Hooray for gray!Print story

Colorado Springs, Colo. — Once upon a time, women would curse their gray hair and reach for the dye to cover it up.
Or they’d eventually cave in and drench themselves in that ghastly purplish-blue rinse — the one that turns the shade of the Rocky Mountains at dusk. It was like the mark of the old age beast.
But with salt falling on their heads like a blizzard, baby boomers are, as usual, opting to do it their way. So long, stigma, hello gray.
It’s a fashion statement showing up more and more, even in Hollywood (think of a classy-looking Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” or the radiant Helen Mirren at the Oscars).
“Baby boomers aren’t afraid. They led the way in coloring hair and now that they are older, they don’t hesitate not to color their hair either,” says Greg Chavez, owner of J.Gregory, an upscale Colorado Springs, Colo., salon.
Making sense of silver
Why is that gray showing up in your hair?
Hair gets its color from melanin, a pigment found in the hair shaft. There are two types of melanin pigments — those that are dark and those that are lighter, which mix together to give you your hair color.
Scientists aren’t sure what happens to trigger gray hair, but they theorize that hair follicles have a “melanogentic” clock that slows down over years until the melanin is replaced by colorless air bubbles.
Genetics plays a part in when this happens.
It is estimated that people gray 10 percent to 20 percent every decade after age 30.
Source: American Academy of Dermatology; .
Greg (he uses only his first name professionally) and other stylists are even telling their baby boomer customers to flaunt their gray hair, even though they could make zillions of dollars covering up the gray every few weeks.
“Keeping the gray out is just too much trouble for most women,” says Hillary Hand, a hair professional at J.Gregory.
Gray hair is coarse, and although color products are a lot better than they used to be, it is hard to cover the gray — and keep it covered. It takes frequent trips to the salon to avoid looking as if a skunk were walking down your part line.
Besides, gray hair is like a trophy, showing off a woman’s wisdom, confidence and elegance, Hand says.
“It’s beautiful, and it is less maintenance” Greg says. “But you have to have a young hairdo to go with it, so it doesn’t look like those old, set waves.”
Marcia Wurm, 51, who works at Rich Designs Home in Colorado Springs, says she is stopped on the street by women wanting to know how she got her fabulous color. Turns out, she didn’t do anything: It’s naturally gray.
“I got sick of coloring it. I didn’t know how much gray I had, so I cut my hair shorter and shorter as I let the gray grow out,” she says.
Colleen Rodman, 55, who works in sales, used to color her hair but was persuaded to go gray.
“My stylist told me, `You don’t have to do this anymore.’ I trusted her.” Now she gets raves from acquaintances because she lets her gray show.
How do you care for gray hair?
It can be tricky because gray hair has a stiffer texture than hair with color, and hair shafts thin out, so your usual routine may not work as well.
Some tips:
• Gray hair is usually more unruly, so use hair-care products that will tame those locks. A good conditioner is a must, as are gels that will give it style.
• A good haircut is essential — one that will highlight your natural tones, whether they are white or pewter or silver.
• When you wash your hair, give your scalp a good massage. It not only feels heavenly, it stimulates blood vessels that feed the hair follicles.
• Do as mom told you: Eat your vegetables. A good diet with essential vitamins and protein can give hair a healthful look.
Source: J.Gregory Salon; .
Of course, lots of women still color their gray, and will continue to do so. But with gray becoming more of a fashion statement, it opens up their options.
“I think women do what works best for them. Some color their hair and that looks good,” Rodman says. “But I think we have a lot more leeway, since society is more accepting now of gray.”
If your hair is more than 75 percent gray, you should just let it go, Greg says. But that can be a problem; some women don’t have any idea how much gray they have because they have colored their hair for so many years. The roots on the crown are often more gray than the rest of the hair, so it can be hard to tell just how gray you are without letting it grow a bit.
If you want to go gray, how do you avoid that incriminating color demarcation as it grows out? Weave other colors and highlights into it, Greg says.
Kris Faricy, 58, owner of Hayden-Hays Art Gallery, uses two colors with her natural gray: blond highlights and golden lowlights. She likes to keep some blond in her hair because it goes better with her skin tone. And she doesn’t like the idea of monochromatic hair without some interest and sparkle.
Greg suggests that women who want to go gray talk to their hairstylist about it. If the stylist isn’t savvy about how to do it or willing to give up coloring your hair, find someone who is, he says.