried how I'll go with the roots growing out but I'll do my best to see it out. I'll mention the lowlighting to my hairdresser too. Thanks again.
PeggyK
Thank you for the article. I decided about a month ago to let my gray grow out. I have a question that I haven't seen addressed. Did you need to buy new make-up? Did it alter your coloring? I'm 61 and have noticed for about the last 6 months that no matter what brand of foundation I buy, nothing looks good anymore. That was why I decided to go gray. I'm hoping that will fix the problem. Anybody else having this problem?
AuntieMeen
I stopped coloring my hair after almost 25 years (I started going gray at 26). The decision drove my mother around the bend - she still colors her hair at 83! I was inspired by a picture of a model in Vogue, with beautiful shoulder length gray hair, and I thought why not give it a try? Recently I have been so concerned over putting only organic food in our bodies and avoiding chemicals and pesticides, it seemed incongruous to keep coloring my hair. I thought about low lights or some other transitional coloring, but I really wanted to stop with the chemicals on my head so I just went cold turkey. I did some research and found an article about make-up and gray hair, and they suggested using only "clear, bright colors" in make up and clothing to complement your new gray hair. I switched blush and eye makeup color but kept the same foundation. I especially try and complement my eye color (blue) and I get out in the sun whenever possible to get some natural color on my skin (and vitamin D in my body). My transition (after more than a year) has been fabulous - I love my natural hair color, salt and pepper on the sides and silvery white at my temples, blending beautifully into my old blonde dye at the bottom of my shoulder length hair. I started practicing yoga a couple of years before this, and my instructors all had the same message - you must learn to love yourself as you are before real change can take place. I know, it sounds like a paradox, but I have found it to be true. Five years ago I would not have dreamed of giving up the dye, I was so terrified of what I might look like, how gray I really was. Now, I would not dream of coloring my hair. Good luck to you all on your journey to self acceptance and love.
Pati
I'm a youthful looking 57 year old woman.( am an artist and teach Yoga part time ). I started going gray at 26(My hair was naturally almost black) I began to color it permanently by 30. I stopped coloring in February 2011 after trying on a silver white wig at a friend's home.(an 88 year old amazing woman who is full of life and very positive). She is an actress and had all these great wigs. When I saw myself as silver haired the first thing I noticed is how much nicer it made my skin look... and healthier too. I now have 3-4 inches of amazing silver/white hair and I can't wait until it is fully transitioned. My hair feels healthier,and is very shiny. I wear it up in a bun and put a gray hairband around the dark hair bun to blend it in. From the front I am totally gray!! I plan to wear it long just as I always have. I'm fortunate to have good hair. To view a really inspiring gray -go to the website of model/photographer Yasmina Rossi. Take care-enjoy THE GRAYS!!! Pati .
Visitor
i want to go gray but i cant because i'm not married and my mother and other family members said that if i go to gray hair no one will like me.i am 32 and i color my hair when i was 26.i am too tired of coloring my hair
Visitor
Why don't you try it and see for yourself, instead of just listening to what your family says? A lot of men prefer women who are authentic, and you can always dye it again if you don't like it natural. When I met the man who became my husband I had dyed blond hair; after we moved in together I started to grow out my natural color - brown with gray streaks - and he likes it much better now!
