We’ve been stuck at home for weeks. Hair salons are closed. What can you do if your roots are showing and you’re tired of covering them up?
Even if you had never considered it before, maybe this is the time to go gray. Let me share why I chose to stop coloring my hair and the steps I suggest for taking the plunge.
We face a lot of pressure to look as youthful as possible. We’re told that any sign of aging as undesirable, and that we should them up. But I don’t agree. More of us are choosing to forego the expense, time, and energy it takes to cover up our silver, white, and gray hair.
Here is what I recommend doing if you want to join the natural color crowd.
Step 1: Recognize that gray hair is beautiful.
Hollywood is obsessed with eternal youthfulness, but gray hair is actually gaining popularity.
Consider these gorgeous folks:
- Meryl Streep (especially in her role as Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada”)
- Jamie Lee Curtis (who rocks super-short hairstyles)
- Nichelle Nichols (an actress who is most famous for her Star Trek role)
- Stacy London (who has been rocking the gray hair streak for years! Read her incredible back-story here.)
- Helen Mirren (and her gorgeous white, perfectly coiffed hair!)
Let’s not forget the Silver Foxes — well-known male celebrities who have skipped the dye — like George Clooney, Idris Elba, John Slattery, Patrick Dempsey, Esai Morales (all pictured above), Morgan Freeman, Harrison Ford, Christoph Waltz, Djimon Hounsou… the list goes on!
Step 2: Compare the pros and cons.
As with any major decision, there are some great things about going gray, and there are some downsides.
Believe it or not, your natural hair color looks great on you. The combination of one’s natural eye color, skin tone, and hair are naturally complementary. While the beauty industry promotes “covering grays” and using chemicals to create a more flattering look, your natural tones will typically look better than artificial colors.
My friend Joy Overstreet has a whole course called “Going Gray Gracefully”; read more about her perspective here.
Save a LOT of money.
Hairstylists would not want you to hear this, but not coloring your hair will save you hundreds or perhaps thousands of dollars a year. For 16 years (from the ages of 21 to 37), I went to the salon every two to three months, spending an average of $100 at each visit.
In the US, the average costs for hair coloring can easily exceed $100 in a single session:
- An all-over color cost an average of $65 (plus taxes and tip).
- Full highlights are around $90 (plus tax & tip).
- All-over color plus full highlights start at $150 (plus tax & tip).
And that’s not even counting the cost of a haircut, color maintenance shampoos and products, or expensive specialty treatments (like balayage, ombré, and extensions).
Don’t even get me started on box dyes—even with the right application, cheap products can create a more expensive problem to fix than going to a salon in the first place. Watch stylist Brad Mondo explain it in his Hairdresser Reacts series!
Growing out your gray means you get to skip hours sitting in the salon. My average appointment was 4 hours long, and extensive treatments can last for 8 hours or more.
By using fewer harsh chemicals, you’ll also give your scalp a break. You won’t need to constantly check your roots or use touch-up products to cover the gray.
The best part is, natural hair is not permanent. You can always go back to coloring your hair if you decide it’s not right for you.
It takes time.
Growing out chemically altered hair can take years. Once I decided to go gray, I decided to stop chemical treatments and grow it out. Two years later, when my stylist trimmed off the last few inches of dye, I realized how much had changed in that period.
Unless you go for a short cut, the change will happen very slowly; so you’ll need to prepare for a long haul.
People will notice.
There’s no getting around it; gray hair gets attention. You’ll probably hear comments from acquaintances, strangers, and children about your choice to go gray. Even if they’re well intentioned, comments can feel shocking, especially if your hair color is a big part of your identity.
You will change.
And that brings me to the final negative, one that is rarely mentioned. A mental shift must take place when you change something significant.
If, like me, you have spent many hours and thousands of dollars on salon treatments, your identity is tied to the way your hair looks. So letting this go of can feel emotional, even if you’re excited for a new stage in life.
In my experience, it wasn’t until after I had grown out my hair that I realized how far-reaching my hair care was part of my self-identity:
- The many hours of sitting in a salon chair with foils in my hair
- Flipping through magazines while under a heat lamp and waiting for the color to set
- Engaging in small-talk with my stylist until the process was done
- Rushing to make a new appointment because my roots were starting to show
One thing that will change once you go gray is a shift in self-identity, especially if you have actively been covering up the gray for years. By taking the time to grieve what you’re giving up and accepting the “new you,” this experience can be very empowering.
