Should I color my grey hair or leave it as is?
February 25, 2004 3:17 PM   Subscribe

Grey hair. I found my first at age 18. Fast forward fifteen years later, and I'm about 30% grey, which seems to be causing a lot of grief and despair amongst my friends and relations. Fifty percent of those feel fiercely that I should color my hair, the other percentage feeling just as fierce that I leave it alone. Since I have found something that is gentle enough for my tender scalp, I do have the option of making a change, but I just don't know what to do.

So, should I run away and hide? Should I be proud of my whitening locks?

What would you do?

(And, most importantly, to gentlemen ever make passes at silver-haired lasses?)
posted by lilboo to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (40 answers total)
Well, I didn't make a pass at her, but I worked with a woman who had gray hair in her 30s and she was very attractive and striking, and the authenticity of her hair was a big part of what made her attractive.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:20 PM on February 25, 2004 [1 favorite]

I started turning grey at 14. Now I'm 25, it's extremely noticeable. Personally, I just don't care; a lot of people think I look more intelligent with it. :-)

On that note, I keep my hair buzzed as it reduces how grey it looks.

Of course, I'm a guy. Heh. I'd make a pass, but I'd probably get slapped. Did I say probably?
posted by shepd at 3:21 PM on February 25, 2004

Leave it natrual. It's striking and different.
posted by SpecialK at 3:22 PM on February 25, 2004

I at age 51 am about 50% silvery now. I love how it looks and so does my husband. Mother Nature has given me for free what a lot of ladies pay a lot of money for, a streaked, striped, chunked, call it what you will coloring job. Also there has been some concern about a possible relationship between the use of hair dye and non-Hodgkins lymphoma, you might want to look into that.
posted by Lynsey at 3:36 PM on February 25, 2004

Some people grey better than others; Lynsey, it sounds like, would be on the greying-well side, but my own hair developed a distinct unpleasant yellowish cast as it turned, and I finally ended up coloring it. If you're happy with how it looks, that's what matters. You might also want to try one of those semi-permanent colors, the ones that wash out in a month or so, as a way of experimenting with different colors before you go for a permanent dye.

One other point, probably not relevant for you (young'un that you are), but for the discussion -- age discrimination *is* alive and well in the job market, and though in the US it's not legal for employers to ask your age, they can and will make assumptions based on your appearance. Someone who's embarking on a job search might seriously consider covering the grey, even if he/she is aesthetically and philosophically content with it.
posted by Kat Allison at 3:50 PM on February 25, 2004

Ask your friends and family why they're so disconcerted by the color of your hair. You're only in your 30s, ambivalent toward the matter, and seem to be far less insecure about aging than those who insist you take action.

As others have said, it's a distinctive feature, which is always certain to catch a man's eye.
posted by Danelope at 3:54 PM on February 25, 2004

Dying his hair killed Joey Ramone, of that I feel certain. Please stay natural. It's hot. : . )
posted by adamgreenfield at 4:09 PM on February 25, 2004

Decide how YOU feel about how it looks, then act accordingly. That is all that matters. If you are unsure ask for an opinion from a neutral party. (which is what you are doing here-except we can't see how it looks on you.)
posted by konolia at 4:11 PM on February 25, 2004

Decide how YOU feel about how it looks, then act accordingly. That is all that matters.

What konolia said. Forget about what friends and gentlemen say. When you look in the mirror, do you see yourself or do you see someone else?
posted by fuzz at 4:23 PM on February 25, 2004

I think everyone should try coloring their hair at least once for the heck of it, though I'd strongly recommend getting it professionally done. If the coloring is done carefully with highlights then when the grey starts coming back in at the roots you won't have a "line" between the regular hair and the colored hair, it should look blended. Like it's just hair, it'll grow back.
posted by bobo123 at 4:27 PM on February 25, 2004

I like your hair, but if you feel it's holding you back, or making people see you badly, or just don't like it, then change it--but do temporary color so that if you don't like the color, it's not a prob. (and have you tried tea or henna?)
posted by amberglow at 4:29 PM on February 25, 2004

What konalia said. Do what makes you happy.
posted by adamrice at 4:45 PM on February 25, 2004

I quit coloring my hair when I realized that I had much better things to do with 30-45 minutes a month than sit around in a ratty bathrobe waiting for the dye to take.
posted by sageleaf at 5:27 PM on February 25, 2004

What would you do?

Me? I'd let it grow out grey assuming that the look was overall pleasing and no one was giving me a hard time about it day and night. On the other hand, I generally henna my hair some sort of red-brown anyhow, so I don't know if I would stop doing that.... In fact, my hair may already be grey, hmmm.

In general, I think grey hair that is worn with style looks awesome on people, men and women, but I also don't really think that people who dye their hair are fakers. Basically, if you don't like the way the grey hair looks, do whatever you want to do. Be aware that dyeing your hair to cover grey is a decision it can be tough to undo gradually; it's a longish commitment, but many people have no problem with that. If you don't mind the grey but you're getting a lot of flak, to heck with those people.
posted by jessamyn at 5:31 PM on February 25, 2004

I'm going grey as well. I just started this last year at the age of 22. I'm probably not going to bother dying it to cover the grey, although I may dye it for the sake of dying it.

Is it just me, or does it seem like people with dark hair tend to go grey really early in life? It seems like because we can see it easier, we realize it sooner than blonds.
posted by stoneegg21 at 5:47 PM on February 25, 2004

Grey works better with certain hairstyles, too. If you don't want to change your color, consider trying different styles to see what you like best.

/terribly vague response
posted by scarabic at 5:58 PM on February 25, 2004

do exactly what you feel comfy with, hang everyone else. don't let either side make you feel funny. if you feel more comfortable dying it for now then do it, if you like the silver, stick with it.

when my dad died last summer my hair went stark bright white at the temples on either side, you know, bride of frankenstein style. i dye it over because i've always had the habit of changing hair colour every few months, but i plan on letting the dye grow out this summer so i can show off my streaks.
posted by t r a c y at 6:13 PM on February 25, 2004

I'll say it:
The average guy will think you're older than you are (and probably less sexually attractive) if you have a lot of grey hair in your early 30s.

This is in no way an endorsement for you to dye your hair -- you may not be interested in the average guy, for example. But being different will always have consequences.
posted by cardboard at 6:38 PM on February 25, 2004

A problem with dyeing grey hair is that, except for a fortunate few, when hair greys it tends to change texture as well and becomes coarser and wiry. When dyed it looks like, well, like grey hair with dye on it. Admittedly, I may be cherry-picking with that observation - I wouldn't notice dyed grey hair if it didn't look like dyed grey hair.

A friend stopped dyeing her hair when she became pregnant and went with a buzz cut instead and I think she looks great (much better than the Zira from Planet of the Apes look she had when dyed) and she's keeping it now that she's given birth. You have to have the right head for it though.
posted by TimeFactor at 6:51 PM on February 25, 2004

I found my first gray hairs at 15 and at 20 started dyeing it. I'm 30 now, and don't intend to let my gray show until I get too old to carry off the "not a thread of gray" look. Gray hair can look sharp (the marketing manager where I work has terrific silvery streaks in her short black curly hair), but it is aging. While not the type ape youth when I'm not that young anymore, I also don't care to look older than I am. And I suspect cardboard is right about men finding it less attractive in general.

But as others have said, it's up to you.
posted by orange swan at 6:57 PM on February 25, 2004

I've had grey hair since I was in my teens, and I've always played around with hair colour. Temporary dyes when I was a teenager (it's eggplant! it's auburn! it's red!) to getting professionally done colour.

I like colouring my hair just for the heck of it. As someone else pointed out, it won't change hair texture, so it doesn't totally solve the problem. I enjoy going to the salon and getting my hair done, so the main reason I do it is just for the fun of it, I've been many different shades over the years.
posted by Salmonberry at 7:13 PM on February 25, 2004

Grey hair doesn't matter, lilboo. It can be very attractive on a woman, young or old. I wouldn't worry about it. It'll just weed out the assholes who want died blonde hair and silicone (which I avoid immediately, unless it's a weird ironic blonde.)

Leave it be and stop being self-conscious. Wear it witrh pride, and show off the confidence that you don't NEED to dye your hair. THAT will be attractive.
posted by Shane at 7:37 PM on February 25, 2004

Should I be proud of my whitening locks?
Just be glad that your locks are not going to end up in the shower drain and be grateful for small mercies. I am currently having bets with myself whether my hair will all fall out or all go grey first. Women are so lucky.
posted by dg at 8:21 PM on February 25, 2004

If you're unhappy with the hair, as has been said, then dye it.

But I would keep it. I think it shows a certain level of self-assuredness when someone doesn't dye their hair. It shows confidence, and that's always attractive to women. I can also make one look more learned.

And once you dye your hair, you have to keep dyeing it, or it's really obvious as the roots grow in. That's just not worth it. Why spend years putting crap into your hair and onto your scalp to conceal and perfectly natural and not unattractive personal feature?

