Fade to grey: why women should stop dyeing their hair

Silver hair has become fashionable for everyone except women who have it naturally. So why do so many of us keep hitting the bottle?

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Almost 15 years ago, Anne Kreamer looked at a picture of herself, didnt like her brown helmet, and stopped colouring her hair. She was a 46-year-old businesswoman working in the US. Her subsequent book was the chirpily titled Going Gray: How to Embrace Your Authentic Self With Grace and Style; she says its been liberating in every aspect of her life. There are so many myths about going grey that, when you get through the undeniably difficult growing-out phase, you realise are total hogwash, she says. About how youll look old. About how youll look as if youve let yourself go. About how you can never have long hair again. About how youre invisible. About how youll kill your career. Its simply not true.

My own revelation came between custard and pasta. Five minutes earlier, during my weekly shop, I had been trying to work out which magic box of hair colour to shove in the trolley. Sod it, I thought, Ill get it another time. By the time I reached the till, I had made a decision to ditch the dye and let my hair grow naturally. At 43, I knew my hair wasnt dark any more, hence the three-weekly sessions over the bath done in a bid to remind myself I was a brunette. It was smelly, ruining my hair, costing me time and money and wasnt fooling anyone that I was still 23.

Why do so many of us keep hitting the bottle? Our hair how it looks and what it says about us remains a significant statement. In the UK, we spend 7.2bn a year at the hairdressers, and average nearly 90 on a cut and colour, according to the National Hairdressers Federation. Skinflints like me do the colour bit at home, maintaining a sector worth 322m in 2015.

Grey as a colour as seen on Rihanna, Cara Delevingne and Lady Gaga, and all over social media has been big for nearly two years. Roshida Khanom, of market researchers Mintel, says: Its acceptable now to have hair of pretty much any colour. But going grey artificially is quite a procedure, involving multiple bleaches, a purple toner to strip any warmth from the hair, followed by a grey dye all taking time and money. Its not something to try at home, says Khanom, which means the industry has a whole new revenue stream to tap into.

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What was a hip trend is now going mainstream but only if youre not already middle-aged. Judging by the state of my roots, Ill have white hair for free, but Ill be sporting locks that we all seem to be a bit scared of the kind you get naturally when youre getting older. (Theres no such thing as grey hair its all white but the mixture of white hair with pigmented follicles means it looks grey.)

Jayne Mayled started her own company, White Hot Hair, after realising there was a gap in the market for specialist products for white hair like her own. Men who embrace their grey are treated as if theyve found a cure for cancer, she laughs. Theyve become gorgeous. Women who do it dont get that response. Were either brave or mad. It would be good to change that. Fashion commentator and broadcaster Caryn Franklin thinks that eradicating the visible signs of ageing is part and parcel of the societal pressure that women are under to look good. Weve been groomed by the media, by advertisers, and now by ourselves to understand that our gender has to try harder, to consume more, when it comes to our appearance. Weve been taught to fear growing old.

To me, the decision to go grey is political, too. I want my children to see what a real live middle-aged woman looks like. There arent really any grey-haired women under the age of 50 in the public eye where are the women who are genetically wired to go grey early? I know theyre around I cant stop spotting them. Of every colour, age and walk of life, these women are motivated by political, gender, financial and style stances. Many, like me, wake up after decades of colouring and think why am I doing this?

Nothings really changed since I wrote the book, Kreamer says. Im still generally the only woman in the room with white or grey hair, but its always a positive experience, whether at work or in my personal life. She tells me about the awestruck hipster who stopped her in the street to tell her how beautiful her hair was. He said he had never seen anything like it before, which I thought was telling. Were all under the thumb of the beauty industry, really, and theyve been telling us for years that white is bad.

Kreamer is adamant that using colouring as an ageing disguise does exactly the opposite and is detrimental to your confidence. Its your sense of vitality and your character that define you. You could have the best dye-job from a top salon, but have a slump in your step, and you would look ancient.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/apr/25/fade-to-grey-why-women-should-stop-dyeing-their-hair