Even though I am only 24, I’ve always wanted to go gray. It started when I first watched X Men and saw Halle Berry as Storm with lightening silver hair. She turned heads as much as she made heads roll, and I wanted in on that superpower. Last year, I entertained the thought of getting silver ombré highlights, but I had just graduated from college and wasn’t sure what potential employers would think. Fortunately, this year, I started working at Yahoo Beauty where experimenting with new beauty looks is part of the job. #GrannyHair has also taken off as a new trend for 20-somethings, with Lorde as the most recent example of a young celeb choosing to go gray.
It took me a few weeks to stop backing out of appointments, but I finally went to see colorist Lucille Javier at Sally Hershberger Downtown. I brought a GoPro camera with me. My colorist Javier, along with hairstylist Tomo Nakajima and color apprentice Kirsten Sarek, wore the apparatus on their head throughout the day in order to show how dark brunette hair goes granny in the course of 12 hours. Check out the transformation, and read on for the lessons I learned along the way.
Lesson #1: Start with healthy hair and scalp.
You can’t dye your hair gray, if it isn’t in good shape to begin with. I arrived at the salon ready to dye my hair, but I was told otherwise. “We’re not dyeing your hair today,” Javier told me upon sitting me down. I stared blankly at her in confusion. I left work early for this appointment! “We need to cut your hair first.” It turns out that you need to have a healthy head of hair before bleaching or stripping your hair. “If we bleach your split ends, they will fall off,” Javier told me matter-of-factly. Scalp issues like psoriasis and eczema are other issues that prevent women from getting their hair colored until treated. Hair transplantation surgeon Dr. Robert Dorin of True and Dorin Medical Group told me, “Bleaching strips the hair of its natural color pigment. The darker one’s hair is, the longer the bleaching agent will have to be left onto the hair, heightening the amount of damage.” That didn’t detract me, though.
Lesson #2: Don’t wash your hair at least five days before your appointment.
When you are going platinum you want as much natural oil in your scalp as possible. I go for a run almost every day, and not washing my hair felt like a disservice to my roommate and co-workers, but I had to follow instructions. “If you wash your hair right before your appointment, you’ll be stripped of the natural oils that help seal in the color,” Javier said. So I tied my hair up in a greasy ponytail for a week. “Use dry shampoo sparingly and only if you have to,” Javier advised me.
Lesson #3: The darker and coarser your hair, the longer it takes to go platinum.
Before you can gloss your hair gray or silver, you have to go platinum. This is a time- and chemical-intensive process where your colorist slowly strips the dark pigments from your hair until you look like Goldilocks. I arrived at Sally Hershberger Downtown at 9 a.m. and I didn’t leave until 9 p.m. We started bleaching my hair the moment I arrived at the salon, but we didn’t finish the bleaching until about 5 p.m. The chemicals burn and itch a bit on your scalp, which is why you need a healthy scalp to begin with. By the time your hair is blonde, it will be noticeably drier and potentially of a different texture than you’re used to.
If you’re Asian like me, your hair carries an additional risk when it’s going platinum: it normally carries red or orange undertones, so you need to find a colorist that specializes in Asian hair. Luckily for me, Javier, is an expert at coloring Asian hair without additional damage.
Korean model and face of L'Oréal Paris, Soo Joo Park, is famous for her platinum silver hair. (Photo: Instagram)
Lesson #4: You need to gloss every two weeks.
Once you’ve processed your hair blonde, you need to gloss your gray, and re-gloss every two weeks because while your hair is permanently removed of pigment (until it regrows), your pigment gloss will eventually wash off. This is where Javier and I got to have fun. She painted my hair silver-gray using Pravana dye for the first two weeks. When I went back, we tried out a dark charcoal gray. I had a formal gala and dinner for my university coming up, and I didn’t want to alarm the more conservative faculty members with X-Men hair. A few weeks after that, we kept the charcoal gray but painted a layer of Pravana Violet on top. It bled all over my pillowcase and my face when I worked out, but it was fun.
Going violet and gray. (Photo: Instagram)
Lesson #5: It’s high-maintenance and it’s not cheap.
I was always a fan of dollar store shampoos and conditioner. I didn’t care because everyone liked my long voluminous hair regardless. Now that my hair has become more fragile and prone to breakage after bleaching, I have to follow the following rules:
A) Wash hair once a week using products formulated especially for color-treated hair.
I stopped shampooing at home, but I did use special color-treated hair conditioner once a week (just when my hair was becoming unbearably greasy and dry shampoo was no longer effective). I recommend Shu Uemura Color Lustre Sulfate-Free Brilliant Glaze Shampoo ($48), Color Wow Color Security Shampoo ($22), Cibu Color Shampoo ($20), and Davines Alchemic Shampoo for Silver ($25) if you still want to shampoo. For weekly conditioners, I alternated between Shu Uemura Color Lustre Brilliant Glaze Treatment Masque ($68), Shu Uemura Color Lustre Shades Reviving Balm for Cool Blonde ($51), NATU Professional Colorist Conditioner ($15), and Davines Alchemic Conditioner for Silver ($29). Occasionally, I also used Pravana Nevo 60 Deep Treatment ($20) when I felt like my hair needed some extra moisturizing. It sounds like a lot of chemicals, but luckily color-treated hair products tend to be vegan, sulfate-free, cruelty-free, and paraben-free (I know, I was surprised, too).
B) Be gentle with your hair.
When you’re lathering up in the shower, you need to gently massage your scalp. Always air dry your hair when possible. “Treat your hair like a newborn baby,” Javier says. “It’s really fragile and you should be as careful with it as you are with your skincare routine.” Dr. Dorin further explained to me, “The more moisture you pump into your hair the better. When cuticles are raised, hair strands are no longer smooth but instead take on a rough texture making hair brittle, dry, and more susceptible to tangling together. The hair will overall have more frizz, knots, and visible damage.”
C) Use a leave-in conditioner to lock in color.
While hair is still wet, spray Pravana Nevo Color Lock Leave In Protectant ($20) into it, combing through. This is especially important if you get a pigmented gloss like purple, blue or pink to help prevent further bleeding onto your face, clothing, and furniture, especially as the summer heats up. (Trust me. The bleeding happened to me.)
D) Gently rub oil into your ends.
You can use coconut oil, or you can use a special hair oil serum. Once the oil is in your hair, use a wide-toothed comb to brush through the tangles. “This is especially important if you have long hair,” Javier warned me. “You don’t want to brush through dreadlocks, which will damage your hair. My favorite, and what Javier and Sally Hershberger Downtown recommend, is Shu Uemura Essence Absolute Nourishing Protective Oil ($69), which contains nourishing camellia oil, but the price can add up. More budget-friendly hair oils that I like are Ojon Rare Blend Oil Total Hair Therapy ($15), Cibu Ancient Serum Argan Oil Treatment ($24), and the new Herbal Essences Wild Naturals Oil Elixir ($8).
Lesson #6: Granny hair is not as common in real life as it is on social media.
British Vogue’s fashion features director, Sarah Harris. (Photo: Instagram)
On Instagram, it seems like everyone has #GrannyHair. In real life, gray hair on a young woman is still surprising. “How old are you, really?” a bartender asked me one night. “I guess I won’t need to card you.” But whenever my resolve quivers, I think about fearless women like Storm from X-Men and Sarah Harris, British Vogue’s naturally silver fashion features director. Going gray isn’t just a bold beauty statement, it’s a subtle reminder to yourself that you can be anyone you want to be.