Real-Talk About Your First Gray Hairs

To pluck or not to pluck? And other burning questions.
Publish date:
September 26, 2014
hair color, gray hair, aging, interview, oscar blandi

At 32, I spotted my first gray hair last year. I plucked that sucker out with the speed of a knee-jerk reflex. My life literally flashed before my eyes. Old. Alone. Gray.

Two minutes later I was totally over it. But that's me. I don't dwell. And when I noticed two new grays, one on the top right side of my scalp, one mostly tucked beneath a tuft of hair that hangs on my left shoulder, I let them be. I guess when a patch situation forms I'll have to start dyeing my hair again, I thought. (I haven't dyed my hair in about eight years.)

Well, a patch situation has not yet developed, but I did have a rather uncomfortable exchange with my aunt and my grandmother over Labor Day weekend. We were standing on the beach talking and, out of nowhere, my aunt cried out, "Aaaaaaapril!" Then, in an exponentially softer tone, she continued, "You have a gray hair." Standing at arm's length of her single, *plus-size, graying 33-year-old granddaughter, my grandma's face fell into that gravitational frown people get when they see a three-legged dog or something. Pity. I was getting pity over two gray hairs.

After a back and forth about how I need to "get more alkaline," I shushed them. "Guys! I'm on it. I was in a fancy salon last week for work and I talked to a top colorist about my 'situation.'" Really, I did.

Here's some gray hair real-talk from Oscar Blandi salon lead colorist Kyle White.

Is it OK to pluck your first couple grays?

"I've heard people say that if you pluck a gray hair that three more come to its funeral, but truth be told, that's an old wives’ tale with no basis in scientific fact. The real reason not to pluck out your gray hairs is that ripping hair out at the root damages the growth follicle, and if it dies the hair will never grow back. In the same way that years of tweezing eyebrows will leave you with no eyebrows, chronic gray plucking could leave you with thin hair--and unlike your eyebrows you can't pencil in a whole head of hair."

What about prevention? Is there anything you can do?

"As far as preventing your hair from going gray, it's mostly all pre-determined by your genetics and written in your DNA. However, it is proven that stress can cause hair to become prematurely gray. I'm always reminded of that scene in the original Nightmare on Elm Street, where our heroine goes to a sleep clinic and has a nightmare where she has a horrible fight with Freddy Krueger and wakes up with a shock of gray in the front of her hair--she was sixteen! Well, believe it or not, extreme trauma and stress can cause your hair to go gray. So now you have another reason to try lowering your stress level. Not that you needed one." [Editor's note: Kyle is right that stress (extreme stress) can lead to gray hair, but it does so indirectly.]

"Another way to prevent gray hair is your diet. A diet high in beta-carotene will not just keep your hair color rich, it will also give your skin a golden glow. Just like everything else, good hair color starts from the inside out, so try taking a hair, skin, and nail vitamin, too. I like Biotin, fish oil, or try a complex vitamin like Viviscal or the Phyto pill."

At what point should you consider color to cover grays?

"I used to be about aging gracefully--until I started getting wrinkles and gray hair. Then the thought of aging gracefully got old . . . My advice is to consider coloring your grays as soon as they start to bother you. I personally think that everyone should do a little color whether they are gray or not . . . Hair color has come a long way and there are many great [at-home] dyes that will cover your gray in five minutes and leave hair healthy and probably shinier than your natural color was. So even if you’re not gray, I say do a little color, a gloss--something, anything."

Do you get a lot of 30 and under clients coming in with concerns about grays?

"I do feel an upswing in the under 30 girls and gray coverage, but I just thought that was the stress of being a New Yorker. Also, the pressure to look perfect is much higher here. New York girls are walking past [celebrities] on the street and sitting next to them at Balthazar, so the bar for looking good is considerably high. My girlfriends wouldn't just brush off a gray patch with a shrug and a sigh--but maybe that's just my circle of friends? Covering gray is not plastic surgery. It doesn't require anesthesia and it's sure to make you look considerably younger in about 30 minutes."

For now I'm just going to heed Kyle's advice about taking Biotin and fish oil. Because I'm really bad at keeping up color appointments and I'm very, very cheap. I'm also going to try Blandi's touch-up pens and/or powders to simply paint the gray strands to match my natural color.

But maybe you can help me--what non-dye products do you use to cover grays? Do you even care about covering grays? I'm about 50/50 at this point. I certainly won't be plucking any more out, though.

*Sweet baby Jesus I hate that word. Can we say "big body"? That's what Beyoncé says. I'm with Bey on this. Be with me and Bey, world!

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