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Gray Matters – is colouring your hair after 50 a smart move?

Posted in Aging, Health, and Style & Travel

Helen Mirren - ever stylish
Helen Mirren – ever stylish

It’s 12: I counted them. Had to assess the strength of the enemy. Right on top of my head, and, against my dark hair, these 12 gray strays are even more noticeable. I didn’t have it in me to be a good sport about it and declared war over a year ago. Armed with tweezers and glasses, I could be found, most nights, in front of the bathroom mirror. Plucking away more than just those 12 hairs. Have you any idea how hard it is to pluck the exact strand while looking in a mirror?

Finally, Maxime, my ever patient hairdresser who has known me for 15 years, asked: “If zey bug you so much, why don’t you have your ‘air colored? Here, let me introduce you to Heide”. And, just like that, beautiful Heide entered my life, and she seems set to stay until I am ready to let go. Or keel over with beautiful, dark tresses.

Taking the first step wasn’t easy. I never, ever, colored my hair – not even in my ’20’s, when punk was fashionable and experimentation was rampant. I was blessed with a very dark brown, with some natural tinges of red after a long summer in the sun. My hair got lighter living in LA but it was a good natural colour I never felt the need to change.

I knew to skip the whole do-it-yourself Revlon kit that Olivia Wilde is touting these days. Whenever someone, no doubt wishing to protect my wallet, suggests one of those touch-up pens, I look at them as if they suggested I enter a nunnery. I would rather eat bean burritos for a month than skimp on my hair colour. Because, even though Olivia’s color in the current Revlon ads looks convincing, I don’t dare imagine what my mane would resemble if I were left to my own devices. There are some things best left to professionals –  hair coloring and sushi rolls are but two of them.

Maybe when all my hair goes gray, I will be ready to revert to natural again. But, even when I see photos of beautiful women with stylish gray hair, I never think: “I wish I looked like that”. If hair is indeed a symbol of strength, mine is wrapped in deep chestnut.

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Sofagirl:

I would go grey in a heartbeat. If it was that uniform, platinum, shining helmet that I see on women around me.  My mother included – she went grey early and has worn her hair au natural, short and proud ever since.

But that’s not to be for me. My hairdresser reports that I have patches of full grey, some salt and peppery areas and other areas that are still my natural colour under the current dye. “Not nice”, she says, ever the mistress of understatement. “A bit like a monk.” Then she looks me in the eye: “Please don’t try anything on your own. This isn’t an easy process.”

Home Hair kits should come with huge warnings on them. Much like cigarette packs. The most important of which is: “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME. YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE DOING AND THE RESULT WILL BE A COMPLETE CRAPSHOOT DEPENDENT ON A MYRIAD FACTORS OVER WHICH YOU HAVE MINIMAL CONTROL”

Though, as I once did in a hotel room in Milan, millions of women worldwide will ignore the warning. And will end up (if they’re lucky) with a colour never seen in nature or (if they’re not) a burnt scalp and fractured hair.

The hairdresser I slunk off to, spent three hours muttering at me in Italian and covering my hair in weird smelling preparations. He then cut my hair into the style I still wear today and told me: “And now you leave to experts”. Which I do.

I did tell Pascaline the other day that we should consider taking me to Platinum at some point. “Sure”, she said: “let’s do that when you turn sixty”.  So watch this space.

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10 Comments

  1. Laure
    Laure

    Nothing like being late to the party, when it comes to responding to blog posts – but I have always loved my dark brown hair, love the contrast with my skin. And when I started to grey, it wasn’t that gorgeous salt and pepper look, it was uneven and sad looking. Coloring it my original dark brown still looks good to me, and I’m happy that I can maintain it with henna and indigo. When I was still doing my hair at salons, the stylists would encourage me to go with a “softer” brown because I was getting older. I finally let one try it on condition that if I was right, they would color it again the color that I thought it should be. Both the stylist and her supervisor agreed that the lighter color washed me out too much (as I suspected it would). Like you, I would be happy to dispense with coloring my hair if I could have a platinum or pure white mane, but I’m not ready for that yet. Downside of henna – you can put it over chemical color, but you shouldn’t put chemical color on top of henna. I’ll need to plan on a long season of weird hair and/or do a super short buddhist/cancer patient haircut to make the transition to gray.

    September 11, 2015
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Dear Laure, my hair has always been very dark even if, after 20 years in California, it’s not jet black any longer. I color it now, even if my grays are still few and far between, and it’s a deep chestnut. Not too light but I think the consensus on very dark hair aging women our age is probably true. I don’t think I will have the guts to transition to gray when it becomes more uniformly graying, not until I am 80 at least. By I came across this piece on just this subject matter and it might interest you. She is transitioning….althought transitioning from blond to gray is easier, I believe.

      http://thatsnotmyage.com/beauty-at-any-age/going-grey-for-the-guardian/

      September 12, 2015
      |Reply
    • sofagirl
      sofagirl

      Hmmm – not sure that cancer patients are worrying about transitioning their dye jobs to natural colour when they find themselves sporting a ‘cancer patient haircut’.

      September 13, 2015
      |Reply
  2. I suddenly got two gray patches about 4 years ago, i.e. when I was 35. (Makes me look a bit like “Maxwell Sheffield” if you’ve ever watched The Nanny…) I absolutely hate it (together with my slowly but steadily receding hairline) but prefer natural over colored as you can always tell. Coloring is still better than ‘combing over’, or worse still, a toupet (“Dead animal alert!”)
    But I suppose it’s different for women. I hardly no any who don’t color there hair from the first gray hair onwards.

    February 19, 2013
    |Reply
      • The difference is that, for men, gray hair is quite becoming. It makes you more interesting. While I understand women coloring their hair, I find it unattractive in men – probably because most of them use the diy approach, which you can spot a mile away. You guys are lucky – embrace your gray!

        February 19, 2013
        |Reply
  3. silvia
    silvia

    Camparigirl has been having a love affair with her hair since she was born and no doubt she’s the female and updated version of Sansone. Never met anyone like her.
    Thus said, my mom was grey at 18 and I still have a 4 as first figure in my age so I might wait a bit longer to see what’s going to happen.
    In the meantime I’m happy with my natural colour with a few grey hair showing up sometimes here and there in a curly head, so far I’m at ease with them but I realize I’m lucky because being it curly and soft is the reason why nobody has never noticed it.
    I think that Helen and Jamie and Meryl look gorgeous and sexy as much as you do girls with your hair dyed, maybe it’s simply a matter on what makes someone feel better eventhough generally speaking I think I’d like to go wild and grey.
    One thing is clear and I completely agree with you: if you have to dye it, leave it to the experts.

    February 18, 2013
    |Reply
    • I was born with a lot of hair. Does that explain it?

      February 19, 2013
      |Reply
      • silvia
        silvia

        Oh yes it does my dear Sansonina!

        February 19, 2013
        |Reply
  4. I guess it must be a common post-50 thought because I have been down that road with my hairdresser too.They say grey the new black, but I think since 50 is the new 40 I will hold on to my colour for a little while longer.

    February 18, 2013
    |Reply

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