I've Been Coloring My Hair Since I Started Going Gray At 16

Actually, first, I shaved my head. Then I alternated through a number of at-home shades until I finally figured out what works best with the salt-and-pepper peeking through.
Publish date:
June 20, 2013
hair color, gray hair, aging

My father was almost completely white-haired by 35, and half of his children followed suit. My brother Randy. My sister Jolie (yeah, my ONLY sister’s name is Jolie--wrap your head around that one). I started graying at 16.

At the time, I found the appearance of white hairs fascinating. A God-given dark ash brunette, I was delighted to discover (some) light hairs. Then I shaved my head.

Grow-back was rough. Rather than style my hair as it grew out, I clung to the longest layer of hair and exploited a late-‘90s love of barrettes. The grays had multiplied. My very Christian, conservative mother was not at all comfortable with the idea of me dyeing my hair, though slightly more comfortable than she was with my decision to shave my head.

Having been prohibited from shopping anywhere fun, I went to the nearest Eckerd and got the darkest shade of brown I could find (there may or may not have been a Rasta flag on the box). It was dark. Real dark. But also, temporary; permanent hair dye was on the list of prohibited fun.

My release into the wild and wonderful world of semi-permanency came in the unlikely form of musical theater. My senior year of high school, I was cast as the loveable orphan Annie. With this came a choice: go wig or go red. I went red. Or rather, maroon.

I left shortly thereafter for college where the red remained for a while, though I soon developed a preference for lighter shades. With no one to tell me otherwise, I continued to lighten my whole head, despite applying the same shade each time.

Time flew by, and my hair, now down to my waist, required two boxes of color to cover it evenly. My mother became my at-home colorist (by this time, she was just glad that I had hair and that it was bereft of dreadlocks).

I had gotten into the habit of purchasing the least expensive color I could find. Oh, it itched, but I figured when you were lifting dark ash brown to light reddish blond, itching was part of the experience.

As one particularly arduous dye session drew to a close, my head began to itch like never before. I leapt out of my chair and took off down the hallway, screaming that my head was on fire and I was going to die. My mother immediately followed, yelling at me to "Rinse it out, for Pete’s sake!"

“No!” I yelled as I flew by. “I have to keep it in for at least 15 minutes!”

“Your hair is going to fall out!” she warned.

I washed the dye out. That was the last time I scrimped. It was also the last time I dyed the whole thing when I only needed to color the roots.

The years slipped away and, with them, my enthusiasm for maintaining my eye-catching reddish-blonde hair. Shortly after my 30th birthday, I threw in the towel and dyed my hair back to my natural-born color.

I’d paid scant attention to my proliferation of grays, but in the 15 or so years since I’d begun dying my hair, I’d turned bona fide salt-and-pepper. With the length of my hair tinted my natural color, the white streaks in my roots looked like there was a mold growing out of my part.

I went back to blonde.

In doing so, I realized something that has revolutionized the way in which I approach my hair. Those pesky grays make dark roots less noticeable with light hair. What’s more, they actually add dimension to boxed dyes.

I color my roots frequently and do not do an awesome job of it. There is a circle the size of a coaster on the back of my scalp that hasn’t seen dye since 2008. But those color-resistant little grey hairs make it OK.

My crown, which gets dyed the most consistently, shines with surprising depth. The virgin patch of hair is mostly gray, causing the lonely pigmented hairs to blend nicely with the hair that gets dyed.

It sounds ridiculous, but people actually think this is my natural color. This past New Year’s Eve, I did the roots one shade lighter than usual. The next time, I went back a shade darker. I have had a halo of light ash blonde around my head for months. No one’s noticed.

I think grays get a bad rap. but since I got mine at 16, they’re sort of a conversation piece. They make me unique.

My grays allow me to spend $8 at Walgreens and accomplish (at home) what so many dark-haired gals spend hours in the salon trying to attain: a natural-looking blonde.

I’ve come to be downright thankful for my grays.

Did any of you start graying young? Are you letting it show or covering it up?