Gray hair woes: Touch-up or let it go?

Ah, hair. We love it, we hate it, and sometimes are just “meh” about it.
I’ve been fairly happy with mine through the ages, but
after several years of fighting gray hair, I’m beginning to
wonder if I should just let it go.

I do fully color it once or twice a year and in-between
I usually do some powder touch-ups on the roots (or
enlist my not-so-thrilled son or DH to help me!). I don’t mind
some gray strands sprinkled throughout, but I really, really
dislike the several white stripes I have. And I’m kind of torn
about keeping the color until my son graduates high school. My
DH is already about 70 percent gray/white and it looks good on him,
but I’m a little reluctant to go gray, just to help prevent folks
from thinking he’s out with his grandparents. 🙂 I know it really
doesn’t matter in the whole scheme of things, but high school kids
can still be mean at times.

I guess what I really need to do is to make up my mind to either color the gray
fairly consistently or to let it grow out au naturel.

If I decide to let the gray hair go gracefully, how does one
go about it? It just seems like there would be a long,
fairly awkward grow-out phase that would be hard to get
through. I have several hats that I love, but can’t wear
them every single day. And I don’t look so hot in those
wide, stretchy headbands that could cover a multitude of sins.

Also, what do I do if my gray is not attractive? My MIL has the most gorgeous fluffy white head of hair and another friend has stunning silver. What if mine turns out badly?

Have any of you done gray hair all the way or known someone who has? What
are your tips or tricks for getting through it? Thanks for any
help you can offer.

  • Tom says:

    I used to live with a (very talented) colorist who used to make mine a new color every season. He could find the right shade of red, blonde, brown or even black and it looked great.

    Unfortunately we broke up.

    My hair grows too darned fast (I know, most men would cheerfully kill for this problem) to keep up with the roots. My last dye job was medium ash blond and past shoulder length. Lest the roots grow in some and then went tor the Harrison Ford in “Blade Runner” cut. Haven’t looked back.

    Not that you should go that far..

  • GrandmaGaga says:

    The only person I care to impress with my appearance is my dear husband…I always say that when he dies I’m just going to shave my head and be done with ‘bad hair days’…My favorite sentiment on growing- and looking- older is that my husband’s eyesight is fading at roughly the same rate as my beauty so it’s all good!

  • Barbara B says:

    56 years old and have never colored my hair, mainly because I know I won’t keep it up and don’t want that stripe in my part! I’m about 75% gray. Get complements on my hair all the time.
    My husband told me not to color it when I started going gray and I’m glad I didn’t. My joke is that when he dies I’m going to have to start coloring it to get a new man!

    • Ann says:

      Too funny, Barbara! But glad yours looks good as it is and that he’s happy with it, too. And think of all the money you’ve saved, right?

  • March says:

    HA! I think I already told my story on here. Started going gray in college…. colored it for almost 30 years, got tired of the maintenance. I grew it out a few inches and whacked it off (I’ve had very short hair before and it wasn’t traumatic.) But as others have pointed out, have your stylist do a sort of reverse-dye job, putting in streaks of gray so you don’t have a solid color demarcation line. As others have ALSO said, if you hate it, fine — go back to coloring it. I have gotten more compliments on my silvery hair than I ever got on my dye job, and it’s much healthier. I don’t miss all the time and money spent at the salon every 6 weeks.

    • Ann says:

      Hi, sweetie! I was thinking of you when I began pondering my hair issues. You look amazing — keep rocking that gorgeous silver!

  • HeidiC says:

    I’m 44 and still dyeing my hair a dark brown, so I’m not the person to ask.

    • Ann says:

      Oh, Heidi, you sweet young thing, you! 😉 Keep on keepin’ on and looking fabulous, dear!

  • AnnieA says:

    My hairdresser suggested the same method as Sue’s also with the fact that the rinse becomes increasingly light eg light brown to dark blonde etc.

    • Ann says:

      Hi, AnnieA! Yes, that does sound good, kind of a camouflage, blend-it-all-in kind of mix to make it workable. Thanks!

