#34: A Behind-the-Scenes Look: Going Gray, My Way

Women often feel hesitant (or downright terrified) of letting their silver strands show. From color options to grow-out techniques, this episode gives back your power to confront society’s expectations – and make choices for your health and happiness.

You’ll hear:

  • What I hear most often from women who compliment my hair
  • How I grew out my grays after coloring my hair
  • Normalizing the fact of women aging
  • Managing those kinky silver strands
  • Deciding how you want to represent yourself – it’s up to you!

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Most annoying headline ever

This article gave me a full-body cringe. It read:

“Kamala Harris: The Beauty Icon We Need Right Now”

Like I said… 

Full. Body. Cringe.

What does a woman have to do to get beyond people focusing on and judging her appearance?

The single most commented-on aspect of MY appearance

Not that I’m some beauty icon we need right now…


But because I get a lot of questions from women who feel hesitant…unsure…terrified of letting their gray hair show…

I thought we should talk about it.

I usually hear, “Oh, your gray is coming in so nicely. I could never do it though.

To which I reply, how do you know? 

You have no idea what it would look like

If you’ve never let your grays come in, you don’t know if they are more silver or white. You don’t know how they’d frame your face or add a touch of drama to your photos. 

You don’t know because you’ve been coloring your hair since you were 14 years old trying to be a redhead like Claire Danes on My So-Called Life…do you remember that show? (Her boyfriend was Jordan Catalano. I remember these things.)

Many women start coloring their hair long before they have any grays.

Or, if you’re like me, you started dyeing in your late 20’s or early 30’s as those silver strands started to appear.

Box dye was a bust

The first time I colored my hair, it was a box dye from CVS. 

The next morning I woke up with a giant swelling on my arm. I thought it was a bug bite. This continued all week long, with swellings in a different place each day. 

I literally had my landlord send an exterminator – it had to be bed bugs or something!

But there were no bugs. 

I went to the doctor and they said it was Lyme Disease. Huh?

Finally, when my lip blew up the size of Texas, I went to the emergency room where they asked if I’d used any new products lately…soaps, shampoos, detergent…

OH! Hair dye, maybe?

I learned that chemicals from hair dye definitely get into your system. Those swellings were hives and they were all over my body…not just my scalp or face. 

So I steered clear for many years.

Postpartum hair woes

Then my first son was born. If you’ve ever had a baby, you know that you can lose hair and it grows back like bangs around your forehead.

Mine were all white. 

I hated it! 

Acclimating to motherhood was difficult in many ways. Going to the salon became a way of erasing this change in my body and life.

Why I stopped dyeing

The salon dye didn’t cause a reaction, so I kept at it for a few years. 

But then I got pregnant with my second son. Not wanting chemicals flooding my system while pregnant, I decided to let my hair go. 

And as the months went by, I realized it wasn’t going to be that bad of a transition. I didn’t have that many grays. 

It was hardly noticeable.

If I had WAITED? Eek. Like my mom? My mom waited until she was in her 50’s and when she grew out her hair it was like going from night to day. Such an abrupt change.

Now, I’ve since learned that there are several ways that your hair colorist can help with the grow-out.

You don’t have to go cold-turkey!

(Or…just wear headbands and top knots for a year or so.)

But my grow-out period was pretty painless.

That sexy streak

Over the next couple of years, a silver streak developed. That’s when I started getting stopped on the street by perfect strangers saying, “Oh, your hair is so beautiful. But…I could never.” 

I became rather proud of that streak. On a good day it was like Lily Munster. (On a bad day, maybe more like Bride of Frankenstein.) 

But it was always striking.

Making a statement

I felt like I was making a statement…like, hey, look, you don’t HAVE to color your hair! Be free! Burn your bras! Do what you want! 

Also, “Here’s what’s natural and beautiful. Stop hiding.”

This was not dissimilar to when I was nursing my baby on the front stoop of our townhouse, watching my older son on his tricycle. 

The little girl next door came by to see the baby. I said, sure, he’s nursing right now. She stared and I let her, openly. Because…this is how it’s done. I had NEVER watched a baby breastfeed until I had to do it myself as a mother. It was so hard! We learn by watching and I’d never had that opportunity because breastfeeding is, by and large, something we hide.

Just like our grays.

So I started walking around proudly…like, yeah, this is what real hair looks like on a real woman! Look at it! 

Maybe I could be part of normalizing the idea that women age, and change as we age, and hey, actually it’s kind of beautiful.

I also loved that I wasn’t spending a fortune at the salon every few weeks. And I didn’t have to sit there breathing in chemical fumes. It was better for my health, for my finances and, heck, it really did look cool to have that gray streak.

Making yourself happy

A few years later, I got divorced.

And turned 40.

And started dating. 

A little nerve wracking, right? But I have never received a single negative comment about my hair. All I’ve ever heard is that it’s sexy, it’s flattering.

I wasn’t doing it to be sexy or flattering.

I was doing it because it made me happy on several levels.

And that’s the key when we make decisions about our appearance. 

Not…what’s expected of me? What does society say is proper or acceptable? Or what am I supposed to look like? 

But…what makes me feel good? How do I want to represent myself?

For a long time, having my hair grow in naturally made me feel really good.

Tips for managing gray hair

If you’re growing in your grays, you know they can be unruly. They like to stick straight up and tend to be kinky. 

I use mascara to smooth them down. Works like a charm.

The other thing is that gray hair is obviously going to make you look more mature. So I really like to focus on keeping my body and skin looking young. 

Because, yes, you can have silver hair AND lovely skin and toned legs. 

It’s called contrast! It’s intriguing.

I get questions about my skin too. So, in case you were wondering…I use a line of products called Annmarie Skincare. It’s organic and lovely and luxurious. I use a gentle cleanser, several of their facial masks and a gentle exfoliant. If you’ve been looking for a better natural skincare, here’s a bundle of my favorite products for just $19 (available until 12/31/20).

Now I have a confession

After 40, those grays really started getting dense. No longer a streak, it was becoming an all-over situation.

I struggled against this for a few months, thinking…gosh I kind of want to color my hair…but, I can’t! Everyone knows me as the woman who DOESN’T color her hair. 

Talk about having to live up to expectations.

I decided, um, no.

I’ll do what I damn please.

An alternative way to cover grays

Whether you’ve been coloring your hair for a long time and you want to stop, or if you’re like me and have grays but just wish you had fewer…

Listen up.

My hair stylist does a gray blending technique where she delicately paints in my darker color over the grays, one strand at a time. It’s brilliant because…

  • There’s no hard edge. 
  • The dye doesn’t even touch my scalp.
  • It grows out easily and doesn’t require constant root touch-ups.
  • And it looks so much more natural. Some gray shows, some doesn’t. I can curate where and how much I want.

I’ve had this done a couple of times, at 3 month intervals. It suits me right now.

By the way, If you live in the area and are interested in gray blending, you want to see my girl Val at Vaza Salon in Ossining, NY.

This really isn’t about appearance

Even though this article has been about appearance…you know what? 

It’s really not. 

It’s about grappling with society’s expectations and the aging process as a woman, and making choices for our health and for our happiness.

And, hey Kamala…if you want to grow out your grays, we support you!

If you enjoyed the audio version, be sure to subscribe to the She’s Got Power podcast on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts. Love what you hear? Please share with your friends and leave a review on iTunes so more women can finally overcome the health issues associated with chronic stress and burnout.