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The Choice of Going Gray

“Going gray” sounds like somehow you’re taking an affirmative step to leave your original hair color behind and become a person with gray hair.  But actually that’s not how it works.

It’s what happens to all of us eventually, if we don’t take action to prevent it. The affirmative act is instead to dye your hair and hide the gray.

Regardless of how you think about it, the reality is that I am going gray.

There’s no one way to deal with the changes of age to our bodies. No right way, no wrong way. It’s all about figuring out your way and taking it.

But these choices aren’t made in a vacuum. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that you have a choice at all.

Most women around my age in my suburban California town dye their hair to cover the gray. There’s a few of us who don’t but most do. For a while I lived downtown in a large Texas city and again my graying hair put me in the minority.

A number of years ago I started noticing the oddity of mismatched middle aged couples, with the man bald or graying and his female partner with perfectly dyed, zero gray hair. My husband and I noticed this trend on a vacation trip to Hawaii and started pointing these couples out to each other.

I encourage you to try it too. It’s rather addictive. You will see them everywhere, once you look.

And again, if that’s what you see it’s not always easy to remember that you have a choice at all. But we do. The more of us exercise that choice, the easier it will be.  Choice can’t be anything but a good thing,

I started to get some strands of silvery gray about age 40, which was amazingly enough 15 years ago now. For quite a while I went to my hairdresser and she highlighted my light brown hair to help those grays blend in.

Then we needed to add low-lighting (also apparently a thing) to prevent it from all getting too blonde as the grays multiplied.  And I tried having her apply permanent color a couple times, to even everything out.

Eventually I got tired of the time and effort required to prevent my hair from doing what it naturally would otherwise do. So I chose to try the alternative.

I grew out the highlights and the lowlights and the color. The process took longer than I expected and didn’t always look great. I may have backslid a few times in the middle.

But now it’s just me, no artificial coloring added.

It turns out the silver (which maybe sounds better than gray somehow?) looks a lot like those highlights I used to spend a lot of time and money to achieve. And I don’t have to sit in a chair with strange foil hair packets decorating my head for an hour or so, or go back every month or six weeks to deal with graying roots.

Now I’m the exception in my suburban town, which I’m mostly okay with. Though I still have the occasional twinge when I catch an unexpected glimpse of myself, silver hair among the brown, in a mirrored window.

I make a point of complimenting other women of my age and stage who have graying hair.  And I get the occasional compliment myself, even recently from another client of my hairdresser who was sitting under a dryer getting her hair colored while I got my bangs trimmed.

There’s no one right way to deal with the changes that age brings to our bodies.

But it’s good to remember that we do have choices. Maybe my graying hair will help the next 40 something who just noticed a first few silver hairs.

And that’s a good thing.

Linda Grier has spent much of her adult life devoted to her family, after a brief early career as a lawyer. She enjoys reading and learning and has a charming but demanding Havanese dog named George.

Related post: On Going Gray in My Thirties by Tsh

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  1. Anya

    I noticed the first, very occasional, grey hairs when I was 30, but 17 years later, I’ve been able to get away with just plucking them because they are still relatively few. My hair is dark blonde or light brown, so they also don’t stand out that much. My 16-year-old daughter agrees with me that women with grey hair in their style of choice—grey ponytail ladies, I’m looking at you—are awesome. I’m hoping I’ll have the chutzpah to be one of them.

    • Linda Grier

      Love that you are talking with your teenage daughter about going gray! Here’s to being our best selves in whatever way we choose, living our lives with chutzpah. Sounds like a good goal to me.

  2. Melanie

    I absolutely love this. I started going gray in my mid-twenties (my mom was completely gray by the time she was 30), and I’ve only dyed it a couple of times. It’s started to come in at a much more rapid pace over the last year, and I decided to just let it happen. My husband loves it and calls my gray hair my “power surges.”

    • Linda Grier

      I’m going to remember the concept of power surges! Thanks for that.

  3. Jenni

    I’m in the “never gonna color my hair” camp….now at age 42 my silvery strands mix in with my natural highlights and my hairdresser calls them my “wisdom.” Every woman gets to make her own choices, but already look young, so the silver helps prove my age.