jomck
I don't know where your family came up with a belief like that, but IT ISN'T TRUE IN THE LEAST! Most times what people say, is all about them and not about you at all...always keep this in mind. It comes from low self-esteem and what they think of themselves. Dissect this ridiculous statement that no one will like you because of your going gray, subsequently, no one will want to marry you. Does that truly make sense to you? It sounds to me, as if your family is into appearances rather than being authentic and real. I wore nail and toenail polish and died my hair for over fifty years because I felt ugly and I wanted to be more than I was. I felt God had created an ugly woman, even though, people would comment on how attractive I was, I refused to believe them. I wanted to cover up the ugliness I felt about myself and I thought I would find it in those bottles. Now, if a person wants to polish their nails/toenails or dye their hair, that's fine, but I was doing it for the wrong reasons. I'm sixty-four years old and a very spiritual, attractive woman, but my attractiveness today comes from living life and going through its experiences that have changed me and made me different, therefore, making me a better person. I have a glow about me. To be authentic and real, in other words, who you really are is a gift and it draws people of your own kind (good) people to you. There are certain people who are drawn to others who dress high dollar, flash those polished nails/toenails around and dyed hair, impressed with what they drive and live in... I speak from experience, those people are the ones who will not be true to you or your close friend. Sadly, they just don't know how to be a friend, it's not their fault. Again, I'm not being critical of polish or hair dye, it's just the motive and attitude that goes along with it. Same thing with men, there are men who are attracted to flashy women and that is perfectly all right BUT they DO NOT make the best boyfriends or husbands or fathers...they're too selfish and into themselves. I'm going to give you a solution to your challenge (just a suggestion)...first off, YOU go about becoming the person (man/female friend)you want to attract. If you want a spiritual, honest, trustworthy, good provider, authentic, real, likes children and animals, considerate, thoughtful, etc. man then YOU must become or possess those attributes yourself. These are just examples...I know you have your own list. There is an old saying "water seeks its own level." In other words, whatever or wherever YOU'RE in your life is what YOU'RE GOING TO ATTRACT. Therefore, I surely would want someone in my life that was authentic and real and accepted me for WHO I was with my beautiful gray toned hair. If he didn't, I guarantee you it would always be something else about you. BUT, THE MOST IMPORTANT FACT OF ALL, is what YOU think and give to YOURSELF...what do you feel about you REGARDLESS of what others tell you. You will get comments after comments and questions of why you're going gray? I'll tell you a secret...women admire other women who have the courage they lack that will step "out of the box" and do something different. They subconsciously want to make you question your decision so you will back down and be like them...not just going gray, but in any bold decision (may I call it jealousy). Look to yourself for what YOU WANT, stand firm and just know the comments will come, but this is your chance to begin making a difference in your life. Two years ago, I took the polish off my nails, toenail polish off and six months ago I stopped the hair dye. I'm celebrating being the real me now...and I love it. My natural nails and toenails have a beautiful color to them and the gray tones coming in my hair are just really pretty. I'm not trying to tell you what to do, but by sharing my experience, strength and hope, I do hope this helps you.
Jayne
I have been going Grey since I was 16 years old as a result I have been dyeing my hair since......I am now 35 years old and tired of dyeing my hair blonde and also the way some people treat women with blonde hair!!!? i.e dumb! also recently I have noticed that my hair has thinned a little along the hairline and last time I dyed my hair my scalp started to burn slightly! My hair is a lovely white colour at the sides and along the front and a dull salt and pepper around the back. This site has given me the courage to stop dyeing my hair and embrace the grey! Although I am worried that guys wont find me attractive with grey hair??
Amy
I'm right there with you. I started getting gray early in my teens and now at 34 I'm completely white at my temples and salt and pepper all over the rest of the top of my head, still brown in back. I'm sick of color and the damage it does to my hair. It's been an ongoing discussion with my husband, but I think I'm going to try to let it grow. My concern is that I'm a teacher and I anticipate a lot of interesting comments from my high schoolers! It's a work in progress and I won't know till it grows for a bit... Wish me luck!
Carol Campbell
Thanks for sharing your story. I recently made the decision to grow out my color and embrace whatever it is that shows up on my head. I have just enough growth to see it is going to be an asphalt colored salt and pepper sort of color. Hey, that's good for me! I decided that I was just going to be true to who I am and anyone who has a problem with it will just have to turn their head. I found just making the decision to be very freeing. I feel like a blank artist's canvas and am excited to see what the picture looks like!
