4 Tips for Going Gray

4 Tips for Growing Out Your Gray Hair

Making the decision to “go gray” was a controversial one—not for me, but for people in my life.  Quite a few people (my kids, my college roommate) tried to talk me out of it, telling me I would look old, people would think I’m older than I already am, etc. But I was the one who had to live with the frequent dye jobs, the roots, the time, the expense, the toxic chemical load, and I was ready to go gray.

I started coloring my hair when I was in college, just for fun, and continued coloring throughout my twenties. But then the Baby Years arrived, and I was on autopilot: sleep deprived, overwhelmed, with no time to think about my hair. So when my roots would start to show, off to the salon I would go. I kept this up for another decade.

Then one day I realized that I was starting to schedule life events around my need to color my hair. Vacation? Gotta choose a week where fresh color won’t be tinted by the sun, but also choose a week where my roots are not yet showing, and also need to choose a week where I’m not scheduled for color. See where I’m going with this? My life was being dictated by my hair!

After thinking about it for over a year, I decided to take the plunge and go gray in 2012 at the age of 42. I talked with my stylist who told me that I wouldn’t be able to do it; she said lots of women try it but hardly any succeed.

Challenge accepted!

I had a hard time finding resources to prepare me for the journey. (Remember, this was 2012.)I found a book about one woman’s experience going gray and I read it from cover to cover. I made a list of every woman I knew (or had known) who had gray hair . . .  it ended up being a VERY short list! Even though I googled endlessly, I found very few personal accounts of those who had gone gray. So then I started looking for gray-haired women when I would be out and about, and sometimes I even worked up the courage to ask about their journey to going gray. 

Gray hair, don’t care!

I was determined to do this and to see the process through to the end. I made appointments at two local, high-end salons that are known for their work with hair color. Each salon had a “specialist” in gray hair, so I visited with each in an effort to formulate a plan for blending my gray roots. (I discovered that this is not as easy as you would think, but I cover this in #3 below.)

Next, I bought baseball caps, hats, and hairbands in preparation for growing out my gray. I was putting so much energy into being prepared that I was actually unprepared for how powerless I would feel while the gray was growing. There was nothing I could do, I just had to be patient and wait for growth.

It took me a total of 21 months to fully grow out my hair to gray. I am SO GLAD I persevered because I have gained WEEKS of my life back, and saved thousands of dollars in the six years since I stopped coloring. (I was spending 2-3 hours every 3 weeks coloring my hair. Add in the cost of coloring, plus tip, and you can see how going gray has saved me time and money.)

Here are 4 tips that helped me to go gray and maybe they will help you too.

  1.  Be 100% committed.  People will certainly have opinions (both positive and negative) about your journey. DO NOT BE SWAYED by those who try to talk you out of your decision. You need to make the decision that is best for YOU.
  2. Be prepared. The first 2 months are the hardest.  Looking in the mirror when you’re growing out your gray can be tough because your eyes will look towards your very unsightly roots every time you look in the mirror.  Your impulse will be to call and make an appointment to color your hair. PUT DOWN THE PHONE AND STAY STRONG. After a couple months you will start to look expectantly in the mirror, eager to see new growth, curious about the shade of your undyed hair, and you’ll stop cringing every time you see your roots showing.
  3. Have a plan. Choose to cut your hair short. Or don’t cut it at all. Some people cut their hair short, cutting off all the color, and start from scratch, allowing their gray hair to grow in.  This was not something I wanted to do. I have never found a short haircut that worked for me, so I was reluctant to start over with a new haircut AND gray hair. It seemed like too much change all at once.  In the meantime, I invested in a few wide headbands that I could wear to cover the “line” where my gray hair met my colored hair. About 10 weeks into the growing-out process, I made an appointment at a local salon to have some highlights and lowlights cut into my roots to help blur the line between my dyed hair and my roots. THIS WAS PURE MAGIC. It made all the difference in the world between walking around looking like a skunk vs gracefully growing gray. (Note: it did take longer to grow out my color due to this highlight/lowlight process, but I felt that it was worth it.)
  4. Use the “growing out” process as a time to reassess your skin tone, makeup, and wardrobe. Once my gray hair had grown enough that it framed my face, I noticed that a lot of my clothes made me look washed out and it seemed as though my make-up no longer looked as good as it once had.  I had always colored my hair a reddish/auburn and chose my makeup and clothing accordingly. But suddenly I was finding that I looked better in vibrant blues and maroons and discovered that these colors brought out the green in my eyes. I started experimenting with cool, rather than warm makeup and was shocked to discover that I have cool tones to my skin! I had always considered myself to have warm undertones, but it turns out that my dyed hair was tricking me into thinking I had warm skin. Take the growing out process as a time to get to know yourself, your skin, your hair, your clothes, your preferences.  It’s a long process, you might as well dive in and make the most of it. 