    • Linda Grier

      Some hairdressers can really push their clients to color their hair. Sounds like you’ve got a good one!

  4. Sherise

    I’m 34 and I started to let my gray hair grow out about a year ago. It didn’t begin deliberately – it was mostly me trying to see how long I could go between colourings – but this winter I began to ask myself, “Why do I feel like I have to colour my hair?” The answers were the same ones every woman has heard (and told herself): “My natural colour is already kind of mousy and it’ll look even worse if I add gray into the mix”; “I’ll look old”; “What will people think of me?”

    Then my natural contrarian streak kicked in for a couple months. I decided to shove my gray hair in the world’s face to prove that women don’t have to conform to these bizarre standards of beauty.

    But being contrarian just for the sake of being contrarian is its own kind of exhausting. And something inside of me began to soften as more gray came in. As I saw the proof of my mortality grow clearer, I was struck anew that every day is a gift. Each new gray hair is a sign that I’ve been given the gift of more time on this planet. Each gray hair is a reminder to me that my time here will not last forever and that I shouldn’t take any day for granted. And so, embracing my gray hair is a conscious way I choose to remind myself to be grateful.

    • Linda Grier

      Lovely. Finding gratitude in the gray…

    • Abbie

      Oh my goodness. 🙂 I love this! I am just starting to go gray – at 40 years old – but have watched my mom go naturally grayer over the years and have looked forward to following her. Many of her friends (in a small town) and mine do color their hair. Gonna start saying thanks every time I see that flash of silver!

      • Linda Grier

        Always good to find a way to reframe an issue and find more chances to give thanks. Now I’m wondering if this mindset might help while adjusting to some of the other bodily changes I’m beginning to notice with the passage of time. Like that neck situation… Worth a try I’d say!

  5. Kristen

    I have decided to let my hair gray. I have dark brown hair and only have a couple strands so far. But I have noticed that I like other women’s hair better that keep their natural color. Whether gray or some mixture. I find the couple hair differences interesting though. My poor husband starting losing and going gray in high school. So while we are only a year apart everyone has always assumed he is a lot older than me. It helped with his work, since he has worked in an industry where no one was as young as he was in his twenties. In his thirties he blends in now. So I will I am sure hairwise catch-up to him one day.

    • Linda Grier

      Yes you never know if you’ll go gray early like your husband or later like you! I like the idea of you cathching up to him eventually. Good way to reframe the going gray process perhaps?

  6. Carlita

    I would never pass judgement on anyone’s personal choice (as a 46yo female with rapidly growing gray streaks, I still consider hitting the hair color on a regular basis) but I do think it’s important to recognize that there is also a strong political element to those mixmatched couples we see everywhere. The underlying message is that women’s value lies almost exclusively in their fertility. Since that fertility is lost with age, the fight against age is a fight against becoming worthless.

    • Linda Grier

      I agree, it is very much an individual choice but made within a social and cultural context. Being aware of the context and that we do have options can bring a sense of reclaiming power I think.

  7. Connie

    I started to think about going grey when I was 59… I told my husband that I was going to go grey on my 60th Birthday… Then I realize it was a couple months away… lol
    But on my 62th Birthday I let my hair go grey… Even though my hairdresser said I won’t like it… It was the best thing I had ever done… I LOVE IT!!!

    • Linda Grier

      Good for you, doing what you wanted to do and not letting your hairdresser push you into a different choice. Congratulations!

  8. Jenny Young

    I can’t remember when I first noticed my gray hair…actually mine is white. I’ve never had gray. My mother & grandmother both had pure white hair & mine is slowly (or quickly depending on your perspective) following suit.

    I’m never dyed my hair. I could never bring myself to spend that much of my family budget on my hair when there were so many other things I’d rather spend it on. Plus the time, the headache & the damage to my hair. My hairdresser has been telling me for awhile now that she has clients who come in to have their hair dyed to look like mine. I’ve pretty much always had wash & go hair & I’m very grateful for it.

    • Linda Grier

      I love white hair! Fun to share that trait with both your mother and grandmother.

  9. dee

    Among a lot of my peers, “going grey” is what you do. Most of my college classmates have never dyed their hair, as a political statement, as a convenience, as a line in sand. Among them, I am the outlier.