  • Sue O'Rourke says:

    I have dark very long thick curly/wavy hair, I colored at home weekly to touch up roots, my hair grows wicked fast and after 25 years of doing weekly touch ups I’m just done, so decided about 2 years ago I was going to let my gray grow out(going gray since 16yrs old) and asked my stylist her opinion, she said start using a semi or demi permanent hair color, so I wouldn’t have that straight demarcation line when I finally decided to stop. Best advice ever! it’s growing out without a straight line between salt pepper gray & color it’s just fading, using a purple shampoo & conditioner to prevent old color from getting to brassy, at some point I will trim a few inches off and do some sort of color blend work as my ends are turning reddish as the old color fades, but that will be just for transition and eventually the plan is to embrace what I have and maybe add temporary fun colors every now & then. Go for it you can always go back to coloring the grays out!

    • Ann says:

      Great plan, Sue! I think that frequent cuts could work for me. As they might say in the hair edition of “Finding Nemo” — “Just keep trimming, trimming, trimming.” BTW, I actually have had the demi-perm done the last couple of years and it has worked out fairly well, avoiding that stark line, but the roots and stripes still kill me.

  • cinnamon says:

    There’s another thing about going grey: sometimes the grey doesn’t work well with the colour that is left. I have very dark brown (almost black) hair and the grey colour that came in made my skin look incredibly cold. I had balayage done so that 1) the lighter strands of hair were warmed up and 2) by doing that the grey melded better into the very dark brown, ie, there were more gradations of colour. I wouldn’t mind being grey at all if the colour were flattering.

    • Ann says:

      Exactly, Cinnamon! If it’s a pretty gray or silver, then all would be well. You’re the second person to mention the balayage, so I need to look into that soon. Sounds like it was perfect for you. Thanks!

  • solanace says:

    My hair was bright blue in the mid nineties, but it has been falling so much due to hormonal changes, I wouldn’t dare dying it these days. Would just like to say, though, that your kids are also part of the high school, and that the democratic, anti ageist education you give them might just have a beneficial effect in your community that will turn back to them some day. Don’t let the bullies stop you, no one should! Hair grows. And is easy to dye back. Hope you have fun with it.

    • Ann says:

      Never thought of it like that, Solanace, so thanks for the insight. And yes, I need to make sure I have fun trying things out.

  • Kate says:

    My hair’s been many colours in my life, and generally when I get tired of the current palette and/or its cost and maintenance, I shave it down with clippers. Which is what I did when I decided to see what my grey was doing.

    It’s two bold stripes at the temples and a salting everywhere else, which is pretty cool, but I did get bored of it after a while, and now I’m colouring what there is of it (still very short) teal and purple.

    The best thing about hair is that it grows back, which is more than I can say about the several tattoos I’ve contemplated and never got (I’m reasonably sure I’d get bored with those, too).

    • Ann says:

      Kate, I admire your adventurous spirit! I love the idea of just shaving it down when you want to start over, but alas, it wouldn’t work so well for me (or sit well with the fam, ha!). And good for you on the tattoos — getting rid of them would be a major pain.

  • Tara C says:

    For my 50th birthday I decided to stop dyeing my hair. Wore it in a ponytail for several months using root touch-up liquid, then got a pixie cut. I have NEVER had so many compliments. People say it makes me look younger, makes my eyes and facial features stand out more, it’s really quite astonishing. I am petite and athletic so I don’t get any old lady treatment, YMMV.

    • Ann says:

      You go, Tara! That’s the way to work it. Just ride it out for a while, then come back with a great cut. I know you look fabulous!

  • ElizabethC says:

    I had dark brown hair with blond streaks. All of the blonde streaks went grey. I fought it for some time but my hair grows out quickly and I got REALLY tired of the roots. When I decided to grow out a short haircut I also decided to stop dyeing my hair as well. It did look silly for a bit, but now I really enjoy having the intense grey streaks (with more and more grey every year). If you have the right cut, the grey streaks can look very sophisticated and elegant and…really do work well with a dark red lipstick. 🙂

    • Ann says:

      I agree, Elizabeth, and glad you’re happy with your look. I’ve seen some stunning women sporting the dramatic streaks. Im far from stunning material, but think one day I could make something like that work, in a sleek bob, for instance. And of course, the red lipstick (the one part of all this that I’ve got down pat.) Thanks!

