5 tips to go gray gracefully
Author Anne Kreamer says her decision to go gray was just the start of an overall appearance overhaul. (Photo courtesy of Anne Kreamer)
If you’ve been coloring your gray, the thought of stopping can be scary for no other reason than imagining how you'll survive the time it takes for your natural color to emerge.
Here are expert tips on looking your best while in the gray area between dying and living as nature intended:
Embrace the experience
Letting yourself “go gray” is a process that both reflects and encourages personal change, says Anne Kreamer, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based writer who documented her 18-month experience in “Going Gray: What I Learned about Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity, and Everything Else That Matters.”
“The length of time until you get to the place where it looks right feels like an eternity,” says Kreamer, who was 49 when she stopped coloring her hair, which had begun to turn gray when she was in her 20s. “You can’t just do this overnight. You actually have to live through it in real time; that’s an important part of the journey. It’s slow and painful and calls into question every one of your insecurities and fears about getting older, about being attractive or being invisible.”
Let your hairdresser help
Kreamer says she learned there is no easy way to simply remove dye from hair. “Each time you do a single-process hair color, your hair shaft absorbs it differently," she says. "If you tried to strip it out, you’d have a tortoiseshell cat effect, really horrific."
But she didn’t want to go cold turkey with her tresses. “I went to my colorist and said that I’d decided to go gray. At the time, my hair was a dark kind of mahogany. For about six months, she had to pull through some highlights to blend the shelf of gray. Then she would put a toner over it to further blend it in. I had that done two or three times, every six weeks or so during the growing-out phase.”
Highlights can help with the process, says Ceilon Aspensen, owner and manager of highly rated Salon Simpatico in Bozeman, Mont. “If they've been going darker than 50 percent gray, I recommend highlighting with bleach to a level that is roughly the same as their naturally graying hair. This works in the same way as a highlight or lowlight. As more of the darker color grows out, we space the highlight or lowlight pieces farther and farther apart. Toward the end of the final transition, we might employ some semi-permanent gloss with just a hint of light tint to blend the highlights or lowlights to the graying hair as the last bit of highlighted or lowlighted hair grows off the ends and finally disappears.”
Shorten your hair
Angie’s List member Connie L. of Chelmsford, Mass., says she had her stylist cut more than usual while she grew out her gray. “At one point, I just said to the hairdresser, ‘Cut all the color off.’ After maybe three haircuts it was done,” she says, noting she felt inspired by actress Jamie Lee Curtis’ famously gray pixie cut.
Kreamer, however, who wore her hair to her shoulders, didn’t think she could handle a doubly dramatic change in her appearance. “But I realized about half-way through that the ends of the hair get really dry and brittle in contrast to the hair growing in. About seven months in, I had 3 to 4 inches of hair cut off. That was the exciting moment, when all my hair was fresh and coming close to blending in all pewter.”
Rethink your whole look
“When I was dying, I had this idea that no one would notice the 15 pounds I put on, as long as my roots weren’t showing,” Kreamer jokes. The process of going gray became her opportunity to break out of a decades-long rut and update her hair style, makeup, wardrobe and exercise habits.
“We have this place in our life cycle where we think we looked our personal best. It might be when we were 16 or it might be 30. We lock into that image in our mind, have that hair style and that look and do nothing to update and refresh ourselves as we inevitably change,” Kreamer says. “If you make the decision to go gray, it’s important to think of the full 360-degree appearance package. You might need to change your lipstick or eye makeup or change the color of your clothing to bring out the best in your complexion. You can’t do just one thing.”
Kreamer sought the advice of an image consultant. “The colors I wear now tend to be more jewel tones, more pure, such as sapphire blues and greens.”
Consider special products
Kreamer and hair stylists who are highly rated by Angie's List members recommend trying products intended for silver or white hair. “Once or twice a week I use a kind of blue shampoo for blonde or white hair, and I use a really good conditioner,” Kreamer says.
Bab May, owner and stylist of highly rated Bab & Company Hairdesigners of Carmel, Ind., says gray hair can be drier, more coarse and may appear duller than other hair colors. “Luckily, there's an entire category of shampoos, conditioners and glazes designed to enhance luster and add hydration to naturally gray and white hair. The violet-tinged formulas neutralize yellow tones; white hair can go brassy very easily.”
“Keeping it shiny and smooth is the biggest challenge, especially for women who have a lot of texture in their hair,” says Aspensen, the Montana hair stylist. “For those, I recommend products like Paul Mitchell's Super Skinny series.”