I wasn’t all that surprised to find a few gray hairs during my senior year of college. My grandmother’s hair was white in her 30s. But I wasn’t happy with my gray strands — my thick, curly hair was my favorite feature, so off to the salon I went!
At first, I asked for a richer brown and later, for shades of red. Back then, it was every few months — no big deal. I was a girlie-girl and loved make-up, dressing up and styling my hair. Coloring was fun! In my late 20s, my hair was even magenta after a move to Los Angeles to work in the music industry. But by my mid-40s, it was no longer fun to be at the salon every month.
Over the years, whenever I asked stylists if perhaps I should go gray, more than one said, “No, you look so young for your age — it will age you,” and “You’ll look so much older — at least 10 years older.” Or even worse: "You're so pretty, why would you go gray?"
So I kept my appointments faithfully.
Fast forward to the summer of 2016. My hair looked dry, brassy, slightly off, no matter what hair mask or deep conditioner I tried. I switched stylists again. The Beverly Hills colorist who did my hair last September made it look great for about two weeks, but even his expert work couldn’t stop the brassy, fake look by week three. That’s when I realized it was time for a change.
But I was afraid. Going gray is a big deal! I’m still relatively young! I’m single. I have a big new sales job.
I interviewed many women about going gray — they had similar concerns including:
Like most women in our youth-oriented society, I didn’t want to look older. Especially in Los Angeles! I was often assumed to be 5-10 years younger than my age, so the thought of “fast-forwarding” seemed like a risky idea.
I started looking at photos of gray-haired women — on Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube — some average looking, some drop-dead gorgeous, some stylish, a few young and trendy, some one percent gray and stunning. And surprisingly, quite a few young women with silver or gray colored strands!
During my research, I noticed that gray hair encompasses many shades. I saw bright silver, pure white, steel gray and light gray, often mixed with blond, brown, red or black. One of my favorite things about the graying process is that we are all unique in our coloring. No one will have the exact same shade, or combination of light to dark, as we each produce a different pattern.
One 46-year-old woman I interviewed had this to say about going from dark brown to her own bright silver/white:
“I just knew the time was right. I have no interest in chasing my youth — been there done that! I think it’s good to be able to appreciate every age and stage of my life. It makes me feel more at peace and comfortable. I like that I’m embracing and relaxing into who I am.”
I decided it was time to go for it. I could always go back and dye again. I was ready to embrace and accept my real hair color. Armed with a dozen photos, I asked my stylist the big question:
“What about letting some of my real color grow in as my new ‘base,’ and then adding some color (lowlights, highlights) for contrast?” I held my breath, waiting for him to say how old I would look and how horrible that would be.
“Yes, of course,” he said, and got to work, leaving my gray roots untouched while adding ash blond highlights to my hair.
Even with wet hair, looking in the mirror I’ll never forget that distinct feeling of relief. I felt brighter, softer, more real. I was thrilled.
“When do I come back?” I asked.
“Wait as long as possible,” he replied.
It’s a year later and I can still say my skin looks brighter against the lighter hair. I chose a shoulder length cut to be rid of the color-processed, damaged ends. I feel better and don’t cringe at the silvery color now that it blends with the highlights instead of screaming in contrast against my brassy brown hair.
I share my story of going gray with everyone who’ll listen. I notice women with gray hair everywhere and stop to compliment them. I am unabashedly obsessed with gray hair! There’s nothing wrong with coloring your hair, but know that you can be beautiful, sexy, even glamorous with your own natural color, no matter what that is.
The Color Lounge in Burbank, CA, offers a “gray hair transformation” which can be done in a few sessions or even one long session. Co-owner Grace Ilasco says: “We try to replicate the dark hairs by depositing dark gray or almost-black hair color on them while lifting the other hairs to a pale blonde — almost white — depending on the integrity of the hair. We do this following the natural growth pattern of your hair. Sometimes, we make new patterns to add style, depth, or highlight the hair in ways that are more flattering to the client.”
Her website offers tips on looking fabulous with gray hair, including
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Michelle Ray is a skin care brand consultant with 13 years of experience in medical aesthetics sales, product development and marketing. She is also a former yoga teacher/massage therapist and a lifelong beauty-product junkie.
Michelle operates the Smart Beauty Rituals website where she shares honest, accurate information about quality products that can make a real difference in your skin's health and appearance.