Be strong. Be grey.
posted by Dasein at 10:04 PM on February 25, 2004

I vote keep it.
posted by rushmc at 10:37 PM on February 25, 2004

lilboo, while you are still unsure what to do, why don't you just use temporary colours. Its fun to experiment and they tend to help condition your hair anyway.

The nicest grey hair I have seen, belonged to a woman in her early 40's who also used a temporary colour in a pewter shade. It evened her hair out and added gloss and drew lots of favorable comments.

I decided to take the advice of an older relative who said "Don't go grey in the first place" and fully intend to stay that way. My aim is to be an outrageous flaming haired old lady who is a constant embarrassment to her children.
posted by Tarrama at 12:49 AM on February 26, 2004

If you are concerned about how you look, why don't you get someone to take pictures of you from different angles, so you can get a better idea of how you look to others? The mirror isn't a very good tool for knowing what you "really" look like, since in the mirror you are always focusing on a direct frontal view. If you think you look great in the photos, then stay natural. If you think you'd like to try to cover it, then there are some pretty nice semi-perm dyes you can experiment with.

For what its worth, if it were me I would dye it, just to see what it is like. My natural color is pretty, but I get bored with it and dye from time to time just for a change of pace. Don't worry about it.. if you use semi-perm dye and you hate it, just buy a bottle of Prell or use Dawn/Joy/Palmolive dishsoap to wash it a few times and the dye will strip out within a week.
posted by gatorae at 1:18 AM on February 26, 2004

A year ago I would have said that someone in their early 30s with greying hair would be less attractive.

Then while I attended a class at the local college one of my classmates was in her early 30s with almost all grey hair and she was very attractive. Not only did her grey hair not take away from her looks, it added to her attractiveness.

So there you go ;)
posted by justgary at 2:32 AM on February 26, 2004

Personally, I say let it go grey.

With regards to grey hair turning yellow: I recall something similar being mentioned with regards to albino ferrets. When you have hair with no pigment (white, as opposed to grey), it will pick up pigment from whatever it comes in contact with. In the case of hair that is routinely shampooed, hair may be yellowed from oil from the scalp. On top of that, the more you shampoo, the more oil your scalp produces and the yellower your hair gets.

In the weird gets weirder, I knew a guy who bought "old man shampoo" for his ferret to keep it from turning yellow. Now, I know old men who are buying ferret shampoo to keep themselves from going yellow...
posted by plinth at 4:11 AM on February 26, 2004

my partner is letting the grey appear naturally. i like it.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:43 AM on February 26, 2004

I'll echo the comments above that are not the least bit helpful at all: do what feels right for you. That's the best non-answer answer you'll get.

Whatever makes you confident makes you beautiful/handsome. My mother convinced my father to try dyeing his hair when it first started greying. He felt foolish, and he didn't carry it well. When his natural colour returned, he felt like himself. My wife, however, is the opposite. The threat of a single grey hair tortures her. But she feels (and looks) radiant after a trip to the hairdresser's. Actually, she always looks radiant to me...

So there you go. If you're considering it, try it. See how it makes you feel. Go with what makes you feel confident, because that is what the best guys go for.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 5:23 AM on February 26, 2004

I come down on the "I think I look horrible with even a single gray hair so I'm all for Better Living Through Chemistry" side. However, that only applies to how I look at myself; I never notice or care how much gray anyone else has. One of my sisters was after another one of my sisters to take out her gray, and I thought she looked perfectly fine.

For me, there is also the cost of dye/salons to consider, costs I think are ridiculously high. I justify it to myself by saying I never use or buy makeup, but that's not really a good piece of reasoning since I also spend a lot of money on contact lenses. Heh.
posted by JanetLand at 5:43 AM on February 26, 2004

lilboo, this is probably a better answer to your question. I'm mid 30s and women seem to find me attractive enough of the time that I feel confident. There's a late-20s woman in our Payables Dept who has natural kinda sandy brunette hair, one of the colors that women assume are boring and usually dye blonde immediately. She also has large streaks of white in it. I find her attractive and, if we were on the same wavelength and it were convenient (I'm crazy creative eclectic, she's very midwestern), I'd ask her out in a heartbeat.

What galls me, too, is that I like all shades of brown hair, from dirty mousy brown all the way to black, yet in the Midwest women constantly assume these are boring and don't get men's attention, and they dye or highlight them blonde. It's a turnoff to me. There's nothing wrong with blonde hair, it's nice, but why do all women in Ohio think they have to be blonde?
posted by Shane at 6:50 AM on February 26, 2004

Lilboo, you know you'd look so much nicer if you were blonde ...

