8 Women Reveal How They Learned to Embrace Their Gray Hair

Eight women open up about their personal journeys to finding the silver lining in going gray.

Brunette, black, red, blonde. Your hair gets its vibrant color from a pigment produced by the hair follicles called melanin. As you age, those hair follicles make less and less melanin, and your hair loses its color. 

The most obvious sign of that decreased amount of melanin: Gray hairs. Graying the hair is a natural, typical sign of aging. What's more, that process may begin earlier in some people than others. Your genetic makeup also partly determines when your hair turns gray, so it's completely normal to notice a couple of gray hairs before your 20s or 30s. 

Here, eight women share stories about when their hair began to turn gray and how they learned to embrace their natural beauty.

Tennille Murphy

42, Los Angeles; influencer at TheTennilleLife.com

First gray: 23 years old

portrait of woman with grey hair , amazing-grays-health-mag-october-2020

Gray-hair journey: I found my first gray right after I had my second daughter. I had mixed emotions. I was embarrassed and frustrated and wasn't ready to embrace it. I'm also naturally curly and have just gotten to a happy place with my curls. When I got one white hair, I cut it out. After two and three, the graying became an official thing. I dyed my hair, but then I noticed my curls were not happy, so I just let it go.

Transitioning tips: I just let time take care of it. In the beginning, I had some white hair in front. After a couple of years, the white spread to my temples; the new hairs were white. It was a gradual progression over time—it took me 20 years to get to this point.

Why I love it: I definitely have a hair crush on my curls. It's a lot to be a naturally curly girl and full-on love your hair, and it's another level to have white curls that don't correlate with your age. But it feels so liberating—it's one thing I don't have to think twice about. It almost feels like a superpower! My hair's not in control of me. I like seeing myself in the mirror and celebrating a simpler, more natural me.

Advice: The number one thing I always tell women is that going gray is very individual and personal. Only you can decide when it's right, and it takes soul-searching. Once you make the commitment, it's OK to back out. You'll see people's eyes go big. Or someone will say something unkind. Or their eyes are on your hair, not your face. If you aren't ready for that type of attention, it's very emotional. Get right with yourself on it. You have to put this little armor on and know that, in the end, it will not be perfect right off the bat. Be patient, love yourself through it, and remember that only you can define your beauty.

Beauty tip: I don't let my hair dictate my makeup or clothes. I just wear what I like—the moment you do is when you have confidence. For example, people have told me they can't believe I wear gold jewelry because they think silver goes better than white hair.

Juliana Sohn

51, Manhattan; photographer

First gray: early 20s

portrait of woman with grey hair , amazing-grays-health-mag-october-2020

Gray-hair journey: I let my hair naturally go gray when I was 45. I'd been dyeing it for years and hated the time and expense of maintaining the color. It felt like losing the battle against nature because I always had roots. Now I never have to think about color and the chemicals I'm adding to my hair, which suits my low-maintenance lifestyle perfectly.

Transitioning tips: It's an incredibly humbling experience. The stark contrast made me feel like I was airing all of my dirty laundry. I would put it up in a bun or ponytail to hide the line where the color changed. But if I were to transition today, I'd dye my hair a fun color, like pink, so it'll be a look when it grows out. 

Why I love it: The comfort of knowing I am being true to my natural self is a huge bonus. I am the youngest I will ever be in my life right now, so why not count my blessings, do what I want, and not be afraid to tackle challenges?

Advice: One thing that did surprise me once I went natural is how many compliments I receive, especially from women. They all say the same thing: how much they love my gray—on me. They'd love to go gray too, but they work in such an ageist field that it'd hurt their career if they stopped coloring their hair. I know we live in an ageist society. Still, instead of going along with it, I always encourage people to challenge norms and let their natural color come through.

Beauty tip: Defined eyebrows are really important. I like using Glossier Boy Brow and a little gold eyeshadow. Wearing heather gray clothes makes me feel washed out, so I wear pinkish-mauve colors—it adds a nice glow.

Ali Thrailkill

40, Brooklyn; hairstylist

First gray: 19 years old

portrait of woman with grey hair , amazing-grays-health-mag-october-2020

Gray-hair journey: I was in college, and I shaved my head. When it grew back in, I was like, "Here we go." I wasn't upset about it. My mom went gray young, so I figured I would as well. Eventually, I became a hairdresser and colored my hair to play around. But even as a hairstylist, it was hard to find the time to finish it. My coworkers would have to stay after work; it was becoming a hassle. I had always kept my hair short, so I cut off all the color when my roots were long enough. I really liked it. It's pretty white, with a lot of pepper, so the contrast is incredible.

Transitioning tips: First, I colored the top and let the sides be white for contrast because my hair was short. I've helped some clients transition into their gray. I'm honest with them that it's a long process. I do heavy lowlights to help break up the roots; then, I do less and less until they can transition.

