My Experience Transitioning to Natural Gray Hair

Are you on the fence about transitioning to your natural gray hair color? I was too, and finally made the leap. Read about my experience, why I did it, and how it went.

Oh boy, where do I even begin. At the time of this writing, I am 39.5 years old. Just a few gray hairs shy of the big 4-0. Being almost 40 doesn’t seem as old as I thought 40 would be when I saw my first gray hair. At that time, I was 18. I already knew I was doomed (?) to go gray earlier than most, what with all the white hair that seemed to run in my bloodline. But that didn’t make it any more comforting when I first saw that first gray hair amid all the nearly black hair coming out of my head.

My adorable silver-haired grandma
My adorable silver-haired grandma
Two generations of gray hair before me
Two generations of gray hair before me
Grays on my dad's side as well
Grays on my dad’s side as well

Rather than go the route of chemical hair dye, I preferred the tweezers. As I would find gray hairs, out they would go. I would stand in front of the mirror, holding another mirror behind my head to check in every direction, and remove any silver I could find. I spent way too long doing this each week. It is a little more than ridiculous, looking back at all that wasted time.

By the time I was 24, I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I had gotten highlights put in once when I was 22, but I was just ready to cover everything with “darkest brown” hair color, the real stuff, and never let my silvers see the light of day. I was pregnant with my first child at the time I came to that decision, and my still-in-beauty-school sister refused to let me take those chemicals into my body until after our daughter was born. So I waited.

After that first dye, I was hooked. Every 6 weeks, I’d head to Sally’s Beauty and grab a couple bottles of 2N and some developer and head to the bathroom sink. After a few months, I felt like a pro with my scale and mixing bowl, brush in hand and covering those roots like I’d been doing it all my life. I’d rinse out the dye, dry and straighten my (naturally curly, frizzy) hair, and 4 hours later, stand back and look at my beautiful, dark, silver-free hair.

My DIY home hair dye brought me back to that "natural" dark brown
My DIY home hair dye brought me back to that “natural” dark brown
Healthy hair (before highlighting) so shiny it glittered in the sunlight
Healthy hair (before highlighting) so shiny it glittered in the sunlight

Then a week later, the roots would start to show. Again. Time after time after time. People, I did this for 12 years. I don’t really want to do the math on how much time I sat in my bathroom, or in a salon chair, and waited. Waited for the dye to be put on. Waited for the dye to process. Waited as the dye was washed out. And the amount of money spent. And the chemicals I allowed to be soaked into my scalp. And the damage I caused to my previously silky, shiny, smooth hair. It’s sad, really.

I bounced back and forth between light and dark hair: getting highlights, being frustrated with that in-salon maintenance, then coloring it dark brown by myself, then back to highlights. Going from dark to light to dark to light will do a number on your hair after a while. Not to mention my hair didn’t want to be light so it was always an odd brassy orange color instead, even with toner.

Second round of highlights
Second round of highlights
Round #8 of highlights? So. Many. Foils.
Round #8 of highlights? So. Many. Foils.
Super brassy highlighted hair and gray roots covered with root-touchup
Super brassy highlighted hair and gray roots covered with root-touchup

But at the ripe old age of 36, I had just had it. I was done. The cost (financially and emotionally) was just too much. It wasn’t worth it to me anymore. I knew that I had to embrace it eventually or I would be glued to that salon chair for the rest of my life. Being a generally low-maintenance girl, that made no sense to me. So I quit.

In September of 2017, I dyed my hair for the last time. Or so I thought. Hear me out. By the time I was ready to quit the dye, I knew the transition would be tough. I had bleached and highlighted for so long, my hair was unhealthy, orange-y, and weird looking. I knew I need a final “transition” color job to help me blend things together a bit. I even created a Pinterest board with a ton of inspiration photos to take to my stylist and was ready to commit to his transition.

Word to the wise: do NOT get your hopes up by finding images like these and thinking you’re going to walk out of the salon like that a few hours later. It will take multiple sessions, a crap-ton of money, and your hair might not even get to these colors after all that anyway. Lesson learned…

My Experience Transitioning to Natural Gray Hair

For such a big task, I would usually see my immensely talented sister (Kayla), but since she lives 1,800 miles away, it wasn’t really an option. My regular local stylist was unavailable. I knew of a friend of a friend that was really great with coloring blonde and silver, so as a Christmas present, Rob booked me an appointment with her. And on 27 Dec 2017, I went in for my “final” coloring! So excited. I had a good 3″ of gray grown out. A painful 4 month process and I was so proud that I had gotten that far and would just be blending in the colored stuff with my new virgin silver growth.

