Ask a room full of women how they feel about gray hair–and then make a run for the noise-canceling headphones. There are lovers and haters and boy, do the haters love to hate. Me? I’m on the fence. My GTB (gray to brown) ratio is about 35 to 65, so I’m still squarely in the lowlights/highlights/base color neck of the woods. But I’m also dreaming about going the white tresses way of Khaleesi, the Mother of Dragons. In other words, I’m tortured–both economically and aesthetically–by my desire to be the brunette I was born to be.
While contemplating these shades of gray, I looked to a font of eternal wisdom–Instagram–but found little solace as it seems gray isn’t just for old ladies anymore. There’s a whole lot of gray pro-“gramming” featuring very young faces with exquisite luminous silver. One wise beauty editor counseled finding a role model and to start keeping a journal of going gray. The role model was half-right: Cruella DeVil, as she is only half-gray, but the journaling–not so much, as I’m still putting the finishing touches on my children’s baby books and they are 29 and 31. Short of shaving my head and braving the Joan of Arc stake burning, my only other choice is to go gray gracefully, so I asked a few experts how to achieve that goal.
Lenny Strand, a senior colorist at Sally Hershberger Salons, and technical director for Matrix, a division of L’Oreal, is lucky to have clients willing to do the work. It took long hours for him to transform a formerly brunette client to a natural gray that she loves. A few long hours under the hair dryer is nothing compared to the year or two an entirely natural change might take. Before transitioning to gray, he suggests letting your hair grow undisturbed for a few months. With a good look at your gray, he adds a heavy dose of highlights and then glosses the hair with a silver or gray to match the regrowth. The gloss needs to be refreshed every 8 weeks, and periodically and strategically he places new highlights to affect a gradient balayage look. His goal: “Totally modern and comfortable.”
Lenny would also like to change the conversation about gray hair. “Trees have roots and women’s hair has regrowth,” he says. Many of his clients are exhausted by what he calls “chasing the zipper line.” His method for speeding up the gray highway might not be maintenance-free, but it’s more modern than the copper color so many brunettes morph in to after years of just plain covering the gray. Remember Lady Bird Johnson?
Arch of Martinez-Samuel Salon in West Hollywood has a kinder gentler approach–rather than using permanent color to cover your gray, just put your gray on mute for as long as it takes. “Choose a tone closest to your not-yet-gray hair and gradually, using Redken Shades Semi Permanent EQ, reinvigorate your color while softening but not entirely covering the gray,” he suggests. Shades EQ is said to blend the gray without lifting and damaging your hair color. It’s synthetic foam that does not oxidize. Arch’s going gray philosophy is simple–Brown is a living memory of where you were. Why not live where you are now?
Terence Parker of the Christophe Salon takes a more holistic approach to going gray in that he works to blend rather than cover: “Using permanent color to cover your roots just delays achieving an even base tone,” he says. “Eventually, it has to grow out and all color fades as it grows.” In my case, it had grown to an unflattering shade of mandarin orange. On a recent visit to Terence (full disclosure: he’s my new gray therapist), he toned and toned again, massaging semi-permanent color into needed nooks and crannies. My brunette color is lighter than it was in high school, but also less opaque and not as shocking when the gray starts to come in.
Jeffrey Smith of the Jeffrey Smith Salon in Pittsburgh cautions: ” A cool haircut is everything! Without a great cut, you will look older whether your hair is gray or blonde.” He also cautions to use good gray-friendly products and recommends old-school blue shampoo for cutting down the yellow tones. Smith likes Shimmer Lights by Clairol and the cruelty-free Aveda brand, Blue Malva.
A simpler option is to just to just let it all hang out–stop coloring and start cutting until it begins to look like your organic shade. Which it is. It’s also beautiful and tells the world exactly who you are–a natural woman.