  • Bee says:

    Oh and yes – when you go grey you have to change your makeup – i recommend a bold red lipstick. 🙂

    • Ann says:

      Loved reading your hair story, Bee! And too funny about the change in attitude toward you — that would bug me, too, although common courtesy is refreshing in any form these days. Glad you’re happily rocking the blond now! And boy, do I need to look into that balayage method ASAP.

    • Ann says:

      Yay — I’ve got the bold red lipstick down pat (about 20 tubes worth, ha!!)

  • Bee says:

    My hair was originally brown and I dyed it every colour under the sun ( I was once a punk rocker) and then settled into a very bright red. When the grey got too much about 5 years ago I dyed it light brown and then added ash blonde highlights using the balayage method in order to blend in the grey as it grew and it was all natural in about 18 months. I’m not a hairdresser but I did all the dyeing myself and spent the money I saved on regular cuts. I liked the grey but it did change people’s attitude to me – suddenly people were offering me seats on buses and being a little bit patronising in shops so i dyed it back to light blonde – and all that went away. I was not ready to be treated like a little old lady. I;m 62 by the way and now enjoying being blonde.

  • Taxi says:

    Mine is 90-95% white. I did blond streaks in my light brown-with-some-gray for years, then dyed & streaked but maintenance was very high & costly. White re-growth drives me crazy so I got root touch-ups every 7-10 days. Finally, I cut my very hair short, got a really high quality, short, color-matched wig, & waited until the dyed hair was completely grown out. Went white overnight with a pixie when I ditched the wig, which most people didn’t realize was a wig.
    Occasionally, very close friends (or my mother) suggest I go blond or reverse frost but I can’t imagine spending the time or energy to do that again.
    Some friends do very heavy blond frost/streaking as they grow out – better than the white stripe for them.

    • Ann says:

      Wow — what a great plan! Never thought about a wig — very cool. A friend of mine (a redhead) didn’t like the way her gray was coming in so she went to a very soft blond and it worked well for her but I can see that the maintenance would still be a headache, just of a different sort. Thanks for sharing!

  • Eldarwen22 says:

    At the ripe old age of 34, I have yet to find a gray hair on my head. My mother dyes her hair and it looks like more maintenence than it’s worth. I see so many women with badly colored hair it’s not funny. Don’t do the red hair thing, it will make you look washed out and your hair will look horrid.

    • Ann says:

      Lucky, lucky you!! Yes, so many bad color jobs out there; it really is painful. And don’t worry about any sort of red coming near me: My first hair color product was a medium brown with very slight reddish undertones and it about made me nuts (I have more than enough red on my face with my rosacea). So the next time I made sure to get “medium ASH brown” which worked much better.

  • Musette says:

    I tried going grey but it just washed me out and made my face look like an English Muffin. Went back to a dark-ish brown (not really dark because that would be ridiculous) and took about 20lbs and 10 yrs off my face.

    But ymmv. March looks GREAT in grey. But we have totally different skin tones and hair type.


    • Ann says:

      HIya, darling! Now that’s what I’m talking about — you experimented and found out what works best for you. Skin tone, hair/eye color, face shape, the shade of your gray hair: So many factors come into play on this. But one things’s for sure: You rock the color and March rocks the silver!!

  • rosarita says:

    I agree with ScentSpirit. Let it go gray and if you don’t like it, recolor it. Gray hair takes a while to show up on my maternal side and I’ve opted to just let it go. I feel like I have earned every gray hair I get but I understand the desire to color, too.

    • Ann says:

      Howdy, dear! I know what you mean about earning every single gray, and I’m glad that you get the indecision. But thankfully whatever I decide, it can always be changed.

  • ScentSpirit says:

    It’s hair, not a member of the family. If it’s not attractive or doesn’t turn out well, you haven’t signed a lifetime contract, you just go back to colouring it.

    • Ann says:

      Thanks, Scentspirit, you are right. I just tend to go back and forth trying to decide. It really helps to hear other folks’ stories (and to remember that it is just hair, after all).

