Curl up and dye: On making the decision to cover grey hair.

First Grey Hair

I found my first grey hair when I was fifteen. Truthfully, I wasn't the one who discovered it - the boy who sat behind me in music history class did. We were languishing through a lecture regarding the mathematical implications of Bach's concerto bass lines. I daydreamed about a neon sweater I'd seen at The Gap. The girls next to me passed notes. Minutes ticked by at a glacial pace.

The boy poked me sharply in the back.

"There's something, like, sticking out of your hair."

"What?" I screeched. (It should be noted that this boy was the same one I'd nursed a crush on for essentially my entire high school career. He was handsome in an almost cliched sort of way - chiseled jaw, broad shoulders, dark hair that flopped seductively over one eye.)

"Yeah," he shrugged. "It's kind of silvery."

"Well, pull it out."

He yanked. And presented me with a long grey hair that snaked across my textbook.

Surprisingly, I wasn't perturbed. I thought it was kind of cool. In the innocence of my dewy youth, having grey hair meant I was one step closer to becoming Older. Being older meant having my own apartment in Manhattan and working as a junior editor at Vogue and hosting chic dinner parties with white wine and wearing stilettos without falling over. Or so I thought.

I started coloring my hair as a bored twenty year-old, and spontaneously went from mousy dishwasher brunette to lusty redhead overnight. It was fun, and deliciously experimental - an easy way to play at being someone else. Though it helped conceal the fistful of grey that had spouted in the place that first hair was plucked, dying my hair wasn't about hiding the evidence of my advancing age. Not yet, anyway.

A 2008 study done by Clairol found that 75 percent of American women dye their hair. According to a 2011 report published in the Daily Mail, 32 percent of British women under the age of 30 have already begun to go grey. Twenty years ago the percentage of those under 30 who admitted to seeing grey was just 18 percent. Hair care brand John Frieda has coined a term for these young grey ladies: GHOSTS, aka Grey Haired Over-Stressed Twenty Somethings, a result of our increasingly tumultuous financial and political times.

Going gray: it happens to all of us.  While stress might play a small part, grey hair is direct result of decreased production of pigmentation in our hair as we age. What used to be blond, brown, red or black turns silver or gray. There's no way to know just how many women color their hair purposely to conceal grey, but if you look around at all of the women ages 40 and above, you can get a pretty good idea that it's more common than not.

Aging for women in the United Sates is considered both unattractive and undesirable. Our society's perception of beauty prizes youth, specifically in the form of wrinkle and blemish-free faces, taunt bodies, and shiny, lustrous hair. From a biological perspective, a woman with grey hair has reached the end of her reproductive years, and our society no longer values her as much as her more youthful counterparts. The internalization of this message has encouraged our culture to classify the aging woman as less productive, less intelligent, and less innovative than a woman younger than she.

A Forbes 2010 article looked at 15 female chief executives of Fortune 500 companies. All were high-powered, highly successful, financially stable role models  -  and not one had grey hair color. Of the 93 women who serve in Congress, only five of them have allowed any grey hair coloring to show through. Conversely, salt-and-pepper hair on men earns them the title of  'silver foxes' - distinguished, wise, sophisticated and sexually experienced. It's no surprise that many of the world's sexiest men - George Clooney, for example - display their grey hair with pride.

I'm nearly 38 years old, and approximately 75% grey. Coloring my hair now is more about concealing those wiry silver strands than channeling my inner Jessica Rabbit. It also feels more like a chore, something I need to do rather than an activity I look forward to and relish.

Do you color your hair? If so, is this action done out of a desire to conceal grey hair? When did you start to go grey?


28 comments:

  1. I started noticing too many grey hairs to pluck when I was in my early thirties. I dyed my hair for probably ten years, sticking close to my natural brown hair color. I started teaching 7 years ago and knew that with three kids, a husband who traveled for his job, and teaching, there wasn't going to be enough time to keep my roots colored. I cut my hair short in May and by the time school started in August, all artificial color was grown out. I won't ever go back to coloring my hair. My grey hair stands out in a place where most women color their hair, but I totally rock the grey hair.

