An older woman with bright red hair

To Dye or Not to Dye? Covering Up Those Pesky Gray Hairs

Should I Dye my Hair?

Do you remember the first time you caught a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and you saw your first gray hair? Do you remember your reaction? I remember mine as if it were yesterday; after all, it was only 44 years ago!

My first thought was denial: this wasn’t happening to me, I was certainly too young to be turning gray. I was only 27 at the time. It had to be an anomaly. Then I asked myself, "should I dye my hair?"

So, I did what I think every woman who sees their first gray hair does: I pulled it out and thought that was that, until a couple of months later when I saw not one, but five gray hairs. One I could live with, but five meant something else altogether: I was turning gray.

That did it. I freaked. I immediately called and made an appointment with my hairdresser, and so began my 34-year love/hate relationship with dying my hair.

How Long Have We Been Dying Our Hair?

Fascinated with how the whole hair dying thing came about, I came to learn people have been obsessing over hair color and dye for thousands of years. Archaeologists found evidence of the use of hair dye in 3400 BCE when the Egyptians began to use henna.

From there, plant and animal matter was used to dye hair by the ancient Romans, Greeks and Egyptians.

Hair coloring methods that somewhat resemble today’s initially began in the 1800s, when a chemist discovered that paraphenylenediamine (PPD) could be used to make synthetic dyes. Interestingly, the first product was called Aureole, which has morphed into what we know today as L’Oréal.

The next evolution to hair dye came in 1932 when Laurence Gelb created a dye that was able to penetrate the hair shaft. The name of that company today is Clairol. Later, Gelb created a product that lightened hair without using bleach, creating a relatively easy one-step system and the birth of home coloring.

But, back to my story. At the time, I considered myself (even if no one else did!) a raven-haired beauty, and I wanted to stay that way.

Fighting the Grays

I went to the hairdresser and had permanent color applied. Permanent is defined as “lasting or continuing for a very long time or forever: not temporary or changing.”

Apparently though, as I came to find out, the hair industry defines permanent as four to six weeks, or until your roots need touching up. I personally think their idea of permanent is “we’ve got you permanently hooked.”

For the next several years, I faithfully went to my hairdresser every two to three months to have my hair “permanently” dyed to make sure no nasty grays had crept in.

That was all well and good until the grays started coming with more fury and my time between dye jobs became shorter and shorter, and generally fell between three to four weeks.

That’s when I decided to highlight my hair. I had always wanted to be a blonde and this was my chance to try it. My hairdresser assured me it would cover the gray for a much longer period of time.

When he was finished, I loved it. I felt sophisticated. It actually, I think, made my face glow. And it did last!

In the beginning, I only needed to have the highlighting process done twice a year and my roots touched up every four months instead of four weeks.

I was happy and content with it for maybe six years, and then I wanted to spread my wings a little further and try some different colors. I figured I could be a “new” person every few months.

I was going for the Julia Roberts method (although this was long before she became popular), “My real hair color is kind of dark blonde. Now I just have mood hair.”

That was a disaster. After trying to be auburn, pure black, mink brown and several combinations thereof, my hairdresser and I came to the conclusion that I was meant to be a brunette with blond highlights.

Good for another three years, then I decided to let my hair go. I was in my mid-40s and had just met a woman, also in her mid-40s, who had the most amazingly beautiful gray hair! It was so sleek.

My mind was calculating how much money I’d save by not having to dye my hair, so I figured I was ready for natural.

Going Au Natural

I cut my hair short and decided to keep it that way until the gray grew in entirely. Mother Nature, on the other hand, had a different plan.

When I saw what was coming in, replacing my highlighted locks, I was horrified. My gray was not coming in like the woman I met — mine was coming in wiry and kinky and just plain awful.

Even my kids hated it. I was aiming for sleek and youthful looking, but what I got was pale and awful.

My hair grows fast, so I wasn’t worried about that. I did decide to give my hair a rest from dye, though, so I kept it really, really, really short until all the dye was gone.

Then I couldn’t get into my hairdresser’s chair fast enough. This whole natural phase lasted about four to six months, most of which time I spent wearing a hat — thank goodness it was winter!

When I finally got my hair colored again, I could have made a commercial for hair color — from drab and dull to glorious and radiant. I could swear there was a newfound bounce to my step!

This time my hairdresser suggested a warm brown base followed by highlights and low-lights. Now I was in for not one, not two, but three different types of hair coloring. I was trying to figure if I needed to take out a small loan, but it was worth it: I looked and felt great (that is what counts, right?).

Fast Forward 20 Years

I was really tired of coloring my hair. I went back and forth for about two months trying to decide what to do. It was summer, my hair was long and I generally wore it in a ponytail with a baseball cap.

Then it hit me! I decided to go almost white blonde and let the gray hair grow in. I figured if it came in the way it had before, I’d have my hair covered by the baseball cap until I could either get used to it or get back to the hairdresser, whichever came first.

The blend of the blonde with the gray actually turned out fabulously, and made it easy to grow. Amazingly, the gray didn’t come in wiry and kinky as it had before, and I finally had the sleek look I’d been wanting for so long.

Today, I am silver all the way! I’ve earned every one of them, so why not? And often I get complimented on my “beautiful” silver hair.

Now, without having to visit the hairdresser every other week, I even feel as though I not only got a raise, but I’m free of a ball and chain!