Wrestling with the Great Grey Debate

2012-11-30 00:00

USUALLY it starts with one or two sprouting and, before you know it, a decade has passed, and you are facing the great grey debate.

For the last decade, I’ve been waging war with grey hairs that sprouted out as fast as I could dye them.

It was getting ridiculous. After noticing that celebrities were embracing their grey locks and even younger celebs were dyeing their hair grey as a fashion statement, another possibility dawned on me.

Instead, I could become a cool silver fox by dyeing my hair completely grey.

The first two hairdressers I approached flatly refused.

“It will be very damaging to your hair,” said one.

“You will definitely look old and haggard” said the other. “I can’t do it — it’s my job to make you look good, not bad.”

I argued. “It’s very noble to let your hair go grey. It’s the new feminist statement of the decade.”

They looked at me like I was mad.

But it’s true. Around the world, women are weighing up the decision to let it all grow out or carry on hiding their grey hairs beneath artificial colour, and more and more are opting for the former.

A billion-dollar cosmetic industry has been built on hair dye and the need to cover up those beastly grey hairs.

And the problem is confronting younger women, because, according to scientists, the stress and health challenges of our times are combining to cause them to go grey prematurely.

Just 20 years ago, the proportion of women who spotted their first grey hair before the age of 30 was just 18%. Hair researcher John Frieda even has a name for it — GHOSTS (Grey Haired Over Stressed Twenty Somethings).

In previous years, women started to go grey in their 40s and 50s, but now many are reporting that those first tell-tale grey hairs are appearing as young as 20.

What could be a sign that this look is becoming “normal” is that some celebrities have adopted the grey look and created a grey fashion trend.

But the key to carrying off this look is the juxtaposition of a youthful face and unusual hair colour.

Kelly Osbourne has been wearing her grey locks with a mauve hue with success. Twenty years ago her look would have been something my granny would have fancied.

On the other end of the scale, some older celebrities have also decided to let nature take its course. Jamie Lee Curtis and Helen Mirren have resisted the over-zealous attentions of hairdressers and have encouraged their own hair to show.

But the truth is that since the sixties, when women were welcome to step into the workplace and compete with men, they were never quite on an equal footing.

Men who had grey hair were considered distinguished and wise, but women were accused of looking old.

Time magazine looked at the issue and examined the most powerful women in the United States — the politicians. Of the 16 female U.S. senators (aged 46 to 74), the highest number yet, not a single one had visible grey hair.

According to a Nielsen survey, Americans spend $1,3 billion annually to colour their hair.

Pietermaritzburg colourist Anisha Dookie from Redlands said: “The majority of our clients come to colour their hair. They don’t want to be seen as old, and grey is perceived as making one look old. We often add highlights and low lights to blend in grey hair, which makes the grey less obvious. But we have not had a request for anyone young wanting to go grey.”

But I am tired of dyeing my hair. I’ve been colouring it since I was 16, when my blonde hair began to be not-so-blonde. Peroxide and I were partners in crime for many years.

Before I got married, I notched down a gear or two and went back to boring brown. I believed this was more suitable for the woman I should be — blondes were just too flirty for wives.

As I transformed, I noticed the first few dreaded greys and, as life got hectic, kids popped out. Then I got divorced and I wanted a new me. I embraced red.

More recently, when I felt the insistent greys were demanding an unreasonable amount of attention, I made my decision to thrown in the towel.

I went to hairdresser Craik Speirs and he convinced me I was too young to look like a granny.

He gave me a hair makeover — a blend of three colours and a new cut.

“This will allow the naughty greys to blend into a more natural look,” he said.

Everyone loves it and, if I choose, the greys can grow out if they want. But it’s so damn hard to kick the dyeing habit.

HAIR salon owner Craik Speirs recently attended an international hairdressing convention in Turkey, where grey hair was one of the hot topics discussed in a five-day seminar.

Speirs says the leading product developers are trying to work on products to stop premature greying.

“We know greying is happening much earlier than before and it is affecting all people. It is related to stress and genetics, and probably our environment, what we eat and how we live.

“As hair specialists we have to try to create a hairstyle that is not only flattering, but also sustainable. We have changed our approach from trying to cover the grey hair, to working with the grey hair.”

Speirs says grey hair is tough to colour. So the surrounding hair must be analysed and coloured in a way that will allow the grey to enhance it. And when it shows, it will look like a highlight.

“We are looking at subtleties, the way the hair moves and where the concentration of grey is, and how we can blend it all together. We are trying to make it look natural and avoid the common problem of the regrowth — where one dyes the hair and then three weeks later there is a white stripe along the parting.”

Speirs said that he usually does a consultation and analyses the client’s hair and the percentage of grey coverage.

Then he will suggest a plan of action depending on the client’s budget and preferences.

“A decent haircut that flatters the face, and a combination of colour and highlights, can last a lot longer than the usual colour and root touch-up.”

He also advocates the use of demi-permanent colour, which is stronger than semi-permanent, but not permanent.

“The advantage is that it does not damage the structure of the hair, fades slowly over time and does not leave that obvious regrowth.”

Speirs said that most hair stylists would advise against people going grey, because grey hair is ageing. “Very few people can pull it off and look good.

“If they are in their 60s-plus, then I would say fine … but I don’t see the point of young women trying to look older — it’s like a pretty girl trying to look ugly. Why?

“The more realistic thing is to make your grey hair work for you. The other problem is that grey hair often becomes coarse and unmanageable, and if you add colour, it becomes softer.

“I am not anti-grey, but those women who can carry off a chic grey haircut are few and far between.”

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