Covering gray/white hair
December 4, 2019 4:11 PM   Subscribe

I’m tired of covering my gray/white hair. I’m in my late thirties. I dye it at home (just the top out of pure laziness) and it lasts about a week. How do other women deal with this?

The hair is more white than gray and will not hold color. I think it looks a little nutty and not well-groomed but the other option is dying it twice a month. I just saw hair dye can cause cancer and was like, “Sweet, that’s my out!” But my hair breaks easily and I have these white broken hairs sticking straight up. I’m not a hippie. What do you guys think? Thank you!
posted by dianeF to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (42 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
You could use a henna-based dye and put some into your conditioner, so that you're replenishing the color whenever you shower.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:21 PM on December 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

I quit dyeing my hair because, like you, it would last a week and then the roots were back. I used to dye it myself and then moved to having it done at the salon, at great expense. One day, I said eff that, and stopped cold. Best thing I ever did. It was actually not as gray/white as I thought; the contrast between the dye and my actual color just made it seem that way.

It is so much easier and flatters my coloring so much better. Full disclosure: my hair is a very short pixie cut, so the growing out phase was only about 3 to 4 months. If you're considering it, there are tons of blogs/websites to encourage you and give you ideas for managing it while it grows out.
posted by XtineHutch at 4:23 PM on December 4, 2019 [16 favorites]

Go to the Grombre instagram or facebook page and be inspired by all of the gorgeous women who grew it out. Gray hair can look really fierce, though the early grow-out period can be rough. I freaking love my gray hair. It's salt and pepper now, but later when it's more white I may put some pink in it. In the past there was a perception that going gray meant giving up but gray can actually look quite fine if you put the same effort into it that you do into dyed hair.

I get a keratin treatment a couple of times a year. I'm embarrassed to admit this but it costs $300. Yeah. But it deals with the frizz problem and enabled me to go natural with the color.

Also everyone ends up looking younger with gray hair, strangely enough. Dyed hair just always ends up being the wrong color for your skin and once you grow your natural color out you look so much more vibrant.
posted by selfmedicating at 4:27 PM on December 4, 2019 [23 favorites]

> “Sweet, that’s my out!”

Is that an indication that you'd like to quit? If so: quit. Maybe budget a few visits to a salon over the next several months to get it dyed appropriately for that -- I know they can set you on a protocol to be done with dying, gradually getting it closer to your natural colors.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:29 PM on December 4, 2019 [10 favorites]

I also stopped dyeing my hair and felt like it was one of the best decisions I've made. Took a while to grow out, and I kept almost chickening out, but it was worth it in the end.

Lately I've been a little bored with it so I've been using Punky Color 3-in-1 color depositing shampoo. Your mileage may vary, but for me it's been surprisingly good on the gray/white hair. If you don't bleach your hair, it just gives you a wash of color (rather than the brights shown in their promo material) that washes out in a few (regular) shampoos.
posted by queensissy at 4:30 PM on December 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

I have decided not to dye my gray hair.

Check out the @grombe account on Instagram, as well as hashtags like #silversisters for inspiration and moral support.

I don't think not dying your hair makes you a "hippie" (and were you saying that gray hair on women looks "nutty" and "not well-groomed" - really?!! Do you think it looks like that way on men, too?). It's actually quite a popular and stylish trend right now. See Sarah Harris, editor of British Vogue, for example.
posted by amaire at 4:30 PM on December 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

I deal with it but not giving a fuck. Stopped covering the greys when it became a losing battle, and haven't looked back once. It's neat to see how they come in. I was hoping for "Claire from Bon Appetit" but so far they're blending like highlights.
posted by Freyja at 4:49 PM on December 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

I am VERY grey at 44. Like parts of my hair are pure white. I totally respect everyone who chooses not to dye their hair and I look forward to reaching that part of my life, because I think it looks super on many women, but I am not there yet! However, I do have to go to the salon every four weeks. That's basically the only thing you can really do. However, I HAVE put in a lot of blonde highlights where the worst of the grey is, so that I can eek it out to five or six weeks without terrible roots, and you can probably do that too (see a professional for this).

Having your dye only last a week is also a problem that can be fixed by a professional. They can use a more permanent dye than what you are using (are you accidentally using semi-permanent? Regardless, the pros have better stuff than we can get at home). I have to use a specific sort of dye because my hair doesn't like to absorb other ones.

If you don't want to go totally grey, go talk to a professional about your options; they can also help you figure out a way to transition into that direction slowly if you don't want to go through an agonizing grow-out stage.

