Not Going Grey Gracefully – Part 1

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From brunette to blonde
From brunette to blonde

I’ve been going grey since I was 15 – in fact I carefully packaged up my hair and have kept it for 20 years now.

Still got it all wrapped up for safe keeping
Still got it all wrapped up for safe keeping

By the age of 22 I remember trying to count the number of grey hairs in my fringe (bangs) and lost count there were so many. That was the point that I started permanently dying my hair to a lovely dark brown.

Over those years, it was something I only needed to do every 6 weeks, but as the years have rolled past, that time between dyes has gotten shorter and shorter til now it was only 2 weeks before I’d start looking like a skunk.  Now every time my roots start showing my kids will tell me to dye my hair as ‘grey is for grannies’ and as much as I sometimes think that I could be one of those women who rock the silver, I’m aware that people still think I’m in my 30s, the minute I go grey, nobody will ever think that again (there’s my vanity talking) so I’m not ready to take that step.

Now I love the idea of ageing gracefully, but I don’t think I’m going to be able to do it.  I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with my hair for a while.  Should I just clipper it short down to the roots and let it grow out grey (kind of radical), I decided the answer was no.    So the other day, I made a decision that I wasn’t going to be dying my roots fortnightly (that means every 2 weeks), instead I would try and work with my white roots and work my way to platinum blonde.

Given how many layers of dye are on my hair, this is not a quick and easy process, without turning my hair to jelly or straw and it all breaking off.  So stage one (bottom of the collage pic, I started removing the colour, and then I stripped it slightly more.  Of course this has revealed all the red/yellow tones and pigments that are in keratin and I’ve had a major haircut (top right) to get rid of the ends as trying to strip all that colour from them would have killed my hair.

Now I have to wait another week for my hair and scalp to have a little rest from all those nasty chemicals, and then I’ll be (I hope) getting rid of much of the orange tones and going to a more pearl blonde (highlights) and some ash blonde lowlights which will suit my skin-tone and my wardrobe!

The kind of blonde I’m after!

My plan is to go more what I’d call – Helen Mirren blonde.

Read part 2 of Not Going Grey Gracefully.

You may also be interested in:

How to Choose a Hair Colour as You Age

How to Decide if Your Hair Should Have Highlights or Block Colour

How to Choose a Flattering Hair Colour

 

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80 Comments

  • I think the length of hair does a lot to age us, too. I know I look much older the moment my hair passes a certain length (just above chin length). Do you know, I actually thought the picture which you named as current to be from longer ago, i.e. that you were younger in that photo!! Good luck with the process!

  • Are you sure that isn’t Helen Mirren gray? I have ash blond hair with white coming in, and I think this may be where it will end up.

  • Thanks for sharing Imogen – I’ve been considering this dilemma myself for a few months now. I have naturally mousey brown hair and have dyed it dark brown and burgandy shades for years. The grey is becoming more predominate and my hairdresser added caramel foils the last time I visited in a bid to start lightening it – however I didn’t really like it, so was using a red shampoo to shade the caramels redder. I was wondering how I was going to deal with going lighter as I greyed more. This post may have just shown me the way…. Just not sure what shade of blonde will suit me best? Also, over what time frame did you strip your hair of colour and did a hairdresser do it or did you do this yourself (if so what product did you use)?
    By the way your hair looks great!

    • Deb – it’s a difficult transition! I don’t think there is any easy way. I have to admit I did the stripping myself – used Decolour Remover which stripped some of the dye out (but much of the dark dye is sealed into my hair because of the use of hot hair straighteners and silicone products). Then I used Decolour Stripper which removed some of the orange tones as well. I didn’t want to trash my hair so I’m now taking the next part of going blonde slower. I did it over a couple of days.

      As far as choosing a blonde for yourself, it helps to know how warm or cool your skin is – and then to find a colour that works with it. If you get a haircolour chart and hold the blonde samples up on your forehead and see which blend best. The wrong blonde can make you look ruddy.

      • I’ve just looked at your new colour & it looks fabulous on you! Your eyes still stand out. I wasn’t sure what you meant by dark blonde, but now I can see it.
        You did my colours about 5 years ago & I am dusky, warm, deep. Going on that are you able to recommend a blonde that would suit me? You have inspired me!

        • Deb – without seeing you now it’s hard to judge – you may need a slightly warmer blonde if you are still warm (I’m very cool in my complexion). I can certainly have a look at my hair colour charts and help you find a blonde with you in person!

