Friday, March 14, 2014

How to Go Gray with Style, Beauty, and Confidence

I've blogged about WHY I decided to go gray, and little bit about how I did it, but there is more than one way to quit the dye gracefully. It is not always an easy thing to do, but there are some ways to minimize the pain and awkwardness. To tell you the truth, for me, this has been an extremely positive experience overall, a journey of self-discovery. Here is what I've gleaned along the way.

Prepare yourself mentally. This may seem silly. It's just hair, right? Well, not exactly. The journey to gray can be bumpy; your self-image is about to change drastically. Whereas for years you have thought of yourself as a brunette, a blonde, or a redhead, you will have to let that part of yourself go if you want to do this. And that can be harder than it sounds. If you're not ready, I mean really ready, you may just find yourself back in the salon or drugstore procuring more self-affirming hair dye. If you are going through a difficult time in your life, now may not be the best time to go natural (assuming you don't have a dye allergy - if you do, there is no time like the present).

Enlist support. Your friends and family may not automatically rush to support you - if you ask their opinions or seem insecure/unsure/unhappy about your decision to quit the dye, it is natural for them to jump in to "help" by offering the suggestion that you NOT give up dye. You need to have confidence, or at least "fake it till you make it." Announce your intention with excitement in your voice and a confident smile on your face. Still, you may have nay-sayers around you. In that case, don't waste your time trying to convince anyone - it's YOUR hair, after all, and your decision. You can find support online from similar-minded ladies. I have found immensely generous and kind support on Cafe Gray.

Two "grayt" books
Find some inspiration. Pinterest has about one gazillion images of beautiful silver ladies. Many of these are professional models, but there are just as many just regular folk who happen to have head-turning silver locks. Collect them, pin them to your own board, or just take a look. You CAN be at your most beautiful with natural silver hair - seeing how many other women have achieved this can help you on your own journey. Read books. Two that I found particularly helpful were Diana Jewell's Going Gray Looking Great and Anne Kramer's  Going Gray. Read blogs on the internet. Two beautiful silver bloggers I really enjoy are How Bourgeois and Highland Fashionista. Neither blog is about gray hair per se (though the links I've given you are directly to their gray hair articles), but both have written about it and offer fantastic advice and inspiration.
A couple of the options available for demi-permanent haircolor
Ok, let's get down to practicalities. How to start? Well, if you're still really not sure, one option is to take the loooooooong way, which may or may not work. In other words, switch to demi-permanent dye for several years instead of permanent dye. This is what I did, and I got extremely lucky for two reasons: One, the demi-permanent dye really WAS demi-permanent for me. (I can NOT promise this will be the case for anyone else, regardless of what the box says. While it took more than 28 shampoos for sure, the color did fade entirely in a few months. However, many women I know report that the demi-permanent is actually PERMANENT for them.) Two, I did this for about five years before I even decided to let my silvers out of hiding, so in a way I got the hardest part (the long wait) over with before I even knew I had started. The permanent dye I'd used years ago was already long gone by the time I made the decision to go natural. And, I never really got a hard line between the dye and the roots, just a gradual fadeaway. Still, I can recommend this method ONLY for women who are on the fence. It's an easy switch to make, and if it doesn't wash out, you haven't actually lost anything but time (which you were using to make a decision, anyway).
My major highlights, which I liked at the time, but now look so yellow in retrospect...
So, you ready to bite the bullet and start growing out your glorious silvers? Then go for it! Either go cold turkey or ask your stylist for some pale blonde highlights and/or lowlights to ease the line of demarcation. Just be careful with those highlights, if you go that route: no matter how ashy or white they appear at first, they will likely oxidize and turn brassy. Plus, they can be quite damaging to your hair. I did go the highlights route myself, even though I was only doing semi-permanent color, because at that point I still really hadn't decided to go natural. Most people like them them at first, but over time wish they hadn't. I wouldn't say I regret mine, but if I had known then what I know know, I wouldn't have gotten them.