What questions do you have about going gray? What tips did I miss that you would add based on your journey? Let me know in the comments!

37 thoughts on “4 Tips for Going Gray

  1. I was excessively pulling out my grays to the point of having a bald patch in the top of head. I did the Big Chop to cut out the excessive dye. I’m slowly embracing my gray and opted to wear scarves until my hair grows out.

    1. Oh my gosh, OUCH! Glad you figured out a way to work around your hair until it grows out. It’s definitely a process (and honestly, the first couple months were the worst) but worth it!

  2. Just the article I was looking for. After coloring my hair for 25+ years, I have made the decision to grow out my gray. I just talked to my stylist last week to start a plan to add hilities and lowlights as I grow it out for many of the same reasons…having to color every 4 weeks to cover the roots, planning around vacations and work functions…just tired of it. You provided me some extra incentive that I can do this!

    1. Awesome! This is exciting! It’s definitely rough the first few weeks (because the urge to color is STRONG!) but after about a month it became exciting for me because I could see that my hair was coming in with it’s own version of highlights (lighter gray) and I didn’t have as much gray as I thought I had, so it was really interesting to watch my hair grow. Good luck!

  3. Your reasoning sounded like I had written it myself! I’ve decided that after almost 30 years of coloring… I’m done! 2020 will be it ! I’m excited to embrace this journey and see the “real me” ! Wearing very short hair most my life I’m hoping this won’t take too long… I’m ready to go short and blend as much as I can to ease the transition!

  4. On reading your article it was like listening to my own thoughts. I have been going white since I was 21 as in roots and are so tired of dyeing my hair. Lots of people have talked me out of it. My mam has cancer unfortunately and I had thought I bit severe I know but Macmillan have a ‘Brave the shave’ so I had even thought about doing this to raise money and solve my grey issue out.
    I’m still not sure but I know would be a lot easier in the long term.

  5. I loved reading about your journey into revealing the natural color of your hair. It’s been 2 months since I’ve colored my hair and, despite some negative comments from my peeps, I’m so not giving in! I’m 68 years old with a very lively disposition and a quick smile. In my mind, the best way of feeling and looking youthful is being positive and friendly to those around you. Of course, being honest with yourself. We can’t always be this way all the time but, making the effort will make it irrelevant as to what color your roots are! I actually love my naturally dark brown hair with silver strands that are healthy and shiny. Keeping up on a good hairstyle is also key to highlighting silvery hair. I’m liberated even at my age!! Thanks for inspiring me to share my journey as you have.

    1. The first 2 months are the hardest so you are well on your way to making this happen! I struggled a lot (when I would look in the mirror and see my hair growing out) at the beginning because it annoyed me SO MUCH that I was walking around looking like I just didn’t get around to coloring my roots. But once I got a few months into it and it was obvious that I was growing it out, then I relaxed into the process a bit more. Plus, it was kinda fun to watch it grow in. I had fewer grays than I originally thought; and, I had a couple of areas where I had gray streaks and that was cool to see them show up. Good luck on your journey!

  6. Wow! 22 months, that is good to see, I am on month 11, feeling a bit defeated yet firm in my resolve to see it through. I told my stylist/cousin what I wanted to do, she consulted with others in her shop, she pulled out color samples did a lot of lip pursing and said “We can do this”, she colored me one shocking shade of blonde from my usual color , color of my natural non gray hair of brunette. with highlights. Neither of us were too sure, yet gave it a month then added low lights, found we could go 6 weeks between touch ups. We began adding low and high lights. We decided an ash blond would be better and closer to my natural color and it worked, she was not touching much of the roots. Two months ago the natural color was looking better than the brassy highlights, so we stopped dying it. I like the color better, feeling washed out. I will be shopping for new colors to wear, thanks to your suggestions.
    Thank you!! I love that there are courageous women like you to post and share, it is a huge help and support.

    1. It sounds like you found a work around that helped the growing out process, and it also sounds like you are ready to start figuring out which colors work with your new look. I hate shopping so this was not a fun part of the process for me but it has opened up a whole new world of colors so at least I feel like I lots of options when shopping. Good luck!

  7. Thank you for your story, it is very encouraging!! I started my journey about 21/2 months ago…cold turkey…Yikes! I’m going from dark brown to almost white with what I see coming in. I have colored my hair for 30 or more years. I am now 57and had been thinking about going gray for the last few years but just wasn’t quite ready. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia a little over a year ago. I already hated coloring my hair every 3-4 weeks, but got to where I couldn’t physically do it anymore. I’ve never gone to a salon, I’ve always colored it myself. I didn’t want to add going to a salon to my budget and just decided enough was enough. Plus I was starting to love the color of the roots I had been coloring and wanted to see what the results would look like all over! My hair has always been part of my identity and now I get to learn about a whole new me. I’m currently without a job due to my illness so maybe that has what has made this journey easier? I don’t know. However, I know I love what I’m seeing and wish I could snap my fingers and it would be done. Waiting for it to grow out has been the hardest because I can’t wait to see how it turns out. I’m excited! Thank you for the reminder to be patient and enjoy the journey!