  • Hi imogen,

    Sounds as if you are going through a difficult time. My mother stayed a tasteful blonde until about 75 when she went white with a bit of blonde rinse (the well known Fanciful bashful blonde).
    Like many people I’ve had blonde highlights since I was about 19 so covering grey regrowth is not much different. I don’t like to go to the hairdresser for colour more than every 4 or 6 weeks to save the condition of my hair. Small bits of regrowth: I use a Fanciful wax colour stick or in extremis some ash blonde or light brown eyebrow mascara eg Bobbie Brown. Longer regrowth, I cover the front roots and parting line , being careful to do the back of the head, with L’Oreal root touch-up colour for grey colour in an 8 sort of colour eg light brown. Then I go to the hairdresser when that starts to grow out too noticeably.
    You get used to this and it becomes second nature. I’m 65 and hardly anyone I know has grey hair.
    Hair colour has improved immensely and the new non-ammonia colour is even better.
    I do put olive oil or hot oil on my hair about once a month and try (this can be hard) to wash it only every three days, again to help the condition.
    Sorry this is a bit detailed, but the bottom line is that there are many products available and everyone can work out their own way,Incidentally, wigs have improved hugely too and once you know how to recognize one, you become aware that many women over 40 on special occasions are wearing a wig or hair piece a la Hilary Clinton.
    Good luck and don’t worry too much, you always look great.

    • Maggie – this is all new to me – so I’m going to be experimenting. This colour looks horrible with my cool wardrobe cos it’s so warm, but I’m hoping as my hair goes cooler with subsequent tints that it will start working again. I will just be adjusting my contrast levels.

  • Wow! But this means that you will go from high contrast to low contrast and from deep to light? Doesn’t a blonde have a different wardrobe from a dark brunette? Will you still wear black as a neutral?

    • Susie – I will lose some of my contrast – but I still have darker eyebrows and eyes so will probably go to a medium rather than low contrast. I think that black won’t suit as well – I will have to move more into grey’s I think – will see soon!

      • Oh you mean that your eyes are a darker blue? I never really thought about it like that, I just assumed that blue means light, brown means dark when it comes to eye colour. Is that not so then?!

        Btw you once posted a photo of yourself with wavy hair (its natural state I believe?), did you never want to have it like that, with a bit more volume and texture, rather than the sleek and shiny look?

        • Yes – contrast doesn’t just come from hair – but can also be from skin, eyes, eyebrows, even teeth (if they are a dominant feature). My eyes aren’t a light blue – the are medium/dark – so they along with my eyebrows, which are medium brown give my face more contrast than if I had pale eyes and eyebrows. We shall see once I’ve got the colour overall lighter!

          I tend to either have to curl my hair or straighten, it’s just naturally kind of kinky and not particularly nice.

  • I’ve been going through a similar process. My hair is mousy brown, or dish water blond and I’ve been bleaching it blond for 10 years with Sun-In. I’m 47 and have 5 kids, the youngest is 4 and a kid at the play ground thought I was his Grandma… I realized my hair is so bleached that it’s almost white so I want to see what color my hair really is. I had it colored a darker blond and I see the mousy brown and streaks of gray coming in. I’m not sure what to do.

    • Helen – it’s hard to know what to do. Go grey, work with your natural colour, just have a few highlights. It depends on upkeep and all sorts of issues that you have to make choices about!

  • Please reconsider and accept the grey…blonding will help the transition. With skin like yours, no one will think you’re old…and your kids will get used to your new look!

  • I think you look lovely and it will be fun to see the finished look. While grey looks very pretty on some people, there won’t be any grey hairs on my head either. Does this mean you will have to change your clothing colors? I imagine black will be very harsh against your skin and hair color now. Will you have some posts addressing this soon?

    • Debbie – I’ll have to see once I get to my new colour how my black works – not as well I’m guessing! I will be doing further posts about this as the changes occur. I’ve noticed that none of my current clothing look good with this rather warm head of hair I’m currently sporting. Still hopefully in a few days I can get it calmed down to a cooler blonde and they will start looking better.

  • I’ve been some form of ashy blonde for all my life except for a few years when I went dark (cool toned) red. I enjoyed the experiment but it got to be hard work to maintain. I really wanted to be blonde again for my wedding, but was informed this could not be done overnight; a disappointment to say the least. What I did end up doing was dying my hair the darkest ash brown I could find and adding lighter highlights. With each new colouring job, I chose the next lightest shade for all over and added more highlights. Eventually I got back to the blonde I wanted and it’s light enough that grey roots don’t scream for immediate attention. I did all this on my own, not paying for professional colour, so it can be done inexpensively. Good luck with your lightening process. Look forward to seeing how that turns out and how you change your style to go with it.

