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When journalist Anne Kreamer was writing her book, Going Gray: What I Learned about Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity, and Everything Else That Really Matters, the results of her experiments surprised even herself. In one, the 48-year-old showed strangers two pictures of herself, one with gray hair and one with brown. On average, they pegged her age at 47 in the former, and 46 in the latter. If gray hair is supposed to make you look older, why was there only a year difference between the two? Even more surprising, when she set up Match.com profiles in three major cities, both with gray hair and with brown, three times as many men wanted to date a gray haired-Kreamer.
Disappointingly, the one area in which gray hair didn’t flourish was the job arena. “[Headhunters] said I needed to project a persona of a young and vital person without gray hair,” explains Kreamer. “It will take some women in positions of power to break that false myth.”
Going gray is an emotional decision, fraught with too many negative connotations that drive many women to dye their hair from the first sign of gray. “I had to color every two weeks without fail,” says Nicky Mesiah, the owner of Miss Nicky’s Toffee in New Jersey who recently decided to stop coloring her hair. “I would freak at the sight of one gray hair and it became a no-win game. I was buying hair mascara to touch up my roots and I didn’t even want to venture out unless my hair was free of gray—that was the final straw.”
Julia Bainbridge, Yahoo Food’s 31-year-old Food Editor, had the opposite reaction. “I love gray hair,” she says. “When I found one I stopped dying my hair.”
For Kreamer the experience of going gray was transformative and not just in terms of her looks. “It is so deeply liberating at the end of the day. Once you’re not worried about if your hair is dyed perfectly you can focus on what matters.”
Of course, the actual process of transitioning to gray isn’t always so easy, depending on when you decide to put down the dye. Kreamer thinks that time of transition, which often takes several months, can actually be helpful. “It allows you time to process your feelings that are around aging,” she says. “It’s a time of self reflection.”
We asked a handful of New York’s best colorists to weigh in with their tips for going au naturel and minimizing the awkward moments. Here’s what they said.
Use less color: If your hair’s been colored, Bumble and bumble’s Marcy Cline recommends switching from a permanent hair color to a demi- or semi-permanent color. “This will help the transition line as the gray grows in because it will be exposing more gray slowly,” she says. “After a few months of using less coverage, it will be less noticeable when you stop coloring all together.”
Add higlights or lowlights: If you were dying your hair a shade of blonde, highlights will help blur the line as the gray comes, Cline adds. Lisa Estridge, of Eliut Salon, says, “The best advice I have is to have your colorist do some lowlights throughout, leaving a little gray. Do less low lights as time goes on—that’s the way to do it without having it go through ugly stages.”
Go platinum: “You want to go as blonde as possible (even brunettes), to make the transition smooth and easy,” says James Corbett, of his eponymous salon. Corbett, Clairol’s Color Director likes a double process of Born Blonde from Nice N’ Easy. “You can use it all over your hair, while it is growing out. Then once the gray comes in, just let it fade out. If the color starts to look brassy while growing out, tone with Clairol Natural Instincts; it works just like a salon gloss. Look for shades like Coastal Dune, Sahara or Linen for all ethnicities.”
Weave in More Gray: Kyle White, the lead colorist at Oscar Blandi’s salon, says to add gray or silver to the ends of the hair. “You can get an ashy gray coloring with a platinum blonde highlight ,” he says. “Also weave the hair color that’s on the ends into the roots as a transitional step to help with the blaring roots that come along with growing out your gray. Then put in a toner that would mimic gray hair. I love Silver Lady, it’s a Wella product that will give your hair that silvery look. Be aware, that the chemicals required to make hair that gray are pretty strong, especially if you are a brunette, so your hair could break. You need a colorist who is really skilled to help you make the transition.”