It’s been almost six months since I last posted about my gray hair transition, but that post remains the most viewed article on this site, and my other gray hair posts are frequently accessed as well. Clearly, a lot of women are interested in this topic, and it seems that “going gray” is becoming more and more popular these days. Many women post about their gray hair transitions on Instagram and YouTube, and there are many groups on Facebook dedicated to supporting women who are going through the process.
Recently, there has been a wave of YouTube videos called “The Gray Hair Tag,” in which women who have either gone gray or are on that journey have answered ten key questions and “tagged” other YouTubers to follow suit. Since I don’t have a YouTube channel (maybe one day…), I was not tagged, but I thought it might be fun to answer the questions in a blog post, so that’s what I’m doing today.
How old were you when you started going gray?
I’m not entirely sure when the gray hairs first began to show up, as I started dyeing my hair at a pretty young age for the sake of fun and variety, but I think it was in my early to mid-thirties. Once the gray hairs popped up, they multiplied fairly rapidly and I soon had to graduate from highlights and semi/demi permanent color to the wonderful world (she says sarcastically…) of permanent color. For a number of years, I had my roots touched up every six to eight weeks and didn’t think too much of it. It was only when I had to start doing it more and more often that it became a problem. More on that in the next question…
How old were you when you decided to transition?
By my mid-forties, I started to have to color my hair every five weeks, and soon it was every four weeks. Not only did I have to spend several hours at a hair salon each month, but I became increasingly unhappy with the results. Even though I was ostensibly having my hair dyed the same color each time, it didn’t always look the same when I left the salon. Sometimes it was darker, sometimes lighter, sometimes redder, and occasionally I would end up with darker patches on parts of my head. Additionally, my hair had become more and more damaged and started to break and split. My previously long and lustrous hair didn’t look all that pretty anymore and I had to have it layered and cut shorter to mitigate the damage.
It was when the damage occurred and when every four weeks didn’t seem to be often enough (I saw the “skunk stripe” after two weeks or less) that I started to consider ditching the dye. I was also having more and more health problems and worried about the negative impact of putting chemicals on my head each month. Because of all of these reasons, I thought it might be nearing the time for me to stop the dye. I joined a gray hair transition group on Facebook and was inspired by the women I saw there who were embracing their natural color. At age forty-eight, I seriously considered taking the plunge and broached the subject with my hairstylist. Unfortunately, she didn’t think it was a good idea. She told me I was too young to go gray and that I would look “terrible” during the process and would hate it.
Deflated and discouraged, I opted to continue with the dye for a while longer, but I revisited the idea a year later after I stopped going to that stylist. I was approaching fifty at the time and thought that would be a good time to make the change.
Did you go to your hairdresser to help with the transition or did you just go “cold turkey”? What did your hairdresser do to help if you went to one?
At first I thought I would dye my hair back to its original medium brown color prior to transitioning, as my hair was dyed a dark auburn when I decided to go gray. I thought that would make the transition easier, but the organic colorist I consulted with thought that I should just go “cold turkey” and let it grow out. I wish I would have gone with my original plan because the contrast between my salt and pepper roots and the rest of my deep and warm-toned dyed hair was stark and I hated it. I used root powder to camouflage the “skunk stripe” for far longer than was prudent, almost six months, but eventually it wasn’t feasible anymore and didn’t look very good either.
It was then that I found myself between a rock and a hard place. I didn’t think I had the emotional fortitude to withstand the gradual progression of the skunk stripe down my head and I didn’t want to go the pixie route due to my unruly hair texture (the straight hair in my pictures is all flat-ironing). I also didn’t want to go back to the every four week dyeing, so at the six month mark, I proceeded down the ill-advised path of trying to blur the line of demarcation via highlights.