    Growing up, my mom was the outlier. She worked while the other moms stayed home. She went out dancing while the other moms cooked dinner. She colored her hair while the others didn’t. Somewhere around, I don’t know, 65? 68? she decided to stop coloring and finally act her age. But she aged. Her hair slowly greyed and her actions soon slowed down. Now, you could say that it was the course of life, but it felt and looked like she accepted that she “had to” slow down and be like everyone else.

    At about 75, she switched back and started coloring her hair again. I was so glad to have my mom back. But it was almost too late – she passed away four years later.

    I think the key is to be true to yourself. Don’t color because others are doing it. Don’t go grey because you want to take a stand against what you perceive the patriarchy wants. Be yourself.

    My self started coloring a few years ago. I hate the upkeep, but I like the look. I like how I feel in my hair color. (Always did. I heard once on a TV show that every woman has always wanted to go blonde, but not this brown-haired, brown-eyed girl.) My hair color IS me. I may even add a touch of purple in the not-so-distant future. It’s what my mom would’ve done.

    • Linda Grier

      Yes, it is all about doing what works for you and makes you feel authentically yourself. I am smiling, thinking of you with perhaps a touch of purple in your future.

  10. Sarah Kay Daniel

    Im 38 and the entire top of my head is gray.. ive been coloring since 18 when i first motced the grey coming in.. sad, i know. Now im at the point where the time and money ive soent being a “fake” brunette is becoming too much. My hair is long and the thought of letting it grow out is frightening. Whats the best way to go gray w/o being hideous for the next 3 years?

    • Linda Grier

      There is no one right way to go gray if you’ve been coloring your hair, but it definitely can be done. It may take some trial and error to find out what works for you. Many people do cut their hair shorter to reduce the time period required for the transition. But that’s not a mandatory step. Try talking to your hairdresser to see what he or she thinks would be best in your situation. Some people do temporary color, some do highlighting or lowlighting, and others just go cold turkey. Good luck!

    • Linda Sand

      When I decided to stop coloring my hair I had mine frosted gray. That freaked out the hairdresser but it camouflaged to growing out process.

      • Linda Grier

        Interesting! Perhaps your hairdresser will recommend that to another client who wants to grow out her gray. Or maybe one of our readers will try it. Thanks for the tip.

      • Annie

        I have that done too. I had planned to stop coloring for a long time but was suddenly forced to stop when I my scalp started reacting to any dye I tried. I naturally have dark ash brown hair and a relatively small amount of grey and it’s dull looking despite trying special shampoos and other treatments. Since the highlighting solution never touches my scalp I get it frosted grey where it’s darker, I call them my platinum highlights and they suit me well. I don’t have to do them as often as blond highlights as I do have enough natural grey to blend them with. I will gradually get less and less highlights as more grey/white hairs come in. I’m actually impatient for it to turn a mostly bright grey or white!

    • Linda Grier

      Yes definitely simpler logistically to not color away the gray, though the issues entangled with this decision can feel very complex. Here’s to cheering each other on as we wrestle with them!

  11. Elaine

    I grew mine out about 6-7 years ago and wish I had done it sooner. I get more compliments on my gray than I ever did with my “natural” color. Oh, and the gray husband/dyed-hair wife thing? Look at TV commercials, too; it’s the same. So they are saying it’s ok for men to be gray but not women. Men may grow older; women may not. Almost every anti-aging commercial and product is geared toward women. Don’t have wrinkles; don’t have gray hair, etc. Ok for men but not for women. And women are buying into that nonsense!

    • Linda Grier

      Those compliments are lovely, aren’t they? A good reminder to regularly make the effort to compliment women with beautiful gray hair as we encounter them in our lives. And yes, those mismatched couples are not just a real world phenomenon. Now I’m going to be checking out commercials with that in mind… Thanks!