Charlotte
Wow. This is great, a whole community of us who've been tied to the dye. I haven't exactly made up my mind when, but I'm definitely letting my hair grow out, with lowlights for now. What changed my mind? Seeing the exhibit "Beauty Culture" at the Annenberg Space for Photography, (www.annenbergspaceforphotography.org) in LA, photos and video by Lauren Greenfield, on what women will do to look younger. It was frightening and upsetting and turned the page for me. This article was also helpful, so thank you Barbara!
Visitor
I never gave gray hair much thought, even though I knew by the time maternal grandmother was 40 her hair was completely white, and my mother who was psycho about coloring her hair all the time because she claimed her hair was too white also. By the time I was 34 I still had no trace of white or gray hair in my head. That same summer I was diagnosed with breast cancer and all my hair fell out during the chemo process. As it grew back I still did not see any signs of gray. 2 weeks befoe my 40th birthday, I was brushing my hair, its down to the middle of my back now, and my eye caught something shiny and I grabbed the mirror and looked closer and realized I finally found my first gray, it was actually white, hair. I plucked it. I was 45 last Friday, and yes I still pluck and I still refuse to use color, I think its too high maintenance and costly. Although I still dont have many of them. I find them mostly in the back of my head and at the back or the crown of my head. I guess I will fight them till I can fight them no more and then I will give in to a hair color bottle.
ebcangel
I began going salt and pepper at the age of 13. Not grey cause my hairs are stark white. I only started dyeing to keep the kids in school from ripping them out in class. It was just annoying, not really mean. I think they thought they were doing me a favor. Anyways Its been 11 years and I occasionally see whats headed my way which has just gotten progressively worse. I don't really see a reason to color my hair and am growing it out...its quite white. I don't want to cut my hair so i'm going to try color removal and see how it looks and then if nessesary die the remaining hair my narutal color so it doesn't look as weird growing out, then get it trimmed and hopefully in 6-12months have the desired look i was going for. Only problem is i'm fairly pale so i'll have to adjust my makeup to compensate from going from dark brown hair to almost all white in the front.
Joanie
Read the USC study of hair dyes, especially the dark ones.
Andrea
Thanks so much for a wonderful perspective! I'm 59 and have been highlighting my hair for some time--it's very thin so I color because I think it thickens the hair. However, I keep feeling that this is not me--I don't mind my gray hair and would love to see what it looks like w/o color. I have an appt. for highlighting next week and I am going to cancel it today. I would rather use the money for an upgrade in stylist who can give me an awesome cut. Thanks again and thanks to all those who commented positively--the validation is just what I needed!
Lisa M.
I got my first gray hair when I was 16 years old. After that they came in white, and I started coloring my hair at only 25 years of age. Now I'm 50, and I don't want to put any more smelly chemical hair color on my head. I have to touch up the roots every 3 weeks, and I even have a fairly light hair color. My mom was almost all the way white in her twenties, and she has colored her hair off and on over the years. Now she's in her seventies, and she looks really good with her white hair and fair skin. So I decided if she looks great, I can do it too. I'm hoping, for the most part, that people are so caught up in their own lives, that they won't be too concerned one way or another what I do with my hair. My husband thinks it's a great idea, plus my hair will match his. My mom thinks that's fine, and she said that if my 49 year old brother didn't color his hair, it'd be white too. The only person that sounded concerned, so far, is my son. He says he thinks it will be weird. That's OK, he'll get used to it. When I was shopping at the mall yesterday, I found a pretty silver gray down vest and a matching winter scarf that I knew would look fantastic with white hair. Now I'm impatient for the white to come in. I find that I'm warning people ahead of time so they don't freak out. But really, I don't think I care about what others think. I'm doing it for me.
Bill
!! good for you!! I'm tired of women dying their hair to meet some superficial, archaic beauty standard. women are beautiful, it doesn't matter what color their hair is! there's more to be said about confidence than conformity. makeup, hair dye, facial peels, surgery, wonder bra, it's all ridiculous. all that these "beauty products" do is hide your real beauty. encourage all the women you know to just be themselves. do it for themselves. do it for the man in their life. do it for other women. do it to be happy and free.
leolabeth
Thanks for this. What I noticed today is that colored hair so often looks terrible, dried, frizzed, like Easter grass or broomstraw. I'm done with it. Salt and pepper, here I come. May take 15 inches of the "sexy" highlighted section off as soon as possible.