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  2. I have never and will never colour my hair. It was originally a very dark brown (most called it black)and now, at 47, has streaks of silver (nicer word that gray, I think). I get compliments on my "highlights" every now and then, but most just say that my hair suits me. I love it. It's low maintenance. After seeing my mom colour her hair for years, I was not going that route. What makes silver hair or salt and pepper hair modern is the cut. I have bangs and long (to bra strap) hair. If you're going silver, you can't have a matronly haircut. That would be my advice.

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  3. Ooh, good topic. I wrote about it two years ago (http://www.closet-coach.com/2010/10/05/gray-hair-should-i-cover-it-or-not/) and it's still as much a dilemma for me now as it was then, except now I have waaay more grays. Thankfully, they're mostly on the underneath layers so you only see them when I pull my hair back.

    I also colored my hair red for many years--pretty much through all of my 20s--and for the same reasons you did. It's so much fun!

    I stopped when I got pregnant at 34, both for the reasons I describe in my post and because it was just such a hassle: 2-3 hours at the salon every 4 weeks.

    Here's my new plan. When fall comes around (no point trying to do color during sun and pool chlorine season), I'm totally going to do a red ombre at the ends, and leave my roots au naturel. Kinda like this: http://pinterest.com/pin/55309901644105988/

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  4. I started getting grey in my mid-20s and it's been a very slow addition of a few here and there. But since I got pregnant, I've developed a huge new swath of grey. It's really weird.

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  5. I am 37 and only have grey hair near my temples, but since my hair is naturally quite dark, it really stands out. Luckily, my 16 year old daughter is more freaked out by the grey than I am, and she colors my hair for me once a month. My husband found the first grey hair while I was having an ultrasound with my youngest son; I think that should have been my indication that he was going to be a true handful! I've considered taking my hair much lighter so I can stop coloring it so much, but I identify with being a brunette so much that I'm not sure I can do it.

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  6. Greying seems to be the one visible sign of aging I've avoided so far. I've found, over the years, maybe half-a-dozen grey hairs, and they've all been very randomly placed. I have no idea what I'll do when they inevitably start to show up in force, and as I'm 44 now, I suppose that day is getting nearer all the time, but I'm not opposed to going grey naturally, assuming, of course, it's a pleasant shade of grey. If it's ghastly, I'll probably have fun dyeing my hair completely different colours to what it naturally is.

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  7. I got my first grey at 21! 12 years later, luckily they haven't taken over my head. But, I do get them along my hairline. I color my hair about every 4 months and my colorist is skilled with the highlights so the grey is barely noticeable once it starts to grow in. I won't be going without my color anytime soon (like 40 years or so!).

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  8. I'll be 41 next month, and I've never colored my hair. I'm one of only two or three women I know who can say that. My gray hair has been slow to come in, so I'm sure that's part of why it's been a fairly easy transition to make. I'm probably just under 10% gray now, and until the last few months all of it was invisible unless I pulled my hair back into a ponytail. Now It's coming in all around the hairline, and people are noticing them more. I'm sure my mother-in-law wants me to cover it up, but that's not going to happen. I've decided that I'm sticking to what my ancestors handed down to me. No hair dyes, no botox, no lipo. Just me.

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  9. I started coloring my hair when I was 12 out of boredom, but I noticed I started going gray in my early-mid twenties. I'm now 27 and solely color my hair to cover up the gray. My mother didn't start going gray until she was in her late 40s and she's now only 52; my father didn't start going gray until his 50s. I have no idea why my grays started to come in so early. I couldn't believe it when I noticed the gray hairs growing at my roots. But, it is what it is.

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  10. I was so psyched to see this post as over the last 6-8 months I have had real emotional struggles with just this issue- do I cover or go natural...I am 47 Growing up I was a natural auburn everyone including strangers would comment on the beautiful color of my hair and my dimples. I first used Sun-In as a stupid teenager and entered beauty school at 27 and colored my hair often to try stuff out but no greys till my late 30's and by that time I had gone back to my natural auburn but then in my early 40's the strangest thing happened my auburn color disapeared and my hair began to come in a dark mossy brown and this began the coloring frenzy to try and recapture my natural auburn color which was impossible but a side benefit covered the sparse greys giving up on the auburn I decided to try blonde and strawberry blond also tough colors to retain so this is the point I had severe emotional fits over trying to keep a color I didn't really like or go grey- I didn't color my hair for 4 months fighting over this decision and I think if I could have pulled off a short hair cut(they make me at this point look too manish) I would have done it and gone natural but I didn't I have dyed my hair a level 4 brown- that is one level above black- funny thing is people have gone crazy over how good it looks and how much younger it makes me look even my md commented on how great it looked and I should keep it that way and he is a guy lol so I'm going with it now and at this point my roots seem to come in almost totally silver I am probably 80% but as long as my husband will keep doing my roots I'll keep coloring it for now it is an emotional struggle though just not so devastating guys have it so easy grey on them is sexy and distinguished most of the time

