How to Transition to Gray Hair Gracefully
In 1956, Shirley Polykoff coined the ad slogan “Does she … or doesn’t she” for Clairol, removing the stigma of dyeing one’s hair and unleashing millions of women to openly and confidently choose what color they wanted their hair to be.
Fast-forward to 2020, where the latest slogan might just be “To dye … or not to dye” as lockdowns caused many women to start embracing their grays.
Being in the hair-care business, we just had to take a closer look. We caught up with two 40-something female entrepreneurs whose gray-hair journey began in their mid-20s. Longtime friends, colleagues and now cofounders of Sway, a visual content studio in New York City, Nicole Hyatt and Rebecca Karamehmedovic share many loves: photography, dogs, travel and tacos—but their silver strands are certainly not one of them. In fact, their opinions on the matter couldn’t be more different. Nicole began coloring her hair the moment she spotted her first few grays while Rebecca has never once concealed her silver strands.
We get to the root of the issue. Here’s what they had to say:
BNY: What influenced your decision about dying your hair?
Nicole: I just wanted no part of it! When I was about 26 years old, I started noticing random silver hairs, and I used to either pull them out or hide them as soon as they poked their wiry heads out. My mother suggested I start covering the stray grays with a semi-permanent dye. Once I really started to go gray all around my hairline, I quickly transitioned to permanent color. By this time I was in my early 30s.
Rebecca: My father had silver hair as far back as I can remember. And many on his side of the family did as well—so I knew I would, too. I had my first gray hair in elementary school, then a few more by high school. When I was 27 or 28 they really started growing in streaks at my temples. At this time in my life I was so young—I was working and was a new mom. Frankly I didn’t want to devote the time or the expense to dying my hair for 40 years!
How did your decision affect how you felt about yourself?
Nicole: Dying my hair let me continue to feel like myself—and that was important to me. Though I have to say, recently I switched from going to the salon every 3-4 weeks to doing my own hair, and this has really changed the way I feel about myself and coloring my hair. I love doing it at home, and I’m happy with the color. As soon as I start to feel really awful about my roots, I can have at it, and I don’t have to make that emergency appointment with the colorist or spend tons of money and hours sitting in the salon.
Rebecca: It’s only when I’m really tired that I sometimes look in the mirror and think, “maybe it’s time to start.” But usually I think, “what you see is what you get...this is me.” The downside, though, is that the black and silver strands are completely different textures. This makes taming the frizz interesting.
Photography by Christian Huguenot
Nicole: When I started going gray, it horrified me. I didn’t want any sign of my gray hair showing. After all, silver hair was for grandmothers! I felt like it might make me look older. Of course, now it’s cool to rock it—there was a big trend a few years ago with all the young kids coloring their hair silver or lavender.
Rebecca: I think there is definitely less of a stigma about gray hair today than even several years ago—which I’m happy to see since I have never once dyed my hair.
BNY: Why do you think that in an age where body positivity and self-expression are at an all-time high, women still feel the need to conceal their grays?
Nicole: I think it can be hard at times to change the perception we have about ourselves—especially with something as intimate as our hair, and especially if we’ve been dying it for years. I was considering transitioning into my natural hair color prior to Covid-19, but my hair colorist said it would really wash me out and age me. My mother, however, did make the move, and she looks stunning with silver hair. She feels liberated from her every-3-week hair-color appointment. Her scalp is healthier and she’s saving money and time!
Rebecca: I think this is such a personal decision, but I don’t feel that gray hair really changes how you look. Though if you don’t feel like you, when you look in the mirror, change away!
BNY: How do you feel about gray hair on women in the workplace?
Nicole: I once read a Norah Ephron quote that really resonated with me. She said: “There's a reason why 40, 50 and 60 don’t look the way they used to, and it’s not because of feminism, or better living through exercise. It’s because of hair dye.” When I began going gray, my career was just taking off. So it was important to me that I presented myself in the most polished and professional manner—and coloring my hair helped me achieve this.
Rebecca: To be honest, I’ve never really thought about this. It absolutely shouldn’t have any effect whatsoever. I’m constantly stunned by what people think is a measure of how well someone can do their job.
Graying & Silver Care
What does gray hair symbolize to you?
Nicole: For me, gray hair means I’m getting older, and I’ve never wanted to feel older than I am. Especially now, I have young kids, and I’m post-menopausal. It’s a total psychological thing for me. I would like to see myself with my natural color at some point—I do love really silvery-white hair—but I think I may wait until my 60s. I actually think having curls and natural silver would be cool.
Rebecca: Gray hair symbolizes so many things to me: wisdom, experience… Of course that’s not me, but that is my dad. He has always exuded those qualities, and he’s always been silver. He has always told me not to mess with what I naturally look like.
BNY: What advice would you share with a woman who is on the fence about coloring her gray hair?
Nicole: Live with your gray for a while first, because the growing out process, unless you have short hair, could be rough!
Rebecca: 100% agree!
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