When did you start to see gray hairs in your hair? What do you do about them? Ever considered growing out the gray hair and seeing what life would be life with silver hair?

I started to get gray hair in my 20’s. When there were just onesies and twosies, I would pull them out – at least the ones I could see. I kept that up until I had a lot of gray hair. Then I began to color them.

It’s this thing that has become so natural to do, despite how unnatural it is. Womxn are socialized in American culture and told that gray hair makes them look old, that “old” is undesirable, and we are supposed to be desirable.

I totally bought into this.

I would pay for a DIY box of hair dye at the drug store or spend $100 (or more!) in a salon to have a professional stylist color my hair. I did this about every six weeks or so. That’s a chunk of change over a lifetime.

When I was pregnant or nursing, I took a break. I’d heard hair color wasn’t a good thing to do while pregnant, but I didn’t do further research. But when I stopped breastfeeding (ca. 2006), I resumed coloring my hair.

Anti-aging vs. Pro-age

But it wasn’t until one of my trips to Burning Man in 2013 when I had an ah-ha moment about hair color, aging, and beauty. The dust of the so-called “playa” of Black Rock City is a fine light gray, and when there are massive dust storms, exposed surfaces of one’s body and hair are covered. I passed a mirror and saw my reflection – me, covered in this dust – and loved it. I could envision what having silver hair looked like, and I was excited about the change to come. So, I tried growing out the silver for three years starting in September that year.

Up until then, I always used a permanent hair color that matched the dark brown locks of my youth. I enlisted the assistance of my stylist, who put some highlights into my hair to lighten pieces so my silver hair could grow out more naturally. Right away, I noticed a change in attitudes and behaviors toward me, men in particular. The quality of interactions changed, and initially, I wasn’t sure if this was good or bad. But I paid attention to who was and wasn’t still talking to me.

Men I would typify as “Dude Bros” paid NO attention to me; I was invisible to them because I was “old.” BUT sexy, confident, young men who could “see” me despite the silver hair still talked to me in flirty, sexy ways. In other words, it was only the fuckboys who didn’t pay attention to me. The quality of attentiveness actually increased. WIN!

Back to color

Fast forward to a big move to another part of the Bay Area, a new job as a professor of human sexuality, and feeling a little bored with the silver hair, I decided to color my hair again. It’s only hair, right?

Almost immediately after that decision, I had some second thoughts. I attended the funeral of a dear friend, and most of the older adults there had colored their hair (could this be a generational thing?) I began to contemplate my long term plan and my exit strategy. Did I really want to dye my hair for the rest of my life? When would be an okay time to stop coloring? I also felt a looming conflict – The work I do preaches vulnerability and authenticity, and it began to feel hella inauthentic for me to color my hair.

So now I’m back to growing it out to my natural hair color.

The Mistake

I discovered that in choosing semi-permanent hair color this time around, even though it washes out, it still requires the whole process of growing out again. Ugh.

Then COVID19 happened. As you know, there has been no access to hair salons, and I saw this as a huge opportunity and a challenge. Could I pull out the color from my hair without bleach? Could I do this without damaging my hair? I told myself that when I could go to the salon again, I could just have my stylist give me a transformational cut and tone out any orange or yellow resulting from my attempts to fade the dark brown color.

I have not been in to see my hairstylist since March, and my hair is a nice mix of silver and gold now. If you know hair levels, I was a 2, and now I’m a mix of levels 4, 5, & 6! My daughter caught this pic of me to show me how it was silver and gold ombre.

If you’re wondering what I’ve been doing, I have included the recipe I have been using to facilitate this color removal process. Check with your stylist to see if this would work for you.

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Going forward

The decision to color hair is deeply personal. As I said, I had dyed hair for DECADES. But if you are like me and have recently been contemplating an exit strategy, and want to use quarantine to kick things off, I have a couple of recommendations.

If you color every six weeks and you want to begin transitioning, move to demi-perm color. That’s what I have, and it is washing out nicely and gently without that annoying line of demarcation like with permanent color (There are plenty out there to choose from, and I don’t know enough about any of them to make a specific recommendation). It almost looks like a reverse ombre.

If you haven’t begun to color it all, don’t even start! We can change the culture around silver hair by being proud instead of ashamed or embarrassed by it. The more folx embrace it, the more normal it will be. In the meantime, if you want to add a little sparkle to your hair, add some hair tinsel instead.

As for silver hair making us look old…

There’s a problem with this logic. So many women begin to show grey hair in their 20s and 30s. Why do we think grey hair makes us look old? It seems like some Mad Men era plot to have women spend money or tell us how we are supposed to age. We will never know what aging looks like all around us if we continuously avoid it.

I’m once again looking forward to life with natural gray hair.


Your turn – How old were you when you started getting gray hairs? Are you looking forward to growing out grey hair styles and living life with silver hair, or are you planning to color indefinitely? Drop me a line in the comments and lmk.

About the Author

The MamaSutra

Dr. Lanae St.John is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sexology and certified sex coach with a background in sexology and a passion for helping people improve their sexual health and relationships. She is the author of "Read Me: A Parental Primer for "The Talk"" and the upcoming "You Are the One: How stopping the search and looking inside will lead you to your romantic destiny," and is committed to staying up-to-date on the latest research and trends in the field. Dr. St.John aims to share her knowledge and expertise in a relatable and approachable way through her blog on themamasutra.com.

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