Advice: I like having an intentional haircut to show people I'm maintaining my physical appearance. I totally understand the apprehension. People are worried about looking too old, and sexism in the workplace is real, so some women want to come across as younger. I've found that clients—and even my mom—when they're natural, they look more fabulous and more confident.

Beauty tip: To avoid looking too monochromatic, I pump up my makeup with a bit of contouring, mascara, blush, and pinkish-red lipstick.

Hitha Palepu

36, Manhattan; entrepreneur

First gray: 16 years old

portrait of woman with grey hair , amazing-grays-health-mag-october-2020

Gray-hair journey: I found my first gray hair when I was 16 years old and spent the next seven years plucking the silver strands from my hair whenever they popped up. I gave in to coloring at 22 and continued for the next 13 years. By turning 30, I was in the salon every four weeks. In the beginning, those visits felt luxuriously indulgent. I would happily sip my tea and read a book as my grays were washed away with dark dye. That didn't last long, and when I was pregnant with my second son at 34, I got into the headband trend to cover the growing gray. During those sleepless early nights with my son Rhaki, I went down Instagram and Pinterest rabbit holes of gray-hair inspiration. Seeing it look powerful and fresh gave me the nudge to embrace my grays once and for all.

Transitioning tips: I wore a knotted headband to cover the growing gray streaks at my hairline. I saw a magazine article on a woman with silver sparkles in her hair, so I tracked down her colorist and asked for something similar. I had about nine months of gray roots. We did a color test; she put charcoal on my longer strands and some temporary dye at my roots, so they blended and grew out nicely.

Why I love it: Despite the initial pressure from the older Indian women in my family to dye it, the gray makes me feel like the woman I want to be versus holding on to the younger woman I was. I run a pharmaceutical company, and the silver hair actually works to my advantage; it distinguishes me. It's more about feeling strong and powerful and less about feeling old or young.

Advice: You'll know the right moment. Six weeks after my second son was born, the silvers grew out, and I thought, "I like this." The little sparkles made me happy, and they kept making me happy. Having a husband who is focused on my happiness and how I would like to spend my time helps.

Beauty tip: Going gray gave me the confidence to ditch a lot of makeup, even pre-COVID-19, and now I also embrace jewel-toned clothes. I bought a bunch of yellow, which would have been too stark with my dark hair.

Denise Harris

51, Brooklyn; personal trainer and Pilates instructor

First gray: late 20s

portrait of woman with grey hair , amazing-grays-health-mag-october-2020

Gray-hair journey: It started with little gray patches by my temples. It wasn't a thing that bothered me—I never considered dyeing it. I'm pretty low-maintenance regarding my hair, and I didn't want to pay to get it done. It happened gradually—I had natural brown, red, gray, and many colors; then, it turned salt-and-pepper. Now I love my gray hair. I actually can't wait for it to be all gray. I get it cut, wash and wrap it at night, and I'm good to go. People ask me, "Why don't you dye it?" I even went on an audition to teach at a friend's Pilates studio. In the end, the hiring manager asked how old I was and told me that it was confusing—my hair, my age, and the fact that I looked young. Let's say that I didn't end up teaching there…my decision.

Transitioning tips: Find a good haircut that accentuates your gray hair. I had a bob, and I felt a little dated, but when I cut a pixie, I felt cool.

Why I love it: It just seems like a part of me—I feel comfortable. It's like an accessory. I've made connections on the train because of it. Another Black woman with gray hair once said, "Welcome to the gang," and now we're friends.

Advice: Try not to care what other people think or when people look at the top of your hair.

Beauty tip: I like wearing white and gray clothing and red lipstick—it makes my gray pop.

Kate Dinota

33, Queens; senior director of social impact at NationSwell

First gray: 7 years old

portrait of woman with grey hair , amazing-grays-health-mag-october-2020

Gray-hair journey: My mom would French-braid my dark brown hair and pluck out my grays at a very young age. In 5th and 6th grade, I remember my best friends picking grays out of my hair. In my freshman year in high school, I dyed my roots every few weeks. I never questioned it—my grandmothers had gray hair when they were 18, so I considered it the circle of life. Then, when I was 28, I went on a trip to Turkey with my husband and some friends. In all of my photos, I had a white stripe. I thought, "Why am I doing this?" I spent three and a half hours in the salon every three to four weeks, and it didn't even look good for very long. I was wasting precious weekends trying to maintain myself. Over 15 years, I spent about $27,000 and 300-plus hours dyeing my hair. I thought, "It's not serving me in any way. It's not bringing me joy." Now I try to be "body-neutral" about my hair. I don't dislike it, but I don't pressure myself to love it. It just happens to be the hair on my head as I move through the world.

