I always knew I was destined to go gray early—I just didn’t think it would be right now. My beautiful mother had grays when I was born (she was 36 at the time), and in truth, I’ve never seen her without sparkling flecks of silver in her hair. While I busied myself in my teens experimenting with brunette, pink, and auburn box dyes, she never once asked her stylist for even a little bit of coverage. I settled on a few variations of sun-streaked blonde by high school, and my mom’s hair transformed from a soft salt-and-pepper hue to what it is today: full-on gray.
By college, I discovered through glossy magazines that stress and cortisol could cause hair to turn silver even faster. Sure enough, after I graduated and prepared to leave for a job in New York, I finally spotted one—short, wiry, and gray—sticking straight up from my hair’s part. I plucked it from my head without a second thought. Now almost a decade later, more than a few gray friends have joined the party on my scalp. Finding them at this age didn’t quite qualify me as prematurely gray (which, according to a 2018 study, is prior to age 20 for Caucasians), but it was definitely early enough to make me nervous that I too would be fully silver within the next decade.
Once plucking no longer became an option (at least if I didn’t want to give myself bald spots), I started splurging on professional color appointments. Then, over the course of the pandemic, with all of its inevitable stressors, my haphazard gray patches blossomed into full-blown chunks of silver hair, a reality I couldn’t ignore after my longtime colorist Colleen Flaherty transformed my hair into a gorgeous warm strawberry shade. Gray roots, it turns out, are particularly noticeable on basically any hair color that isn’t blonde. It looked, in my mind at least, like I was obviously trying to hide that I was 33 and going gray, and as much as I loved being a redhead, I couldn’t justify traipsing to the salon every three weeks to touch up my roots. So, back to blonde I went, content to hide my rapidly graying hair under fresh highlights for the next few weeks.
Being a beauty editor means I’m particularly attuned to the ebb and flow of industry trends, including how vehemently people (mainly female-identifying) are trying to either cover up or embrace going gray. I also have plenty of friends encountering the issue at this point in our lives, with varying degrees of acceptance. Some have a standing appointment with their colorist every month, while others more or less ignore it. The central issue for me, a woman in her mid-30s, is that I’m simply beginning to look old. “I think in our society, gray hair means that you are [aging]. But I have clients that are in their early 20s, and some that have told me they started getting gray hairs at 16,” Flaherty tells me.
Now that my grays have started to account for a much larger percentage of my hair (I’d say I’m about 30/70 at this point) and I inch even closer to 40, I’m asking myself how exactly I want to approach aging in general. I already have Botox in my forehead and between my brows to stave off fine lines, and filler in my cheeks and lips where my volume has started to drop. What does it matter if I cover up the evidence that my hair is also getting older?
Except committing to covering your grays with a little more finesse than your standard box dye takes two things: time and money. And despite my profession, I’m not the most high-maintenance person on the planet. I like products and services that can pull double-duty—like a tinted brow gel that promotes hair growth or face primer with a hint of self-tanner. Make my daily routine faster, easier, or less complicated, and I’m happy. The same goes for my hair. While I’m not quite ready to let my grays grow unchecked, I’m also not interested in visiting the salon every four weeks to hide them. That means I’ve had to find a new way to go gray gracefully, somewhere in between letting nature take its course like my mom did and panic-booking a salon appointment when I catch a glimpse of my hair in the wrong light.
Luckily, more and more women are seeking out this graying middle ground, which means that hair professionals are becoming well versed in designing a custom approach to your hair that involves disguising some of your grays without chaining you to the salon. As Flaherty tells me, “My favorite way for clients to go gray, and what I think looks most natural, is slowly transitioning and playing off the natural gray hair that you have, and over time coloring less and less.” For me, that means she blends the color around my head and leaves a portion of my gray “power streak” around my face alone. It’s a hint of silver, surrounded by bright blonde, that’s slowly growing more pronounced.
Now I won’t deny that my breath sometimes catches in my throat if it’s been more than nine weeks since my last color session. I spot the relentless little grays around my temples—which refuse to lie flat when I wear my hair back in a slick bun—and sigh, wistful for my early 20s. But then I remember how much better life is now that I’m older and more confident, and although I don’t always love to see these tangible signs of aging, I’m figuring out my own unique relationship with my grays, just like my mom did before me. So, whether my hair is going to ultimately reach her level of radiant silver or I stick with my face-framing power streak for a few more years, I’m happy to know I’ll be going gray on my terms.
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