    1. Deciding that “enough is enough” is just the fuel you need to make the change. When I wasn’t fully committed to going gray I gave up and then regretted it. (This happened a couple times before I decided to just STOP.) Also going through an illness–I am sorry you are struggling, fibromyalgia is debilitating–is a good time to make a change b/c as you recover you are uncovering a new/refined version of yourself. Glad you are making the choice to go gray!

  8. I started to go gray 2 months ago. I have short hair & my hairdresser removed some of the dye. Everyone thinks I highlighted my hair but it’s the gray showing through. I am happy & don’t really care what anyone thinks. By the way my husbsnd likes it.

  9. I have just started the last time I highlighted my hair blonde was in November, 2019. I have about in inch of outgrowth. I am worried about looking old but I really do not want to keep paying to color my hair plus I have noticed some breakage. Can’t wait to see the natural. My grandma had the most beautiful white hair, I hope I inherited that.

    1. This is the hardest part! Those first 8-10 weeks were the very hardest for me. Hopefully you will soon be able to see more of what your hair will look like soon, and hopefully it will look like your grandmother’s! I have noticed as I age (I will turn 50 this year) that as women age their hair tends to thin a bit and when you color your hair, this makes the hair look even thinner because the hair is in such stark contrast to the scalp. Plus, a lot of hair dye leaves hair looking dull and one-dimensional. I think that having natural hair, even if it’s gray, is life-giving because it has natural pigment and shine.

  10. Thanks for your story, I feel encouraged after reading this. Most of my family and friends do not like what I’m doing but not going back now. My husband says that as long as I like it then that’s all that matters. (this will be the second time I try to let my grey hair grow out.)
    I started with lowlights 2 weeks ago, stopped dying my hair 1.5 months ago. Been growing white hair since I was 12 yrs old. My father and grandmother both have fully white heads and they look awesome. Looking forward to see the end results.
    How do you manage to keep the grey looking nice? With the purple shampoo?

    1. Wow! It sounds like your hair is going to look amazing if it looks anything like your father’s and grandmother’s! I like that your husband it being supportive–that’s a huge help. My husband was happy when I stopped coloring my hair, I think his main reason was saving money and time (because it’s such a time commitment to keep up with coloring, and for me, that would be on Saturdays, so it interfered with family time.) Some of my friends, and my kids, were not happy that I was making the change. But I think there is a confidence that comes with making up your own mind and eventually everyone gets used to it. (Though the receptionist at our chiropractor’s office would tell me EVERY TIME that I looked better when I colored my hair. But she’s the only one. I will literally have strangers come up to me and compliment me on my grays.) As for keeping the grays bright, about 2 years ago I stopped using conventional shampoo and conditioner and switched to natural, sulfate free versions. I only wash my hair once a week, and the last time I got it cut they did a clarifying process to make the gray shine (it was With or Without the Hue by Curly World) and that worked nicely. I am planning to start using Blue Tansy essential oil (it’s a blueish purple) added to my conditioner to brighten my grays but so I have a lot of salt & pepper look to my hair so maybe that’s why I haven’t felt the need to brighten.

  11. I was thinking of getting a partially grey wig to wear until I could grow it out enough to get over the rough times. I thought it might help me get used to it and adjust my makeup in the meantime. Do you not suggest this?

    1. If you want to try a wig, I think that’s a great idea! I didn’t go down that road because at the time I was mom to a toddler and I was also training for a half marathon and it seemed like a wig would be too much work for my lifestyle. But if you do try this, I’d love to hear how it works out for you!

  12. Thanks. My hair is a dark brown (although I use the lightest ash brown dye). When I need dye, it becomes a lighter brown and brassy and the grey in the part looks terrible I wonder about just touching up the part only as it grows out and let grey show in the rest of the hair and in the temples. The grey is not as attractive as when the hair is black, as in your pictures. I will be 82 in May but everyone tells me they think I am much younger so that’s why my husband has always wanted me to keep dying it.

  13. Hi Rachel- you may have addressed this a love but what Shampoo and Conditioner would you use – I am seriously considering letting my grays grow out but my hair feels very corse. Thank you for your time. Lisa

    1. I have been using sulfate free hair products for probably 3 years. I am currently using Curly Girl products. (There has been controversy recently over the CG products but I have not had any issues with them, and I have been using them since summer 2018.) Prior to Curly Girl I was using Young Living shampoo and conditioner. It definitely takes some time to transition your hair when switching to sulfate free products because usually hair will have a lot of build-up so it will look greasy really quickly after washing. But once you stop using anything with sulfate, silicone or alcohol, eventually your hair will shed the build up (might need to do a clarifying treatment at home or in a salon). Also, as your color grows out, the new growth will be free from all the buildup so even though it might feel coarse, it will be healthier hair. (Not sure if you have curly hair or not, if so you should definitely look into the curly girl methods–no heat, no brushing, no harsh products, washing only once a week, etc.)

