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How To Let Your Hair Fade to Gray Gracefully

There is no easy way to let your natural color grow in. I wish I had better news.
By Allison Hatfield |
Kirsten Ulve

Do you want to slow down time? Stop coloring your hair. I did. And the last 17 months have moved to the beat of a tidewater glacier.

For a year and a half, I’ve watched salt and pepper slowly replace chocolate brown. It’s been challenging not because I am worried about having gray hair but because growing out a dye job doesn’t look great. Dallas isn’t a city where you want to go out looking not great. It’s a city that takes hair seriously, and one that gave birth to Toni & Guy. Here, hair color isn’t just hair color: Dallas Blonde is a powerful persona. It’s also a tasty beer.

But I am from Alabama and prefer a low-maintenance approach to grooming. I find a commitment to regular coloring taxing, and so I decided to say goodbye to all of that.

The first thing I discovered is that there are no shortcuts, though you can get a very short cut. Which you will have to grow out unless you have the face for a very short cut. You can try lowlights if white skunks against your jet black locks or highlights if gunmetal gray clouds your sunny blond. Having all your hair stripped and redyed silver will likely damage your strands. Plus, it’s a pseudo-solution that does nothing to address the fact that your new growth won’t match. Seeing no best way to ease off the bottle, I opted for cold turkey. I am very good at quitting things.

It has not, however, been easy. In fact, this is my second attempt. The first time I lasted four months before I found myself standing at the bathroom counter the day before my 46th birthday with my hands sheathed in rubber. A photo of myself with a flourish of white at my temple and an unsightly demarcation line sent me running for a box of drugstore color. I would not attend my own birthday party in such a pitiful state!

I resolved to try again.

Some women have fast-growing hair. I am not one of those women. Typical hair grows less than a half-inch per month. The omnipresence of hair extensions belies that truth. Tuesday’s bob becomes Thursday’s fishtail braid with the flick of a wrist, but there is no way to make the top of your hair longer. And so—millimeter by painful millimeter—I’ve gone from beautiful brunette to mousy gray.

Mostly I act like it’s not happening. Denial is my coping mechanism. Don’t look at me. I don’t want you to see me this way.

Transitions are rough but almost always worth it. Whether ending a relationship or changing careers, the journey from point A to point B can be excruciating, but a fresh perspective usually lies on the other side. The struggle resides in the inescapable in-between. My ego withers in this purgatory. Which is where the online support groups come in.

With names like “Gray and Proud” and “GGG Going Gray Guide,” these groups for people who are consciously uncoloring provide a constant stream of validation and advice. I joined a few because misery loves company—and because every now and then I am served a Facebook memory or see a Dallas Farmers Market selfie and a ripple of compare-and-despair builds to a wave that threatens to wash me up on the doorstep of the Chad Rookstool Salon. The Victory Park beauty shop carries the slogan “Dallas Hair Done Right.” Emphasis theirs. I know they will be there for me if I need to correct this wrong.

But I won’t cave to the clarion call of Lady Clairol at this point. At least I don’t think I will. At least not today. That’s the best recommendation I have for you if you are thinking of ditching the dye: find strength one long day at a time. Also: invest in a cute hat.

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