  12. Melissa L.

    My young mom (she’s just 17 years older than I am) has colored her hair as long as I can remember – to lighten our nearly black hair, to trendy “frosting” in the 1980s, to keeping her gray covered – she’s been blond for years. It seemed too expensive and time-consuming. I was never interested in highlighting or changing my dark, curly hair but i did try covering the white at home, usually when my mom visited and would help me. And a couple of times I went to the salon to have it done. I just wasn’t any happier about my “look” than I am with leaving it be. I didn’t want to be a slave to dyeing the roots (and my hair grows really fast.) I am not without vanity – my crazy curls can suggest a “wicked witch” look so I spend my money on a good haircut and hair products and right now my aging concern is fighting acne, dark spots and the non-white hairs that like to show up in unwelcome places.

    Right now, the youngest person in my office is in her early 20s, and she dyes her long hair gray!

    • Linda Grier

      Yes, the young women who dye their hair gray ironically are fun! One time, in an intense yoga class in a trendy studio in downtown Austin, I noticed another gray head out of the corner of my eye. As the class progressed I was happily imagining that I had a companion, another woman of about my age or older, in an otherwise young group. But when I was finally able to take a good look, after the final savasana pose, I discovered a very pleasant twenty something with dyed gray hair…

      Enjoy your crazy curls, with the good haircut!

  13. Jana

    Thank you for your thoughts on graying.

    I noticed at my 40th class reunion last summer that the men all looked older than the women, and it was mostly due to hair color.

    I’ve been wrestling with the question of “when do we get to be our age and stop pretending?”

    It seems that if a woman decides to be gray, a good haircut is essential; otherwise, there is an air of neglect. Someone wrote “appearance is 90% hair”, so is easy to fall into a state of visual neglect if one neither colors nor cuts.

    • Linda Grier

      Thanks! I think being our age and not pretending to be something we’re not is an excellent goal, in whatever way we each choose to do it. Finding and living your authentic self is a continuing, lifelong process.

      And yes a good haircut helps make the gray feel more positive and intentional…

  14. Linda

    I could have been the author of this one! I started going gray with an inherited “streak” while in my 30’s. It wasn’t long until it was sprinkled throughout my hair and I did the highlights, then the low-lights thing for a couple of years. I stopped doing any kind of color quite a few years ago and have never really looked back. I definitely stand out amongst my friends, even though I will soon be turning 60 years old, and am always amazed when people tell me “I would do that if my gray was pretty, but mine is ugly.” And even stranger, that some people ask me if I dye my hair??? How can that be?
    Years ago, when my mother’s hair was beginning to turn “salt and pepper”, I remember someone asked her who dyed her hair because it was so pretty. She smiled and answered , “God!”

    • Linda Grier

      Hello fellow Linda! Thinking of you out there living your life and being an example that going gray is a positive option.

  15. Audrey

    I’ve been graying for about 15 years, and I only stopped coloring/highlighting because I am pregnant at 39. An unexpected pregnancy (with my first/only(?) child) sort of made me appreciate my body and appearance so much more than I did before. My husband is 6 years younger than me with very, very few gray hairs, so I am so aware of looking “older” next to him. He could care less what color my hair is, so it’s my own issue to get over. Thanks for this fresh perspective, and maybe I’ll have the chutzpah, as someone else said, to finish letting it grow out and not re-color once our little boy arrives.

    • Linda Grier

      Congratulations and best wishes on your pregnancy and the new life stage you are entering! My husband, like yours, also has said he doesn’t care about whether I color my hair or not. And I am sure that new baby boy won’t care either! Nice to remember that you have options and can choose to cover the gray or not. And neither choice is a permanent one. Options are a good thing.

  16. Lauren

    I started going gray in my twenties and colored it until I was pregnant with my first child at 32. My husband loved the silver streaks coming in against my dark hair and convinced me to leave it— he actually said that it was absurd to pretend not to be aging, and wanted me to embrace the fullness, joy and wisdom of my continuing story. So I went with it, and every time I’ve been tempted to color it, he has really discouraged me from heading in that whole direction because we’re getting older together. I’m so glad now, and I also see that whenever I become self-conscious about my hair and age it’s a massive red flag for me to reevaluate the situation and my own heart and motivations. The weirdest thing is the reactions I get: I have been told no less than 5 completely separate times (and in 4 different countries) that I’m brave for going gray! If admitting to having gray hair is a sign of bravery, then we are in a very sorry state! But mostly I get compliments on it and I’m glad I won’t ever have to figure out how to grow it out. My husband is German and we live in Berlin, though— gray hair is not horribly uncommon here and I do wonder if we ever moved to the US if I would be tempted to dye my hair and wear more makeup. I hope not!