It's fine if you don't WANT to go grey. But you basically either have to go grey, or suck it up and deal with it on a regular basis. There is no magic trick! (I wish!)
posted by Countess Sandwich at 4:53 PM on December 4, 2019 [9 favorites]

Careful about henna-based dyes - henna ideally dyes things dark red, but often turns white hair orange. Most desis can immediately picture at least one auntie with that bright orange glow at her part. Absolutely avoid anything labeled as black henna - it may not even contain the plant itself, and usually gets the dark color from an added toxin. Every few years there's a news story about someone's horrible reaction to those dyes, including damage to their eyes.
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 4:58 PM on December 4, 2019 [10 favorites]

I quit dying my hair years ago - it just never held dye and was more trouble than it was worth. I'm quite a bit older than you but for me the answer was a good cut and deep conditioning to keep my hair in really good shape. And if you are a make-up wearer you may find you need to change the colors you use - I tend to go for a brighter lipstick than I used to in order to not look washed out.
posted by leslies at 5:03 PM on December 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

That @grombre account is certainly inspiring. More people need to see women like this in the media every day in order to counteract all the fear of gray.

I don't think people in their 30s with gray hair automatically look older. Depends on the hairstyle. I thought I went gray super early, but it could be that I'm closer to the average, considering how many women in their 30s and 40s are covering it up. Just being in this society, I struggle with the pressure every week to color my hair. But I realized that it would always feel fake to me, so I am accepting it, and also enjoying some of the benefits, like saving significant $$$ and getting more respect in my career. Caveat: Depends on career. Also, I reserve the right to change my mind and so should you!

Try it out and find more grayspiration to keep out the negative thoughts. If you let yourself go gray, my suggestion is to visit your stylist more often than before, so your cut is always on point.
posted by oxisos at 5:15 PM on December 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

I'm in my 40s and have been greying since I was 20. Mine also stick straight up out of my otherwise smooth, straight hair when they come in. I use hair dye not just to cover up the grey, but to soften the strands so they don't give me a halo of frizz.

That said, I am, at some point, going to let the grey take over. My stylist recommended, when I'm ready, to put in some low-lights from the roots to help break up the harsh grey/dark-brown line as it grows out. Seems like a good option that won't require touch-ups as frequently.
posted by burntflowers at 5:27 PM on December 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

My sister went gray in her twenties, and it looked amazing on her through her thirties and forties — dramatic and interesting. (In her late forties she started experimenting with blues and greens and purples.)

I’m graying but not solidly gray in my late forties, and I like it — as long as I’m otherwise well kept up, I don’t think it looks untidy at all.
posted by LizardBreath at 5:31 PM on December 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

I recommend picking up a copy of Lorraine Massey’s Silver Hair book! It’s all about grey hair, growing it out, and the thoughts and feelings around it. It’s a great book.
posted by vivzan at 5:35 PM on December 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

A stylist recently alerted me to color glazes. Apparently they deposit color without ammonia. This key word led to searches for color depositing shampoos and conditioners. There are some diy options at Ulta but I do not have a specific rec.
posted by perdhapley at 5:37 PM on December 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

I use Ancient Sunrise Rajasthani Twilight henna to color my hair. It isn't so much a henna based dye as it is plain henna that you then make hair dye out of by adding warm water and acid (I use orange juice) and letting it sit for a few hours. It colors my ashy blonde hair to a dark, somewhat natural-looking red. It will hold on your hair and last until it grows out. The only thing about it is, you can only go redder-than-your-natural-color and you can't really do anything different (except go darker, I suppose) afterward. You're kind of locked in. That suits me fine, but it might not suit you. You can get it darker auburn by letting it sit longer or doing multiple layers (about a week apart.)
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 5:57 PM on December 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

Stop dyeing it if you want to stop and it's ineffective. I get what you mean about it not looking groomed - when my hair hit that stage (not even grey but when I really hit perimenopause the texture of my very long curly hair just turned...haggard-looking, and it got brittle) the big decision I had to make was about a cut that suited my new texture, age, and maintenance/appearance goals.

I went with a pixie cut, which I get cut super-short in the summer and then let get shaggy in the winter to keep my head warm, with trims to keep the shape good. Consider strategizing with a good stylist to find something that's going to work with your hair (I find overall that my hair is MUCH smoother/softer short, plus it's easy to deep-condition) plus you may need to change what products you use to control some of that sticky-up-ness.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:24 PM on December 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

I decide to deal with it by calling it silver instead of gray. When I told my granddaughter, she said, “You’re magic because you have silver hair.”