... and wore flowery dresses, oh and glasses; I like glasses on a girl; and those red high-heel shoes, I can't believe you're not wearing them! Do you want to look like a frump? Do you want to turn men off you?

Oh, and a little angel tatoo, could you get one of those? You'd look great.

And a pierced tongue, and, oh ... I like long purple-glitter fingernails. It'd be so much better for me you. You'd look fantastic.

Thanks in advance.
posted by Blue Stone at 7:00 AM on February 26, 2004

Stop listening to everyone's advice and do what makes you feel comfortable.

I too started graying (you know, "grey" is only a variant) at 18. It got noticeable around age 22, but I didn't mind it.

By the time I was 24, people I was just getting to know would stop dead in their tracks, look at me sideways, and say, "Wow! ... You've got a lot of gray hair!" I didn't mind the gray hair, but I did mind people looking at me funny all the time, so I started to dye it. Figured it would help me look my age and improve my dating life, both of which benefited not by my looking better but by eliminating the awkward Q&A.

I got very tired of dyeing as I neared my 30th birthday. All that stinging and smudging and sitting around! I figured I had become old enough to be gray and not deflect questions regularly. I let my hair grow in naturally this winter, and it looks good. But in the intervening six years I went from kind of gray to very gray (my wife estimates it at 70%). There's no turning back now.

I don't miss the dye much at all. I have gotten positive, if startled, reactions from friends and I feel comfortable in my hair again. But what mattered is that I started and stopped the dye at my own volition, not because people were telling me to do it or not to do it.

If you do dye, be prepared to deal with the negatives (touch-ups, bad dye jobs, roots) along with the positives (looking younger, no more funny questions). But do it for yourself, not for anyone else. Good luck!
posted by werty at 7:28 AM on February 26, 2004

Response by poster: Let me explain myself a little further. This all sprouts from a disagreement with my mother, who is urging me to make a change. She dyes her hair, and apparently, every time I walk into the room, I blow her cover. On top of that, she says that the silver makes me look "tired" and that men just aren't interested in women with grey hair, blah, blah, blah. On the other hand, my friends think I should leave it alone (or are just generally non-committal.) My mother is a little bit of a nut regarding the whole "what will other people think" thing, but it's not like her points are totally invalid. (Especially regarding where I am in NYC. It's a very looks-based culture.)

I tried to write this question in a neutral way, since I wanted to test out whether or not my mother's prejudices were more widely held. I thought it would be interesting to hear from people who don't know me, and aren't trying to sell me hair products.

For the most part everyone thinks it's fine to just leave it alone, and I think that is what I'll do. I'm just not all that hot about the maintenance.

But I can't help but feel that really, cardboard *is* speaking the truth here. In reading the other comments, the grey seems to demand respect, while at the same time keeping others at bay. (Oh well, I guess I'll have a wonderful career…)
posted by lilboo at 11:37 AM on February 26, 2004

been going grey since i was 15. made me look older.

i'm 32 now. have been coloring it for at least 5 years now. now noone ever pegs me as being over 25.

maybe i've never really grown up, but i like dating girls that are 10 years younger than me.
posted by spunkster at 11:38 AM on February 26, 2004

I've got it. Short-circuit the whole problem. Dye your hair white.
posted by adamrice at 12:58 PM on February 26, 2004

goodness, I've been dying my hair interesting colors for almost 15 years now. I was terribly surprised during my pregnancy (when I couldn't go to the salon) what color my hair really was...and how many silverish strands were making an appearance. I didn't want to be greying and pushing a baby stroller...thus, I dyed it again, not more than a week after giving birth. ;)

I say, do whatever makes you feel comfortable. My natural hair color us so light that it looks fake, so I have mine colored to be the same color as my eyebrows...(which is a far shot from my usual jewel tones...but purple hair really scared the baby.)

If, however you do decide to colour...DO NOT do it at home...I don't care how easy the package makes it look...home hair dyes and like home permanents...just don't do it. Trust me when I tell you that it's worth it to go to a pro...especially if you have virgin hair.
posted by dejah420 at 1:04 PM on February 26, 2004

i like dating girls that are 10 years younger than me.

I could barely find interesting 22-year-olds when I was 22, let alone 10 years later. They do exist, to be sure, but I wouldn't have thought there are enough of them to be worth dyeing for.
posted by kindall at 2:57 PM on February 26, 2004

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