Greying Gracefully: To Dye or Not to Die

No, it’s not a spelling mistake. With studies and articles pointing to the danger of hair dyes, it can literally come down to a life-and-death situation. Many of the chemicals in permanent hair dyes (especially the darker colours) have been linked to non-Hodgkins’s lymphoma, bladder cancer, breast cancer, childhood cancer (if used during or just prior to pregnancy) and rheumatoid arthritis. Why would anyone take the risk?

Because we’re women and there’s something inside each one of us that wants to be beautiful. In a society that’s dedicated to the worship of youth and beauty it’s difficult to go grey naturally and gracefully. I know of women who have done it and I admire them exceedingly. But I have to admit that it’s a personal struggle of mine at the moment and one I sometimes feel that I will never win. Grey hair is seen as ‘dull’ or ‘aging’. Worse still, those with grey hair can be accused of ‘letting themselves go’, being fashion ‘challenged’, or of just not caring. Such criticism (whether real or imagined) is difficult to handle when the person going grey is struggling with the aging cycle forced upon them by their own body. We don’t feel old: why do we have to look old?

Then there are the terms we use. Those that go grey in their 30s or 40s are often referred to as ‘greying prematurely’, but if a large number of women (and men) go grey at this age, is it truly 'premature'? It seems to me that it’s quite natural for those grey hairs to have made some sort of appearance by the time we blow out the candles on that 30th birthday cake. In which case, perhaps what we need isn’t dye but a major overhaul of society’s attitudes. If it’s perfectly natural and normal to be grey in our thirties or forties why then do we so desperately try to cover our greys as if there’s something shameful in letting the world see and know that we (shock horror!) have grey hair?

Personally I struggle with what others think of me with my grey hair and wonder if they’re ‘judging’ me for it. The thought of covering those greys and having none showing is a very seductive one indeed. Who wouldn’t prefer to have full-bodied natural colour over silvery greys that shine like tinsel on the Christmas tree and scream to the world that we're getting old?

This downhill slide to grey hair isn’t helped by the fact that I detest seeing all those grey hairs on my head. They look so … old. They certainly don’t make me feel attractive. Why would they? They’re a reminder that I’m growing old – slowly wearing down in this journey of mine through life.

So what’s the answer? I wish I knew!

I admire those men and women who are not afraid to let their grey shine; who make a conscious decision to allow the grey to become a part of their crowning glory. Yes, there is the loss of youth (or the illusion of youth); yes, there is the mourning of the passing of the natural hair colour (difficult when we actually like the colour we’ve been blessed with and I do); yes, there may even be the knowledge that others judge them; but there’s also honesty: this is who they are. They have grey hair: why hide it? It shows their life’s journey – from childhood, to adulthood, to middle age, and eventually to old age.

And so I’ve come to the conclusion that I want to grey naturally and gracefully.

One day.

Some day.

Just not today.

I love the idea of greying gracefully but the reality is harder to live with. Several times I've tried letting the silver hairs show and despite my lofty ideas, I can't seem to embrace them as I'd like to. I feel that the silver tends to drag the colour out of my face as well as out of my hair. It's as if all the natural highlights that I have are suddenly muted.

Almost two years ago I discovered herbal henna. It’s supposedly safe and helps to blend in my greys without leaving any telltale line when the regrowth comes in.

It’s also messy. Very messy. And time-consuming.

However I like the fact that herbal henna fades gradually leaving no demarcation line. It turns my greys golden so that they blend in with the rest of my hair but only adds shine to the darker strands (I'm actually starting to get quite a blond streak above one temple!). The henna-on-grey also serves to give the illusion of lighter hair on my scalp, causing it to look more like the rest of my hair which has its own red and golden highlights (my scalp hair is naturally much darker than my length). With herbal henna and my method of application I don’t get complete coverage. Silver can still be seen peeking through - just not as much as would be if I didn't colour. I'm hoping that this will make the transition to silver hair not too difficult when the time comes.

Because I don't want to colour forever. If I could feel good about myself and not colour I would stop right now. One day I want to have gorgeous silver hair. But in the mean time there’s herbal henna!


SchnauzerMom said…
My mother colored her hair for years until she developed an allergic reaction to the dye. I was tempted to color mine but DH didn't want me to. I'm glad I listened to him. I know what you mean about the aging process. It's hard to get older when inside we feel young.
April said…
I hear you! Of course, I am coloring my hair, but I don't like what might be seeping into my head every six weeks. I would use henna if I could. In addition to liking the blonde, adding color makes my hair thicker. It is so fine that I really do like that. But... when will I stop? Maybe when we move to the farm. It will take so long to grow out though! I don't know... I don't know. I would love the freedom of just letting it go, but I'm like you... when I look in the mirror I want to look how I feel. Oh ponder ponder...
Jen said…
I have been getting some strands of pure white hair. Not grey, white! Evie actually found one not too long ago in my hair. My grandmother had pure white hair by a fairly early age. To be honest, I'm not sure I would want my hair to be white unless I was in my 60's or 70's. Not that it isn't beautiful. It is, but I'm just not sure I would be ready for white hair before then. I honestly think I would color mine with henna if I had too much white showing up. I think your hair color is really beautiful with the henna, and I see nothing wrong or vain with wanting to keep the grey away.
mermayd said…
I struggled with "to dye or not to dye" and chose to dye - for now. Still having a daughter in elementary school I do NOT want to be confused for "the Grandma." I chose demi-permanent dye, because it gradually fades with no demarcation line and unlike Henna, my hairdresser can get a very natural looking color, and it is also much gentler on the hair than permanent dye. I don't think I'll ever go to permanent dye. When the demi-perm no long does it for me, I just may go grey at that time. We'll see. For me, it's not just the greys that bother me (those actually look sparkly and pretty) it's the dull brown my other hair has taken on. My hair used to be a rich dark brown with auburn highlights and if I went natural now it would be a dull greyish brown with silver. I'm very happy with my new "color" although I don't like the expense. But it makes me feel good about my appearance and without it I think I'd have a much harder time right now with that. I do admire women who choose to "go grey" though and perhaps if I was in a different situation (children grown and out?) I might feel differently.
BellaMama said…
I've had white hairs (one to three hairs at a time) since I was a little girl. This is the first I've thought about grey, having read your post, and realize that I wouldn't want it either. My hair is a...I guess dark auburn, with a tiny bit of blond, but mostly copper highlights. In the evening my hair looks red and my roots are darker than my length also. I used henna rinse when I was in my teens only twice, the rinse didn't seem to do much. I haven't done any other coloring with my hair ever. Having changed my diet to exclude white flour and sugar and eating whole grains and honey/molasses (which contains high amounts of B vitamins-great for the hair) my hair has become thicker, curlier and darker. I also use only conditioner on my hair (aubrey organics) and a little pea amount of shampoo on my scalp 2-3 times per week. Sorta based on the curly-girl's book. I didn't read it, just took the tips that frizzy hair is curly, you just have to nourish it. My waves turned into curls! Your hair in this picture looks like mine did. If you want it to look even better try this!! I also went to www(dot)ylcf(dot)org/gotcurl/

It shows pictures and gives tips.

Let us know what you do that helps with "the other color", hehe :)
(laughing with you, knowing my turn may be coming!)

Bella Mama