Gray PowerUpdated 6.27.2013; reformatted 9.14.2015
This essay in the New York Times is about being 50 something and letting your hair go gray. The essay hits most of the points I considered in my own decision. Job issues are a big one for most women, but TV personalities (ESPECIALLY WOMEN) can't go gray. (The author of the Times' piece is a retired movie critic who used to appear on screen.)
CostGetting your hair dyed regularly is expensive. The cost is less if you do it yourself, but if you want it to look natural, a salon dye job is the only way to go. I went gray very young, and I went gray on top of my head. My sisters on the other hand have the "salt and pepper" gray look. By my 40s, the top of my head was was completely gray, meaning that two or three weeks after a dye job, I looked like I had a skunk stripe along my part. I would move the part to the side where the gray was a bit less, but my natural part is a center part. Because of my pattern of graying, I needed to dye my hair more often, which is why I began dying my hair at home. It cost a lot less, but it never looked as good as the salon jobs.
In my 20s, I always said that I would never dye my hair. However, when I grayed so young, I found I had women approaching me in the mall asking me what I did for my skin (answer: nothing) because they were looking at my hair and assuming that I was 15 to 20 years older than what I was. I was already working for myself and from home, but it was a bit disconcerting to be seen that much older. So at 42, I began getting my hair dyed at a salon. My husband and kids said I looked 10 years younger, and I did.
Never endingHowever, once you start dying, you have to continue. At first I continued to have it done at the salon, but only every two months, which meant by the time I got to the salon for the touch up the "skunk" stripe of grey all but covered the top of my head and it looked terrible. The expense bothered me, which is why I spaced the appointments as I did, and why, whne my hair dresser moved away I took the opportunity to begin dying my hair at home.
I couldn't do the mix of colors the stylist did in the salon so I picked a color that seemed close the the base and went with it. I used permanent color at first, but eventually switched to semi-permanent. Semi-permanent washes out over time (so does the permanent in my experience, but the semi version is designed to do so) and the chemicals used don't smell as bad.
I dyed my hair for about 5 years, disliking it the whole time. Yes, I did like the more youthful appearance covering the gray gave me, but I really hated doing it. Dumping chemicals on my head regularly didn't really disturb me, and since I was doing it at home, I was able to mulittask and do other things while I let the dye try to seep into my gray hair.
Gray hair doesn't take up coloring well, so the dirty little secret is that colorist do all the blending and color mixing they do and push highlights as hard as they do because the gray really doesn't want to be covered. That's why the permanent color washed out of my very coarse, thick and wiry grays. Because it never really seeped into them in the first place. The color job at home was actually a bit better in that respect, because I let the color do its thing for much longer than they would at the salon (of course, I wasn't taking up the space that another paying client would be using either).
I didn't like doing roots, so I'd just redo the entire head each time. My hair was short, so that didn't really matter. Dying long hair over and over can damage it, but I learned to dye my hair just before going in for a trim. That way 1) the hair dresser didn't try to sell me a dye job and 2) most of the hair that had been double dyed got cut off.
IndependenceBut after five years, I'd had enough. I thought I might wait until I turned 50 before declaring independence, but in my 48th year on the planet I ran out of supplies and just didn't restock. I was officially done with dying my hair.
Despite my hair being short, it took a couple more hair cuts than I expected to cut off all of the colored hair. And while growing it out it looked god-awful. Which is another reason why most women don't stop.
I did get some blowback, especially from my daughter, who was horrified that I would actually be okay with looking older... and I do look older with the gray hair. I'm not fooling anyone here— if you let your hair go gray, you HAVE TO be willing to look older. Because you will. Ascribe it to social... blah blah... but you WILL look older to most people. But I didn't feel any older, and I LOVE being free from the dying cycle.