I won’t outline the fiasco that the next year involved, as it’s all spelled out step by step (along with many unflattering photos) in this post. But suffice it to say that I wish I would have stuck with going “cold turkey,” parted with some length, and rocked hats, headbands, and scarves as my hair grew out. That would have saved me a ton of money, time, and heartache, plus I would be done by now instead of still fighting the brassy ends that have been my nemesis for longer than I care to think about at this point.
What was the reaction of your friends and family?
I didn’t tell most people I knew for a long time, as I was using root cover powder to camouflage the gray roots, so I looked pretty much the same as I always did. I wasn’t 100% convinced that I was going to stay the course, so I decided to mostly keep it to myself at first. I did, however, write about going gray on my previous blog, Recovering Shopaholic (I later moved those posts to this blog and you can read them all HERE). I received mostly positive feedback on those posts. Most readers were supportive of my decision even if they intended to keep coloring their own hair forever.
I also shared my transition with members of an online community I belong to and they were all very supportive. A few of them also decided to take the plunge and we periodically updated each other on how we were doing with the process. Three of them had a much smoother transition than I’ve had and have been done for quite a while now (they all have much shorter hair than I do, but I’ve also had some major “detours” along the way…). One woman ended up going back to coloring, but she is considering starting to transition again now.
When it came time to share the process with people from my “real life,” I was worried about four specific people who I thought would respond negatively (the most important person – my husband – has always been extremely supportive and encouraging). I was pleasantly surprised that none of them were harsh or rude about it and one person was actually complimentary about my transition. Two of them haven’t really said much at all, which I guess is better than making a negative comment. I get the sense that they don’t approve, but that was to be expected since they are both women who will likely color their hair until the day they die. The fourth person has been a bit passive aggressive in her reaction to my hair changes. Instead of saying that she hates the way my hair looks now, she has reminisced about my “lovely long auburn hair that looked so nice on me.” I mostly don’t say anything when she makes such comments, as I think she’s another “dye till I die” devotee.
I know it shouldn’t matter what other people have to say about my hair, but because I’m not happy with how it looks myself, it’s much harder for me to hear any criticism. Part of the reason I initially opted to keep the transition to myself was that I feared I might “cave” in the face of negative reactions. Thus, I wanted to be “incognito” about going gray until I was far enough along that I’d be less likely to go back to coloring. In hindsight, I think I should have been more open about it, as that would have helped me to commit to the process more fully. Because I hid it for so long and then tried to use color to eliminate the visual effect of transitioning, I didn’t experience the type of personal empowerment and liberation that other women have written about in terms of their gray hair transition. My fear of “looking bad” has only prolonged my process, so I would do things much differently if I had it to do over again.
Favorite thing about being gray?
I love the fact that I no longer have to “chase roots” or worry about unpredictable coloring results. I also like that the condition of my hair is much better now than it was before. It’s softer, doesn’t break and split much anymore, and I don’t lose nearly as much hair as I did previously (I used to lose tons of hair in the shower). I also think the lighter, cooler toned hair looks much better with my complexion and coordinates better with the clothes I wear. Of course, I’m only talking about the gray outgrowth here and not the brassy ends, but I feel confident that I’ll be happy when my hair is all natural and back to my preferred length (mid-back and long enough to wear in a braid over my shoulder).
Another thing I’m happy about is that I’m no longer putting harsh chemicals on my scalp every month. There are mixed reports about the toxicity of hair dye, but a lot of research has shown that the darker dyes can have adverse health effects. As someone who is already struggling with multiple health conditions, I wasn’t doing myself a favor by adding to my toxic burden with the hair dye. Since I have become increasingly chemically sensitive in recent years, it may have also been just a matter of time before I suffered a severe allergic reaction to hair dye, which can happen even if a woman has been using the same products for many years. I was probably a ticking time bomb, so I’m grateful that I was able to avoid such a scary situation, especially since I already suffered a major adverse reaction to a hair straightening treatment back in 2009 (which I wrote about in this post – I need to re-read it regularly and recommit to the vows I made at the end).