So now, the hard part: wait. For about a year, if you want to maintain a very short bob, two years for a "lob" or long bob, or even more for longer hair. Yeah. Hair grows about a half inch per month. I know when you are dyeing, it seems like the roots come in SO fast. But when you want the roots to grow, it feels a lot slowwwwwer. So get out your measuring tape, and measure the longest part of your hair. Say it's 10 inches. If you want to keep that length, you're looking at a 20 month grow out. So now you need to decide...
Photo of Charlize Theron from Daily Mail (story linked below)
Cut short, keep it long, or somewhere in between? A buzz cut can be the way to go for the "let's get this done" gal. Actress Charlize Theron sported a silver buzz for a hot minute back in 2012, though she is back to blonde (and growing it out) now. Less extreme is the classic pixie cut, which is über hot right now, with popular celebrities pixie-ing left and right. Either way, it is possible go from long and dyed to short and fully transitioned in a single cut (or maybe two). Conventional wisdom says to grow your hair out for six months before getting a pixie, to give your stylist something to work with. If you're buzzing, then I guess anything goes! A word to the wise, though: a short haircut is not exactly the shortcut it seems. You can still expect to have a mental transition that will take longer. The shock of very short AND silver hair can be too much for some women - I have seen women do that and go back to dyeing just to get back to SOMEthing familiar. And, of course, if you want your hair longer once again, there is the long grow-out. But: if you are sure you will love a pixie, you're 100% ready to be silver, and you feel really excited to do it (as opposed to chopping it off in frustration/desperation), then go for it, and enjoy your sparkly, spiky, sassy new 'do!
I've still got the ombré thing going on, darker at the top, lighter on the ends, a remnant of last year's highlights (see above)
Keeping it long just means a longer transition. A longer time wearing a skunk stripe. A longer time with multi-colored hair. It's a good thing that ombré hair is so fashionable right now! (Me? Trendy? Who knew?) My own unintentional ombré is the reverse of what most women in transition get, since my roots are actually darker than the highlights I had put in. I guess I overshot a little bit, not realizing that the top of my head was not as white as my temples. The advantage to keeping your hair longer is that you have more styling options: updos, twists, french braids, buns, and more. If you can't decide between short and long, well, go for a medium length. The key with medium (which was my route) is to keep it just long enough to be able to put it in a ponytail, at least. Because there will be days when you just want it off your face.
Some products to get you through the grow out: Roux (crayon, liquid),  root touch-up powder, purple shampoo
Indulge in some hair products to see you through. After all, you're not spending money on hair dye anymore, right? There are quite a few products designed to cover the roots in between dye sessions; any of these that don't stain will be fine to use while you transition. Some examples: crayon or liquid Roux (not so much the mousse; I've heard it can stain), Jonathan Product Root Touch-Up powder. In addition, to tone down too-yellow blonde highlights (like, ahem, mine), a good strong purple shampoo can help. I like and use Schwarzkopf Bonacure Color Save Silver Shampoo about once a month myself. I do also use the Roux mentioned above, but not on my roots - I use their dark gray shade (True Steel) on my highlighted ends to tone down brassiness. Not every day, just when I look in the mirror and the brassiness bugs me.
The Flexi8 is great for pulling those dyed ends back and off my face
Splurge on some hair pretties (see above logic). I love Flexi8s, if your hair is long enough for a tiny ponytail or even a half-up, these will work for you. In the photo, I'm wearing the Mini, which is the smallest size; they go much bigger. These suckers stay put, whether your hair is thin or thick, curly or straight. I'm not personally a fan of headbands, but if you are, now is the time to expand your collection. I've amassed quite a drawerful of clips (all sizes from "holds a few hairs" to "holds up a twist"), bobby pins (many blingy), barrettes, and ponytail holders. Scarves (think small, chiffon, not big, wool) can be a colorful, beautiful way to disguise your "skunk stripe." If you were never a hat person before, now is the perfect time to try it. You can even buy an attractive wig for complete stripe coverage.

Now, share YOUR best tips in the comments, share your grayt transition photos, and/or ask me ANYthing - I'll do my best to help!


  1. A great post, Karen...and a really useful one tor anyone just starting the transition.

  2. And don't listen to the salon's colourist. They always exaggerate (why lose a monthly cash-in?), and they don't always understand the way skin tone reacts to shades.

    Honestly, the roots look scarier when they are barely visible under the dye than they do when they grow to a greater length. It's the contrast that plays tricks on our eyes. Once the natural colour reaches, say, ear level, the eyes adjust and suddenly it's the dye that looks off, as it should.

    1. I totally agree! So many of my friends are afraid to quit the dye because of how unsightly their roots look peeking out from the dye. Too bad it takes so long for the "roots" to just become "hair."