Fade to grey – why it’s time to ditch the dye

Silver hair has gone mainstream, writes Eimear Ryan, as she wonders if she should embrace the trend

My six-year-old niece is a hairdressing enthusiast. ‘Let me do your hair!’ is a popular request, and one that, as an aunt, is relatively easy to fulfil. You just sit on the couch, lean back, and surrender your head. A few slightly-too-vigorous strokes of the hairbrush is the worst that can happen.

Or so I thought. During our most recent styling session, my niece started laughing. “I found a white one!” she said, combing through what I thought of as my brown hair. “You’ve loads of white ones!”

At the age of 31, it’s time to accept the fact that I’m going grey. More and more, I’ve noticed silver hairs starkly shining out from between the dark ones. I didn’t think I’d have to worry about this for ten years or more.

While grey hair is seen as distinguished on men — see George Clooney, Richard Gere, Anderson Cooper et al — it’s still culturally regarded as ageing on women. I’m not sure if I have the confidence to embrace my greys just yet. Is it time to start dyeing?

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According to Breda O’Mahony, stylist at Guapa Hair Salon on Tuckey Street, Cork, those of us who are dark-haired might notice the signs earlier.

“With blonde hair, you don’t notice it as much,” she says.

“With dark hair, they stand out a lot more. So if you’re dark and colouring your hair, you’ll notice the grey in the roots. A lot of dark-haired clients start slowly going lighter and lighter with their colour so the grey hairs aren’t as obvious.”

This rings true for me. My dark hair is unforgiving; the greys stand out so much they may as well be neon, as far as I’m concerned.

However, O’Mahony says this isn’t necessarily the case.

“I always think people take more notice of it themselves than others do.”

I mention that I’ve been pulling out my grey hairs as I find them, as a kind of stopgap. Is there any truth to the old wives’ tale that if you pull out a grey hair, ten more will grow back in its place?

Not necessarily – but pulling them out still isn’t the best solution.

“A lot of people pluck them out and the problem with that is when it grows, it stands out from the head. It doesn’t lie flat with the rest of the hair, so then it becomes more noticeable. If you don’t pluck them, they’ll grow normally and be disguised by the rest of your hair.”

According to O’Mahony, there’s a more evidence-based reason for the early onset of grey hair.

“I personally think it’s a hereditary thing, because my mom went grey at seventeen, I went grey at 17, and my son started going grey at 17. It’s been exactly the same throughout the generations.”

I’ve read that it’s better to cut grey hairs rather than pluck them; still not the best advice, according to O’Mahony. “They’re still going to grow upwards! And when more come along, you’ll end up with all these short little hairs. If you’re blow-drying, it’ll end up looking fuzzy.”

She tells me that, generally speaking, she advises her clients not to fight the onset of grey hair.

“It’s definitely getting trendier. We have a few women that are letting their grey hair grow out. If you have a nice colour grey it’s worth doing, but there’s a salt-and-pepper grey that, depending on the texture of the hair, mightn’t look as nice. But I do think there’s a lot more people embracing their grey.”

While silver manes may be on trend, and dyed hair is always an option, it’s the in-between that’s the difficulty, says O’Mahony.

“If you’re letting it grow out, there’s a tricky in-between stage where you might have a few inches of colour left,” she says. “I encourage my clients to persevere if they’re growing it out – you can get a colour in an hour, but going with your natural shade is a more permanent solution. A lot of people think it’s ageing but it depends on the grey you have. If I think it won’t suit you, I’ll say that, but if a person wants to try it I’d say definitely go for it. And you can always get your hair coloured in an hour, there’s always that option.”

While dyeing your hair long-term can have some adverse effects – from skin irritation to hair breakage – O’Mahony says it doesn’t need to be this way. One option is a semi-permanent colour, which involves little to no harsh chemicals.

“Semi-permanents don’t create a bad condition for your hair,” she says. “You wouldn’t get full coverage with it, but it would tone down the grey a lot. They wash out in six to eight weeks and they’re more affordable as well. Other products can be more damaging – permanent dyes would be a little bit harsher, but they’re still not terrible. It’s bleaches, really, that would do the damage.”

Masking, a temporary treatment to cover grey hairs around the hairline, is another option.

“If there’s a particular section of your hair with greys, we can blend it with the natural colour of your hair,” says O’Mahony.

Any last advice to those looking to take the plunge and rock their grey hair?

“If you go with grey, your treat might be to get it blow dried every week and then it’ll look great, instead of spending the money on colour.

“You can also get some nice shampoos that will clean out any yellow tones to give it more of a silvery finish. If you’re thinking of doing it, I’d say go for it.”

Grey-haired role models

Whether they’re naturally grey or dyeing their locks silver, these women are proving that grey hair can be sleek, chic and stylish...

Miranda Priestly

The most memorable character in the 2006 movie The Devil Wears Prada, Miranda Priestly (portrayed by Meryl Streep) conveys style and authority — and inspires terror in her subordinates — with her sleek silver bob. Priestly is reportedly based on Vogue editor Anna Wintour, who has yet to go grey but, on this evidence, should really consider it.

Caitlin Moran

A grey-haired role model ever since she appeared on the cover of her acclaimed 2011 feminist manifesto, How to Be a Woman, with a fabulous skunk streak in her hair. Plus, with her penchant for colourful Doc Martens and denim shorts, she’s a style icon for feminist tomboys everywhere.

Joan Didion

The 83-year-old Didion has been many things in her life: A renowned essayist, a towering intellectual, the crush of a thousand English grad students and the subject of the brilliant Netflix documentary, The Center Will Not Hold. In 2015, in a delightful turn, she was one of the faces of luxury French brand Céline, rocking oversized shades and a steel-grey bob.

Zosia Mamet

Shoshanna may have been the youngest Girl, but actress Zosia Mamet flirted with granny chic in 2014 with a sharp grey power bob. Though Mamet has sported a number of hair colours down the years, from platinum blonde to her natural brown, her silver ’do is still our favourite.

Helen Mirren

Mirren has long been a proponent of grey hair, from adopting Elizabeth II’s iconic grey helmet for her role in The Queen (2006), to playing a colonel in 2015’s Eye in the Sky. Though she occasionally goes blonde for roles (such as the 2010 action film Red), she usually flaunts her grey hair on the red carpet and beyond. Most recently, Mirren brought her icy grey locks to the runway, modelling L’Oreal’s spring/summer 2018 collection, and looked every inch the supermodel.

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