Here’s what most stylists will never tell you about the popular trend of going gray, and how you can manage to grow out “graycefully” without having to mortgage your house to afford it.
Last Tuesday I had a client come in to discuss going gray to match her new growth.
“I’m tired of the coloring and upkeep,” she said. “I just want to be whatever kind of gray my natural color is.”
It’s a novel idea made popular by Sharon Osbourne a few years back, when she reversed her iconic red color to her natural salt and pepper hair. And it looked amazing. (Props to her stylist, because we were all frankly shocked by the transformation.)
What you may have not noticed is that not too long after her dramatic color switch, she cut off most of her hair. There’s a good reason for that.
In fact, there’s a few of them, and I don’t want you to prematurely get your heart set on something that may not even be possible for you.
Let’s bust some myths around the gray trend.
1) Going back natural means I don’t have to color my hair anymore. Categorically FALSE. In fact, you’ll likely be in the salon chair every three weeks to maintain your new color, as opposed to every five or six for basic color maintenance. The reasons are technical, but basically, you’re stripping old color and natural pigment out to add synthetic dyes and pigments back in. This creates an incredible amount of porosity, and so the synthetic color (gray, in this case) has very little to grab on to. And, like a straw with holes in it, the color comes right back out when you shampoo it. Over time, you may lose your new gray pigments altogether, leaving you with blonde hair, instead of the gray you wanted. And that’s even IF your stylist can manage to get your hair light enough in the first place. Which brings me to another myth:
2) Anybody can go back gray if their hair is already gray at the root. This is a big fat “maybe.” As with any new color service, it’s absolutely mandatory that your stylist knows and understands your hair history and can perform a strand test before trying to revert back to gray. If there are too many layers of color built up on your hair over time, you may have to aspire to going completely gray in stages. If it’s extremely built up, your hair may never reach the lightest of pale blonde - which is what is required in order for your hair to become gray. Worse yet, if an inexperienced stylist pushes your hair past its limit, it could easily be melted off by trying to pull the old color out. And speaking of breaking limits…
3) Going gray is better for your hair.
YES! As long as it’s your natural gray hair we’re talking about. In order to get colored hair to match your already existent gray new growth, it has to withstand a lot of trauma. Even with the best products, most experienced stylists, and the amazing bonding treatments we use, hair has its limits. Even the healthiest hair is going to be pushed right up to that limit when undergoing the process to get to gray.
In most cases, a lightening agent is used multiple times on the same strands of hair in order to get it to palest blonde (that’s the goal in order to see gray at the end). That’s a precarious treatment to do once, and it may need to be done two or more times to get the desired lift. And because of the amount of product and the time it takes to do all that (a minimum of 6 hours, if you’re really lucky)...
4) I’m saving money by going back gray.
Nope, sorry. That 6+ hours you’re going to spend in the salon chair comes at a price, and not just for the ongoing maintenance you’ll need to keep up your new gray locks. An average corrective color service will cost you somewhere in the ballpark of $300. And since this is a corrective color multiple times over, your gray service will likely come out to be $1,000+ for the initial visit.
Now, money was no object for Sharon Osbourne, and her stylist even said she could stretch a salon visit out to six months. But if you break it down and compare this to keeping your natural gray covered at the salon, that one visit will cost you an entire year of service just with the process itself. And don’t forget the recommended maintenance, twice as often, and likely more intense than a regular gray coverage visit.
Let’s talk maintenance. Can you really go six months without a salon visit?
In my professional experience, you can, but just know that you’ll be platinum blonde (like Sharon was less than two weeks after her initial visit) if you’re really lucky. Varying shades of blonde is likely what you’ll end up with after a couple weeks’ time, which is why I recommend having just the colored gray part retouched.
The other, more serious downside to waiting six months in between salon visits is the integrity of your hair after the gray service has been performed. Your ends should absolutely be trimmed after the service, so you’ll be okay for a little while as far as split ends are concerned.
Remember when I mentioned porosity, and how your new gray color will fade very quickly? There’s another cool trick that gray color has up its sleeve:
It’s a conditioning filler. It makes your hair feel nice and soft and healthy, in addition to toning your hair the desired shade of gray. But once that washes out, you’re left with blonde, dry, brittle hair that needs a lot of extra love and protein bonding treatments. Or, it just needs to be cut - at least the parts that were pre-lightened more than once.
The reason our beloved Sharon cut her hair short was because of the unavoidable damage this gray process causes. When the hair’s integrity is compromised so severely, it can tangle, break, or very easily be scorched by hot tools. And that’s just more hassle than it’s worth when you’re trying to make life a little easier on yourself by going gray in the first place.
So, what’s the solution?
There are three main ways to address growing into your natural gray color.
1) The first is to grow out your natural gray as long as you can stand it and then cut your hair short.
My clients have found that it’s easier to grow out a hair style than grow out old color, and for good reason. When you’re conditioned to cover up the gray roots every 4-6 weeks, it’s hard to willingly allow yourself to look and feel less than your best. When you cut your hair short, as close to the new growth line as possible, you have less grow out time until your old color can be cut away for good. It gives you an opportunity to try out new haircuts and styles until you find something that suits your lifestyle and your new (albeit original) color.
If that’s not an option, or you just can’t bear to grow out the color without assistance…
2) Use temporary or semi-permanent color solutions until the old color is completely gone.
This is exactly how Just For Men products made millions helping men cover their gray “naturally.” I’m definitely not advocating for over the counter products because they come with their own drawbacks, and can be difficult to apply at home. While semi-permanent and temporary solutions likely won’t cover all the gray you have, it will at least form a more natural looking transition in between the fully colored hair and the natural hair, giving your grow out a softer and more natural appearance.
Temporary colors wash out immediately, while semi-permanent colors wash out a little over time. For the best results, make sure any semi-permanent applications are done in the salon so you can be sure you’re not overlapping old color. Overlapping will make your grow out take more time. Temporary solutions get applied between each shampoo, making them easier to handle at home in the transition phase.
3) Transition out the gray over time with a high- or low-lighting process.
If your main concern is salon visit cost or frequency, or you want to keep your long hair, this may be the best option for you to grow out gray gracefully and healthily. Permanent colors are used, so the frequency of salon visits will decrease over time. Foiling can range from heavy application to extremely light application, making it the most versatile solution for longer hair or more dramatic color differences between what you have and the gray you want long term.
If you’re in the Knoxville, Tennessee area and would like to know more about going gray now, or growing out gray easily, book a consultation at ColorWorkz Salon today. I’m happy to go over all your options in detail and make a plan that works for you.