Transitioning tips: The first six months are the hardest. I got a head of blond highlights to help the transition and repeated it six months later. I slicked my hair back into a low bun with a side part and put on a red lip. Find a style that works for you, and don't overthink it.

Why I love it: I love the conversations that it starts. We're like unicorns in the wild. People can't believe 20- and 30-year-olds have gray hair. It's not that uncommon; it's just that we've stopped coloring it now. I love the connection with strangers that it's offered me. People say: "It's rare. It's beautiful. I love your hair."

Advice: Ask yourself, "Why are you coloring your hair?" Are you doing it because of societal pressure, or does it serve you? We only have so much energy, especially nowadays—is that what you want to use yours on? Prepare yourself mentally, be patient, and give yourself some grace.

Beauty tip: I elevate my skin-care routine.

Deborah Maltby

68, Brooklyn; adjunct associate teaching professor of English, University of Missouri–St. Louis

First gray: 20-something

portrait of woman with grey hair , amazing-grays-health-mag-october-2020

Gray-hair journey: I was in college and would see a silver strand here and there—I just plucked them out. My mother told me that my grandmother had white hair in her late 20s, so I wasn't surprised. Then, when I was in my 30s and more gray, it never occurred to me to not dye it—I went to the salon and got it colored. In my mid-50s, I got light brown highlights to brighten up my black hair. On one occasion, another stylist interfered, and it got really blond. It wasn't me, but it was interesting. It turned brassy, so I put toner on it. And when it dried, it was silvery and looked really nice. When my go-to stylist left the salon, I just decided to stop coloring.

Transition tips: The color-depositing conditioner Overtone Pastel Silver Coloring Conditioner helped me blend the new growth with my dyed hair, and my curls disguised the line of demarcation. I grew it longer so I could pull it up—around my face would be silvery. It took about two years to complete the transition.

Why I love it: I have very thick, curly, difficult-to-manage hair, but despite that, now that it's silver, I love my hair more than I ever have in my life. It looks like I paid a lot of money for highlights. It's so much softer and in better shape.

Advice: Just do it! You can always tweak it later. I bet you'll be pleasantly surprised by what it looks like. And for those who say it'll make you look older... older than what? I am older. But I've learned it's not just about your hair: If you have a positive attitude, good posture, and a good smile and are an interesting person enjoying life, you'll look young and vibrant.

Beauty tip: I joined the Curly Silvers Facebook group, which helped me learn about techniques and products to complement gray hair.

Suzan Colòn

57, Jersey City; author and meditation teacher

First gray: 23 years old

portrait of woman with grey hair , amazing-grays-health-mag-october-2020

Gray-hair journey: After experimenting with every color in my 20s and early 30s, I started coloring my hair close to my natural dark brown. Back then, to go gray was like letting yourself go—it was viewed as giving up. I met my husband-to-be on a yoga retreat 15 years ago. He has a very sensitive nose, and one night, when we were dating, he said, "Whoa! Why does your hair smell like chemicals?" I confessed that I'd just colored my hair. He asked me what was under the hair color, and I told him I had no idea. He said, "Why don't we find out?" In love and always adventurous with my hair, I said OK. I let the grays come in. I walked down the aisle with two inches of gray strands intertwined with still-dyed hair. I went full-on gray but then colored it back because of how I was perceived at my job. People could not take their eyes off of it, so I thought maybe this wasn't a good idea and went to a salon. I had it colored a chestnut brown and thought, "Who am I fooling?" I didn't look younger; I looked boring. So I grew it out again. I got a bad haircut, which forced me into a pixie and sped up the process.

Transitioning tips: I put on a little brown hair mascara to help camouflage the cutoff line and blend my white hair with my brown. I focused on my style instead of my color. I went extra glam so people knew I was doing this on purpose. I had a long bob with waves and a sexy swoop over my eye.

Why I love it: I now have no dye on my hair at all—the strategic streaks are a gift of nature. For me, embracing my silver was easy—it's a statement about loving the way I am. Going gray is one of some women's biggest fears; they wonder if it's attractive. But if you feel good, it doesn't matter what your hair looks like; people will gravitate toward that.

Advice Being gray is like a punk-rock move for middle-aged ladies; it goes against the grain of conventional beauty and shows I'm not ashamed of my age. I'm not trying to pass for younger. I want to look my best, not look other than what I am.

Beauty tip: Blush is your friend—you don't want to be a blank page. I even put a slight blush along my browbones.

A Quick Review

Although gray hair is a hallmark sign of aging, as your hair follicles make decreased amounts of melanin, it's completely normal to notice a couple of gray hairs during your 20s or 30s.

And despite society's beauty standards, you shouldn't have to hide your gray hair to feel beautiful. Take it from these eight women: Don't feel ashamed for embracing your natural beauty.

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Sources
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  1. National Library of Medicine. Aging changes in hair and nails.

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