Walked in looking like this...
Walked in looking like this…
Walked out looking like this...
Walked out looking like this…
Styled and trying to not be sad
Styled and trying to not be sad

Things did not go as planned.

Tip: do not ever let any stylist talk you into something that you don’t want to do. Don’t let them tell you what you “want” if it’s not what you truly want. Don’t let them tell you what you want isn’t possible and then just let them do what they want. You will never be happy.

I went home and cried. For real. All those months of growth, all those silver inches grown out, gone. She covered them all in an effort to “blend” them in. I had to start from scratch. I was pretty heartbroken.

So 2 1/2 months later, our family found ourselves in Florida and I was able to see my sister and have her blend my new 2 months of growth. And she did such a good job (no surprise), matching my gray roots up with the new highlights she placed. So on 15 Feb 2018, 6 months after my “last” dye job, I got my last dye job. For real this time.

My super-talented sister fixing that mess once and for all
My super-talented sister fixing that mess once and for all
The day of my last dye, letting the silvers shine
The day of my last dye, letting the silvers shine
Braids and a wide-brimmed hat to protect and disguise
Braids and a wide-brimmed hat to protect and disguise

Because my hair was SO damaged (seriously, the strands were stretchy like rubber bands!) from the frequent and back to back highlighting, my sister suggested (actually, demanded) that I not heat-style my hair for months. For this hair straightener addict, that was tough. But I did as she said, and I let the natural frizzy curls shine for a while. I also did quite a few deep-conditioning treatments to help it heal.

Gray Hair Transition

Over the next couple of months, I utilized braids, hats, ponytails, new hairstyles, anything that would disguise the growing out process. There’s no shame in trying to hide the roots in the beginning. I was very familiar with root touch-up products over the years, and I absolutely made good use of them in the early stages of my transition. I tried pretty much every type of root touch-up I could find: brush-on powder, crayon-like stick, aerosol spray, temp wash-in color, & temp-color mousse. Although I had accepted this was the new me, I wasn’t ready to full-on advertise it to the world let.

In April 2018, I attended a large convention and finally let my hair down, so to speak and the weirdest thing happened. I got so many compliments on my hair. I never got compliments when I was spending hundreds of dollars and hours coloring it, so this was an odd phenomenon.

My first time out with hundreds of people and my new silver hair (4 months of root growth)
My first time out with hundreds of people and my new silver hair (4 months of root growth)
Playing with new hairstyles to aid the transition (6 months of root growth)
Playing with new hairstyles to aid the transition (6 months of root growth)
Fully embracing the new me (11 months of  root growth)
Fully embracing the new me (11 months of root growth)

And the thing is, 2.5 years later, I still get a crazy amount of compliments on a weekly basis. The one that stands out the most was when we were walking through a hotel in Las Vegas and a man about 20 years my senior was walking with a crowd in the opposite direction. He stopped right in the middle, grabbed my arm, and said “Your hair is gorgeous! I wish my wife would let her hair do that” and kept walking.

Comparing my real hair to the old highlighted stuff. The difference in texture is incredible. 16 months of growth.
Comparing my real hair to the old highlighted stuff. The difference in texture is incredible. 16 months of growth.
The next-to-the-last chop before the transition is complete. 18 months of growth.
The next-to-the-last chop before the transition is complete. 18 months of growth.

Natural Gray Hair

It took me a long time to accept my real hair, the way it wanted to be, the color I was given by my family and their silvery genes. Although I regret all the years wasted before getting to this point, I’m so glad I have finally come to a full acceptance.

I am very fortunate that not a single person spoke to me in a negative way during this whole process of transitioning to my gray hair. My sister did warn me that it may age me, and I may want to up my skincare routine, but that was solid advice and not meant as an insult or to dissuade me in any way. I never once received any negative comments from friends, loved ones, or strangers, as I have heard so many women have had to deal with. For that I am so grateful.

My Experience Transitioning to Natural Gray Hair
Me in all my natural (silver, curly, frizzy) glory, 2.5 years since the last dye job, 2.75 years since I made the decision to go natural.
My Experience Transitioning to Natural Gray Hair
I still prefer the silvers to be straightened, but give them a break every now and then.

Just know that if you are making this journey, and you are getting those negative comments, you look amazing! Do not give a second thought to the Debbie Downers out there. This is your decision, your hair, your life. Nobody else gets a say in how you live it and what color your hair is, and it’s absurd they even think they do.

