Your first gray hair is a rite of passage, a reminder that you’re getting older, wiser, and that you are blessed to be a vibrant human being. Like laugh lines, gray hairs are a totem of a life well lived. But of course, most of us can’t help but wonder: Why do we go gray, and what, if anything, do we do about it — or not? Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about being a silver fox or dyeing your salt-and-pepper strands.
Why your hair turns gray
Gray hair first appears in both men and women generally between the ages of 34 and 44. As for premature grays, those occur in folks under 20 and are largely genetic. As you may or may not know, your hair follicles contain pigment cells that produce melanin, which gives your hair its color. When your body stops generating melanin, hair goes gray, silver, or white. In layperson’s terms: your hair goes through natural cycles of falling out and growing back, and after age 35, it’s more likely to grow back in gray.
Stress may play a part, although don’t go blaming your kid or significant other for your new silver strands quite yet. Stress can make your hair fall out, but if you’re already going gray, the hair that grows back will be, well, gray.
It is unclear whether emotional stress is truly associated with graying of the hair. It is known that stress can have physical effects, interfering with wound healing and promoting inflammation. However, it is unknown how significant of an impact it has on hair color, and it would not be surprised if one day a definite association is found.
The biggest gray hair don’t
When you spot your first gray hairs, step away from the tweezers. While it may be tempting to pull out a silver strand or two, doing so can actually get in the way of your gray greatness and make your hair appear thinner. Plucking, in some cases, can cause inflammation of the root of the hair, leading to damage to the follicle, helping the hair look like it’s coming in thinner. Most of the time, plucking does not truly thin out the hair, but it appears thinner as it grows in because a new hair is formed with a thin edge. Besides thinner hair, there will be some serious, icky-sounding damage if the hair you’re pulling out is particularly short. Attempting to pluck a short hair can cause trauma, scarring, infection of the skin blocking the hair follicle, and increase the risk of ingrown hairs in the future.
Several hairstylists and colorists agree that plucking is a bad idea. Please do not pull out gray hair that is bothering you. It is better to have hair to color than hair that is thinning due to destroying the root by yanking it out. Plus, plucking that gray hair isn’t going to change anything. The hair follicle is still there and producing hairs. Yank out that gray hair and another one is just going to grow back in its place.
What makes your grays different from your other hair?
A few things to know when your strands say au revoir to their previous shade: Gray hair is not physically coarse or shaggy, despite what you may have read or heard. It’s actually finer, but 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.
It is unclear why, but the biological process that affects the color of the hair likely also affects the structure of the hair being produced as well. But guess what? That can be a major positive, especially for those of us whose hair can’t hold a curl or a wave to save our lives.
A lot of women get discouraged from going gray, but the texture [grays] give you can actually make your hair routine more exciting. Your hair might dry much quicker, and you might feel that it is much thicker, holding styles better and longer. That being said, you should also focus on keeping your hair very moisturized from roots to ends. This will keep it soft and shiny.
How to cover your grays
With your first grays, it is unimportant to change any of your routines. If you are someone who isn’t ready to go full-on silver fox and wants to cover your grays, the right time to start dyeing them is once your hair is about 30 percent gray.
But then what do you use to cover them? There are so many options out there, it’s no wonder you might have color confusion. First, let’s start with the right type of dye. It’s a question of how much coverage you want and how long you want it to last. The type of dye you use depends on the amount of gray you have. If 40 percent or more of your head is gray, permanent color is the best option. If it’s 30 percent or less, you can use semi-permanent or vegetable dye.
But there are pros and cons to both. Permanent color will grow out with a very distinct line, semi-permanent will wash out of your hair and not leave a line, but it doesn’t cover gray as well. For a more graduated, natural look, if only about 20 to 30 percent of your hair is gray, you can also opt for balayage, which works if you don’t have as many grays. It will camouflage the gray and make it look like highlights.
Covering your grays at the Hair salon
There’s no difference when it comes to covering up your grays or just simply switching up your regular color. You can get them done like you normally would. It also depends on the amount of gray you have and the color you are going for,” she says. If you only have about 20 percent of your head covered in gray, you can use the highlights to mask them.
Otherwise, go with whatever hue you want. Just be aware that how fast you’ll be back in the chair depends on the color you choose. The darker your hair, the more maintenance it will require because of the contrast between white and brown shades. This is usually why a lot of women will want to go blonder when they start going gray, but if you’ve got a good colorist and the right products to maintain it, then you should go for whatever color you want.
Covering your grays with at-home color kits
So you don’t want to shell out major bucks for a salon job. We feel you. In this case, you can hit your local drugstore and get inexpensive kits that also get the job done.
If neither of those appeals to you, you can take matters into your own hands and use some of the products out there that provide a temporary solution.
How to transition to gray
If you’re planning on embracing your grays, know that patience is key. You can’t just snap your fingers and get incredible results in minutes, according to experts. Many people sit in their hairdresser’s chair after years of coloring their hair and say OK, I’m ready to go gray. They assume the hairdresser can just color them all gray, but it does not work like that. They have no way of giving you your gray hair — that comes from growing it out. However, hairdressers can definitely help you grow it out easier so that you still feel good during the process.
Take baby steps…
There are plenty of ways to ease into your silver color in a way that makes you feel comfortable, and it’s important to chat with your colorist to put a plan in place and manage your expectations. One of the most straightforward methods is to “just color your part and hairline and let the rest grow out,” says Hazan. “When you’re a few months away from full gray grow-out, stop and use the root concealer until it’s all grown out.”
Another option? Start by just rocking a few pieces in the front to see if it will work for [your] skin tone and look. Sometimes switching women to a more translucent color so that more of their grays can come through slowly. Translucent colors, as opposed to permanent colors, are less opaque, and therefore help blend the grays in more with your previous tone.
Playing around with highlights or lowlights are also a way to transition to all-over gray. Highlights or lowlights [in a shade that matches the rest of your color] helps to avoid a two-tone look. They also help to blend in the dueling hues.
Break out the scissors
If you’re giddy about your grays, maybe try something entirely new. A shorter haircut or a new style can help the transition as well. Maybe a choppy pixie, or loose waves with a few grays in the front as you grow your hair out? Or perhaps you’d like to try Emma Thompson’s modern, sexy pompadour on for size. A good haircut is essential. Precision-shaping paired with deep hydration will save the day. There are many options, depending on the amount of gray present and the look you’re going for. Possibly paint some white streaks around the face for a stronger statement.
Caring for your grays
So you’ve decided to go with your grays. Bravo. Now, here’s how you care for that new hue. Just like you polish your silver jewellery, you do the same for your hair.
For starters, you want to use a blue or purple-hued shampoo and conditioner several times a month to keep your color strong. Clarifying and purple shampoos can keep the gray or white hair brighter and will also help prevent the yellowing that comes from the sun. Purple shampoo, in particular, color-corrects warm tones in blonde hair. Basically, this is a fancy way of saying that it helps reduce brassiness. These cleansers are ideal for light-colored hair especially if you go gray or white. But yes, as with anything else, you can go overboard. Overuse of a purple-tinted shampoo can turn your hair muddy, reduce its brightness, and make it look. Try and use it once a week, because better sultry than sorry.
You also want to make sure your daily (or go-to, if you’re not a daily washer) shampoo is hydrating and full of antioxidants to keep those grays looking bright and fresh.
Styling your grays
As for styling, if you have finer hair and want it to look bouncy and healthy, stay away from those thick serums or ultra-thick pomades or creams, because they can just make your hair look flat, and who wants that? Unless, of course, that’s the look you’re going for. Instead, try a light anti-frizz shine spray, to keep things locked down and smooth.
If you’re one of those women who is rocking the gray, then make sure it stays bright and healthy-looking. A great way to do this is to receive a clear gloss every three to four months. This will brighten the grays, and keep any other unwanted tones at bay. Whether you decide to embrace your grays or cover them up, just know you’ve got options. Now, go forth and get your most fabulous hair ever.