  • Hello, Imogen! I am having the same dilemma. I use Henna, the problem is that it leaves me an orange glow not very flattering. I am 45 and graying age 18. I have a great temptation to me gray hair, just not how it will affect my warm skin tone (fall – mute). Have a suggestion? Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    • Skin also changes as you age – I do see people who started off with warm skin go cool over time (as their hair goes grey) sometimes it’s good to reassess your skin as you change your hair. You may find that your skin is no longer anywhere near as it was when you were young – which is why those orange tones don’t work for you.

        • I’ve seen people change radically over their life – I think colour consultants used to say people stayed the same when there were only 4 seasons – not as much ability to move – I must find the photos of one of my students who has completely changed her colouring and do a post on it!

      • Imogen, can you please do a post on this, how one’s colouring might change as we age? It doesn’t happen overnight, does it, so how quickly does it happen? I’d also be interested in whether there is a neutral, ie neither warm, neither cool colouring? And whether some people are only a little warm (what does that mean, what clothes should they wear?) while others are very warm (or cool vice versa)?

  • You look beautiful as a brunette and just as beautiful as your new blonde/ombré. The Helen Mirrwn blonde is a lovely color too and I bet will look gorgeous on you. Plus, with your captivating bright eyes and perfect skin, no one will think you look older. I look forward to reading more about your transitions on this.

  • Gorgeous! That beautiful strawberry blonde looks so fresh and fun!! You have a youthful face, it would be jarring to let the grey completely take over. I’ve watched enough ‘What Not To Wear’ makeovers so I know that would be the case!! I can’t wait to see your transformation. I am so grateful to have found your blog. I have been a follower for over a year, and have learned so much from you!

    • Thanks Julie – the strawberry really doesn’t suit me – have to wear a bit of makeup to make it work OK. Can’t wait to get to a cooler blonde that will also work with my skin and clothing!

      • I hve the opposite problem – I’m a redhead going grey and not ready to embrace a hair colour that makes me look drained and flat. My skin hasn’t changed much as the washed out freckles add warmth. I want to go lighter, to strawberry blonde tonings, rather than blonde, which doesn’t work either, but finding a dye that is right is very hard. I’ve been using John Freida, which is great stuff, but am about to discuss with them what colour to use now. The most obvious one turns out too bright and I don’t want to look like the scarlet lady. Tried their website which doesn’t acknowledge any reds as a possible starting point. Wish I could mix my own!

          • I wish that were so – but the John Freida fades so little I am challenged to get it right the first time. I’ll keep working on it!

  • Hi Imogen. You look absolutely fantastic and I love your new cut – very flattering. I think you would look the bomb with silver hair – I can hardly wait to see the transformation.

  • I am not a fan of grey hair. I work with many women who embrace the grey but, except for a few examples, find grey to be aging and draining of color from the skin. I am not sure if you ever watch Ambush Makeover on NBC tv, but every time the grey hair color is either changed to a blonde, brown or reddish tone, the person instantly loses at least 10 years off her look. I know a lot of work is involved and maybe you can go to a softer brown, but I still think the contrast is very flattering for you.

    • Rebecca – yes – rarely have I seen a woman with grey hair who doesn’t look at least her age if not older. Never seen Ambush makeover (doesn’t play in Australia).

  • As a mousey/ash blonde who has recently gone silver/white/grey and received many compliments in the process, I can recommend it for those with the right colouring. (A good haircut is essential.)
    However, the change in hair colour does make selecting colours more of a challenge.
    Imogen, would you consider using your hair colour change as a jumping off point for a few posts on some of the wardrobe/grooming issues that face women as they embrace the ‘silver sisterhood’?
    For example, selecting cooler wardrobe colours to match a lower level of contrast (e.g. from medium to low/medium) and selecting flattering makeup colours when your skin and hair have less contrast? Do you aim to maintain the lower level of contrast, or boost the level of contrast through stronger eye/lip colours so you don’t disappear entirely.
    Many thanks.

    • I will be losing some of my contrast – but given my eyebrows and eyes are medium/deep I won’t be losing all of it! I will definitely have to change what I wear = or the way that I wear it. It will be an interesting process.

      I find that some people’s colouring cools down more as they go grey, others still retain warmth in their skin for longer (and look better with a warmer blonde hair dye).

  • I love that cut on you! It frames your face beautifully and is tremendously flattering.

    Our pastor’s wife decided to give up on fighting the gray about a year ago. While she may look more her age now, the color is beautiful on her. She is truly, naturally, “silver” white. Her hair looks soft and sparkling at the same time, and a year later I still notice how attractive it looks on her. While I don’t expect the same for myself as I age (both sides of my family ten towards a dirty, mousey gray), I think it’s possible to look better color-wise with gray/white hair than with a dye. The trick is that you can’t be worried about your perceived age, which will always seem younger with colored hair. And, of course, the only way to know for sure is to give it a try. Like you say, you can always dye it back if you don’t like it!