Plus I remind myself that it’s absolutely obscene that our culture doesn’t allow women to grow old and I will not buy into the ageist idea that younger is better. I think women should do whatever they want with their hair, but I’m not going to support the part of the culture that devalues older women. Think of how people of color have been historically pressured to look more white. Can you see the similarities?
posted by FencingGal at 6:32 PM on December 4, 2019 [17 favorites]

I mostly love being all grey at 42. (It’s in my profile picture.) I work in a corporate job and probably read as slightly crunchy or edgy but definitely not a wacky hippie. It’s super thick and very curly, and is cheaper than when I was getting blonde maintenance every 6 weeks. It honestly still requires a lot of fancy products and tender care.

I was recently offered a senior discount at the movies though, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ who knows.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:42 PM on December 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

I love the #grombre movement but didn't want the hassle of growing it out (very dark original hair + dark brown dye + silver/white/gray hairs) so I shaved my head with a #3 razor and the problem was automatically solved. I realize this isn't a solution for everyone, but I have to say I've enjoyed the grow-out process, and I get a lot of compliments on the color. I am older than you -- 52 -- but I live in LA where even the much, much older set tends to keep dyeing so maybe this evens out?

I'm about 13 months post-shave and my hair is definitely in a style that no longer reads "she shaved her head" though my goal is to get it a bit longer -- into a long or shaggy pixie -- and then keep it that way.

Weirdly, I used to occasionally get a senior discount when I was dyeing...but I no longer do. Three cheers for the contrast of gray hair but a young-looking face.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:06 PM on December 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

You can get a spray to cover the roots at Sephora. It’s like coloured dry shampoo that washes out when you wash your hair. It works pretty well to hide roots between dye touch ups, especially along the part, or to temporarily blend out the growth line if you decide to stop dyeing forever.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:57 PM on December 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

I am 47. I was 45 when I stopped coloring. In four to six months I'll be all natural, depending on growth and haircuts. It was the best decision. I knew I never wanted to color in my fifties, sixties and beyond. It dawned on me that there is no time like the present.

Women of all ages have stopped coloring. It's a thing. It's a movement. I have heard it called a revolution. Some say it shows confidence. I don't think it's particularly "brave" to go gray. It's just hair, and in my mind not necessarily a social or political statement to go gray, although I can understand why people think this way. Youth is highly valued and some people have strong opinions about gray hair -- usually negative.

Recently, the television show, The View, spoke on the topic of gray hair because Keanu Reeves' girlfriend has gray hair. I saw a clip where one of the hosts said, "My sister-in-law went prematurely gray. Men don't like it."

Maybe the host should have said her sister-in-law prematurely stopped coloring. If women in their twenties, thirties, and forties didn't dye there would be seas of gray hair. Since women who dye their hair is so commonplace some people assume gray is "premature" when it's not. Our DNA is programmed to stop producing melanin as we age. There is nothing premature about it, unless you're a child.

I didn't think seriously about about going natural until I began seeing silver-haired women on social media. These images were in my periphery but they planted a seed. I began to see more images and had a realization that I wasting time and money and ruining my hair.

At age 18-19 a hair stylist told me I had ashy blonde hair and highlights would make it look better. The hair growing from my head was in harmony with the rest of my coloring (skin tone, eyes). I didn't need highlights. Natural is what looks best. Now the gray growing from my head is in harmony.

I read somewhere that on the East coast it's not as common to see women with natural gray. "Out West" --in states like Colorado -- it's more common and "everywhere". I live in Florida and maybe because I stopped coloring, I notice a lot of other women my age and younger who are going natural too.

There is freedom in ditching the dye. My natural hair is healthier. It looks and feels thicker and doesn't fall out or break as much. It's a lot less frizzy and I can let it air dry without it being a mess. I don't worry about roots. I save money and time. I like going in for quick and easy haircuts instead of sitting in a chair with dye on my head for hours.
posted by loveandhappiness at 8:27 PM on December 4, 2019 [12 favorites]

It's only not-well-groomed as long as we all decide it's not. We can all decide it's fine. The more we all do this the better for everyone.
posted by bleep at 9:37 PM on December 4, 2019 [9 favorites]

I do wonder what age people generally start going grey? I started in my 20s and I was thrilled. I have very dark hair, and the silver strands looked so cool. My mother told me she was the same, started getting grey hair in her 20s. Over the years I have occasionally dyed my hair just for fun (blue or black or red) but I didn't like the harm it did to my hair. The one time I tried henna it worked nicely initially, but as stated earlier, you're kind of locked in as it gets very coppery orange later on and that's not a good look. I would not recommend henna for that reason. I also got a lot of mixed messages about it - my hairdresser at the time told me it damages your hair, but other people contradicted that. I think it might depend on what kind of hair you have.
posted by Zumbador at 10:14 PM on December 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

I had dark brown hair. Saw my first gray hair at age 17, stopped dying it when I was in my 40s. I think silver hair is more flattering to my skin and makes me look younger than when I was dying it. During the growing out period, I had my hair very short (pixie length) but now I have a chin-length bob. I could go longer but this length is flattering for me.

