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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.