    • Linda Grier

      Interesting to think about differences among various countries as far as attitudes to going gray. And even at a more micro level, where different towns or cultural groups may vary in their perspectives. I currently live in the San Francisco Bay Area and ther are definitely nearby cities where I would stand out for my choice to go gray and others where it’s more the norm.

      And yes I’ve gotten the “you’re so brave” comment too and been rather mystified about how to respond. “Thanks I guess?”

  17. Heather

    I’ll color my hair as long as I have hair, at least until it’s all white. My parents had the salt-and-pepper look for years, and I don’t really like that look. All-white hair is lovely, though. My mother keeps her white hair cut short — she looks like actress Dame Judi Dench.

    I’m not sure I get the point of “mismatched” couples being bad, or in poor taste, or otherwise a negative thing. It’s not uncommon for younger women to marry older men. I have several friends like this. They are “mismatched” naturally. And frankly, I don’t think the men or women of these couples mind.

    • Linda Grier

      Yes we all have the choice about whether to color or not and that’s great! Just good to know it’s a choice and not a mandatory requirement either way.

      And no, there’s certainly nothing wrong or negative about couples with the man being bald or gray and the woman with no gray. Sometimes it’s just an age difference as you said. But it’s very common with similar aged couples as well, where the woman dyes her hair and the man doesn’t. That’s fine too of course as a choice but if that’s all you see it can feel like your only option. I’m in favor of more choice and individual power. As Tsh said, “you do you!”


  18. Emily

    So interesting! Love hearing your perspective. Being Asian and living in an Asian country this is even more of an issue, even older men (like my dad!) like to dye their hair too. So I’m definitely in the minority and each time I go to get a haircut I get a mini “lecture” LOL! Anyways, for now I’m happy with my grey streaks, but who knows I could eventually dye some if I find more natural and convenient methods. I wish I could say it is my intentional choice to not dye it, but at this point for me it’s more about practicality and cost, just no time and don’t want to spend the money :).

    • Linda Grier

      Thank you for the international perspective! These cultural differences are fascinating. Now I’m trying to imagine my father with dyed hair…

      And yes cost and convenience are big issues. Enjoy your hair now and going forward, whatever you choose to do regarding the gray. There’s no one right answer for any of us, just figuring out what works best for us as we move through our days.

  19. Nadene

    As a mom of 3 daughters, I felt that just as they were maturing into gorgeous young adults and were blooming in their full loveliness, my hair naturally started to fade. It seemed somehow right to not try stay looking 10 years younger than I was by dying my hair and I did not want to seem to be trying to compete with my daughters. I didn’t want to be striving to look like my daughters’ sister instead of being their mom, although getting those complements was really nice.

    When I turned 50, these thoughts became my authentic reason to go gray. I knew it would take a year or more if I didn’t cut my hair short, and there were many months, especially in the beginning, when my hair did not look good. I started a Pinterest board called “Aging Gracefully” and was inspired to keep going because those gorgeous gray-haired ladies looked radiant, .

    True beauty comes from within, by having joy and a sense of humour, and having loving acceptance of the imperfect. I resisted the quick-fix of hair dye, allowed my transition to be a year of grace. Going grey has been the most liberating journey of grace towards myself and to others.

    • Linda Grier

      Thanks for sharing your perspective and the story of your year of grace. Loving acceptance of the imperfect sounds like a good goal and practice for all of us, in matters big and small, in ourselves and others. Your daughters are lucky to have you in their lives!

  20. Jaime

    Thank you for this! While at the head of a hiking trail last week an older gentleman approached me and said “I love your hair.” (I’m 40, have never coloured my hair and it was ultra humid that day.) I responded with “My frizz?!”. “No. Your salt + pepper colour. It’s beautiful. No salon could ever make hair that pretty.” I thanked him and told him it was entirely natural.