Visitor
Thanks for the article. I am pondering if I should let my hair go gray and I haven't gotten the courage to let it go. I just turned 30 years old, but my hair is 80-90% gray. It started early in my teens and by the time I was in college I had to start dyeing regularly to hide all the gray. I have dark brown hair and it really shows. Now I'm dyeing the roots at home every four weeks and I started to dread the whole process. Maybe one day I will have the courage to take that step, but for now I feel encouraged to see that I'm not the only one fighting this battle.
christine
Thank you so much. I too am ready to grow out and have toyed with the idea for years. After Christmas, I am going to get my hair all cut off. I do not want to wait for it to grow out,and deal with the dramatic separation of root and grow out colors. I am going to the barber with my husband, and have the barber give me a regular boys hair cut and be done with it. I considered low lights, but it would just be more fussing with the hair. I just don't want to do it any more, Dear God I have been dying or weaving my hair since I was 16, and I am 53 now. Time to get free !!!! Thanks again for this article.
Jeaneen
I decided to let my hair go gray last spring. I was tired of the time and expense involved in having my hair colored every 4 weeks. I started going gray when I was 26 and have been coloring for over twenty years. Colored hair doesn't look natural---even if you have a good colorist. I can't believe how freeing it is to not be tied down to the coloring routine. Not to mention all the money I have saved. I started by getting a short cut---which looks really good on me. I've received so many compliments on the short cut and the color. Fortunately, my colored hair was close enough to my natural color that the new growth blends in and I don't have a noticeable "line" or anything. I'm still a little scared of what my hair is going to look like once the processed color is totally grown out, but I think I'm going to like it. Someone told me I looked "regal" the other day.
Kat
I will be 50 in May 2012! I have longish brown hair, as I think geez what color should I be? people say lighter, some say keep it darker! honestly i started to think, what if i didn’t dye it anymore? Would I look old? it’s a big commitment I wonder if i can really do it?? I color my hair at home using the boxed color, so it doesn’t cost me a lot of money, it’s more like I don’t even know what my hair color should be! It’s been about a month now, they time I should dye it , but I am gonna see how long I can do it for! It might look pretty, I have no idea!
Kelly
Kat, I turned 41 in September and have long auburn hair and I can't tell you what my natural hair color is anymore because the only thing growing in anymore is my gray, which I have been covering up since I've been 20... I've been in the Navy for 17 years and will be going on a 7 month deployment in March. so I'm thinking that would be a great time to grow my hair out because I have to wear my hair up anyway... so if you want to start now and be grow out gray hair buddies that would be great, just let me know. You can reach me at dkwilborn@yahoo.com I look forward to hearing from you! Take care, Kelly
redwingsfan
Thanks for making my decision to go gray seem not so crazy! I have been toying with the idea for over a year now. I just had my 52nd bday and I am ready to embrace my gray! I going to try the "lowlight" approach with my hair dresser since I dont want to have to cut my hair shorter than its current shoulder length. It will be 4 weeks Friday since I last colored my hair. Before gray my hair was a very dark brown and I have been shades a little lighter/darker than my natural color for awhile. The new growth seems to be a mix of silver and charcoal, I must say Im excited to see the end result.
