Hair: How To Go Gray
If you've been coloring your hair, letting your hair go back to its natural gray is not as easy as it sounds. You can't just let the roots grow out - hair only grows about six inches a year, so you'll look like a skunk for a very long time!
If you care about the gloss and health of your hair, then the safest way to achieve the transition is as follows:
- Get your hair cut into a short, layered style - as short as you possibly can - so you have only a small amount of colored hair left.
- Ask your hairdresser to disguise the color line with lots of highlights. Or consider switching to a semi-permanent.
- Keep having the ends trimmed off and highlights redone every six weeks or so.
Unfortunately it could still take you about six months to make the complete transition, and you'll have some big hairdresser's bills! So it's worth considering other alternatives.
Remove the Color?
You may have read that there's a way to kick-start the process - hair dye remover. Unfortunately it's not as easy as that! Results are very variable. On some hair, dye remover works reasonably well - whereas others see very little effect at all. Sometimes it removes only a percentage of the dye so your hair looks muddy rather than gray. Sometimes it looks great immediately after you use it, but it re-oxidizes shortly after and goes right back to the color you started with. You may even end up with green or orange hair! Not to mention the fact that they are harsh products which can cause breakage.
If you want to try removing the color, go to the hairdresser and have it done professionally. They may not achieve a better result - but if it goes wrong, they'll be obliged to fix it!
The question is . . .
Are you sure gray is a good idea?
Perhaps you're thinking about making the transition because of all the “pro-gray” publicity recently - there have been so many magazine articles, and even whole books! But have you noticed something? All of the beautiful “proud to be gray” women have something in common.
They’re not gray.
Not like the average woman is gray, anyway. The average woman is pepper-and-salt gray, a mix of colours that range from her original hair colour through various faded shades to gray and white. It's quite likely you have uneven patches - a wedge of original color at the nape of the neck is quite common, as are tufts of solid white on top of the head.
Now look at the “gray icons”. Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” – pure white. Helen Mirren – an unblemished platinum.
Pepper and salt looks good on George Clooney - but can you think of a female gray icon who looks like a schnauzer?
The key to being beautifully gray is a uniform colour. A steely dark grey or an “is-it-platinum-or-white?” blonde. Grays like that don’t trigger the “old lady” message in people’s minds. Patchy salt-and-pepper does.
What that means is that if you’re going gray and you want to look good, you may have to color your hair anyway – either to change it back to a "younger" color, or to make your gray a uniform shade, or to even up the pepper-and-salt highlights.
If you decide to opt for gray thinking you'll have less retouches, don't you believe it – gray and white hair dyes tend to discolor and go yellow, so you’ll need just as much maintenance as any other color (just for different reasons).
Tip: Rinse your gray hair with lemon juice once a month to reduce yellow tones caused by pollution.
There are other factors to consider, too.
Reasons Not to Go Gray
It may be wiser not to go gray if:
- Your hair is thinning. Blonde or gray hair can look thinner than darker shades.
- Your hair is frizzy. Coloring will keep your flyaways more in check.
- You have olive skin. Gray can be unflattering because it's a cool tone.
If Not Gray, What?
If you decide not to go gray, that doesn't mean you should stick with the same shade of hair colorant you've been using for years. As your hair changes color, so does your skin. Skin gets paler as we age. That’s why you'll often hear hairdressers say that if you’re going to color your hair, you shouldn’t match your old shade – you should go lighter, to flatter your aging skin.
Unfortunately, the result is too many middle-aged blondes, who end up looking less like Britney and more like retired hookers.
Go lighter if you like, but please – not to extremes! None of us want to look mousey, but caramel, mid-brown or ash brown are often more flattering choices for a brunette whose skin tone is fading.
Don''t Forget Your Eyebrows!
Eyebrows are a dead giveaway. I see so many women whose ash-brown brows contrast with red or purple tints in their rich auburn or mahogany hair. It screams “I colour my hair!”. Of course, if your brows are gray, it's even more obvious!
If you’re going to choose a tint that's markedly different from your natural hair colour, get your eyebrows done as well. Alternatively, think twice about the shade you’re choosing!
If you're coloring your own hair, though, think very, very carefully before deciding to attempt your eyebrows. Many women do it routinely - including the lady in this photo! - but if you get dye in your eyes, it can cause severe damage and even blindness.
Know When to Fold'em
I’m all for growing old disgracefully, but perhaps not where hair color is concerned. There comes a point where the rest of your body has aged to such a point that colored hair can look terribly fake.
For instance, I have a friend who’s a vibrant 58. Yes, she has wrinkles but she still looks fabulous with a flaming mop of red curls. However, yesterday I saw a similar red mane on another woman. She had it styled in a beautifully cut bob and from the back, it looked amazing. From the front, framing a face and neck that was obviously pushing 70, it just looked too try-hard. Had the bob been a pristine white, she would have looked elegant and dignified.
The trouble is, of course, that we can’t see ourselves as others see us, so knowing when to give in gracefully is easier said than done. We must trust our friends to be honest enough to tell us!
What's Your Decision?See results without voting
- Gray Hair on Celebrities - Goodhousekeeping.com
Some examples of what celebrities mean by "gray"!
- The case for gray hair. - By Beth Frerking - Slate Magazine
One woman's journey into gray
- WNYC - The Leonard Lopate Show: Going Gray Gracefully (September 10, 2007)
- Gray Hair Photo Gallery by Elazar Harel
Some inspirational images for those thinking of taking the plunge!
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