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  11. I do not color my hair and was surprised to find that I'm in the minority. Actually, I know have a fairly well-defined streak of grey and I actually wish that my hair would go silver overnight like my husband's did in his late 20s. I'd love to have a mane like Lisa at Privilege.

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  12. Letting all the blonde dye grow out, and the grey and brown come in as it pleases. I adore it.

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  13. I do but it's because I can't get the gray to grow in nicely. I think it's maybe 30% gray and it doesn't cooperate. I've grown in a few inches here and there but (as discussed with my hairstylist), I'm holding out for a higher percentage of gray. I'm 38 in July.

    My boyfriend would actually prefer I grew it out.

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  14. I love my grey hair! I'm growing my previously extremely short haircut out so I can see the new color in its full glory. So shiny! So healthy! So easy! I agree with Frenchie: it is the cut that makes a style look matronly, not the color. Grey is the only color that cannot be reproduced with dye.

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  15. I started getting gray hair in my late teens. I didn't really notice it becasue I was blonde and the gray was more white than gray so it looked liked I had really cool streaks. I was always getting asked, "who does your hair?". Now I am 100% gray. I'm 50, I've been totally gray for..well it feels like forever. I don't color because it's baby fine and won't hold the color.( I found this out after spending too much money at the salon to get "amber waves of grain" instead of the "new box of silverware" I was sporting. NOW, much to my chagrin, some of the newer gray coming in isn't the white and silver variety, it's the almost black variety. I don't even know how to deal with that! LOL
    I would color my hair if it would stay.

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  16. I got my first gray hair in high school, but it was in streak form. I'm now 29, and for most of the last 13 or so years, my gray streak has been hidden under my bangs, or just hidden when my hair is lying down. It is on display when I pull my hair back. It's become my trademark, and now in the last couple of years my hair has become dotted with small silver strands. My hair looks older than I am, but I'm determined to not color my hair to hide something that is happening naturally.

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  17. I started around 35; after 10 plus years I have a standing two-week appointment with my hairdresser. She's a peach, love her! My hubby disdains my dark locks. He takes great pleasure in "outing me!" My hair is one of my best features - always has been. I get random compliments all the time - from ladies in the drug store to friends and family - about my hair. The hubby loves to tell people my nearly black hair isn't real. I do it to not appear old - I'm nearly 50, overweight and have lots of other body image issues - the grey would only add to the mess. It does get tiring being "married" to the dye bottle. I imagine a time when I'll have natural hair.

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  18. I am 53 and highlight my hair (which is naturally dark blonde) which then makes it blend with the very few gray hairs i have. I wouldn't dye to cover gray as it seems like that becomes a cycle hard to gracefully exit. I did stop highlighting for a while on the notion that my natural color would be more flattering to my skin tone as I got older but found that was not objectively true so went back to highlights. i do it infrequently (cost, time) and they blend in as they grow out. my husband went gray in his 20's....

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  19. My hair turned grey in my 40's, I dyed it for about 8 years but hated the cost, effort and chemicals. I love it grey but admit I'm lucky it came in with a good steel grey with white streaks. A woman actually asked where I got my highlights done!

    Agree with other posters that a good modern cut is vital. I've had to try several stylists to find one who didn't automatically give me a matronly look (ugh). Eventually I took in a photo of what I wanted.

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  20. Hi -- I came here via the link from Already Pretty. I'm in my 50s and have longish silver hair. I quit dyeing it about five years ago, and I love the way I look.