IMO the key to not looking like a hippie is a good cut and making an effort with styling it.
posted by tuesdayschild at 10:31 PM on December 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

I colored my hair beginning in my mid to late 30s and through much of my 50s. At some point I got tired of the expense and the effort. My elderly dad has gorgeous silver hair and I’m not there yet but I truly like my hair now. I also shaved mine off initially, which I had done before. There’s still some pepper in my salt, but I will like it when it’s all gray and I like it now.

Before I stopped coloring my hair, I tried to get my hair colored to match Meryl Streep‘s hair in the Devil Wore Prada but my stylist at the time told me it couldn’t be done. Seeing that movie and Streep’s gorgeous hair was part of my decision to just stop coloring.

Age discrimination is real. I had stopped coloring my hair for a long time but then moved to Europe in my 40s and a future boss nearly refused to hire me because he decided I was too old (which I know is true because my two separate references were called by the guy and he told them both that). After I and the references both convinced him I wasn’t too old, I got the job. And then I went out and got my hair colored and a good haircut because I couldn’t afford to be dismissed because of my age.

There’s a person on the green right now asking how to color a beard so it’s less gray. Again, age discrimination is real. I’m not going to judge anyone who feels it necessary to color their hair for career or any other reason. People absolutely thought I was younger than my age when I colored my hair. But I got tired of buying into the idea that somehow I am a better human being for looking younger than my actual age.

My mother died relatively young. The last thing I did for her was to ensure that the mortuary used the hair color she purchased the week she died. My mom was buried as a redhead because gray hair made her feel old and unattractive. I don’t think it was much comfort to her but it was some small comfort to me that I could take care of something that she had planned to do for herself.

In short: Fuck the patriarchy, fuck capitalism, have fun, and do whatever the hell you like with your hair. Life is an experiment, after all.
posted by Bella Donna at 12:28 AM on December 5, 2019 [14 favorites]

I'm going grey at the temples and I'm not a fan. You could try L'Oreal Magic Retouch, either the wand or the spray, to cover roots in between dyes.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:52 AM on December 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

henna ideally dyes things dark red, but often turns white hair orange. Most desis can immediately picture at least one auntie with that bright orange glow at her part.

My 70-ish mother-in-law has been using a henna-based dye for years (due to an allergy to other dyes). I'm not sure exactly what it is, but she has two colours: a red henna and a natural green dye which combined make for a dark brown. She applies it in two stages - first the red, then the green.

It's not totally predictable - some weeks are more maroon than others (but she's funky enough for that). It also has a lovely restorative effect on her hair. But it does seem to last for several weeks - my father-in-law applies it for her, and they only seem to do it once a month or less.

Absolutely avoid anything labeled as black henna - it may not even contain the plant itself, and usually gets the dark color from an added toxin.

Seconded - a friend is a henna artist and warns that "black henna" is very dangerous.
posted by jb at 4:39 AM on December 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

I don't think not dying your hair makes you a "hippie" (and were you saying that gray hair on women looks "nutty" and "not well-groomed" - really?!!

My take was they thought white roots growing out a week after dying it looked nutty and not well-groomed, not gray or white hair in general.
posted by waving at 4:50 AM on December 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

Thank you to everyone for you answers. It is really good to hear what you guys are doing! Yes, waving, I don’t mean gray hair in general looks not well-groomed, but mine is growing in haphazardly and the rest is dark brown. The roots and broken white pieces sticking up is what looks messy to me.

I am going to look into all these suggestions! Definitely check out henna and the spray, and just consider letting it grow in, too. I haven’t dyed it in a few months, and if I look at it without my glasses, it does kind of look like highlights. Thank you all again!
posted by dianeF at 5:30 AM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I hate picking best answers! I keep wanting to mark them all so I’m going to stop now. But thank you all again.
posted by dianeF at 5:37 AM on December 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

One more thing! If you get a balayage-style dye job (ie no hard line where the dye stops) you can let your roots grow out a lot more without it looking bad. It’s more expensive and time-consuming initially but you can let it go for months. I’m mostly gray at 41 and have only ever dyed my hair “fun” colors and not brought them all the way up to the root line - it’s really easy to grow it out. Here’s me with purple hair on bottom, natural gray on top. It actually looked better in person. And you can do it with a natural color instead of purple!
posted by mskyle at 5:57 AM on December 5, 2019 [13 favorites]

My sister calls it tinsel. She also now has pink hair just for fun. She is trying to show her daughters that it's ok to not color your hair, and it's also ok to color it whatever color you want.

