Good To Go Grey?

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Are you considering giving up the dye? Thoughts on why it could be a good time to get back to your roots …

Hair has been talked about exhaustively over the last few months, and we’re all aware that it’s far from the most important issue at hand. But it is a time we need to watch our wellbeing, and hair is something that can have a definite impact on how we feel. Some are taking matters into their own hands: forget toilet rolls, there’s been such a run on clippers and hair scissors that they’re practically black market (the Boots website is even out of stock of nose hair scissors – yes, apparently there’s such a thing). And as for hair colour, during this enforced salon abstention many people are considering throwing in the towel and letting their grey grow out.

The hashtag #greyhair has hit over two million posts on Instagram; purple shampoos, designed to enhance white and grey, are selling out everywhere; a recent survey found that more than 20 per cent of women aged 45 and under have never coloured their hair, worried they’ll end up with the wrong shade. It’s not just the appeal of saving all that cash – and we can be talking hundreds of euro a year. It’s also an attitude. With silvery Judi Dench on the cover of British Vogue, no parties in sight and a good inch of growth getting us started, it’s a good time to give it a go. “Authenticity” is the buzzword in beauty now, and that starts with your roots.

Going grey is certainly not for everyone – it’s a divisive subject and some people are horrified by the very idea. Say that you’ve stopped dyeing, and older ladies in particular will be barely contained in their disapproval. You may as well declare a refusal to wear clothes. It’s a key part of keeping up appearances. The technology is there and many will dye until they die – including the ones who have been sneaking their stylists into their gardens, swathed in scarves, to paste life-giving colour onto their scalps.

For others, to get older is to luxuriate in getting less hung up on stuff – such as what anyone else thinks of your hair, or face, or clothes. As Trinny Woodall put it, “Your 50s are so freeing – you stop caring so much what other people think.” Why is it, complained a friend, that grey-haired men are considered “silver foxes”, distinguished and worldly wise, while for women it’s more of a “given up and gone to seed” vibe? No one ever says that George Clooney has let himself go. Funny too how dyed hair on men is widely regarded as a bad look (think of Paul McCartney when he went aubergine). Supportive as we are of hair salons – and, of course, just because you stop dyeing doesn’t mean you stop getting blowdries or cuts, they’re arguably more important than ever – not everyone wants to spend hours inside them. Especially when it’s sunny: our time is so precious, and we’d rather be outside.

You may find your nearest and dearest are opinionated about your hair in a way they would never be about the way you dress or wear eyeliner. One friend with shiny dark chestnut hair is considering allowing her encroaching grey to win through, but says her mother is adamantly against it, while her husband protested “But it will make me look older”! When I first let mine grow out, lots of people asked me “But what does your husband think?” which always makes me laugh. And I remember one (male) hairdresser announcing, baldly, in an interview: “Men don’t want to sleep with grey-haired women.” Yikes. With this much aggro, no wonder we keep on reaching for the box dye.

When I first let mine grow out, lots of people asked me “But what does your husband think?”

Consider the fuss made over actress Eva Longoria, who garnered a flurry of attention for revealing white roots. Why should anyone be surprised that she has white roots – she is, after all, 45? It says a lot that she is considered brave for “unveiling” her roots to the world. It all seems a bit depressing, in the same way that wrinkles and lines have been covered up, frozen and filled for so long that we’re a bit surprised when we actually see a real face.

My own decision to ditch the dye was more down to condition than anything. When you’re young and have shiny, swingy hair, you don’t think twice about what you put your hair through. But post-pregnancies and then into my forties I found my hair got scarily finer, and I’d spend salon visits wincing as enthusiastic juniors washed or combed it with undue vigour. I just decided that it had to be better to be doing less: less colour, less silicones, less heat styling, and more hydrating masks and conditioning treatments (I can relate best to Davines’ Hopeless Hair Mask). I’m also taking vitamin A, as my mother-in-law swears by it and she has a veritable mane; I realise that is down to genetics, but it’s worth a try.

To bridge the gap while growing it out, Davina McCall’s hair stylist Michael Douglas suggests trying a semi-permanent (as an ambassador for Clairol, he rates Natural Instincts) in progressively lighter shades every two months, as it has “a translucent effect on the grey.” Josh Wood’s Shade Shot Gloss (available online at Boots.ie) can help with condition – grey looks far better if it’s healthy-looking, well-cut and hydrated – and you can also try purple shampoos to deter brassiness, though I find them horribly messy in the shower and don’t notice a huge uplift in the brightness of colour; I feel that it’s more important to avoid silicones and keep hair well conditioned.

There are fewer role models with naturally white hair, and we need to see it worn well, to be convinced we won’t look 90. A sign of how relatively rare it is: you have never read an article about going grey that doesn’t picture British Vogue fashion ed Sarah Harris. Model Erin O’Connor is the latest poster girl for silver, sporting a dashing streak of metallic. I liked the way Kate Moss let silver strands show through about ten years ago, though I think she’s bottled it now. We’re turning to designer Isabel Marant (pictured above) who has always married a natural chicness with a bit of laissez-faire: her silvery hair looks great, enhanced by her warmed complexion and bright lipstick. A stylish woman I walk past every morning has bright silver hair, neatly cut with a fringe, and she always looks fantastic, original, herself.

Sometimes stepping away for a bit helps to gain a different perspective on how you look. And being at home more has meant a bit of beauty liberation for some in the last few months – less grooming, contouring, covering up. This week I watched a new show on BBC NI, Beauty Queen and Single, which sends a group of women (all models or beauty contest participants) out on dates – but first strips them of their make-up. When the first girl (in her 30s) removed her make-up in front of the camera, her reaction was painful to watch – tearful, she said it felt like stripping naked in public, and all she could see was her “red blotchy skin”. Her discomfort and distress at simply looking at her own face without its “armour” was unsettling (the guys on the dates, predictably, didn’t even notice she wasn’t wearing make-up).

White and grey hair can be seen as another step away from conforming to filtered, airbrushed images of what we “should” look like. And we’re all for a wider range of images to admire. We all feel so judged all the time and we could do with a bit more kindness around beauty, hair and the rest. Hair colour, make-up, all of it is meant to be fun and confidence-boosting, more than a cover up and concealment operation. Too many beauty campaigns and influencers are saying “be yourself” while pushing forward images that are neither real nor achievable. The main thing is whatever makes you happy, whether that’s wall-to-wall highlights or a whiter shade of pale.

 
main featured image credit: Isabel Marant for L’Oreal Paris.

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