    Many of us associate gray hair with the stereotypical grandma look -- women today look incredible! If you want to see some samples of amazing silver hair, check out my Pinterest page:

    http://pinterest.com/rockthesilver/rock-the-silver/

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  21. I am 42 and have never regularly coloured my hair (I tried twice in my 30s when I was feeling insecure about my life - I hated it and chopped my hair off both times). My mother never coloured her hair, so I think that set a good example for me. I just don't see the need, even though the greys have started coming in and are more noticeable around my hairline these days. One only need look as far as Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, to see how cool and sexy grey/silver hair can be. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christine_Lagarde

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  22. I forgot the most important thing I wanted to say! What has dissuaded me from colouring over the grey is thinking about the accumulated cost over time of doing it - there are much more important things I want to do with that money (e.g. extensive travel). Furthermore, I'd be paying to put chemicals on my head. Just doesn't seem the best use of my time, money and judgement! Each women is different, however, and if it makes someone feel good I respect her choice.

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  23. It's funny how much this topic resonates with me-- (love seeing Donna of Rock the Silver above-- just discovered HER blog recently too!

    So, count me among the going-gray-and embracing-it-(at-least-mostly).
    I started getting grey hairs in my mid-twenties, and started covering it before 30, mostly at home, because I couldn't afford regular costly salon color.
    I stopped coloring when I got pregnant at 36 and cut off the last of the colored stuff about a year-and-a-half ago (I'm now 41.)
    I'm still not 100% gray, and I kinda look forward to that-- I think silver or gray is prettier than gray-ING-- at least the way mine is coming in. No gorgeous streaks or swaths, just sprinkled throughout.

    For me, coloring was NEVER about fun. I loved my own youth color (a dark warm brown) and really was sad to see it go.

    I wonder, for those who are noticing a change in their motivation (from FUN to NEED)... What do you think about the increasing numbers of women who are choosing to say "my beauty is not defined by my perceived youth?" Or even more so, my beauty is not limited to my youthful days?

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  24. I used to say that I'd stop colouring my hair for fun when I started going seriously grey, because I never wanted people to think that I was doing it to hide the grey. But I've been henna-ing my hair for the last five or six years, and I'm pretty sure I have two good silver streaks going on my temples at the very least. (And I really LIKE the way henna looks on my hair! It suits me.)

    I don't know. I cut my hair short again fairly recently, and since then I've been toying with the idea of doing another head reboot (my usual method of ending a dye cycle -- shave it down to a quarter inch with clippers) and checking out exactly what's going on as far as grey coverage up there.

    Mostly, I'm afraid I won't have "good grey"; it's pretty clear I inherited my mother's hair, and she is still (at 75) not fully grey, and her hair is that mucky drab faded grey, not white or steely. (My father's family mostly went grey early, and that pure, glorious silver.) I don't care about being grey, but I do care about the effect being aesthetically pleasing (at least to me).

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  25. I was coloring it myself (too cheap to pay the big bucks) until my adult daughter said, "Mom, why are you doing this, it looks great natural" So that it is!

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  26. This is an issue I've been wrestling with (and writing about) recently, after having discovered my first grey hair at 26. I hadn't particularly noticed time going by, and suddenly I had to realize that hey, I'm mortal too.

    Ultimately, I'm rather excited to see what my hair does all by itself. I'm certainly not inclined to douse my head in expensive chemicals any time soon, and the one hair I found is kind of a metallic silver. I kind of dig the contrast with my medium-to-dark brown color.

    I'm hoping to rock the salt-and-pepper look as well as any man, through sheer force of will. Here goes!

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  27. My first gray came in at age 23. It was one silver streak that literally appeared overnight. I started coloring my hair to cover the gray. My originaly hair color was a golden brown, I have been dark brown, auburn, red, and now have gone blonde. I was fortunate to have good genes and do look quite a bit younger than my 50 years. I am often mistaken for my 26 y/o son's girlfriend (much to his horror :) and am quite often mistaken for my 4 y/o grandson's mother. I am truthful enough to admit that I color my gray because I like being mistaken for someone much younger. While that might seem quite vain, I am also the first to admit to anyone who asks that I do color my hair. I recently had this conversation with my 7 y/o niece:
    Niece: Your hair looks different. You dyed it, didn't you.
    Me: Yes, I did.
    Niece: How come?
    Me: Beacuase if I didn't dye it blonde, it would be gray.
    Niece: Good point!

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  28. I noticed my first gray hair when I was 13, began coloring in my 20's which I quit doing in my 30's (too much work). It's gray enough that the last time I was at the DMV to renew my license I was told they were changing my hair from black to grey. I'm about to turn 50 and get a lot of compliments on my hair!

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