In this age of anti-aging, it’s hard not to greet one’s gray hair in the mirror each morning without seeing the ghost of a more colorful youth. But that’s exactly the point. For most of us proud silver-tops, chrome-domes, and gray-manes, it is a potent reminder that life is nothing but change – and if we’re not satisfied by how far we’ve come we’d better get on with it.
The interest in gray hair as a movement is part of a larger focus on innate beauty and the rejection of the attitude that one’s “flaws” need to be “fixed” or hidden. What ‘beautiful’ means is up for grabs – and up to each of us to decide. It doesn’t take nerves of steel to go silver; as with the process of growing out short hair (which many people choose as a transitional choice), it simply takes patience, resolve (and a little coaching from a willing colorist). Tune out any voice but your own, and go gray with grace.
So, in support of people who have ditched the dye and are embracing their true color (or lack of it, technically) here are some facts, myths, tips (and even a spelling lesson).
Gray hair typically appears on both male and female heads between the ages of 34 and 44. “Premature” grayness technically occurs before the age of 20. Its incidence is largely genetic; if you wonder when it might occur and how it will appear, look no farther than one of your parents.
Caucasian people tend to go gray sooner (around their 30s) than any other ethnicity, while those with African-American and Asian backgrounds tend to develop gray hairs later in life.
Hair follicles contain pigment cells that produce Melanin, the stuff that gives your hair its color. Most of us stop generating melanin eventually, and hair loses its color and grows in gray, silver, or white.
We love to blame stressful situations and people for turning our hair gray, but this is very likely a myth. Stress can, however cause hair to fall out, but strands that grow back won’t necessarily be anything but their original color (unless you’re already graying.
Medical conditions that induce gray hair include Vitiligo, an autoimmune condition where pigment is destroyed, a B-12 deficiency, and pituitary or thyroid problems. The first two are rare, and the latter two are reversible with treatment.
It may be tempting to manage grays at first by plucking them out. No tweezing, please! It may cause inflammation of the hair root and lead to damaged follicles, which may result in thinner strands. And it’s a myth that more than one gray hair will sprout in its place.
Gray hair is finer hair, but it can feel more coarse because of nature. As you age, your oil glands generate less sebum (which lubricates both skin and hair), leading to drier follicles across the board. However, it might dry much quicker, appear thicker, and hold styles better and longer.
Growing out grays can take a while to get where you want to be. Just know you’re not the only one.
If you’re done with covering gray with color, make a plan with your colorist to ease your way into silver. Options include starting with a few pieces in the front to see your true color, switching to a more translucent color so gray can emerge slowly, and adding highlights or lowlights to help blend contrast. Typically, this is not a single-session process; First, dye must be removed to see how light you can go without compromising hair. Then, a combination of foiling, toning, and painting will get you close to where you want to go. The rest just takes time.
The best option beyond the bottle? Scissors. A shorter haircut may be the easiest way to transition cleanly.
Gray hair has a thinner outer cuticle, which makes it more vulnerable to discoloration, frizz, dryness, or breakage due to exposure to water, humidity, chemicals, and heat; loss of Melanin also means less protection from UV rays. That means washing with a product that preserves your natural barrier and doesn’t strip it away like shampoo containing detergent does. We recommend New Wash as the gold standard for silver hair.
Natural gray hair can also become lackluster, and turn slightly yellow as it absorbs environmental impurities. To keep it looking cool, bright, and clean, ask your colorist to tint a bottle of New Wash with a violet pigment for occasional use at home. To effectively remove dulling product build-up, try New Wash (Deep) that includes apple cider vinegar to do the job.
If you’re in the habit of blow-drying, please use a product that protects you from the heat. Dressed Up is the perfect heat styling companion.
Don’t worry that gray hair will wash you out and make you fade from view. Instead, look at it as a neutral canvas for showcasing a lipstick or eye shadow that, let’s say, a redhead couldn’t. And when it comes to clothing, the entire color spectrum is yours to explore.
What makes this welcome movement feel so revolutionary is that contrary to the trendy, 20-somethings getting faded, silver-blondes, this is about owning what happens to us naturally. Going gray requires revisiting long-held conceptions of youth and beauty. You may be less young (we all are) but in fact even more beautiful when you take that telltale white stripe out of the picture. In fact, you might get a lot of attention for something that requires so little effort.
[As for that note on spelling: There is no difference between gray (American) and grey (British). A gray area is just as ambiguous as a grey one; a graybeard has the same facial appendage as a greybeard. Artists, however, may use grey to describe softer, dove-ish tones of gray; A greyhound (dog) is always written with e; a grayling (fish) is always written with an a. If one’s last name is Grey, well, there’s no gray area there.]
To inspire you, these Instagrammers have made it their passion to help people embrace their silver selves: