It’s been over four months since I last shared my thoughts and progress with my gray hair transition, so I thought I would give you another update today. As I revealed in my “Best of Full Life Reflections 2018” wrap-up, gray hair transition posts are the most popular on the site, so there is clearly a lot of interest in this topic. If you’re a new reader and want to check out my gray hair-related essays, you can find them all here.
Some Background Information
Those who have been following along for a while may remember that I first started to transition to my natural salt-and-pepper hair back in 2016, shortly before I turned 50. I had grown weary of having to touch up my roots every four weeks and had also become increasingly unhappy with how my color looked. At that time, my hair was very dry and damaged and my color often skewed too warm-toned and wasn’t uniform enough from roots to ends. Gray hair can be stubborn to color and because I’ve always had wiry and porous hair, my hair was even more unpredictable in its reaction to hair dye. So as I neared my milestone birthday, I decided to embrace my natural shade, no matter how gray it might be.
What I didn’t realize when I made that landmark decision was how difficult the process would be for me emotionally. It was easy in the beginning because I could easily hide my gray roots using an effective cover-up powder (which I recommend for extending the time between dye jobs or in the early days of transitioning to gray). Such products are designed to be used for just a few weeks, but I managed to cover up my roots for close to six months! It didn’t look so great towards the end, but I mitigated that effect by wearing headbands, hats, and scarves.
Where Things Went Awry and Why I’m Writing this Post
The six-month point was where my gray hair transition process went awry, and the next year was marked by a series of mistakes that I outlined in a difficult to write post last April (an article that continues to generate comments and emails). Although I shared a great deal in that post, I also left out some details because I wasn’t ready to face them myself. In today’s post, I reveal that information and tell you where I am in the process today. I also highlight some things I’ve learned about myself along the way and offer additional tips for those who are interested in transitioning to their natural gray hair.
When I was no longer able to cover my gray roots with powder, I had to figure out what to do. I feared walking around with a “skunk stripe” because I dreaded the thought of people staring at the top of my head and saying negative things to me. I wanted to “blend in” as I always had, so I took a big risk and did heavy highlights all over my head to try to blur the line of demarcation. I had no idea that those highlights would turn a brassy shade of orange, but that’s what happened. The other mistakes I made were all in an effort to overcome that initial error and resulted in my throwing lots of “good money after bad.” I spent countless dollars, only to continue to hate the way my hair looked while setting back my progress in growing my hair out.
I take responsibility for wasting both money and time, but I sure wish I would have known then what I know now. I also wish that more hairstylists would either know how to best help women to transition or recommend that they not use color on the road to their natural hair. Since the world of gray hair transition still has a long way to go, I’m continuing to share my thoughts and experiences in the hope of saving other women from the difficulties that I endured. I’m writing this post for those women who are in a quandary and grappling for information to help them make the right choice for them.
While the disasters that happened when I tried to use color to transition won’t happen to everyone, I want women to at least be aware of the possibility that such things could occur. When we see glossy images of dyed silver hair on Instagram, Pinterest, and other sites, we don’t realize that such lovely results are not the norm. And even when a woman leaves a salon with gorgeous, glowing silver locks, within a few washes (or sometimes even a single wash), they may be left with a yellow or orange hue. The lucky ones will retain the effect longer, but we never really know in which camp we’ll fall until we give it a go. I had no idea what would happen to me because I had been dyeing my hair dark for many years, which is a whole different ball of wax.
What I Didn’t Share Before…
When I wrote my “don’t do what I did” post last April, I didn’t know how to end it. I knew that readers would want to see what my hair looked like then, but I was too crushed by what had happened to show the full extent of it. I didn’t want to face the truth myself of how much my progress had been set back by my fourth big transition mistake in September 2017. So I shared shots of me trying on a gray messy bun extension, as well as a picture my stepson retouched to depict me with fully transitioned hair to help motivate me to stay the course.
The truth is that I would have been done with my gray hair transition many months ago if I had not made that one big mistake. To this day, I still don’t know what happened, but it’s basically like my hair got colored all over again. Since what was applied to my hair had been called “toner,” I expected it to eventually wash out, but it never did. And since it was applied at the shampoo bowl to virtually all of my hair, I basically had to start transitioning all over again. Only a couple of inches of my natural hair remained on the sides (and almost nothing in back), whereas I should have had at least eight or nine inches of “virgin hair” by that point.
The following pictures were taken in October/November 2017, back when I still thought the color might wash out:
As you can see, there’s not a lot of gray outgrowth there and definitely not enough to represent almost a year and a half!
Changing the Narrative
Despite my washing my hair many times with clarifying shampoo, dandruff shampoo, and even Dawn dishwashing detergent, the color steadfastly remained. Not even color remover was able to get rid of the dye; all it did was turn the test strand bright orange, so I gave up on that idea. As a result of everything that happened, I now have very little trust for hairstylists, but at least I finally stopped using any sort of color on my hair.
I decided to just stick with periodic haircuts until all of the color is cut off. I committed to getting a haircut every two months and to cutting as much as I feel comfortable with each time. Because my hair is naturally wiry and I live in a relatively humid place, I prefer to keep my hair somewhat long so that it doesn’t become extremely unmanageable. The average hair growth for most people is half an inch per month, and I feel that’s in line with the growth I’m seeing on my head. In short, it’s a very slow process, to say the least!
What’s been adding to my misery with this whole thing is the thought that it’s been almost three years since I started my transition. Thinking of that timeline and seeing other women who started after me finish their transitions with hair around my length has compounded my negative feelings.
So I recently decided to change the narrative. Since I basically had to start the process all over again in early September 2017 (as the above pictures show), I’m counting that as my new start date. Thus, I’m now close to the 18-month mark, which looks far more in line with the progress I’m seeing on my head. My hair is mostly grown out now, but I still have at least a few inches to go on the top layer and a little bit underneath as well. It’s hard to tell exactly how much color is left, though, because I don’t have as much gray as I initially thought, there isn’t a stark line of demarcation anymore, and my hair looks different depending on the lighting.
I feel much better now that I have reset my transition starting point to the date when I stopped using all types of color. I have already beat myself up more than enough for the bad decisions I’ve made, so I’m ready to just finish this up and put it behind me. A lot of women have stops and starts on their way to transitioning to gray hair, so I’m not alone in that respect. In fact, many women try to transition a few times before they successfully complete the process. The difference with my situation, however, is that I didn’t intend to color my hair again in September 2017. But since that’s what essentially happened, I’m counting it as a re-start.
What My Hair Looks Like Now
This time, I’m going to see things all the way through – and I’m getting closer! Here are some recent pictures of my hair from late December and yesterday (excuse the bad selfies – blame the fact that I’m not a millennial!):
Each set of photos above was taken on the same day but in different lighting, so you can see the variations in color depending upon where the photo was taken. I actually have more color remaining than it looks like in the second set of photos, but it’s hard to get a really accurate representation… One of the most maddening things about having lighter hair is never knowing for sure how it really looks. But I will live with that and will be thrilled when I’m finally free of color and sporting all natural hair.
What I Learned About Myself in the Process
I will probably do a full post on this in the future, but I’d like to say a few things here today. While I’ve mostly written about the lessons I’ve learned about my hair, I have also learned a great deal about myself along the path of this very long and winding journey. Most of all, I’ve learned that when I try to avoid experiencing any sort of pain or discomfort, I often end up having to deal with a lot more distress in the long run. The best way to overcome adversity is to face it head on. Because I tried to avoid looking bad and dealing with negative feedback as I grew my hair out, I ended up looking worse while also extending my transition time almost two-fold and wasting untold sums of money, time, and energy.
I didn’t want to have to talk about my hair with people and I didn’t want to face anyone’s disapproval or negative comments while I was transitioning. I also didn’t know if I would see things through, so I started growing my hair out without anyone realizing I was doing it. I told very few people about my transition while I was using the root cover-up powder because I could still “pass” for having full-length dark hair at that time. But I had to “face the music” eventually and that’s when I started to panic. This set off the series of events that made things exponentially worse than they would have been had I just told the truth from the outset. All the while, I have received very little negative feedback during this lengthy process, so all of my worrying was really for nothing anyway!
Because I worry far too much about what other people think and fear their disapproval, I didn’t embrace my gray hair transition process as an opportunity for growth, as well as a way to potentially inspire others. I wanted to just “skate” through it, but I didn’t realize the impossibility of that. As the old saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch! The gray hair transition process is always going to involve some degree of discomfort, no matter how we approach it. In trying to avoid this discomfort, I made things so much worse for myself later down the line.
I used to be a much more open and courageous person, but now I often hide my feelings and what I’m up to for fear of the judgment and condemnation of others. I often feel lonely, but yet I’m the one who sets myself apart from others. My fear causes me to be secretive and to keep others at arm’s length. I don’t want to do this anymore. Perhaps I had to go through all of this difficulty with my hair to come to realize this about myself. Maybe I had to “amp” up my folly in order to fully comprehend it, but here I am at a crossroads.
As part of my “freedom” theme for this year, I want to embrace my truth and share it with others. Deep down, I know that others aren’t thinking of me as much as I believe they are. Even when they do think of me, they likely don’t harbor the harsh judgments I imagine are in their minds. But even if others do judge and condemn me, I want to be free to be who I am, warts (or brassy hair) and all. I want to be free of the burden of the opinions of others. It has cost me far too much of my freedom and I’m ready to reclaim that for myself now!
Some More Tips and Suggestions
Before I conclude this lengthy post, I want to share a few tips and suggestions for those who are pondering “going gray.” As I’ve said previously (at the end of this post and in this one), I think the best and easiest way to proceed is to stop coloring “cold turkey” and to part with as much length as you can. This is the fastest and least expensive method, but it definitely takes some emotional fortitude.
My metaphorical hat is off to those who go from long dyed hair to short gray hair all in one fell swoop, but such a drastic change can be difficult for many women to handle psychologically. It’s easier on some levels to do gradual cuts as the hair grows out, but you’ll need to contend with the “skunk stripe” that way. Hats, scarves, and headbands can be helpful, and some women also have success with using wigs as a transition tool (see this video for a great – and funny – example!). I considered the wig option myself, but since my transition coincided with menopause and hot flashes, I knew that would have been just too uncomfortable for me to endure.
If you’re thinking of using color to help you transition, here’s what I suggest for you:
- Have a consultation with a stylist who specializes in gray hair transition. There aren’t all that many out there yet, but they do exist (Katie Goes Platinum has a “Gray Friendly Salon Directory” on her blog, so you may find someone near you listed there). If there isn’t such a color specialist in your area, see if you can consult with one remotely who can guide your local stylist on how to best proceed. Also, if you encounter a woman whose gray hair you like, ask how she transitioned. If a stylist helped her to do it, get a referral and go talk to that person. Remember, however, that various hair types will react differently to chemical processes. Make sure to discuss your hair type and its unique challenges with any new stylist.
- If your hair is dark, opt for low-lights over highlights to break up the line of demarcation, but only in the beginning. Low-lights can turn brassy, too, but they’re less likely to turn bright orange or yellow like highlights on dark dyed hair often do. Just do the low-lights in the very beginning of your transition, a few times maximum. As time goes on, your hair will grow out unevenly and the line will become less stark. I’ve seen lots of photos of women at the 8-month point or so where their hair looked quite dramatic and pretty. I wish I would have waited a bit longer myself before pursuing highlights.
- If you’re starting out with any shade of red dyed hair, you might want to consider going to a cooler brown tone first. I think that part of my issue was that my dyed auburn hair really clashed with my cool-toned salt-and-pepper outgrowth, which was upsetting and jarring for me. Since most hair dye will oxidize and become warmer-toned over time anyway, it’s helpful to start out with a cooler-toned color to help mitigate that effect. In hindsight, I would have dyed my hair a dark brown with no red to start the process.
- Do a test section of any color process before having it applied to your entire head of hair. Ideally, this test section should be done in a spot that’s easy to either hide or cut off should things go awry. Wait a few weeks before proceeding with an all-over color process to see what happens to the test section as you wash your hair multiple times and use heat tools. Yes, this will cost more and take longer, but check out my photos on this post again to see the effect you definitely want to avoid.
- Beware of semi-permanent dyes and toners. While such products will eventually wash out of some people’s hair, they often leave stains that will set back or derail your progress. True toners are meant for light hair only, so if you’re not a dyed blonde and “toner” is recommended, stay away. I later learned that when my hair was toned, a bit of dark dye was added to the toner so that it would be effective in toning my darker hair. That small amount of dye (which I think was semi or demi-permanent) is likely what stained my hair, but it always seemed to at least partially wash out before that final time in September 2017, so I’m still not sure what happened there. Just be careful and don’t assume that any color products will wash out completely.
- Consider the costs for the initial process and for maintenance. When hair is dyed silver (remember that it first must be bleached platinum blonde, which can be very damaging and lead to breakage and even hair falling out – see this video as a cautionary tale!), special toners are needed to maintain the icy, cool tone. Depending upon your hair type, these toners may wash out very quickly, sometimes after only one or two washes. Your use of heat styling tools will also affect how long such toners last. Because I have porous hair and frequently use a flat-iron, toner never lasted very long on my hair despite the fact that I only shampoo every 5-7 days. Maintaining cooler-toned hair (not even close to actual silver since my hair wasn’t bleached platinum) was extremely cost-prohibitive in my case, and the lower-cost shampoo bowl application that was used on me for several months stained my hair. In hindsight, I would have rather paid more money for a more precise application process at the stylist’s station!
I recommend that you think long and hard about the above points before you use color to help you transition to gray hair. I can totally understand why you’d be wary of facing months of walking around with a line of demarcation, but I now feel strongly that it’s the lesser evil. I would have been done transitioning long ago had I sat with my discomfort for a few more months until my natural hair looked more intentional and attractive. If you join any of the gray hair transition Facebook groups or follow Instagram accounts with the gray hair theme, you’ll see lots of women in various stages of growing their hair out. It doesn’t look nearly as bad as you fear it will, and many of these women receive far more compliments than criticisms.
In Conclusion – Get Support!
My last recommendation is to get some support on your journey. The Facebook groups and Instagram accounts (there are so many – just search for them and you’ll find lots to choose from!) are great resources, as are the various YouTube videos (and one blog) mentioned towards the end of this post. I never got enough support because I was too embarrassed after my numerous mistakes to reach out to anyone. I felt so alone and ashamed that it made the whole process a lot harder to deal with. In retrospect, I wish I would have shared my story in at least one of the Facebook groups, as it could have helped other people and perhaps I would have gotten valuable support and learned that I wasn’t alone in the mistakes I’ve made. Hindsight is 20/20 in many respects, but at least I’m doing my part to help others now.
For those who are contemplating going gray, I wish you luck, strength, patience, and fortitude. I will be cheering you along all the way! If there’s anything I can do to help support you, please let me know. Feel free to pose any questions you have in the comments section, or you can send me a private message via my Contact page. You’re also welcome to share your own gray hair transition experiences and tips here if you’d like. If other readers have thoughts or insights regarding this post, I invite you to comment below as well.
46 thoughts on “Gray Hair Transition – Changing the Narrative (and More Tips on the Process)”
As you know, I stopped dyeing for a few months and then chopped all my long hair off in a pixie cut. For me the rapid cold turkey method was best. I was fully transitioned in about six months. Not only that, I discovered I look great in short hair. I was deluged with compliments. So I encourage people to go for it! And if you don’t like short hair, just grow it out again.
You went about things in a MUCH better and easier way than I did, Tara, and I admire how bravely you approach the process. You DO look good in short hair, too. I might have also looked good in short hair, but with the humidity, my fear was always that it would puff up like crazy. If I had naturally straight hair, this would have definitely been easier, but given the way I seem to make things harder for myself, it probably would have STILL been hard…
From experience of trying to transition (five times) – don’t do ANY type of color to “blend”. It will set you back. You will get discouraged and add so much time to your going natural process. A thick hair band or scarf will hide the skunk stripe for quite a while. I needed the process to be over as soon as possible (because I had a history of giving up). So, I got a Pixie and regularly had it trimmed, but left long bangs (my hair is curly) with my henna red ends showing. That was my “style statement”. That extra bit of hair helped me to not feel “butch” in my short haircut. Am not quite there yet, but I can’t imagine more than a year of two-toned hair to grow out beautiful longer silver hair. I admire those who can stay the course to do this with longer hair. Know yourself and do what YOU need to do to reach your goals. This time I’m going to make it!
I completely agree with you, Karen! Using color during my transition process has made it take TWICE as long, and it has added many months to other women’s journeys, too. I think that getting a pixie is the easiest way to go, but I just couldn’t do it. I think it’s great that you found a way to make it work by having long bangs as a style statement. I believe you WILL make it to the finish line this time around. I admire your perseverance in trying again until the timing was right for you. Your second to last sentence says a lot! I don’t think there is one right way to “go gray.” It’s all about knowing ourselves and what will work best, but I also believe that sharing information is helpful. I never would have done what I did had I known there was a possibility of getting the negative results I did AND making the whole process longer. Best wishes to you and please come back and share when you’ve made it to the other side. I will post again when I can say the same thing!
My comments relate to your section on “What I learned about myself”, rather than the grey hair transition.
Like me, you seem to be your own worst critic and say negative things to yourself that you would never dream of saying to others.
I wanted to share some summary extracts from a book by Sarah Edelman, “Change your thinking”, which was recommended to me by my psychologist to help with my negative thinking and low self esteem, which may also be helpful for you:
“Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT):
1. CBT is based on the tenet (principle) that cognitions (our thoughts, beliefs and attitudes) determine the way we feel and behave
2. Cognitions, behaviours and emotions interact with and influence each other. Making changes in one of these areas usually results in changes in the others
3. Unpleasant emotions (such as anger, anxiety, sadness, resentment, guilt) can sometimes be helpful if they motivate us to do things and benefit us in the longer term. However, frequent upsetting emotions often reflect a negative cognitive style, which gives rise to pointless distress
4. Various factors contribute to the way we think and feel including our early history, temperament and environment
5. The aim of CBT is not to eliminate all upsetting emotions, but to develop reasonable, balanced cognitions and respond appropriately to life’s challenges
Recognising faulty thinking:
1. Upsetting emotions such as anger, frustration, guilt, anxiety and depression are often caused and perpetuated by beliefs that are negative, biased or unreasonable. These beliefs are often held as rigid rules or shoulds, within our mind
2. Negative beliefs can cause us to feel bad and to behave in ways that are self defeating
3. Most people have certain patterns of thinking that contribute to unnecessary distress. These are often referred to as faulty thinking or reasoning errors and include awfulising (catastrophic thinking), black and white thinking, overgeneralisating, personalising, filtering, jumping to negative conclusions, mind reading, blaming, predicting catastrophe, comparing, just world fallacy (the expectation that things should be fair) and hindsight vision
4. To develop more psychologically healthy ways of thinking, it is useful to identify our own thinking patterns that contribute to unpleasant emotions or self defeating behaviours
Disputing negative cognitions:
1. Logical disputing involves identifying the irrational aspects of our thinking, labelling their faulty aspects and coming up with more realistic and balanced ways of perceiving our situations
2. Writing down negative cognitions and the disputing statements that challenge them helps to reinforce more reasonable ways of thinking.
3. Cognitions can also be challenged via Socratic questioning. This involves putting our thoughts under logical scrutiny by asking specific challenging questions
4. Some negative assumptions and beliefs are better challenged using behavioural disputing. This involves changing our behaviours and observing the outcomes. This method is particularly powerful because we often learn experientially that our thinking is correct
5. Goal focused thinking is a motivational strategy to encourage us to change our perceptions. It involves focusing on the self defeating nature of our current cognitions, recognising that they do not help us to feel good or achieve the things we want to
1. Many people experience frustration when obstacles prevent them from getting what they want
2. Some people have low frustration tolerance (LFT) and therefore become emotionally distressed very easily
3. LFT contributes to procrastination and self defeating behaviours. For instance we may choose to satisfy our immediate desires rather than looking after our best interests in the longer term
4. When frustrations arise in our lives, it is always helpful to focus on problem solving as a first step
5. To increase our tolerance for frustration, it is helpful to challenge the beliefs that underpin LFT. This can be done by using logical or behavioural disputing
6. Sometimes we feel reluctant to release self criticism or upset emotions because at some level they feel protective. Beliefs about the benefits of those thought processes or feelings can make us reluctant to change the way we think or feel
Coping with anxiety:
1. Anxiety is a response to perceived threat. It is accompanied by changes to our thoughts, physiology and behaviours
2. Some anxiety can be protective, however, frequent or intense anxiety has many disadvantages and impairs quality of life
3. When we feel anxious, our perceptions become more threat focused, so things appear to be more catastrophic than they really are
4. Avoidance and safety behaviours are common ways by which we protect ourselves from perceived threats. They are usually self defeating and ultimately serve to maintain anxiety in the longer term.
5. Disproportionate worrying, perfectionism and excessive attempts at being in control and trying to get approval are cognitive safety behaviours that serve to maintain anxiety
6. Confronting the things we fear helps to reduce anxiety over time. Repeated exposure and behavioural experiments enable us to learn experientially that many of the things we fear are not dangerous or are highly unlikely to occur
7. Deep relaxation practice and breathing techniques can help to reduce arousal and physical tension, which in turn can reduce anxiety. Meditation techniques may confer additional benefits
Maintaining Self Esteem:
1. Self esteem is the perception of one’s own worth. It has a major impact on many areas of our lives, including our relationships, mood and happiness
2. Our self esteem is influenced by many factors including our temperament, childhood and subsequent experiences, past and present relationships and messages from popular culture
3. Common faulty thinking styles that diminish self esteem include comparing ourselves to others, rating our worth on the basis of our achievements, trying too hard to get approval, overgeneralising and labelling ourselves
4. Self acceptance is important for healthy self esteem. This means accepting our perceived flaws without judging ourselves as defective. Being flexible, accepting that not everyone is going to like us and perceiving our flaws as specific rather than global helps us to maintain healthy self esteem
5. Common symptoms of poor self esteem include the need to please or impress others and to avoid self disclosure and honest communication. These can be most effectively challenged via behavioural disputing
6. Setting and working towards realistic goals can also help to boost self esteem
1. Research from studies around the world suggests that people who have satisfying work, absorbing interests, close supportive relationships or religious affiliation are more likely to be happy than those who don’t. Person attributes of people who describe themselves as happy include good self esteem, optimism, extroversion and a sense of being in control
2. A lifestyle that balances regular commitments with leisure activity, mental stimulation, social interaction and health maintenance is also conducive to psychological wellbeing
3. Setting and working towards goals can help us to achieve life enhancing changes and is a satisfying process in itself
4. Unrealistic expectations are a common cause of unhappiness. It is often useful to identify and challenge some of the expectations that limit our ability to be happy. It is also important to modify some of our expectations as we get older, and as our life circumstances change. Over the course of our lives, we will need to change our expectations in relation to our appearance and our physical and mental abilities. Age brings with it a series of physical changes, our skin starts to sag, and wrinkles appear, our hair thins and goes grey, our thighs and tummy get bigger and a lot of flabby bits appear where they never used to be, our eyes, hearing and memory deteriorate and even our sense of smell & taste decline. None of this is in itself a problem, as long as we modify our expectations along the way. Unrealistic expectations or failing to modify our expectations over time can leave us feeling frightened, angry or depressed. Comparing yourself with idealised images of others is guaranteed to make you miserable
5. Focusing on the good things that we already have, rather than the things we are missing, can help us to feel happy. A daily gratitude list is a useful way of maintaining this focus.”
I hope you find some of this helpful and wish you all the best on your journey of freedom and self acceptance.
Best wishes as always
Thank you so much for sharing these book excerpts, Sally! I resonate deeply with a lot of this information and I think the book would be helpful for me (and for many other people). I definitely have a lot of the faulty thinking/reasoning errors mentioned, as well as a low frustration tolerance, anxiety, and low self-esteem (and the common faulty thinking that diminishes self-esteem). I like the tips for being happy and I think those are good things for me to work on I especially the unrealistic expectations about life and aging). I really appreciate your taking the time to share this information with me. I know you’ve been dealing with a lot of difficulties lately and I hope that things are on the upswing for you now.
Thank you so much for sharing your journey. I have dark brown hair that has been dyed medium auburn for 30 years and I’ve been pondering going gray for awhile now. I’ve avoided it because everyone recommends Demi-colors, low lights and highlights and I just can’t force myself to go to a salon, sit there for hours and pay that kind of money. As someone who suffers from anxiety and is hyper-critical of themself I was thrilled to find your forthright and honest story about transitioning to gray. You’ve helped me tremendously. Thank you!!
I’m so glad this post has been helpful to you, Misti. It’s definitely hardest for those of us with dark dyed hair to “go gray” because there really is no easy way to do it. Yes, there will be lots of recommendations and they will work for SOME people, but using color on the way to stopping using color is risky and expensive. You’re wise not to want to spend MORE time and money in salons and to take time to ponder and research the going gray process before starting it. You may want to check out some of the resources I listed in one of my earlier posts on the topic (the resources are listed at the bottom of the post, but the comments from readers shared throughout the post are also worth reading): https://fulllifereflections.com/2016/05/18/going-gray-follow-up/ I’m right there with you on the anxiety and self-criticalness! You may also benefit from reading my three part series on dealing with anxiety and depression. This is the latest post and links to the earlier installments are included in the first paragraph: https://fulllifereflections.com/2019/04/09/happiness-and-peace-essentials-part-three/ All the best to you! I’m rooting for you… There IS light at the end of the tunnel of gray hair transition. Wishing you strength and fortitude along the way.
What a beautiful response! All good and proven theories. Having a strong faith doesn’t have to be a religion. For me, reading Buddhist studies, Christian, and psychology all help. I pray every day for my loved ones, those I know, those that would want to hurt me, even all the pets. Lately I have been praying to let go of vanity as I am turning 57. For everything there is a season and this is a beautiful time to find time alone and with nature, and nurture those around me. I am going to become a grandmother in June and my father is in hospice at the age of 86. I have MUCH more in my life than a pretty face, nice hair or clothes. It’s not the liking of those things that is the problem, it’s the clinging. I admire so the women who have the discipline to write and share; we need each other now, more then ever!
I love your comment, Cary! I also very much appreciated what Sally shared on this post. She also shared some excellent feedback on my Essentials for Happiness and Peace posts, which you might enjoy checking out. Regarding letting go of vanity, that’s something I should pray about as well. Aging can be challenging, but you’re right that there is much more to us than our appearances. I agree that it’s okay to care about the way we look, but it’s clinging to it that can get us into trouble and lead to a lot of pain. This is something I’m still working on, but writing about it and getting support from other women definitely helps.
I read every word of your post with compassion… I just made the decision to go natural grey a few days ago. It is a huge step for me and I want to thank you for your honesty and integrity…..sharing something so personal is not easy but because you did you are helping other women…
Congrats on your decision to go gray, Celia, and I wish you the very best with your journey. I’m glad that you found my post helpful and I thank you for your compassion. I feel that if I can help even one other woman to avoid the difficulties I’ve experienced, it is well worth my openness and honesty. This isn’t an easy thing to do, but there are a lot of benefits to doing it, including freedom!
Beautiful hair, beautiful smile.
Life is filled with fits and starts and this journey led you to a good place.
Thank you for your kind words, Terra. You’re right that there are many fits and starts in life. I’m tired of beating myself up about this whole process, so I’m trying to take the lessons, move forward, and help others as best as I can.
As ever, wise words. I am sorry that it has been such a trial for you but look on it as providing a very valuable public service to people like me who have yet to take the plunge – and are scared!
Likewise, I am sorry it took such a long time but believe me it was worth it; you look absolutely fabulous! Not that you didn’t before, but your natural colour just makes you sparkle.
I’m glad you found this post valuable, Julia. I’m definitely trying to “make lemons into lemonade” by sharing my difficulties with others in the hope that I can save them from such problems. Thank you for your kind words about my new hair color. I wish I would have done this long ago, but hindsight is always 20/20. Best wishes to you on taking the plunge when you’re ready!
Debbie–You are the most bravely honest and humble woman I have ever heard of! And–you now have lovely grey hair. I am another grey-haired person, but it is because of laziness that I never colored my hair. I just don’t care enough. It mazes me that people seem to think colored hair makes them younger looking; I think it does not and that natural is detectable. Keep up the integrity–you have fans who care about you. I personally need you not to cave.
I really appreciate your calling me brave, Gail. If it’s laziness that prevented your from coloring your hair, then it was a good thing! You saved yourself lots of time and money, not to mention putting lots of chemicals on your head month after month. I agree with you that colored hair doesn’t generally make women look younger, particularly after a certain age. Don’t worry, I’m not going to cave! I have no intention of ever coloring my hair again, especially after what I’ve gone through in this process!
Debbie, your courage in writing this is inspiring, and a true declaration of freedom! But I am really upset over how much you blamed yourself for the repeated mistakes and damage to your hair, and how you kept it all inside. All of those mistakes were made by so-called professionals, not you! You were not supposed to know all the possible outcomes if no one disclosed them to you. I’m glad you realize all this now, but I wish you hadn’t taken it all on yourself.
Resetting your starting date is a healthy and happy approach. I have, many times in my life, told myself I was having a do-over. Sometimes it is worth clearing the history and rebooting, so to speak. Your hair is just beautiful!
As you know, I managed to get through the gray transition in about 18 months (shoulder length). It was awkward and frustrating, but the idea of having to start over was always worse than dealing with the half and half look. But I think an important factor for me was that I work at home. If I had still been working in an office, wearing professional clothing and makeup every day, I don’t know whether I would have been so relaxed and unselfconscious about the whole thing.
I want to discuss a part of what you learned about yourself. You say “I used to be a much more open and courageous person, but now I often hide my feelings and what I’m up to for fear of the judgment and condemnation of others. I often feel lonely, but yet I’m the one who sets myself apart from others. My fear causes me to be secretive and to keep others at arm’s length.” I often have feelings similar to this and I go back and forth between two different possibilities. Could it be that 1) when I was more open and courageous, people were very hurtful and I’ve shut down because of that; or is it more simply 2) I am isolated because I spend 90% of my time at home and I’m out of practice interacting with people on any level. Or is it both (probably)? Do you think these are common issues for most introverts?
You’re right, Katrina, that the “professionals” were the ones who made the mistakes, but I blamed myself for trusting them and for not being emotionally strong enough to just go “cold turkey” like you did. I wasn’t working in an office, either, so I could have easily done it from that respect. My self-consciousness got in the way, though. I wish I could have better dealt with that, but at least I have learned some valuable lessons.
I’m sorry you are dealing with similar feelings to mine in regards to hiding your feelings and keeping others at arm’s length. I think that both of the possible reasons that you outline apply to my situation. I have felt hurt and misunderstood by others many times, which led me to be less open, but I spend most of my time alone now, too, and I think we can get out of practice in interacting and sharing with others. I do think these issues can be common for introverts, but I don’t feel that ALL introverts struggle in this way. My husband is an introvert, too, and he is more open and less concerned about the opinions of others. Maybe it’s more true for introverted women. I don’t know, but this is definitely something worthy of exploration…
I think introversion is a totally different issue than what we are dealing with. Introversion vs extroversion just refers to how much stimulation the person enjoys/ can tolerate. Introverts want and need less stimulation than extroverts, and being with other people is inherently stimulating to humans – it’s how we’re wired. What we are talking about here is anxiety, fear, self-esteem, self-judgment- all of which are issues that occur for extroverts as well as introverts.
Of everything you said in this post, I was most struck by your statement that in an earlier post, you used a photo that your stepson had retouched. I am amazingly impressed with your admitting that here. That was so brave of you! And to me, your courage and ability to be honest and share that truth with others is a sign that you are on a healthier path. I hope that you can really celebrate that statement, and this whole post, as an achievement for yourself!
p.s. I went gray last year by cutting off my very long hair, which was dyed dark with blonde-highlights-as-camouflage. I went straight to a pixie cut and only had about a half inch to grow out! I am growing it back out and now have a chin-length bob. There is not nearly as much gray as I thought there would be. 😊
Congrats on taking this difficult step, Dana! I wish I would have had the strength to do the same, but I think I’m going to get the last bits of color cut off at my next appointment, even though it will mean having shorter hair than I’d like or adding in layers (which always make my thick, wavy, wiry hair more unmanageable). I’m just ready (MORE than ready!) to be done with this whole debacle once and for all! I don’t have as much gray as I thought, either. I think it always looks like more against a backdrop of very dark color (my hair was dark auburn before). I’m sure your hair looks lovely and I wish the best with getting it back to your preferred length.
Very good points, Dana! I agree that both introverts and extroverts can struggle with anxiety, fear, self-esteem problems, and self-judgment. I think we sometimes combine self-consciousness and introversion, but they are two different issues. The fact that I’m extremely self-conscious and place a very high importance on my appearance has made this gray hair transition process all the more difficult, but I’m proud that I have persevered.
As to the retouched photo, I shared at the time (at the bottom of THIS POST) that it wasn’t a true to life current image. I posted it as a visualization of the “end game” that I was working towards. I appreciate your praise about my honesty, but admitting the retouch in my most recent post wasn’t a big deal since I shared that information at the time. However, sharing that my “mistake number 4” pretty much set me back to square one was hard for me to admit in this public forum. It took me a long time to comprehend that the color wasn’t going to wash out and that I had to virtually start over. This is why I’m warning women not to use color when trying to transition, as I don’t want others to go through what I did. The less we mess around with things, the faster we will get to where we want to be!
Debbie your hair is looking great. I’m about eight months in this time, and have an appointment booked tomorrow to have some layers put in to hopefully get rid of the worst of the blorange. I’m apprehensive but I keep telling myself hair grows.
Thank you, Anne. Congrats for getting this far into the process. I do think that adding layers can be helpful in speeding up the process and getting rid of the dreaded blorange. I have done a bit of layering, but will probably do more at my next cut in April so I can finally get the rest of the color off. I prefer my hair without layers, but sometimes we have to make compromises and go with the lesser evil. Good luck to you and bye-bye blorange!
Thank you so much for your posts. I am 8 months into the process. I recently cut my hair shorter to finish the process, now I am waiting for my hair to grow. LOL One thing to the next I guess.
I too worry what others think.. way too much. I appreciate your advice, please continue to post.
Good for you to taking the plunge to go gray, Carla. I think it’s great that you went short because it makes the whole process a lot easier. You’re right that either way, it’s a challenge, though. There really aren’t any easy ways out, although some women who cut their hair short to transition end up liking it (like Tara above). Worrying about what people think makes life harder in many respects. I’m sure this is something I will continue to write about!
I have loved reading your story and I’m sorry you had a tough time gong natural but holy smokes does it not look amazing now! Talk about an example of someone suiting their natural colour. You genuinely look younger actually, or perhaps I mean fresher. Just beautiful!
I appreciate your kind words, Brenda! I’m happy with my natural color, too, and I wish I did this sooner (and of course, in a less haphazard and difficult way!). I have seen lots of before and after photos of women who have gone gray and I think that in every instance, I thought they suited their natural color better. I hope the trend to go natural continues to expand!
Thank you for sharing your journey. I am 34 and 30-60% gray, depending on location. I am so tired of dying my hair. I need to embrace that I am pretty and classy and that this is OK to do! You are beautiful, by the way.
Thank you, Amanda! I can totally identify with being tired of dyeing your hair, as I was there for quite some time. The good news is that it’s becoming a lot more socially acceptable to have gray hair these days and it’s even considered trendy. The hard part is GETTING there, but like all things in life, this too shall pass (it just takes a lot longer for some of us!). Best wishes to you.
First, you look beautiful! Thank you so much for your honesty. I am 7 months in to going grey and found your blog when I was looking for some insight on highlights/lowlights because this line of demarcation is getting me down. Reading what you have to say about it made me realize that I just need to grit my teeth and continue this cold turkey. Hope my silver hair will be as lovely as yours.
Thanks for the compliments on my hair, Nancy, and congrats on taking the plunge yourself. It’s definitely a difficult process, but I don’t think you will regret your decision to stick with “cold turkey.” You will reach the end point much sooner that way. Soon you will have lovely silver hair (I’m sure it will look great!) and this challenging time will be in your rear view mirror.
Great life lesson here – sometimes the things we do to avoid “pain” causes more problems than if we’d just done it. .
There isn’t a one of us out there who shouldn’t be reminded of this — frequently.
Anyway, you look nice in your photos! A smile is everyone’s best accessory.
Yes, that is the lesson, Rose, and it’s one I’ve had to relearn many times over the course of my life. I’m hoping that this time will be the last, as it was definitely painful to endure. I appreciate your compliment on my smile. I wasn’t always smiling through this whole process (mostly NOT!), but there is a lot more to life than hair, fortunately.
you have such gorgeous bone structure and a beautiful neck. Your hair would look amazing with an angled chin length bob would be incredible on you. Sometimes how a cut works changes with the color and reverse. Either way, it looks great. Just some unsolicited two cents.
Thank you for your kind words about my bone structure and neck. You may be right that an angled chin length bob would like nice with my bone structure, but it would never work with my hair texture… While it looks like I have naturally straight hair, it’s actually quite wavy and frizzy (and very flat-ironed!). Keeping it longer helps it to be more manageable and my goal is to grow it long enough to have a braid that cascades over my shoulder. That will take a while, but that’s my plan after the transition is FINALLY complete 🙂
OK to my comment is a bit of a novel…. but bear with me 🙂
First off, I am so sorry your transition was so difficult! I think transitioning for all of us is very, very hard. I’m still fairly young to have grey hair (I started in my late teens and I’m in my mid-30s now) but I was so tired of dyeing it that I decided to take the leap. That said, even though I’m almost there, I might go back to dyeing it. I’m just not sure I’m ready to be grey…
Anyway, I actually wanted to write a comment about a positive transition involving lots of stylist consults and hair colouring. For context my hair is naturally very dark brown and I’m about 50% grey on the top and 25% in the back/underneath. My hair grows widly fast (about 3/4″ per month) and it sounds very much like your hair texture – thick and wavy but not quite curly. I tend to not to heat style my hair since I also dye it so frequently and I was worried it would get too damaged. (I also try to keep my hair long because it’s just easier that way.) I sort of follow the curly girl method but with mixed results. But, really, my hair is just wild.
I got to a point where I was dyeing my hair every 3 weeks and it felt like too much. So I went to my stylist and asked for some ideas. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to go natural but I wanted a look that would require less upkeep. Her recommendation was to go blonde.
I went through several colour corrections – including a brief, orange-y phase but overall it was a HUGE success. She managed to get my hair to a very natural-looking ash blonde. I was shocked since I’ve always had dark hair and never thought I’d look good as a blonde. Unfortunately I had so much grey and because my hair grows so ridiculously fast, the natural ash blonde still had a demarcation line after about a month and a half. So we went MORE BLONDE. It sounds wild but it worked so well! I was basically platinum blonde and, despite my rapid hair growth, I could kind of get away with 3 months between touch ups (provided I got clever with my hair part and with some accessories.)
The downside was that it was prohibitively expensive. Treatments were anywhere from $200 to $300. It was more expensive in the beginning because she had to do some very heavy duty colour correcting but my stylist was always very upfront about what the cost would be and let me know it would get cheaper with time (which was true.)
The other downside was that, despite some Olaplex treatments, my hair texture just wasn’t the same. Bleach tends to make your hair thicker and, of course, it can be quite damaging so I could no longer keep very long hair. I went short but, again, to my surprise it just worked. With a knowledgeable stylist, you can find a short style to suit your hair type. I really believe this! I wasn’t thrilled about it because, in my heart, I have long, flowing brown hair, but in retrospect, it totally worked.
Also, the feeling of very damaged hair did get better over time. The initial colour corrections were a huge shock to my hair but as it grew out and as she highlighted just my roots, it really did get better.
Rather than toning treatments, I mostly used purple shampoos and conditioners. This also applies to anyone with natural grey hair. It’s a great way to remove any brassiness.
I think everyone’s transition story is totally unique with their own struggles and pitfalls. I decided to grow out the blonde partly because of cost and partly out of curiosity. I’ll be honest, some days I feel so unique, like I have this really cool grey hair that is totally my own! And other days I cry and feel hideous and just wish I could have brown hair. I’ve been contemplating the blonde again because it really was a great solution. I see now that it can be really risky and expensive so finding a stylist that you can trust is so essential. I guess I was just really lucky. My stylist is amazing.
I was also very lucky – for several reasons. One, my hair took to the colour correction beautifully. Even my stylist was surprised at how well it went. Of all the things I’ve hated about my hair – and wow there are PLENTY – on this my hair really pulled through. My hair is also naturally very strong. It could stand up to all those treatments with minimal damage. I also NEVER heat style my hair which I totally understand not everyone can do.
If you’re in the Toronto area and you are curious about going blonde or transitioning to natural grey, please go visit Janice at Lola Salon. She’s a wizard.
Debbie – thank you for your honesty in sharing your story. It really means so much to all of us who feel unsure about our transition and our natural hair and the whole emotional and costly mess that goes along with it. I feel compelled to say that the result, despite the years of anguish, is truly beautiful! But I know that my opinion really doesn’t matter. What matters is that you feel like your true (and hopefully best) self!
Thanks for sharing your experience, L, and no worries about the lengthy comment. I’m glad that your color correction on the way to going gray was much more successful than mine. Not all hairstylists know how to do these complicated procedures correctly, but it sounds like your stylist was quite knowledgeable. I think the fact that you don’t use much heat on your hair contributed to your success, too. I know that heat can affect color and wear away toners more quickly. Purple shampoo hasn’t been all that helpful for me, probably because my color was always too dark. I know it works much better on lighter hair, but it didn’t do much to mitigate my brassy color after the highlights and the “toner” that was actually color that didn’t wash out.
You’re right that everyone’s transition story will be different and most will involve some sort of struggle. My main purpose in writing these posts is to help women become more aware of what potentially COULD happen. So many of us see lovely photos on Instagram and Pinterest and think it’s a “piece of cake” to dye our way to gray. My thought is that for every women who had the type of success you had with the process, there are at least two or three who didn’t get the result they wanted. Of course, the expense is also a consideration, even if the result is as desired (and even worse for those of us who weren’t happy with how things turned out).
The transition can be a long and winding road for many of us, but it does teach us things about ourselves. It’s a great opportunity for growth and most women are happy with the end result once all of the color is gone and only the natural silver remains. Because I had to basically start over again a year and a half ago, I still have a few inches of color that isn’t all that visible in the pictures at the end of this post (lighting makes such a big difference to how it looks). I’m getting a cut in a few weeks, though, and I may opt to take the plunge and cut the rest of the color off. In any event, the finish line is finally in sight for me after all of this time and I’m very happy about that!
Well thank you for reading my novel! I realized the minute after I posted it – and after reading your lovely reply – that you are totally right. Many women don’t share their struggles, only the successes. Which is really why your story is *so* important. I’m honestly so grateful you’ve shared it. It felt useful to share a bit of success but thinking about it now, my comment really wasn’t necessary. That’s not the real story here.
On a side note, despite being mostly natural, I still struggle too! I wish I could just love my hair. I wish it felt easier. But seeing the amazing silver sister community reminds me every time that it’s not only beautiful but so much easier than being stuck on dyeing it all the time.
Best of luck with your hair cut! I’m sure it will both look and feel amazing to have all the dye gone!
I always like to read people’s thoughts on this subject, L, as it has occupied so much of my “headspace” in recent years. It doesn’t matter if your comment was “necessary,” as I feel it’s good for as many women as possible to share their gray hair transition experiences, both good and bad. It’s such a new thing to “go gray” at a younger age that most women aren’t sure what to do – and most hairstylists don’t know, either! In regards to loving our hair, that’s something I wish I could do, too. I wrote about my struggle with “hair prison” in this post: https://fulllifereflections.com/2014/11/21/we-dont-have-to-try-so-hard/ Going gray is my first step on the path to getting out of that difficult situation. I thought my hair would be grayer, too, but even though it’s more “salt and pepper” than I’d ultimately like, I know I will be thrilled to have it all be natural, whatever color it is. My haircut is tomorrow… Every bit I cut off is a celebration, but it sure would be great to FINALLY be done!
First of all, I just want say that gray hair really suits you. You look great! You are my “grayspiration”. I refer to your posts whenever I’m tempted to abandon this journey and pick up the dye again. I’m 8 months into what will probably be an 18 month transition back to my natural color (now with gray! lots of gray!). My natural color is between a light and medium ash brown, so it’s very cool toned and prone to brassiness. There was a long period of time when I dyed it blonde since you can’t possibly go through life with mousy brown hair. Mousy hair just begs to be lightened or deepened! Or so the magazine said. Now that I’m nearing 40, I’ve finally come to realize that my natural color is the most flattering to my skin tone. I am not one of the lucky ones who can go blonde one month and red the next. My coloring is more subtle and everything…hair, eyes, skin…just kind of blends together. And I’m okay with that. It’s actually a relief to finally know and accept this.
The hard part for me was the second part of this revelation. I’ve spent countless dollars chasing after that natural looking shade of ash brown sans the gray. High end salons, budget salons, this stylist, that stylist. I always had the idea that if I just got my hair figured out, everything else would fall into place. I’m not sure what that even means, but that’s how I felt going into the salon. And each and every time I came out of the salon with brassy hair. Dark and brassy, lighter and brassy – no matter what I asked for, the end result was always the same. Even if I got lucky and my color was somewhat acceptable, it would quickly fade within the first few washes. I’d be back to orange hair by the end of the month, and back to the salon thinking that this time, we’d get it right.
It was only recently (well, 8 months ago, to be exact) that I realized that it was just not possible to duplicate my natural color with hair dye. So, what are my options? Darker hair – not flattering on me, or blonde hair – also not flattering. I have no choice but to go gray! Ugh.
The ironic part is that after all of this…the money, the hours spent at the salon, the hope followed by disappointment…I think that the gray is actually going to look nice on me. It’s definitely going to be way more flattering than orange. But will others agree? When will they start asking me why I stopped dyeing, or why I don’t dye my hair. “You’d look so much younger!” Blah blah blah. I’ve been mentally preparing for this since I began the transition, rehearsing my explanation in my mind. I’d give a high level overview of the science of hair color, throw in a few hair dye disaster stories, and tie it up with a brief mention of color theory and the 16 seasons. Then maybe they would let me be…me. Ha! How ridiculous is this?
The truth is that living your truth needs no explanation. For me, this means giving up the dye because the dye doesn’t work for me. I still haven’t fully accepted this, but I’m working on it! Maybe that’s one of the positives of this being such a long process. It gives us time to adapt. At least that’s what I’ll tell myself next time I look in the mirror.
Thanks for sharing your experience and insights, Allison, and thank you for your kind words about my hair. I’m happy to be your “grayspiration”! Congrats on taking the plunge to transition to your natural gray hair. It can definitely be a long road, but thankfully most women’s transitions won’t take as long as mine because they won’t make SO many mistakes! I’m sorry that you have also struggled a lot with brassy hair color. I think it’s actually a pretty common phenomenon among women who are dyeing their gray hair, as gray hair is much harder to color successfully than pigmented hair. I got good color results for years when I was dyeing dark hair, but once I had a higher percentage of gray, the result became increasingly more unpredictable and often quite brassy. Since I stopped dyeing my hair, I’ve noticed that a lot of older women have brassy dyed hair with orange tones. I’m much happier with my natural color, but of course the time to grow it out and cut off all of the color can feel interminable!
I love your last paragraph and agree wholeheartedly. The period of transition can be a time of great personal growth, especially if you do your best to embrace it. Because I fought it tooth and nail for so long, it took me longer to start growing from it, but I have learned a lot about myself. I feel that this process is helping me to live my truth more in other ways as well. I wish you patience and strength during this journey. You are almost halfway there! You may surprise yourself at how much you like the way you look with your fully transitioned hair. I feel that it can be hard to know that until it’s either all or mostly grown out. I’m sorry that others are making difficult comments, but they may end up envying you one day! It feels so good to be free of dye. Blessings to you, my “silver sister.”
Thanks, Debbie, I followed your tips and I am 8 months in. I did some low lights for the skunk line and now just buckling down and trimming a lot. I have salt and pepper long hair also. Really appreciate your saving me from the highlights mistake. I also appreciate the tips on negative feedback. Hugs to you, Deb
I’m glad my tips have been helpful to you, Deb! Yes, trimming a lot helps, as it feels good to cut the old dyed pieces off and to see the progress you’re making. One day at a time… It’s harder for those of us with long hair, but eventually you’ll get there!
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