NaturallyCurly member Gladys has beautiful silver hair.
When Bernadette Madonna (CurlTalker B-Wavy) first started going gray, she would pluck the little rebels out one by one.
As more silver strands popped up, that task became more difficult. But after hair color turned her natural dark brown hair a shade of orange ginger, she decided to stop dying it. She has been dye-free for more than a year and couldn't be happier.
"I consider myself a pretty low-maintenance kind of woman, and was really unhappy with the time, expense and 'ick' factor of dying my hair," says Madonna of Sandy Hook, Va. Madonna is one of a growing number of women who are opting to go silver, white and gray.
Curl guru Lorraine Massey calls women like this silver sirens, and she's seeing more of them at her Devachan Soho salon these days. She said they typically are women who found themselves returning to the salon every three weeks for color. "We have a load of silver sirens, and some of them are young," Massey says. Women decide to let their hair go gray for variety of reasons, at different points in their lives.
"It's by default that I'm growing out my gray because I can't afford color," says 36-year-old Beth Murschell of Bradenton, Florida, who has about two inches of gray at the scalp. But she says she's conflicted. "I love the idea of healthy, natural hair but don't want people to assume I'm older," she says. "I'm trying to think of my gray hair as a positive thing."
For most people who make the decision, it's because of they are fed up with the demarcation line of their gray hair and the colored hair, and the time and effort it takes to color it. "They get regrowth so quickly, and it's a pain in the neck to color so often," said Jonathan Torch of the Curly Hair Institute. Going gray shouldn't be viewed as throwing in the towel. For many women, silver curls can be flattering. "Gray hair is absolutely beautiful," Torch says. "There are some people I would never suggest color their hair because I can't think of a color that could look better."
Going gray gracefully takes some preparation -- mentally and physically. For many, the "two-tone" phase -- usually the first three months -- is especially intimidating. Some stylists recommend switching from a permanent to a semi- or demi-permanent haircolor to make the process easier as it grows out because it can blend the gray and provide some variation in tone.
Ben Stewart, color director at Cutler Salons in New York, said he likes to do some low lighting when the gray has grown in around two inches. These would be streaks of color as close to the natural haircolor as possible.
Torch uses a similar technique that breaks up the gray demarcation line by weaving in some hair color through the roots. He weaves the color through only 35 percent of the hair -- just enough to break up the line. As the gray regrowth gets longer, he might do the same technique again, this time on only 10 percent of the hair. At some point, he'll recommend a shorter cut to remove the remaining artificial color. "Sooner or later, it has to be cut off," he says. "But you don't have to jump in and cut it right away."
When a client is considering going gray, Massey initially likes to leave a section of hair in the front gray so the customer can adjust to the look. Or she may let the part underneath grow out while coloring the rest. "If you're really up for it, cut it off," Massey says.
Gray hair tends to be dryer, and may have a life of its own. Moisture is especially important to keep the curls bouncy. Use a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner. But you might need less conditioner than you used to use because gray hair tends to be less damaged than colored hair.
Shine is key for gray hair because it tends to be transparent. It can look thinner and frizzier if it's dull. Torch likes to use Curl Keeper on his gray clients to enhance their shine.
It can also be challenging to find hair products that won't yellow the hair. Many stylists recommend violet-toned shampoos to brighten up the hair and remove yellow tones.
The texture may change when you go gray. Judi Kramer of San Francisco says her silver hair is curlier and dry, while her brown hair was oily and wavy. "The gray hair has taken on a life of its own," Kramer says. "I had to change everything."
Madonna had a similar experience when she began going gray. "My grays happen to be a beautiful shade of shiny, silvery-gray, but they are much more wiry and kinky than the rest of my hair," she says. "They have minds of their own! They also have a tendency to boing out from the rest of the pack in a most uncontrollable fashion."
"As I learn more about caring for my waves and curls in general, the grays are beginning to play a bit more nicely with the browns. But I've also learned to accept the grays as they are. If they really want to boing, I just let them boing." The best advice she has it to "embrace your gray hair in all of its glory, just as it is."
"Experiment with techniques and products, and learn how to work with the gray rather than trying to conquer it and make it behave a certain way." For some, the decision to go gray may be gradual taking several decades. Kramer says she began getting her first gray hairs when she was 16. She colored it through her 20s and early 30s, going blonde, then red. By her late 30s, her hair was salt and pepper. Now in her 50s, Kramer's hair is a beautiful silver. With her fair skin, she said it "all works."
"If you allow it to happen in a gradual way, it's a much easier transition," Kramer says. "You can learn to love it."When she broaches the subject of coloring her hair now with colorists, they all say "Don't touch your hair."
"I always get compliments on my hair color," Kramer says.