Many of us who go gray find the positives far outweigh the negatives. The new feelings of relief and self-acceptance are totally worth the sacrifice of going through this transition.
Step 3: Decide that you’re ready.
I just turned 40 year old, and I’m not ashamed of it. Growing older is a wonderful thing. Every day is a gift, and choosing to celebrate your age is not something you need to hide.
I encourage you to identify the benefits from this change and compare these to the cost of doing nothing. You can use the Scrooge Effect process to visualize what you will need to adjust and how it might feel. Taking an honest, transparent assessment of whether you really want to make this commitment is really important.
When you go from a constant process to chemically dye your hair and decide to adopt a natural gray look, this will take some serious commitment. And it will not happen easily. Make sure you’re ready to go through with it.
Here is a montage of my hair transition over the past few years. The top row and bottom left & center are with salon hair treatments; the bottom right is natural hair with gray.
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After coloring my hair for 17 years and spending thousands of $$$ in upkeep, I decided to welcome my 40s and go gray! Top two photos & bottom left/center are the “before” with salon dye and highlight treatments. Bottom right is 100% my natural color. Is it your time to #gogray too? #gograyinmay #grayhair #greyhair #greyhairmovement #womenwithgreyhair #grombre #embracethegrey #ditchthedye #greyunder50 #naturalhair #loveyourhair @grombre
Step 4: Create a plan.
Going from full-coverage color to silver hair is much easier when you find a stylist who supports your decision to stop using dye.
Since you probably have several weeks of root growth already, there are several options you can use to move into a new look. (Thanks to blogger Katie Emery of Katie Goes Platinum for these ideas!)
This is the most dramatic, but it could feel like too big of a shock (unless you’re ready for an immediate change).
If you have 3 months of root growth, your stylist can give you a longer style that gets rid of the “transition zone” between dyed and natural root color.
To get quick results and maintain longer hair without the growing-out phase, you’ll need a stylist who has experience with balayage, highlights and lowlights, or “grey blending.” Unfortunately, this option is expensive and requires continual upkeep. It can also cause a lot of damage due to the bleaching and other strong chemicals.
Grow it out.
This is the cheapest method, since you’ll only pay for occasional cuts to keep your hair shaped and healthy. But it also takes several years to completely lose the “line of demarcation” between dyed and natural gray.
Once you’ve decided which option is best for you, go for it!
Here are some Instagram users who are proud of their gorgeous gray hair:
5. Adjust your clothes and makeup.
The final step to going gray is to adjust the rest of your color choices.
As we age, our skin can look washed out when we wear the wrong shades. I highly recommend hiring a professional color expert who can find shades that match your natural skin, eye, and hair tones with clothes and accessories that will bring out your natural features. This one change alone will make you look incredible in everything you wear.
The aging process (and welcoming gray hair) can also change the shades of eyeshadow, blush, and lipstick you should look. A very bright or highly saturated shade can look severe if it’s not adjusted to your changing complexion.
Here is an example of the cosmetics I started using after seeing my personalized color palette:
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Reducing risk is important in all types of daily decisions… even when picking a new #eyeshadow color. I go everywhere with my #customstyle #colorfan selected by @colorstylepdx and designed by @image_and_color_institute. . . . Eyeshadow compact: @maybelline The City Mini Palette in Graffiti Pop. Lipstick 💄 : @revlon ColorStay Ultimate Suede in Couture #prettycolors #makeupfun #riskintelligence #riskmanagement #imageandcolorinstitute
Consider hiring a color consultant or image consultant to help you decide on the tones and fabrics that will make you look best as you enter this incredible new chapter of your life.
(Find out how this experience went for me and how it helped: What Happened After I Got a Professional Color Consult)
If you want to hear more tips about going gray, here are some great videos:
An Instagram account called grombre is all about this transition. Their goal is “A radical celebration of the natural phenomenon of grey hair.”
Articles that give more tips on transitioning to natural hair:
Are you ready to go gray? Share your thoughts below!
Grace LaConte is a business strategist, writer, and workplace equity advocate whose risk management graphics are used around the globe. She specializes in finding hidden threats and opportunities in organizations that employ working parents. Grace is the host of the What’s Wrong with Your Business? Podcast, which provides tools to adapt in a rapidly changing market.