How I’m learning to embrace my gray areas

When people talk about “gray areas,” they’re typically speaking of the places they want to avoid. Or, maybe that’s just me. At least it was, until recently.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a photo on Instagram that shows how much gray hair I have. I haven’t been able to get it colored because the pandemic has kept me inside and out of my stylist’s chair.

If I’m being honest, it was something I was a little unsure about sharing initially. I mean, allowing nature to take its course isn’t always as easy as it sounds, especially when the end result is a head full of gray hair.

To my surprise, the response was overwhelmingly positive. I got comments like:

  • “It looks fantastic!”
  • “Loveee it.”
  • “Your hair is beautiful.”

But to be fair, there were those who were a little less excited too:

  • “U look great. I cannot do it.”
  • “I will be getting my black back very soon.”
  • “At least one of us can embrace our grey. It’s a black rinse for me.”

As I shared in that post, it wasn’t that I was afraid I couldn’t love my hair this way. I was afraid that I would. It sounds strange, I know. But for me, I had equated the loss of hair pigment with the loss of youth. How wrong I was.

For those who may not know, gray hair results from a loss of pigment, commonly known as melanin. The two types of pigments: dark (eumelanin) and light (phaeomelanin) blend together to make up the wide range of hair colors that begin to form even before we’re born.

While age and genetics play a role, the exact reason why hair goes gray is still a mystery. And the rate at which it occurs is almost as inexplicable. For some people, the process starts in their 20s and 30s while others don’t see the first signs of gray until they’re well into their 40s.

What’s known for sure is that your chances of going gray increase 10-20% every decade after the age of 30. Some scientists even believe that certain environmental and metabolic conditions like thyroid dysfunction and exposure to toxins also should be taken into consideration as possible contributors to the loss of hair color.

Fortunately, for many older women like me, access to products and information geared specifically toward caring for and maintaining gray hair, has opened the door to a number of new style options. I’ll be sharing more about that in a later post.

Today’s gray-haired lady looks a lot different than she has in the past. No longer is she the matronly figure we may be accustomed to in our mind’s eye. She’s the woman who sees herself as vivacious, spunky and proud to flaunt rather than hide her gray hair. For the women who opt to let Mother Nature have her way, the choice to go gray can be a very personal one.

But, make no mistake, no more appointments for hair color at the local salon does not equate to being maintenance-free. Generally speaking, gray hair remains just as strong as hair that has retained its color. The big difference is that there are fewer lubricants in the hair shaft. This occurs naturally as oil-producing cells in the hair follicle begin to decrease with time. The result is hair that feels brittle to the touch and can be quicker to break as a result of normal combing and brushing.

I’ve noticed that the texture of my gray hair is completely different from the hair that has retained its pigment. My grays can be difficult to style sometimes because they don’t hold onto moisture as long and can be downright uncooperative when it comes to getting it to respond to certain products.

To keep my pigment-free locks looking healthy and feeling soft to the touch, I deep condition my hair – something I haven’t always consistently done – and use a leave-in on a regular basis. Additionally, I’ve incorporated curl creams into my styling routine to help lock in some extra hydration.

The key is to choose a treatment and hair care routine that’s right for you. And, if needed, consult with a professional stylist for tips on how to embrace the gray areas.

 

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