Least favorite thing about being gray?
By far, my least favorite thing has been the transition process and the fact that dyed hair has a tendency to turn brassy and orange when one stops applying color on a regular basis. This has been termed “blorange” in the gray transition community and it seems to affect some women a lot worse than others. I think that because I started with dyed auburn hair and got two heavy highlights, my blorange has been among the worst I’ve ever seen (you can see for yourself in my April post – I’m not exaggerating).
In addition to the blorange effect, having two-toned hair has been very difficult for me to deal with, especially since the contrast between my natural color and the dyed portion is so stark. My natural hair is “salt and pepper” but very cool-toned, whereas my dyed portions are extremely warm-toned and clash severely with the outgrowth. Additionally, the brassy dye looks terrible against my skin tone as well as the cool-toned clothing I like to wear (which fortunately looks great with my natural hair, so that’s a positive).
The average rate of hair growth is half an inch per month, so the transition process can take a very long time for someone with medium length or long hair. There are some women I’ve seen on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube whose hair seems to grow like a weed, but that’s not me and the hair vitamins I tried taking didn’t agree with my stomach and I had to stop them. Even though my hair doesn’t grow very fast, I would still be done by now if I hadn’t messed around. Therefore, I would say that my very least favorite part of this process is all the mistakes I’ve made along the way that set me back more than a year in my progress.
The only saving grace is that I’ve been able to prevent other women from making those same mistakes, which is why I wrote my last gray hair transition post. Every time I receive a comment or email from a woman who tells me she’s grateful for my honesty in sharing my pitfalls, it brings tears to my eyes. I’m happy to be able to save others from spending hundreds or thousands of dollars chasing the dream of not having to either cut their hair super short or brave the line of demarcation for a year or more. Yes, using color to help transition can work out for some, but I think they are more the exception than the rule. Even if they don’t experience the tremendous brassiness I did, their hair is likely to become highly damaged and they’ll also need to spend a lot of time and money maintaining a silver color since hair dye always skews warm-toned. Just remember that those Pinterest and Instagram photos are usually taken at the salon and most silver toners don’t last beyond a few washes and then you’re right back to yellow or orange tones.
Do you receive a lot of criticism for your gray hair? If so, how do you deal?
Fortunately, I’ve received very little criticism, but I also don’t have a very active social life and I spend a large portion of my time at home. I’ve read in the Facebook gray transition groups about women who have been approached by strangers with negative comments about their hair. One woman even recounted that her own mother had stopped speaking to her just because she had opted to go gray! Some people I know may not approve of my hair change, but I’m happy that they have mostly kept their feelings to themselves.
Because I am admittedly quite insecure, I think it would be hard for me to weather harsh criticism, which is part of why I tried to hide the line of demarcation for so long. I wish I had a thicker skin and I also know that if I was happier with how my hair looked, it would be easier to deal with the criticism of others. I really admire the women who are just out there with the “skunk stripe” and wear it like a badge of honor. I wish I could be that strong, but I’m not… Still, I feel proud of myself for taking on this journey and staying the course despite my many difficulties along the way. It has definitely been challenging, especially since I’m so attached to the way I look and identify too deeply with it, but it has also forced me to grow in many ways (which I will share more about in a future post).
What is your favorite compliment that you have received about your hair?
A lot of people have told me that my eyes stand out more now that I don’t have a curtain of dark hair as the primary focus of people’s attention. I have also been complimented more on my skin than I ever was before. A few times, women have thought my hair was a sort of “reverse ombre” on purpose, which I enjoyed. That happened more when I was using “toner” (in quotes because it didn’t wash out) last year, but it’s nice to receive any sort of compliment on my hair because I’m so self-conscious of it.
