December 21, 2017

Going gray in L.A.

Originally posted on Singular City

Going Gray in L.A.

My going gray journey from October 2016 to January 2019 (when I cut out the last inch of colored hair)

My going gray transformation from (salon) brunette to silver-blond

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.

Michelle – before starting her “going gray” transition.
Michelle in 2015 – before her “going gray” transition

Does gray equal "old" or even "ugly"?

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:

  • Will gray hair affect how I’m perceived in my career?
  • Gray hair makes you look older and/or is not sexy.
  • Gray hair won’t complement my skin tone, I’ll look washed out and tired.
  • What will my boyfriend, kids and friends think? 

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.

A community for women with natural hair

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!

white pixie

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.”

The big question - again

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.

The most difficult stage – visible gray roots!

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.

Going gray hair transformations

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.”

Look your best with natural gray, white or silver hair

Her website offers tips on looking fabulous with gray hair, including

  • Get a stylish, flattering cut
  • Keep your hair sleek, shiny and smooth. Frizz is not attractive on any color especially gray!
  • Wear color near your face, makeup and/or clothing

Some benefits of not coloring your hair

  • Healthier, shinier hair
  • Hair that naturally compliments skin tone (which changes with age)
  • Freedom from constant root touch-up appointments
  • Less exposure to potentially toxic chemicals
  • Savings of $1,200 – 2,500 a year or more depending on frequency and type of color

Thinking of going gray?

If you have questions,  please let me know in the comments below!

If you found this information useful, share this post with friends or on your social media, as it allows me to grow my audience and help more women with their beauty needs.

Please note: I only share products I’ve used personally and wholeheartedly recommend.  All products are Cruelty-Free.

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. 

3 comments on “Going gray in L.A.”

  1. I stopped coloring 8 years ago but my salt streaks are still only on top (and heavy at the temples); the back and ends are still light brown. I've had so many haircuts but the growout doesn't hit the ends. Seems very unusual. I'd like to lighten up the brown and move the white streaks toward platinum if possible. I'm in L.A. Pacific Palisades. I don't have a colorist. Would you recommend the stylist who added the ash blonde to your hair?Thanks for any advice you can offer.


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