    • Linda Grier

      You are welcome! And gold star to the gentleman who noticed and complimented you about your beautiful hair. A good reminder to us all about the power of positivity and civility, in a time when it is much needed. Your story renews my commitment to do the same, to take the time and make the effort to say something, when I see other women who are going gray…

      Your initial response about your frizz cracked me up. Reminded me of a time early on in my going gray process when somebody complemented my hair and I said “that’s all me, it’s silver not highlighted.“ The other woman kindly leaned in and said “oh yes, I know.”

  21. AT :)

    I just stumbled on to your site a few days ago, and I am enjoying it immensely! I had to comment on this one…haha!
    I’ve been ‘silver’ for several years. After reacting to who knows what!? and a reminder from the dermatologist that my allergic reactions X2, at that point, could cost me my eyesight!! WHOA! At that point, I started cutting out all kinds of foods and then… hair dye. (How was I supposed to know the chemicals on my scalp weren’t supposed to STING??!) Yep, I was ‘skunky’ for quite awhile, but once all that lovely dark brown (RIP) disappeared, I was a young, ‘old’ lady. I kept getting unsolicited comments about how beautiful my hair was…from these young girls and older women. All I could (& still) do is laugh and say thanks. Sometimes when I walk past a plate glass window, I am still surprised at how white my head looks. I like to think that my hair does not define my age; it’s all of my life’s experiences (the good, the bad, & now the silver). AT 🙂

    • Linda Grier

      Welcome and thanks for joining the conversation!

  22. Lucille in CT

    I started going gray about 10 years ago and it’s the best decision I’ve made. I can’t tell you how many compliments I get, frequently from women who have in some way shape or form wistfully expressed how they wished they were ‘brave’ enough to do so.

    Sometimes I see a photo of myself at a younger age with my deep dark brown hair and miss it, but I know that I don’t have the time or money to keep up with keeping it up.

    Instead, I have enjoyed watching my silver streaks come in. And when someone says “I love your hair!”, I always laugh out loud because it makes me so happy. I’ve hated my hair (curly, frizzy, unruly) my entire life… UNTIL I started to go gray! Go figure!

    (P.S. I wish the writer had posted a photo of her silver locks!)

    • Linda Grier

      Yes, I figure all of us who are gray or graying (or have hair that is silver or white) are helping expand the options for those women who feel it would take bravery to do the same!

      So glad you are enjoying your hair now. What a gift and surprise that I’m sure you didn’t expect.

      Sounds like you have gotten the drama, with silver streaks coming out in what used to be deep dark brown. I had dark blonde or light brown hair so it’s more subtle, with silver coming in and making my hair more ashy and less warm.

  23. Amy O.

    I noticed my first gray hair in college and, like a few other members of my extended family, I imagine that when I reach 50, four years from now, I will be entirely gray. At first I didn’t color because I didn’t want the expense or the time for upkeep, but now it feels like a statement that I’m OK with growing older. And like many of the other commenters, I get tons of compliments on it (and my husband says he loves it!) I work at a college and the other day a young female college student said, as I was walking by, “I love your hair!” I thanked her and then noticed that her own hair was green. She probably thought I was paying to have mine colored as well!

    • Linda Grier

      Thanks for sharing your story and for representing the going gray option on campus!

  24. Jo

    I’m just plain lazy. I don’t want to spend the time, energy and money on pretending that I’m not going gray.

    I found that life used to get in the way of keeping up the pretense and I’d end up the gray roots that called me out. So I stopped and it’s so liberating not to be tied down to a have to dye my hair on schedule every few weeks.

    I frequently get compliment hair color and statements that they wished their hair would look like mine. It would if they’d grow it out…

    I don’t think my hair color is all that special and if more ladies who wished their hair looked like mine gave themselves a chance, they’d find that people would be complimenting them on their hair color as well.

    • Linda Grier

      I hear you on the lazy idea! It is definitely simpler to let your hair be its natural color rather than putting in the effort to maintain a no gray look. For some women, it is clearly a worthwhile use of time and money because they much prefer the result. But if you don’t, it is nice to simplify.

  25. laura ann

    I pay $8.00 a box of L’Oreal Preference and use it every 6-7 weeks, my hair is short and use a dark blond. Some women look good in silvery gray hair, they have the right skin tone, but mine has yellow, orange and lt. brown mix w/ some gray when it grows out. Gotta mix the dye and do it for 30 min. not a problem.

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