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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a silver day!