How to go from almost-black to grey hair?
October 21, 2014 6:08 AM   Subscribe

When your hair is very, very grey, but you've been coloring it very dark brown for years, how do you transition to your natural (gray) color for good?

So my natural haircolor is very, very dark brown with no reddish highlights -- almost black. I did, however, start going grey in my mid-twenties, and since then have been dying my hair back to its natural color.

The grey has progressed over the years (I'm now late 40s) to where I note that my roots are almost all light grey/silvery/white. But I've just kept on chugging along, dying my hair every few weeks, keeping my "normal" very dark brown haircolor.

How do I exit this cycle? Many of my blonde pals seem to have transitioned pretty easily, by stopping the dying and then just letting it grow out. It doesn't look bad for blondes, but that sort of transition for me would be quite goth or punk-like, with the gigantic contrast between the dark brown and the white. So what's the plan, greying ladies of Metafilter?

My hair is thick and chin-length, if that matters. I recently cut it from mid-back length, but I'd prefer not to go shorter than this.

I imagine there is some sort of interim dying plan to follow? But everything beyond my roots -- meaning, everything beyond, say, 1/2 inch at most -- has been dyed this very dark brown, so I don't think it's possible to overdye it with any lighter color and have it show up. Help!
posted by anonymous to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I would absolutely recommend going to a salon and asking a stylist/colourist for advice on this. You might be able to have the dark dye stripped out, which would take you to a blonde-ish base that you could either leave as is, or dye over with a lighter colour.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 6:14 AM on October 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Maybe just let it grow out? Just treat your graying as an event. The advancing wave of gray could act like a slowly rolling-out reveal. It would definitely be easier on your hair than applying more chemicals to it.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:16 AM on October 21, 2014

A stylist in a salon can most certainly strip the color for you. I knew a woman who had this done with hair approximately the same length as yours - she went from a gorgeous black to a gorgeous salt n pepper and never suffered the "natural root" phase.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:38 AM on October 21, 2014

You could also get lowlights/highlights done--gradually lighten your hair so the gray growing out isn't as noticeable.
posted by leesh at 6:40 AM on October 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

You can even have an experienced colorist strip out really thin highlights, so it's more phased - start small, so your dark hair is shot through with silver, then at subsequent visits do more highlights until you're eventually all grey.
posted by SeedStitch at 6:40 AM on October 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

The tel3mum just stopped coloring it and let the color turn over on its own. I would never in a million years have thought this would work, but it did.
posted by tel3path at 6:42 AM on October 21, 2014

Going to a salon is definitely a good idea if you're averse to an obvious color line. Maybe ask a stylist to give you a lighter brown overall and some strategically-placed highlights? Then you can go back in a few months and go a little lighter, and then go a little lighter, etc.
posted by schooley at 6:46 AM on October 21, 2014

You could switch to a semipermanent dye for a while, until the permanently-dyed part has grown out enough to cut off , and then just let the semipermanent dye fade out. Not sure how well it works on grays, though, or whether it will come out entirely. I'd ask a stylist.
posted by you're a kitty! at 6:46 AM on October 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

My aunt let hers grow out a bit and then cut off all the dark, dyed hair into a cute, gray bob.
posted by resurrexit at 7:14 AM on October 21, 2014

I took the color out of my hair with Color Oops. I linked to the Amazon site because the reviews are very good at explaining why this is the shit. I bought it at CVS, but you can get it at Walgreens, Wal-Mart, get the idea.

You put this shit on your head, it really doesn't smell as bad as the reviews say. It's not great smelling, but it won't make you gag or anything. I bought some clear, plastic shower caps, it helps reign in the smell. I waited, then I went into the shower for 20 minutes. I had Husbunny read to me in there because it's really boring to rinse your hair for that long. The rinsing is where the magic happens.

When I was done, all of the color was out of my hair. I had been using dark auburn, that would fade to pink, and all I saw was my white hair. I could not believe that my hair was that white. Then I did a 30 minute conditioner. Then I went to bed. The next day I used a dark blond color to get my hair to medium brown.

