Going Gray? 1 Colourist, 2 Women, 4 Tips
Our hair loses its colour as we age due to loss of melanin in the hair folicle. Most women begin to notice gray hairs around age 35, and deciding to forgo dye can be a weighty decision. We speak to a top colourist and two silver-haired women about going gray.
You can't fake gray hair. Though runways for the last few seasons have been showing a very pretty Marie Antoinette gray and pastel 'do, colourist Jed Puznuk from The Alcorn hair salon in Toronto tells me that's not real gray - it's bleached-to-colorless hair, and it's very different from finding a real gray hair that grew from your head on its own.
Personally, I enjoy the fashionable gray + pastel look in theory, although as a reformed all-over platinum blonde, I understand the maintenance of root coverage, and using so much dye so often. The maintenance / coverage issue is one of the main reasons some women decide to relinquish the dye and surrender to gray. Both women we spoke to, Elizabeth and Betty, noted the cost and short period between salon visits as a reason to quit colour. Elizabeth told us, "In the last year of colouring my hair, I noticed that within one month the very silver roots would be quite prominent, so off I would go to have them touched up. I became tired of this ritual, as it was just too time consuming and costly."
Another reason we uncovered for the switch was damage. For over twenty years, Betty coloured monthly, but at 52, stopped to preserve the health of her hair. "In recent years I've been losing a lot of hair. At first I thought it was my diet, age, menopause, etc. but then I noticed recently, between dye jobs I had a lot of regrowth, and when I would get my hair dyed, that new growth would disappear. If I ran my fingers through my hair I could feel all of the broken ends." After doing some research on dye and hair loss, Betty came up empty handed. She spoke to her stylist about trying different types of dye, but found nothing made much difference.
Elizabeth, who coloured her hair for over 8 years and has been gray for 3, stated damage as a reason as well. "My hair is fragile, curly, tends to need lots of moisture, and was being damaged by the hair colour, even though I was using the best products that I could find to colour it. I went to salons that used mostly organic hair colour products, as I did not want to be using hair colour with lots of toxic ingredients."
Puznak agrees, "Some hair can take colour better than others, and some hair is vulnerable." He mentions brunettes tend to have a tougher time covering gray and may be colouring up to every two weeks, suggesting if you're not ready to make the leap to all out gray and decide to stick with colour or if you're noticing breakage, to try ammonia-free dye and opt for gentler products. Keep an eye on what's going on your head and talk to your colourist about your concerns. (It is your head after all).
If you do decide to go for the gray, the transition may not be so glamourous. Puznak says "It's painfully hard, and there's no magic bullet to get you there." Growing out a natural colour can seem courageous and even fun, but is a tick-tock time game. The options that lay before you are limited, as we mentioned earlier, you can't recreate gray, so dyeing your hair to match your gray roots is not an option. Depending on your current hair colour, there may be a chance to blend the colour as it grows, adding highlights, (blonds), or lowlights (for darker haired ladies).
There is always the big chop, and to it's credit, Puznak offers, "Often people just cut it off, it's a chance to re-vamp your whole style."
Betty took the chop option, her hairdresser suggesting going with a really short hairstyle until it grew out. "We talked about doing it the chemical way, but she said that could be an expensive process and could damage the hair even more than dyeing it, so I thought 'why bother with that?'" and she chopped it into a pixie. As her hair grows back, she's noticing that the regrowth that would normally disappear post monthly dye job, is growing out to a thicker head of hair.
There are other things to consider too. Puznak advises his gray clients to be prepared to invest in something else like makeup or wardrobe. He understands that some women want to keep a standard to those around them. Because gray hair is well, gray, bringing colour, or an element of surprise into your look in another way suggests to others the choice to be of authenticity and intent. Puznak recommends if you've never worn makeup, to try out some appropriate colours for your skin tone, and to pay attention to the shades of clothes you wear.
Though it seems to be just hair colour, there is a tendancy for people to think you're 'letting yourself go' and how you feel and how others respond to your new look can play a bigger factor than you may be aware of. This is something Betty says she became aware of very quickly after her initial chop, "Everybody notices and everybody has an opinion! I've been told I'm gutsy, courageous, foolish, ridiculous, beautiful, and different. A few people think it's shocking that I would even consider not dying my hair. Other people think it's silly to start dying it in the first place."
It's interesting how much our appearance can un-nerve or disrupt the balance in relationships. Thoughtless comments from friends and family about letting yourself go can send you into self-doubt, awaking fears about getting older, or keeping up with others. Puznak told us that he's seen it take only one or two comments from loved ones to have a client back in his chair forgoing the gray and seriously considering colour again.
Puznak also notes that the decision to stop colouring is often tied into a life stage, "Women that are in a secure, happy place seem to feel more comfortable going gray."
Elizabeth understands. Now happier with the healthy state of her silver/gray hair, she told us, "I realize with hindsight that I was not allowing my hair to transition to it's next state of being. I was definitely subscribing to the belief that silver/gray hair would make me look old, while at the same time struggling with my female vanity. It was a transition to go from having black curls to silver/gray ones, but my silver/gray curls sparkle with their own joy."
Both Betty and Elizabeth spoke about 'growing into their gray'. As we get older, we tend to better understand ourselves and become more aware of how we feel most comfortable. To some, abandoning artificial colour isn't just about looking younger anymore, it's about being honest with your needs or wanting to be free of artifice. There are many beautiful women with gray, silver and white hair, that spark envy in the eyes of younger women longing for stand out hair colour. Going gray doesn't mean growing old anymore.
Whether the choice to go gray is for beauty or practicality, if you're thinking about ditching the dye, here are four things you can do to ease the transition:
Read. Anne Kreamer's journey in Going Gray: How to Embrace Your Authentic Self With Grace and Style from fully dyed to fully gray is a great read for anyone embarking on the no-dye hair routine. Kreamer covers her own feelings about gray, her experiences during a year of bad hair days (she opted to grow it out), and talks with other women about how momentous the decision can feel. Even for anyone not going gray, it's a good read on beauty and authenticity.
Visit. If you're in Toronto and feel it's time for a change, visit Jed Puznuk at The Alcorn (1222 Yonge St). With over twenty years experience, he does some of the best highlights and lowlights in town (he's a colourist and does it all). He helped me grow out my platinum blonde locks by subtly adding highlights to blend my roots, which 11 months in and about 8 inches grown, still look pretty natural.
Try. Puznak says gray hair often needs a lavender-tinted shampoo and conditioner to neutralize the colour and keep it sparkly and bright. For anyone who's been colouring for a long time, you may notice a difference in the texture of your hair, as gray can be coarse or wiry. It may be harder to control, so a firmer gel or spray may be in order.
We love the Yarok, John Masters and Intelligent Nutrients lines for naturally taking care of your hair.
Talk. Ask other women with gray about their hair. If you see a woman with a beautiful head of white or silver, tell her! She may even be willing to talk about her experience with you. Elizabeth does, "I get many compliments on my hair and sometimes people ask me if they can touch it! Depending on who they are and the situation, I say yes from time to time."
Whatever you're reason, going gray is a choice. Like any beauty decision that reigns true, if you're going gray, do it for you.
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