  • morejasmineplease says:

    Hey Ann – I just recently came across this great youtuber, actress Monique Parent, with advice for exactly this situation!

    Going Gray the Easy Way

    I bet you’ll look fabulous au naturel!

  • rickyrebarco says:

    I color my dark brunette hair its original color. It looks great. No grey for me!

  • Lisa Loader says:

    I have had my waist-length hair, which was dyed blue black, stripped and dyed blonde and then I had low-lights put in. It was a long day in the salon and cost quite a bit but it looked nice. If I ever were to decide to go grey, I would do that except that I would have the blonde replaced with grey/silver. My mother allowed her hair to grow out. She looked like she was going bald and/or that a bird had defecated on her head. I would not recommend it.

    • Alison says:

      Friends who have decided to go grey have done the same general thing as Lisa with their own length hair. Use your stylist to help blend the greys in as they grow, rather than having a demarcation line that looks like you’re going bald.

      • Ann says:

        Alison, you make a great point — blending is key. I’ve had the demi-permanent thing done mostly and it does grow out looking better than a full-on permanent dye would.

    • Ann says:

      Thanks for the warning, Lisa. And wow — waist length hair! I bet it is gorgeous!

  • Rosemary says:

    I don’t know about growing out either. My hair is thin, and fragile, and I was scared to color it, lest I lose it! The silver started coming mid20s, then from about 35 to 40 with more vengeance. I’ll be 41 in a few months, and I have two prominent silver streaks in addition to the sprinkles everywhere. My hair is dark, so it really shows, but I’m just embracing it. I have lived enough years to have earned it, and try to view it is a badge of honor. Not always easy, as coloring is still much more popular, but maybe that’s changing slowly. I did watch photos of a friend growing hers out, she cut it fairly short to begin, then let the color and length grow out together, I thought she looked great, she’s one of my silver inspirations. Good luck with your decision making, and as Grateful Dead would say, “Oh well, a touch of grey, kinda suits you anyway ” 🙂

    • Ann says:

      Yes, Rosemary — a short cut and going from there is a great idea. And I bet you look marvelous, a little mysterious and exotic, with your silver streaks. MIne aren’t big enough for drama, just enough to irritate me, ha!

  • Queen Cupcake says:

    Like PJMCBRIDE, I have never covered my gray, so I don’t have much advice for the growing-out phase. I am about 70% gray and the rest is dark, so more salt and a little pepper, I guess. I used to have a well-defined hairline and so it looked good when the hair was pulled back in a ponytail but now that area is mostly gray or white, making my face look fatter! My solution is to have the hair layered around the face, and use a little blush or bronzer to keep from looking washed out. For myself, coloring my hair would have resulted in a long road of expensive and time-consuming maintenance I wasn’t willing to endure. Ann, you will be glad once you free yourself from bathing your head in strong and unnecessary chemicals. I don’t know if you wear makeup, but you might enjoy adding a little color to your cheekbones, maybe eyes. Don’t neglect your brows; they thin out as we get older. Easy to define them with a little powdered eye shadow and a thin, angled brush. Lipstick, when you might not otherwise think of it, brings the focus back to the face of a woman grown in years, wisdom and experience, and who accepts the passage of time but insists on looking her best and enjoying life. (Sorry, didn’t mean to write such a long sermon! Guess this is something that has been on my mind.)

    • Ann says:

      Hi, dear! Thanks for all the great tips. I have rosacea and wear glasses that obscure my eyebrows, so blush and eyebrow pencil are pretty much wasted on me, but I do love me some great lipstick and eyeshadow/liner sometimes, And you have the right attitude about being a woman of a certain age — I do appreciate all my hard-won wisdom, even if my son doesn’t seem to 😉

  • pjmcbride says:

    I can’t really help you with the growing-out phase since I’ve never covered my gray. I got my first gray at 29, so I don’t really think of it as being an “old” thing. (Of course, I’m also an old hippie who still has long hair at 61, so this is the eccentric-bohemian viewpoint.) I do think it’s ironic that older women go blonde because “lighter hair around the face is more flattering,” when nature lightens your hair naturally as you get older! Go for it!