The instructions tell you to use a color lighter than you normally would use. I'm glad I heeded the advice.

Your gray hair will be gray, your natural hair will be lighter, if you've been using hair color with bleach in it (which most have.)

I would use a silver/gray/white hair color over everything, perhaps with a drabber (depending on how much yellow there is in your hair after all of this.) When you color, use a filler to help everything come out even. Fillers are cheap at Sally Beauty.

Here's a link to silver hair dye.

This might be a thing I try!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:33 AM on October 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

My mom did exactly this transition when I was in college and bleaching my hair out to platinum blonde. So one time when I was home on break, she had me bleach hers out. She spent a while as a blonde, and people thought it was natural. (After it grew out, we really only had to tone it without bleach.)So much so that when she finally just grew it out to gray, people didn't believe that was her natural color.

A few years back, I had my stylist do mine solid grey intentionally (basically bleached to platinum, then toned with pastel blue/silver). That could be a fun option too.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 8:04 AM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had a short cut, and when my stylist & I decided to grow out the grey, it wasn't too hard: she gave me a cut that, with gel, mostly hid my roots, and we let it get a bit longer than usual. Then we cut off the ends, and ta-da! I went from mostly-dark to mostly-white in a day.

Worked pretty well. When I lost my job, I dyed my hair dark again for the job hunt, and then decided it was a waste to do that and went gray again. This time she made me kind of platinum-blonde for the interim step, but it didn't really work with my coloring, and it was nice to go back to being just regular silver-gray.
posted by suelac at 9:09 AM on October 21, 2014

When my mom stopped dyeing her hair, she just let it grow out for a while, cut it short (leaving only the gray), and then grew it back to her preferred length. It looked a little awkward for a month or two, but it's been years now and as far as I know there was no lasting trauma involved. It seemed like a simple enough procedure.

I would suggest you do something along those lines. The anxiety cost of having slightly awkward-looking hair for a little while is probably lower than the anxiety cost of trying to engineer a seamless transition, as long as you make the choice to not think very much about it.

It's also less expensive than going to a salon. Spend the money you save on a nice dinner or a professional massage or something nice like that, once you've made the switch. Way more value there, if you ask me.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:27 AM on October 21, 2014

I've also used Color Oops with great success. You must follow the directions closely, but it's a much better option than bleaching out the color.

Once the color is removed, you can use a silver toner to correct the rest if needed.
posted by quince at 11:35 AM on October 21, 2014

Anecdotal, but I stopped dyeing my longish very dark brown hair, thinking I would just endure looking like a skunk with an ever-widening stripe, but it hasn't happened that way. My hair just looks like it's turning gray very fast, but it's all mixed up with the brown that's still there and doesn't look funny at all.
posted by JanetLand at 1:04 PM on October 21, 2014

A lot of women opt for highlights to minimize the stark color stripe when going grey. I dyed my hair for 10+ yrs & went cold turkey, it took well over a yr for my shoulder length hair to grow out. It was really hard but towards the end I got my hair cut more often so it felt like I was closer to being done. Be sure to keep your hair very well conditioned, it makes the greys behave a lot better. I also learned the value of a good blow out, which really helps calm the wiry greys. I read a couple books on going grey, they had lots of helpful ideas.

Going Gray, Looking Great!: The Modern Woman's Guide to Unfading Glory
by Diana Lewis Jewell

this one isn't about going grey entirely but he has a chapter or two iirc.
by Andre Walker

I am so glad I did this now, my hair is in much better condition, it looks natural & I love it. You'll love it!
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 1:18 PM on October 21, 2014

I was wearing my hair in a chin length bob when I decided to stop colouring it. I started using semi permanent colour on only the top layer of hair ( less than an inch on either side of the part) and let the rest go grey. After a several months I chopped it all off into a pixie and just about all the colour was gone except for a bit on top that faded out just fine.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 8:18 PM on October 21, 2014

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