  14. It’s so encouraging to see so many women going through the same thing I am! I thought I was only one of a few… I have also been toying with the idea of going gray for quite a while now. I’m 67 and usually get the “i can’t believe you’re 67!” comment frequently. I see the gray coming in and I it looks good… so I’m going for it. I don’t think gray hair ages us. I’m only 5 weeks in and can’t wait to see what happens. I might be going for the highlight/lowlight method mainly because I like the contrast. We’ll see…

    1. The highlight/lowlight worked really well for me as my roots were growing out. It’s exciting that you’re 5 weeks in! The early weeks were the hardest ones for me because I had to continually resist the urge to color my roots. But once I got some decent growth I began to get excited about seeing my new hair color grow in. Even now, 7+ years later, I love it because I have some solidly gray streaks and it looks pretty cool (in my opinion). Good luck!

  15. Hi thank you for all the advices. Could you please explain me more about this?

    “highlights and lowlights cut into my roots to help blur the line between my dyed hair and my roots”

    I don’t understand how to do it

    Thanks

    1. I had the highlights and lowlights done at a salon. It’s a coloring process using foils, the stylist used two colors: a blonde color to blend in with the grays, and a copper, to blend in with the color that was growing out of my hair. This was helpful because it blurred the line between my roots and the color that was growing out.

  16. I started embracung my gray a couple months ago. Highlights and low lights were the key. And some shades toning. I was sooo tired of being tied tii the hair appts. My hair is pretty long so it will take a while but looking forward to it!

    1. Agree, my hair appointments started to make me feel trapped! Each month I would congratulate myself on gaining back (approximately 2.5 hours) hours of my life for every hair appointment I didn’t need once I started to let my gray come in. Once I got to 24 hours I felt so free because I had literally freed up an ENTIRE DAY OF MY LIFE by not getting my hair colored.

  17. I was living in Lima, Peru until recently and the concept of grey hair (natural or otherwise) was utterly foreign to the urban ladies there, which meant stylists had no idea what to do with me beyond permanent color or highlight, highlight, highlight. The result = very damaged hair. Once back in the States, I realized it would take a small fortune to do a color correction, so I found a stylist who simply put a demipermanent brown/eggplant color on the processed/blond hair so that I ended up brunette/eggplant with silver highlights growing in (my roots). I like the look of it and the color washes out instead of leaving a dark line. I also use keracolor clenditioner to keep the color longer. So far, so cute.

    The first 1-2 inches flew by easily, btw, and it’s at the 4-month mark that I’m finding it difficult to be patient. I’m debating another cut for summer – a pixie to chop off the old color once and for all! And I’ve seen women who use toners to add subtle color that will wash out without damaging the hair; I’m thinking this will be for me once this stage is over.

    1. There is an Instagram account called Silverishing, she uses purple tint along with her grays and it looks so fun and funky! She has a couple pics of when her hair was shorter and it was really cute, you might be able to find some inspiration from her account.

  18. Thanks for your help. I did it once and hated it. So this time, updating the make up and am trying to look at clothing colors. My hairdresser and i are in this together. We are going to start with highlights just around the face and top of the head to down play the stripe. Finger crossed.

    1. Excellent that your hairdresser is supportive! My hairdresser was against me going gray and told me that almost no one is able to go through with it. So I then had to start looking for someone who could work with me during the transition. It was doable, but would have been easier if my hairdresser had be in it with me. Good luck!

  19. I’m so glad I found your page! Everyone’s story sounds like mine- dyed my hair since 30, now 66 and tired of the cost, time, and chemicals going into my body each month! My husband is not supportive, says I’ll look old! But with my hairdresser closed until at least mid-April due to COVID-19, it’s the perfect time to go for it. My hairdresser is on board, so by the time I get an appointment again, it will have been around 10 weeks and we’ll figure out a plan. Warm weather is on the way, so a pixie might be how I transition. Thanks for the tips about changing up my wardrobe and make-up. I’ll be a brand new person!

    1. 100% agree that now is the perfect time! (Honestly, there isn’t much of a choice, currently!) But the first 10 weeks is the hardest so once you get to that point, you will be in great shape to move forward. As your natural color comes in, I think you will find that you are more yourself–there is a confidence that comes with embracing the new you. And since we are all struggling to embrace a new normal during this shutdown, you might as well go for it! Good luck!

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