I promise that through the long and sometimes frustrating process, the end result will have you beaming with pride at your ability to accept yourself for who you are. Also, just think of all the women out there paying boatloads of money to get their hair bleached silver right now and laugh at how your body just grows that stuff for free!

Edited to add: Definitely join the “Gray & Proud” Facebook group. So many inspiring photos, support, motivation, and tips from other like-minded people making this transition as well.

My Experience Transitioning to Natural Gray Hair
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16 comments
  1. This is SO relatable to me. I’m older than you but still kept trying to cover the gray to no avail. I finally decided it just wasn’t worth the cost or the time and after seeing several articles about the dangers of the chemicals I went natural too. At my age I figured I wasn’t fooling anyone anyway. Surprisingly, I had the same experience as you and received many compliments as well. It’s such a relief now to just let it be the way it was intended to be! Thanks Kendra!

  2. Love your hair and this blog post. I’m in the same boat you were three years ago. Coloring myself and occasionally going to the salon. I finally found a more natural, slightly less toxic(?) hair dye but I know I should go gray. I’m 53, though, do the wrinkles are already there to show my age! You also have a blog post on your skin care routine? I’m looking for a whole new set of skin care products that are not toxic. I’m sure the stuff I’ve been using (strivectin) is full of bad stuff!

    1. I actually have a very minimal skin care routine. I use Micellar Cleansing Water to remove Makeup, Witch Hazel as a toner, and pure shea butter as a moisturizer. That’s all. I do have a more involved moisturizer that I make (and plan on posting here someday) but when it runs out, I just use the straight shea butter, especially in the winter when it’s super dry indoors here in Colorado.

  3. Gorgeous Kendra! Absolutely Gorgeous. I need to do this and you may have given me guts to let my naturally curly want-to-be gray currently dark brown hair let it’s freak flag fly!

    Did your kids say anything during this process? Every time I start letting it grow out my teenage daughter says she doesn’t really like it and wants me to make it brown again 🥴 ugh. Oh well. I don’t live my life to please my daughter but when you’re already self-conscious it makes it easier to keep going back to the salon chair!

    So glad you and Rob are back and love all the homesteading stuff!!!

    1. Thank you so much, Holly! My kids, especially the younger two, were very apprehensive about me looking like a grandma at such a young age. They were not on board. But they actually really like it now. The root touch-up is your friend during those first 6 months or so. It really isn’t a pretty process early on, but if you’re open to getting highlights added, it really does help disguise the roots a little better, you just have to stay on top of the toner to keep it from looking too brassy. Also, you should check out the “Gray & Proud” Facebook group. Those ladies post a ton of inspiring photos! Best of luck!

  4. You look fantastic! I let mine go as soon as I could. I’m 62 and my patients ask all the time what color I put on my hair. Gray is the new hot!

  5. Aw I love this! Very cool to read the process you and your hair went through over the years! You absolutely made the right choice because the grey looks great on you and I am so happy I got to participate in the end! You pull it off so naturally, and I just love it on you!! My motto is and always will be, “it doesn’t matter what color your hair is, if it’s not healthy, it’s not pretty.”

    1. I really like that motto. You are amazing at what you do and I am super proud of you! And thanks for helping me finish this thing up 😜

  6. I definitely think you made a good decision. Your “new” hair is gorgeous.
    I love my tricolored (light blonde, dark red/purple, dark blonde) hair. BUT, it’s a constant struggle to keep it that way since I live in Florida and the sun bleaches everything out within 2 weeks.
    Like you, I began dying my hair in my 20’s. My hair adventure began due to a bad perm that turned my hair orange. At that stage I didn’t have the money to have a professional ease me back to my original color. Heck, after a few years of home coloring I didn’t even know what that color was.
    40 years later – Enter coronavirus. I haven’t been to my hairdresser since February. I didn’t worry about roots because everyone had roots. Then things opened up and all my friends are back to solid colors. I vacillated between let it go and cover it up. My hair appointment is this Sunday. I called her and told her to be prepared to help me go natural. Thanks to your article, I’m more confident to take the plunge.

  7. I loved your journey to natural gray; thank you for sharing all the feelings & reality that went with your decision.
    My question, what shampoo do you use to keep the pretty natural gray and control the yellow look?

    1. I bounce back and forth between different brands, but I always use some sort of purple/blue stuff that’s meant for blondes. I have used the line of silver conditioner from Overtone, which I liked, but right now I’m using “Not Your Mother’s Blonde Moment shampoo/conditioner. The shampoo is super dark purple and seems to do well at keeping the yellow away. Also, minimizing the use of heat tools will help as well.

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