Just recently, I had my teeth cleaned by a new dental hygienist who is in her early-thirties. She said, “This may be a weird thing to compliment you about, but I love your hair.” I think I would have hugged her right there on the spot if her hands weren’t in my mouth when she said it! I’m just so ready to be done with this seemingly interminable process that I’m thrilled when I receive any positive feedback. I’m just trying to keep the faith and trust that it will look great in the end, so it’s always an ego boost when I receive a compliment, especially from a stranger who doesn’t feel any sense of obligation to say something nice.
What is your biggest piece of advice to anyone looking to start the process?
I’ve said this before and I will repeat it now… Don’t use color to transition to not coloring, especially if your hair is dyed dark! The results are super unpredictable and you may end up spending tons of money only to be less happy with your hair than you were before. In my opinion, the best way to transition is to go “cold turkey” and cut the dyed parts off as quickly as you can. If you’re willing to go short, that’s really the easiest way to do it, but I totally understand not being open to doing that. It can be a huge shock to change both your color and your style at once, plus some of us have difficult hair that doesn’t work well when it’s short.
If you have light dyed hair, highlighting may work, but since your line of demarcation is already fainter, it’s still better not to risk it. Use a root cover spray or powder for the first few months and then use headbands, scarves, hats, and creative styling to obscure or blur the line. After a while, the line will become less pronounced, as hair grows at different rates and the line won’t be so straight and precise anymore. I’ve seen pictures of hundreds of women in Facebook groups and their transition always looks much better around the six to eight month mark no matter how dark or long their hair was to begin with. I wish I would have stayed the course and waited until my dye faded more (it always does over time) and the line was less stark.
Speaking of the Facebook groups, they can be helpful, but they are also a mixed blessing. Although it was encouraging to be among other women who are on the same journey and to see lots of positive end results, it was also difficult to feel like my hair looked worse than almost anyone else I saw there. I also felt that I received a lot of mixed advice when I asked for help, which made it more confusing to decide what to do next. I guess my advice would be to join the groups for inspiration and support but not to spend too much time there (I think it’s best not to spend too much time on Facebook in general, as I wrote about here). If you find that it’s doing you more harm than good, either step away for a while or leave the groups altogether. We’re all different and need varying types of support. Also, there are many gray transition groups on Facebook, so it can be helpful to try a few to see which one(s) work best for you.
I guess my biggest piece of advice is to fully embrace the process once you decide to do it. Don’t have one foot in and one foot out like I did. Own the fact that you’re making a big change and go for it. Decide that you’re going to learn and grow from your gray transition journey and perhaps keep a journal of what you’re noticing along the way. Don’t let the opinions of others sway you from doing what you believe is the right thing for you. I have read about many women who went back to coloring their hair because their husband, daughter, friend, or mother didn’t like it, only to regret doing so and then having to start all over again. Do it for you and if you decide down the line that it’s not for you after all, it’s okay to change your mind. You may think the time is right when it’s really not; that happens and it’s fine.
There is no right or wrong age to go gray. People may tell you you’re too young, but one woman I know wisely said, “If it’s coming out of my head, clearly I’m not too young for gray hair.” This same woman bravely cut her hair super short after a few months of growing it out, started rocking a gray pixie, and owned it. She decided she liked how it looked and went on with her life. We are not our hair, just like we are not our body shapes, sizes, or weights. What we look like is not who we are. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to internalize those words and even though I know them to be true, it’s still a challenge to live in accordance with them. Going through menopause and transitioning to gray hair at the same time has been a trial by fire for me and I’ve had a rough time of it. It hasn’t been easy for me to gain weight, lose muscle tone, and deal with multiple symptoms, all while sporting brassy, two-toned hair. Clearly, I still have lessons to learn, but I’m going to keep on keeping on, as I know that I have a lot of life left in me and more contributions to make to the world.
Who is your gray hair idol?
I don’t have just one… Pretty much anyone who has opted to buck societal trends and embrace their natural hair color is a hero in my book, but I have a special appreciation for those who have shared – or are sharing – their journey online. Below are some YouTube channels – and one blog – you might want to check out if you’re either thinking of going gray or are in the process of doing so. Some of these women used bleach during their transitions to varying levels of success (one lost half of her hair in the process!), while others just went “cold turkey” like I wish I had done, but they are all inspiring and have useful insights to share.