  • You have an interesting journey ahead. I finally did this several years ago – my roots were showing every two weeks, the dye was burning my scalp, and the color seemed to be getting darker and darker giving me a bit of an Elvira look. I finally went to a good colorist who did highlights and lowlights which made the transition so much easier. And, for the first time in my life my hair was not all the same color. The gray began to show through as silver highlights which really brightens up your skin when you get older. I had to get rid of any clothing around my face that was beige, yellow, or orange. (Your web site is a tremendous help!) Freedom from skunk roots – it is a very good thing.

  • I hear you – I have been dying my hair for 10 years now and the greys seem to be winning the battle, but i am not ready to give up!

  • Good luck with your journey! I will follow your site for updates with great interest! I’m of similar colouring and age as you, and took the step over a year ago to stop dyeing it every 3 weeks. After some experimenting, I am now doing dark low lights every 8 weeks or so. The trick is to find a good hairdresser who understands the importance of cool – So easy to warm it up but that is a not a good look for me. I’m still overall dark but with silver highlights. Works for me! But I’m really interested to see how your blonde experience works out. Keep us posted!

  • Well I am doing the same thing. I cant believe we were planning the same thing. My natural hair color is warm brown that I have enhanced with various shades of red. I noticed recently that I have a nice gray streak coming out of my colic and thought how fabulous maybe I should just go gray and see. I have a warm complexion with light eye color and light eyebrows that I enhance with dye. I don’t know if I will look too washed out but I think I might like it. I will be following cant wait to see you with lighter hair. I have a feeling you will look beautiful.

  • Hi Imogen,

    Even after you get the Helen Mirren colour you might find you need a toner so it doesn’t become brassy, depending on how hard your local water is and how often your hair is exposed to the sun. Thinking of this, it
    seems to me that a toner might also help if you want to minimize any current orangey tones.
    Fancifull water rinses are very good and completely non-damaging but they can leave hair looking a bit flat the day after shampooing.
    John Frieda Colour Renew tone-correcting shampoo and conditioner are also very good and don’t look flat the next day after shampooing as they seem to give hair a pearly shine. (For sale in Woolworths. Fancifull is only sold in specialist hair products shops in malls.) The Sheer Blonde also works on non-blonde hair.
    Hairdresssers won’t recommend these retail products but they don’t damage your hair and they do tone down any orange look.

    • Yes I know I’ll need toning – and I’m using violet shampoo – and have done a toner but I really need to lift more of the colour out to get rid of the lovely orange!

  • Keep the sunlight from harming your hair with products that have actually sunscreen in them, continual sunlight direct exposure could reverse all the great you have actually done for your hair, securing the hair will keep its shade and help it look much better much longer!

  • Hi Imogen, Just found your web page and found it wonderfully helpful, so want to return the favor if I can. If ever you decide you would like to go dark again, look up a natural product called indigo on u-tube. Mix with a little henna and it does the trick. However it is rather messy to apply and has a strong smell the day of use. Other drawbacks are that it takes a couple of hours to take and has to be re-applied every two to three weeks as the grey grows out. Thanks for all the advice and tips.

    • Thanks Beverley – not sure how I’ll go – will see after I’ve had my colour corrected and see how I like it! It’s the 2 weekly dying part that I just can’t be bothered with!

  • I’m doing more or less the same thing, except I’m actually planning to let the grey out, unless I absolutely cannot stand the result. I’m fed up with having to dye my hair every 10 days, so I’ve had it cut very very short, which has got rid of much of the dye. Then my hairdresser put a few foils in so that the contrast between the grey and the old dye etc is less dreadful. In a few weeks we go ultra-short again … If it’s really horrendous, or just too salt & pepper for my liking, I’m going to go blonde.

  • Wow, you look so much younger with lighter hair! Before I read the post, I thought these were photos of you from many years ago 🙂

    I look forward to following your journey with interest… I don’t personally have any grey hairs yet (early 40s), but my hair colour has naturally become much lighter over the years – from dark brown as a baby, to mid-chestnutty brown as a teen and young adult, to a light auburn colour at present! I wonder if I will end up blonde at some stage, too 😉

  • Yes, I second some of the earlier comments – an article on how our colours may change over the years would be wonderful. Before the age of about 15/16, I had warm brown eyes and mahogany red/brown hair. Then gradually went darker until very deep brown with a few red tones and eyes very dark olive green/hazel. At 59, last year, people were saying my eye colour had changed (they noticed it first!). The brown pigment going – I have been checked by optician and its fine, he says it can happen, as hair greys, in certain hazel types. The result – my eyes are now what can only be described as more mid tone, slightly brighter, grass coloured, green. When I do the colour drape test, the result – the Deep Autumn colours look too warm and flushed, cooler ones, deep damson and even very deep pink look better. Have I slid into Deep Winter? I am still dyeing hair (no intention of going grey) but will maybe have to reconsider a lighter, cooler/neutral tone of brown?