Luanne Platt
After seeing the Christma pictures that reveal my only 3 week out growth of gray I've decided to stop this ridiculousness. I'm 56 and have always had very dark hair and have been coloring it for years and years. A hairdresser told me that going gray is very difficult- one needs a lot of support, an updated wardrobe and new make up. Those words kept me from taking the challenge. But really - at this age I've experienced a lot of life and not all of it was easy. going gray can't be THAT traumatic! can it?
wgriffis
I have been thinking about this for a while - I work in a professional environment making many presentations to leadership. I need to look my best - I will be starting to discuss with my hairdresser - on how we approach this. The low light solution seems possible, I am not sure how long we need to grow out the gray - I will have a hard time with this part of the solution, but feel I can probably live with it for a while. Thanks for all of the information - at least it provides a process that can be an opportunity for a natural look and stopping the chemical application to my hair.
sallyatclanville
I took the decision last year to stop the mandatory 6 weekly appointments for hair dyeing. It's taken 6 months and my hair is now very light grey at the top and a darker grey at the sides. Natural hair colour was dark but going grey since early 30s, now 56. I'm now wondering whether to have lowlights or something else to help the pale grey look less old. Support please! I
lbls03755
Wow I just happened on this website at the right time - I too am 57 and have decided to take the step to stop dyeing my hair - so wish me luck. Think it will be messy before it looks any good - so will be suffering for a while I think
terri1024
Thank you for your article - and thanks to the comment makers too... I am 32 and started going gray when I was 13, have been coloring my hair ever since. I've often wondered what it would be like to go gray, started seriously considering it more recently, and in the last few days decided to give it a try. This article gives me a boost of confidence to ride out the first few rough weeks! I am pretty sure my hair is completely white at this point and I am excited to see how it looks!
Candy57
I am another one who has been coloring my hair since I was 16 and now that I am 57 I let my hair go gray. It was at first a matter of a mild case of alopecia and decided it was not worth burning my scalp (last hair dye job) to keep coloring it. The first thing I did was cut it short to get the last bit of color gone although I didn't have a big difference between the new growth and dyed hair. I like it better in the sunlight because the silver/white glitters but I have more "pepper" than I thought I would and can't decide if I like that part of it because I am fair complected with blue eyes. I sometimes think I look drab and tired because of it. I also bought new glasses; they are clear framed and I do like them as they make the color of the white hair really pop. I have gone back to wearing eyeliner and mascara again to make my eyes show up more also and like that. I have noticed I don't look good in yellow (makes the white look yellow) and black looks a little harsh even though I use to wear it all the time with blonde hair. I am learning to love my gray hair and finding clothes color and makeup make a huge difference. On to discovering a new wardrobe. Best to all who are going gray.
redlady821
I have tried to transition to gray several times. This time last year I cut my shoulder length hair into a pixie cut and let my natural gray shine through. I loved it but my husband hated it. I received a lot of compliments at work but my husband said that I would be discriminated against on job interviews and that I needed to color my hair because I looked too old for the work place. Worried that he might be right I dyed my hair again and hated it. I still hate it and feel like my freedom was taken away from me. I am turning 50 in August and I am a mother of two children ages 16 and 18. I am currently in a PhD program and have a great deal of work ahead of me. I don't feel old, and I think that my silver hair is sexy. I work out at the gym and try to keep myself as healthy as possible. I did a color touch up about 3 weeks ago and already I see the bright white halo around my hair line. The other thing is that my skin is no longer as dark as it used to be. My skin is lighter, colors are not the same on me and the gray hair tends to blend in nicely with my complexion. I wish my husband could see what I see. I am back to the drawing board transitioning again and this time I am sticking to it.
txlady
After suffering a mild stroke last year and quitting a twenty nine year smoking addiction I decided to try and live as healthy as possible. And that meant getting rid of the toxic hair color I have been using for over twenty years also. I am still not 100 percent sure that it has not contributed to some of the health problems I have had..time to let my white hair shine through. So, for over a year now, NO cigarettes and NO hair dye. The result is soft, shiny white/gray hair and although it has take some getting used to, I can live with it. The optimum word here is LIVE. Be natural and healthy by fellow boomer ladies...vanity is not worth dying for. Have a wonderful day.
Kim Albertson
This article is EXACTLY what I needed! I began graying in my early 30s and at now at 42, I've recently decided to let Mother Nature do her thing. I've had some mixed reactions as well; although my husband has been supportive of it for several years. Thanks for your article -- I especially love the final paragraph!