- Katie Goes Platinum (Blog) – Katie is seven months into her transition and is posting about her experience, sharing other women’s transition stories, and offering helpful advice on products and more.
- Elisa in Montreal (YouTube) – Elisa is fully transitioned now, but she has lots of videos you can watch from along the way. She did use bleach to ease the line of demarcation and her hair seemed to grow like a weed (infinitely faster than mine), but she’s a real warrior who owned the process and spoke her truth passionately.
- Deb Arndt (YouTube) – Deb transitioned to gray by only dyeing her part for a period of time and letting the rest of her hair grow out during that time. She explains that process in this video, and has done monthly videos of her journey for over three years now (she now has lovely long silver hair).
- Little Miss Tracy (YouTube) – Tracy lives in the UK and has been documenting her gray hair transition journey through videos over the past eighteen months. She still has some color on the ends just like I do and is considering cutting the final colored parts off soon. In her most recent video, she said that she’s in “hair limbo” – I can relate!
- Silver Foxy (YouTube – and she also has a Facebook group by the same name) – She’s also fully transitioned and recently went for a shorter, rocker-style haircut. She has lots of videos from during her (“cold turkey”) transition process, as well as videos of other women’s transitions.
- Erica Henry Johnston (YouTube) – She recently turned forty and finished her transition around the same time. Along the way, she did monthly videos to share her journey, as well as other informational videos to help those looking to go gray.
- Beauty 101 by Lisa (YouTube) – Lisa is still in the process of growing out her hair and she’s the woman I referred to above who burned off half of her hair through bleaching (see this video). She has a great attitude and is very open and honest about her hair and her life in her videos.
- Monique Parent (YouTube) – Monique is an actress who went gray several years ago and vlogs about silver hair empowerment, aging gracefully, and living a fabulous life after forty. She has an excellent video on how to survive the first year of going gray, which I highly recommend.
- Susan Paget (YouTube) – She hasn’t posted a new video in a long time, but she has a lot of inspirational videos from when she was transitioning to gray. She also wrote a book called Gray Hair Adventure that I read and found helpful.
Other than Katie Goes Platinum, I don’t know of other women who are consistently blogging about their gray hair transition; I mostly see this content on YouTube and Instagram. If you know of any other useful blogs, YouTube channels, and other resources regarding transitioning to gray hair, please feel free to share them in the comments section below.
A Few Photos and What’s Next…
As I mentioned in my April post, I stopped taking photos of my gray hair transition after what happened a year ago (the major setback) and pretty much stopped taking photos of myself altogether. I needed to do that because I felt so demoralized that it was healthy for me to focus more on other things for a while. I’m not really back to documenting my gray hair transition now (I’m just letting it happen), but I do have some recent pictures that show my progress. I attended my brother’s wedding two months ago and multiple pictures were taken of me there. To maintain other people’s privacy, I have cropped them out, but you can see a reasonable view of what my hair looks like now. My hair seems to look dramatically different depending on the lighting, but you can see the still brassy ends in the bottom two images. I have gotten about two inches cut off since then and plan to get another trim in the next couple of weeks.
I’m gradually cutting the colored parts off, but it’s not happening as fast as I’d like. My goal was to be done with my transition by the end of the year, but that may not happen unless I resort to adding lots of layers to the top portions of my hair, where most of the remaining color is located. When I’m finally done, I will post another update to celebrate the culmination of what has been a long and arduous journey (and I may post sooner as well). At that time, I will also share my insights into what I’ve learned about myself along the way, as well as more tips for my fellow “silver sisters” – or those pondering taking the plunge. In the meantime, if you have any questions for me or thoughts you’d like to share, please feel free to do so below.