    • Trisha – yes we notice hair losing pigement, but few notice that their eyes do too. There are apparently only 2 eye pigment colours, blue and brown. Green is just some brown over the blue. So as you lose the brown pigments from your eyes as you age, they become more green! I’ve shocked a few of my clients by describing their eyes as green, as they assume that they still have brown eyes (the colour they identified their eyes as as a kid) and they’ve not looked closely for some time and haven’t realised that the pigment has gone.

      I would suggest that as you’re aging you’re cooling down – so you’d be what I call Enigmatic – which is just a little warm, but still warm, but smoky and soft. I do work with the seasons so can’t talk Deep winter (as far as I’m aware Winter means cool). Will talk more about this in my post!

  • Can’t wait to see the further results.
    I’m in a similar position myself and have been trying to find a solution I can perform and maintain myself.

    You look great buy the way with the lighter hair, as others have said, much younger

  • Imogen,
    I like the sound of “Enigmatic”; do you do any online colour consulting at all? I am pretty stuck as to where I’m going with colours at the moment and that problem with where to take the hair colour as well – which strongly relates. Can’t wait to read anything you have to say about it though – a posting would be good!

      • Thanks Imogen, I will try to get a current photo taken – without breaking the camera! Have just read your helpful 2009 blog posting on skin undertone and overtones. I too have cool undertones (purple showing from below skin) but warm overtone ( very pale warm ivory) that you describe can happen. This seems to often confuse the warm/cool issue and must occur quite often.

  • Just found your very helpful site from a post on MUA. Thank you! I’m 50 and have been dyeing my hair for 30 years. I’ve experimented with various colours and each time I’ve gone lighter blonde I end up needing more makeup for contrast. This is my biggest worry over going gray, needing more makeup, especially as we are advised to wear less as we age. Currently I’m a light brown with copper highlights and I’m really considering going darker, though the whole reason I’ve lightened it was to avoid obvious re growth. It’s a dilemma. Darker equals better contrast but also the need to dye more often. I’ll be following your journey and your subsequent wardrobe colour issues.

    • Hi Lily – what is MUA? Maybe the blonde you’ve tried is not the right sort of blonde – I noticed when I was too warm (in my process of going blonde) that I needed more makeup as the blonde washed me out. But now that it’s more cool and ash, I don’t need as much. I do miss my contrast though! But it’s a choice of more contrast, and more dying, or less contrast and less dye!

      • MUA is makeupalley.com which is a super fabulous site for all kinds of things, not just makeup. Someone posted about your site on the fashion board.
        That’s so interesteing what you said about the hair shade causing my makeup issue, not necessarily the lightness of blonde. I could definitely tell the difference on your second ‘not going gray gracefully’ post. The ash really brings out your eyes, such a tremendous difference!

  • Hi, I am much like you as I, too started going grey very young, but I forgot to save my first grey hair dammit:( ..anyway…I am 55 years young and naturally had black hair, I think. I have been dying since I was 21 to cover grey. My hair has always been something that I have experimented with, short, long, long short, punk, spikey, striped, brunette, red, burgundy, highlights, lowlights and on and on. My stylist tells me that now I am about 95% grey. When it was dark after 3 weeks I looked like a skunk so I decided that it was time to embrace my natural highlights and go white/blonde. I am lucky that my color technician at the salon I go to is a mind reader and knows what I want. When I started the ” blonding” we started adding more and more blond highlights. The process took almost a year and I went from almost black to now what is a ash blond. The chin length bob is gone and replaced with a pixie cut which I love. Now I go for 5 weeks without colouring, and as my hair does grow the white roots blend right in! It was a long process but my hair remained healthy and looked good the whole time! Much thanks to Joya much colorist and Brian who cuts my hair for their patience!!!
    Good luck to you, it will be worth the process!!!

  • I love your new color, and do not think at all this is a matter of defying age or anything like that. I have red hair, and turning grey would absolutely bleed me out and deaden my skin color. I choose to go a blonder shade and lighter as I get older, and it’s amazing how it makes me look so much younger. Love your color!

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