I find this thread encouraging, that lots of other people have started greying in their 20s. I was 27 when I started greying, and I used to use semi-permanent hair dye at home that matched my hair perfectly. After an incident with a different color that turned my hair orange, I started going to the salon for highlights - nothing major or all-over, just enough to blend the greys in with my hair. Then I stopped doing that because it was expensive, time-consuming, and I want to swim more, which negates any hair dye immediately.

So, I recommend:
- taking care of your hair in terms of products - so maybe you need a deep conditioning treatment to smooth out those spiky bits, maybe something else, maybe a purple shampoo, I don't know. Ask your stylist who has expertise.
- Potentially opt for colors that aren't all-over, but rather make the greys blend in with the rest of your hair like highlights.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 5:58 AM on December 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Try using a light-colored dye. In brown hair, the blond looks like highlights. My sisters do this with good results. My hair is black; I let it go gray (since college) because it's way too much maintenance and it looked interesting.
posted by theora55 at 7:16 AM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I recently picked up some of that oVertone color conditioner to keep my bottle-black hair darker in between treatments and it...kind of works? I think it would have worked much better if I hadn't waited until my hair color had faded out so much before using it, but it DID make my hair temporarily darker without involving hair dye.

It's a little bit of a pain in the ass to apply, but no more so than dying your hair at home, so that might be another dye-free option for camouflaging your roots a bit while you grow the dye out of your hair.
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:13 AM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

PSA: Premature gray can sometimes be related to a B12 deficiency. More info.
posted by acridrabbit at 9:50 AM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

^B-12, and/or copper. If the contrast between the dark hair and the gray/white/silver is the main issue, you could try a DIY black tea/black coffee conditioning treatment to tone that down. (Example link; recipes abound on the internet. Regular deep conditioning might help with the breakage, too.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:06 AM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

So many good stories!
I decided to go natural 18 months ago, and because I moved, I also found a new stylist. She recommended that I get balayage highlights and change from dark colors (my original colors) to blond. That was very good advice! Many older women who have been using hair color to freshen up all their lives use too dark colors, which makes them look older. My former stylist was a genius at going a bit lighter and "colder"/less red every year so my hair always looked flattering. Getting blond highlights is in a way a natural consequence.
Alternatively: my gran had very thin light brown highlights in her hair as she turned grayer, it was super-elegant (and expensive).
I enjoy that the outgrowing hair is much healthier than it was when I had it full colored. I've let it grow long because I'm undecided on what to do next, including wether to continue with the highlights.
posted by mumimor at 10:48 AM on December 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Most people I know blend the greys using highlights (it's a very classic 35+ look in my area). Even if you decide you want to go completely grey in the long run, it might be something to try first.

I just have never bothered to dye my hair and at the moment it's like I've got cute silver highlights. It does make me look a bit older, but I think mainly close to my actual age (I'm nearly 40, overall I probably look in my early 40s). I do spend a lot of money on my haircut, and try not to dress older.
posted by plonkee at 1:51 PM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I had to comment one last time to tell mskyle that your hair looks really great! It looks like you dyed it silver, awesome. And thanks for the additional comments!
posted by dianeF at 5:25 PM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Go, you!!!
Just chiming in to say that, yeah, the grow-out period is not especially awesome, but, after 8 months of growing things out, I was able to transition to a short cut with mostly only my natural color (which is now streaked with gray). A few longer pieces in the front still have some of the old dye, but now the color looks intentional and fun. I’ve been getting lots of compliments (of the screaming, OHMYGODYOULOOKAMAZING variety, not just vague politeness). Several people have told me that I look much younger—I think that the dullness of the dyed hair was not doing me any favors. I will probably grow it long again at some point—I’ve always wanted long gray hair—but I’m enjoying it for now.
Things that helped with growing my hair out: hats, checking out pictures of folks online who showed their grow-out process, Style Edit root touch-up powder, feeling my hair become softer as I stopped adding dye to it, and a healthy dose of general contrarianism.
posted by TEA at 3:56 PM on December 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

I stopped dying my hair after I had pneumonia. My doctor and I agreed that any product that read, "If you have trouble breathing...." would not be a good fit.
I love my silver and I get lots of compliments on it.
I did notice a change in texture and so I'm experimenting with product.
posted by intrepid_simpleton at 6:05 PM on December 7, 2019

« Older Where should I move to?   |   Nanaimo Bars: Questions from an American Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.