Hundreds of thousands of women can’t be wrong. Because if you culled together all of the users in online support groups, beauty chat rooms, and inspiration platforms, you’d see that’s a strong estimate of the number of women who have “upgraded” to gray hair and have not looked back.
We intentionally say “upgraded” because you would only need to hear them speak for five minutes to assess what a positive change these women feel going gray is for them.
But wait—wasn’t gray the very last thing we wanted anyone to see when it came to our “look?” While the popularity of this option appears to have taken off recently, certainly in the last half decade or so, the movement for embracing the natural beauty in going gray has some pretty formidable trailblazers.
On the pop culture level, one could trace bucking the gray hair norm back to supermodel Kristen McMenamy’s gutsy call to do so in 2010. Known for her air of edgy irreverence in the modeling world, McMenamy not only rocked the runway after ditching hair dye, she appeared on the cover of Italian Vogue, and it became an enduring signature look for her. When interviewed, McMenamy shared that it wasn’t as much about being rebellious, as it was about the fact that at 45, her gray hair was just starting to come in and she had a choice to make. If she happened to shake up the status quo a bit while doing so, so be it.
Other icons in fashion and culture such as model Carmen Dell’Orefice and businesswoman Iris Apfel are proud silver sisters of the hair. In Hollywood, Diane Keaton, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Helen Mirren are evidentiary examples that going gray can be the powerful statement that beauty has been waiting for.
In the Thick of Things
After all, it always seemed permissible for men to sport their grays and have that seen as something positive, something character-enhancing. Who made this “silver-fox” thinking permissible for men but not for women anyway? Apparently, women who have gotten tired of waiting around for someone or thing to sanction this untenable way of thinking are taking action. Or perhaps it is better to say they are not taking any action at all, by allowing the gray to grow out and flow freely.
And now the search for the most bad-ass head of gray hair has begun. Thought leaders in the thick of the gray hair movement online, like This Organic Girl's Lisa Fennessy and Katie Goes Platinum's Katie Emery, are numerous, outspoken, and inspiring. It is clear that when the time comes, this is one narrative that offers a variety of options. Choices can include not just when to go gray, but how, either naturally or finessed with the help of a talented colorist. And once you’ve chosen a colorist, you will be presented with a few more options based on the natural color base you were born with and the balance of gray you wish to have in your hair.
Of special note, we would be remiss if we did not mention that this decision isn’t just about how much or how little of a color change it is. The decision to go gray naturally does not come easily for most women. In fact, many women on the platforms speak to the emotional journey they went on to make this decision. Many feelings can be associated with this major change, everything from fear, to anxiety, to shame, so it is important that time is taken to work through these feelings and resolve them. This is a highly individualized decision with no one right answer, and thus respect must be given to the process.
If going gray naturally is your goal, don’t let those first few uncomfortable weeks of the process derail your effort. Try these quick tricks:
1. Experiment with the part in your hair to see if tweaking it a bit to the left or right makes a difference.
2. Think Audrey Hepburn and sport a chic silk headband secured under the back of the neck.
3. Talk it out. Join a “silver sister” online support group for encouragement and empathy.
Your Growing-Out-Gray Timeline
While it may seem that once you spotted that first gray hair that a million more have followed so quickly you can’t keep up with plucking them, anyone who has grown out their grays naturally would tell a different tale about timing.
On average, it can take up to two years from root to tip when it comes to the growing-out process, if you have longer hair. Women who sport a shorter, layered hairstyle may accomplish the process in as little as four to six months.
Once you have made the commitment to go gray naturally, the first few weeks of the process can be the most frustrating for women. Those who have been coloring and covering roots for some time may find it particularly difficult as there may be a stark difference between the dyed color and the new gray. Fortunately, for blondes this scenario is not so much of an issue because the difference between tones is minimal.
Problem solved. One common complaint that women have after going gray is that the hair can take on a brassy-ness giving the hair a yellow cast. “You may need to have a toner applied about 8 weeks after a professional salon treatment,” says Laura Davis, Color Specialist and Salon Floor Manager at Tangles Salon & Spa in Easton, PA. “There is also a variety of shampoos and conditioners that are purple-based which will help prevent yellowing and even out the tonality of the hair.”
If you’re convinced that gray is the way to go, but you don’t wish to wait out the process naturally, salons are happy to help ease you into a gray-blending transition. The first step is to color the hair lighter to make the demarcation line less obvious. You can also opt to go a step further and have foil highlights added in to achieve a richer color blend. This entire process can sometimes be accomplished in one visit, but it could require more than a single visit to achieve the perfect balance.
“I also have taken a few clients to completely white—matching their natural color as best as possible,” says Davis. “The process involves bleaching or de-colorizing the hair, always keeping in mind the health of the hair, to remove as much of the dye as possible. (If your hair is currently color-treated.) “This process can take three hours or more depending on the depth of the color and how dense the hair is.”
The Most Buzz-Worthy Benefits
You totally control this narrative: The “when” and “how” is totally up to you. Only you can decide when you are ready. This is a judgment-free zone and there is no one mandatory timeframe or specific age involved.
Many women who were coloring their hair regularly report that their hair is actually healthier after going gray because the newer hairs are not processed.
Your complexion may look healthier and brighter due to nature’s blending of hair with skin tone.
Those who go gray naturally are helping to reduce their body’s toxic load by eliminating some possibly health-compromising chemicals.
Holding on to hair color may, in a sense, be a form of body-shaming. Having less negative inner talk about life’s natural process of going gray, makes a more positive narrative about aging possible.
Some women, who were previously unable, report being able to rock cooler tones when it comes to wearing lipstick and other makeup.
Going gray provides the opportunity for nature’s highlights to add dimension to hair, that for some, was never possible before.
And pragmatists rejoice! Some estimates have you saving up to $41,000 in salon visits over a 30-year time period if you choose to go gray at 40 rather than continuing or starting to dye your hair at that point.
Whatever your reason for going gray, making this decision from an empowered point of view offers the opportunity for you to look upon this major milestone and deeply personal decision as an “upgrade” as well.