The Greying Of America… Or At Least Of One Particular Head In America

Some time back, I proudly declared, “as long as I had a checkbook, my hair would not be grey.“ (http://www.terrilabonte.com/2016/11/the-anti-frump/) I have been coloring my hair since I was sixteen and I could not imagine a time when I would be abandoning that practice.

Recently, something happened that made me question my stance on applying toxic chemicals to my head.  My scalp started to itch. 

If I am absolutely honest and face the facts, it was happening for several months.  I go to the hair salon every four weeks or so.  I’d come out of the salon, feeling sassy and stylish, but also scratchy.  At first, it only lasted a day or so after my salon visit and I didn’t notice it much.  I thought it was a fluke.  As the months progressed, the itchiness seemed to last longer and longer.  It also seemed to get more intense, urgent, and severe.  I scratched my scalp like a dog with fleas bites her coat.  The discomfort was getting harder to ignore.  I thought about what could be causing the issue, but didn’t think about the hair coloring.  I’d been coloring my hair so long, I almost forgot that it was an unnatural process.  I was also doing a keratin treatment to make my unruly hair more sleek, straight, and manageable.  While that wasn’t anything new, it was certainly newer than the hair color. I decided to try discontinuing the keratin treatment to see if that solved the itchies.  It did help a little, but I was still scratching more than socially acceptable when it was time to go back to the hairdresser. 

I realized, with growing horror, that I might be having a reaction to hair dye.  As I said, I have been dying my hair for years with no apparent ill effects.  Still, I know people can develop allergies over time.  I scoured the internet looking for a solution.  I talked to my hairdresser.  There did not appear to be any remedy except to swear off coloring my hair.  I found that idea so distasteful, I could barely talk about the possibility.  My hairdresser sketched out an exit plan for me to stop the coloring with the least amount of angst, but it boiled down to her proclaiming, “no matter what, it is a process.”  You see, if I stop dying my hair, not only do I have to deal with my real color (which is presumably two shades greyer than “old”), but I will have to endure many, many months of the oh-so-attractive “skunk look” that happens when my roots become visible. 

I told my hairdresser that I wasn’t ready to stop coloring my hair just yet.  For one thing, I was getting ready to leave on vacation and I figured I could put my head through the chemical wash again in order to ensure one more batch of vacation pictures in which I did not look like something the cat dragged home.  It was in the back of my mind, though, that I would probably have to start that “process” my hairdresser so appealingly described at some point in the near future.

As it turned out, my itchies disappeared.  I am not sure why it got better.  I changed conditioners at home and went back to using the heat protection cream I discontinued using some months ago.  I’m not sure if that was the solution. I typically was most itchy right after the salon, where they presumably coated my hair with every luxurious potion known to woman given the price I was paying. Whatever the reason, I am pleased to report that my scalp is no longer itchy. 

The whole episode did start me thinking, though.  What was it about the notion of going grey that was so repellent?  Why was I willing to suffer constant, desperate itching… to say nothing of whatever other health risks I undertake when I let toxic chemicals seep into my skull… simply to avoid it? 

It isn’t that I think gray hair is intrinsically unattractive.  I see woman all the time who have gorgeous silver and gray locks.  They still look polished and youthful by taking good care of their hair. It isn’t the fact that my hair has always been the only aspect of my looks to which anyone could remotely apply the term “pretty.”  I never felt that some reasonably attractive hair could overcome the general unattractiveness of my appearance.  Being vain about my hair would come under the heading of “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”  I can certainly leave the deck chairs be.  It isn’t even the months or years of “skunk look” during the growing out phase that terrifies me.  That is a self-limiting condition and will eventually pass.

I think what really bothers me is that, if I stop coloring my hair, I won’t look like “me” anymore.  It is not that I am afraid that the person in the mirror will look old.  I am afraid the person in the mirror will look unfamiliar.  Will I think about myself differently when I see the grey hair?  Will I behave differently?  Will other people see me anymore or will they just see grey hair? 

I know that the answer to all these questions is probably “it depends.”  I think the answers are probably at least partially within my control.  Maybe I should not be spending so much time wondering about whether these things will happen and spend more time on figuring out how to prevent them from happening.  The truth is, I am the same person whether I have brown hair or grey.  If I want the world to believe that, it is up to me to do some marketing of myself.  More importantly, if I want to believe it, it is up to me to develop a sufficiently strong sense of self to withstand the greying of my hair. 

When we discussed this subject before, many of you mentioned that you were fine with your grey hair.  Did any of you “go grey” after years of coloring your hair?  What obstacles or difficulties did you face?  How did you overcome then?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Have a silver day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

9 thoughts on “The Greying Of America… Or At Least Of One Particular Head In America”

  1. I have experienced severe, maddening scalp itchiness after getting my hair dyed. It was increasing with every hair appointment, having never noticed this up north. My FL hairdresser asked what product line my VT hairdresser used, voicing her concern that this was an evolving PPD allergy. One thing I learned was that some stylists put sweet n low in the hair dye to calm down itching, but this likely masks symptoms of a PPD allergy, which can progress to anaphylaxis. Florida water interacts differently with hair and skin, I’ve learned as my hairdresser has said. She ONLY uses PPD free dye on me now and adds another anti-itch product “pro dot” in with it too. I am happy to report no itching and can choose to dye away! I am thinking about going natural (gray) as well one day, though I thought it was going to be immediately until we figured this out.

    1. I didn’t know that PPD free was an option! I asked my hair stylist if there were other brands we could try and she said they just had the one. I might need to look for another place if the itchies attack again!

  2. I grayed very early and started coloring my hair at about age 40. I am now 79. About 12 years ago I decided to let it go natural. It was somewhat difficult but made easier by going very short and using first highlights and then lowlights to break things up. Eventually I went completely natural and it turned out to be completely white…snowy, white. I was startled every time I looked in the mirror. I have a very fair complexion so I looked completely washed out. I see some people with white hair who are not so fair and they look great. After about a year I colored it again and have been ever since. But now that I am getting on up there in age I am considering going white again. Might as well celebrate my old age. However I have a young face and most people think I am in my sixties so I don’t know. And should that really matter to me? But it seems to. I just wish it were salt and pepper or silvery gray… but solid white is weird.

    1. Thanks for your perspective. How frustrating to go through that whole process to go natural and then going back to hair coloring. I don’t know why we care, either, but I do care, also.

  3. Good morning, my friend

    I have never colored my hair so do not have any ideas of what to do for it. Sorry. My hair is about all gray now and not to bad.

    Later,

    Lois

  4. I had that problem for a while, but I went back to an Aveda salon and it’s gone. A friend in the salon industry told me the Aveda dyes don’t hold up as well, but I’ve had fine luck with them and my scalp doesn’t itch.

    As for going gray, as soon as my roots are the lovely white that my mom attained in her 70’s, I’ll consider it. Right now, the roots tell a tale of dull brown with gray bits. Not ready for that look yet. 🙂

    1. I am very much afraid that my roots are simply grey and are no longer brown at all. It is hard to tell. I’ve been coloring my hair for so long, I tend to forget that what is under the color has been changing over time. I don’t feel quite ready to go with the grey yet, but some of the feedback I have had in response to this blog post has me considering it. As we say in the south, I may be “fixin’ to get ready to” start the process.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *