Older women today are rocking their gray locks, unlike many women of previous generations who did their best to cover up. Stars like Emmylou Harris and Helen Mirren look anything but dowdy or old. They are ‘silver foxes’ whose sex appeal is unaffected by their hair color. Perhaps we can’t all look like them but many of us are finding the courage to go gray and we won’t ever use dye again.
What happens to hair as you age?
The process of going gray is determined largely by genetics. It’s encoded in your DNA whether you will go gray earlier rather than later. “Fifty percent of the population has about 50% gray hair at age 50,” says Dr. Anthony Oro, professor of dermatology at Stanford University.
Melanin is what gives hair its color. We have about 100,000 follicles on our heads and as we grow older, these follicles stop producing melanin. This occurs at different rates in different follicles. For some people it occurs very quickly, while in others it happens slowly over many years. My hair started turning gray in my early 30s.
Without the melanin, hair is more brittle, dry and likely to frizz. It is also more likely to turn yellow. Going gray does not mean that caring for your hair is any less important. In fact, without the proper care, your gray hair is likely to make you look frowsy or frumpy, rather than elegant and stylish.
The right attitude
We tend to grow up with the idea that we need to keep coloring our hair to fight off ageing. This means that many of us endure decades of the mess and expense, not to mention that all that dyeing cannot be healthy. I would develop a white stripe about two weeks after dyeing it, so it only looked good for two weeks and the rest of the time before I could dye it again, it was less than perfect. It also tended to look as though it was thinning on top, due to the contrast between my white hair growing out and the brown dye. When someone tried to commiserate with me about the fact that I was balding, I decided it was high time to go gray.
I went online and found a number of websites supporting women who are setting out on the journey to going gray. Looking at hundreds of before and after photos was enlightening too, as many of the women looked better with their gray hair than they looked before. I read a book by Diana Lewis Jewell called Going Gray, Looking Great. Diana has become known as ‘the guru of gray’. Reading the stories of many other women who had taken the plunge was inspiring.
The in-between phase
Once you have made the decision to go gray, the in-between phase is the most difficult to navigate. Some women are brave enough to shave off all their hair. Others go for a more gradual transition and hairdressers can use many tricks like highlights or lowlights to help survive this stage. For a while I walked around with hair of various shades until the color had all grown out. It did not take too long because my hair grows quickly. I was surprised to discover that my hair was snow white under all the dye.
The right cut
One of the biggest favors you can do yourself when you are gray, is to have the right haircut. The right cut can instantly make the difference between old and dowdy or youthful and vibrant. Initially, I opted for growing my hair because I saw all these gorgeous photos of older women with long hair. I discovered the hard way that some women carry it off very well but I wasn’t one of them. I was convinced by my sister to chop it off and went for a graded bob.
As gray hair is more frizzy, a heavily layered cut can be problematic. A collarbone length bob, like the one worn by Diane Keaton, works for most hair types. Another favorite is a pixie cut, worn so well by Jaime Lee Curtis. Any modern short style usually works well.
It is important to have your hair trimmed every 6-8 weeks, especially when it is gray, as it can quickly become unruly.
The Right Products
Your gray hair is drier, coarser and more wiry and so you will need to change your hair products.
A shampoo that boosts shine
A shampoo that boosts shine and hydrates the hair with keep gray hair from looking dull.
A frizz controlling conditioner
A great conditioner will keep frizz under control, making hair sleeker and easier to manage. Keeping your gray hair moisturised is very important because it has less of a protective cuticle so strands can break more easily.
An alcohol free styling spray
This will give your hair a sheen and control any frizz. An alcohol-heavy spray will make hair dry. If a spray contains vitamin B5 so much the better because this helps build hair structure. The Alba Botanica Strong Hold Gel is alcohol free.
A shampoo that neutralizes yellow
A silver shampoo specially formulated for gray hair will help to offset any yellowing. Read here about the best shampoo for gray hair.
5 Tips for Caring for Gray Hair
- Stay away from heat and perms as far as possible. You don’t need to aggravate dryness.
- Did you know that there are sunscreens specially formulated for hair? Try Miss Oops Block Your Locks.
- When using a toner shampoo, be careful about how long you leave it in or you may just end up with blue hair. Start gradually with less time, adding more time if necessary.
- Cigarette smoke will turn your hair yellow, so try to avoid it where possible.
- Be careful to use conditioner before swimming as gray hair will absorb pool chemicals easily.
What do you feel about your gray hair and what products do you find work best?