The Biggest Lessons from Going Gray in My 30's
Updated: Jul 22
I am Latina and Middle Eastern. Let’s just say, I grew up with a strong identity of long, dark black hair, thick eyebrows that needed threading every two weeks, and body hair by the plentiful. It was only when I started going gray that I realized how much of a grasp my black hair had on my identity. Life used to be relatively simple; a quick, thoughtless response when the Department of Motor Vehicles asked for my age, height, eye color and hair color.
I started going gray at 16. Despite the responses of “you can’t be going gray—you’re only [fill in the blank on young age],” I was in fact going gray. It was slow at first, one strand here or there. I never got into dying my hair growing up, even as a fashion statement. My sisters would experiment with rad colors at the hair salon-- blues, pinks greens, blonde. I always loved my naturally mid-night black hair and the compliments associated with it.
It became evident that my roots were going gray in my late 20s and now 30s. I did what I thought I was supposed to do -- hide it at all cost. I started purchasing box dye every 3 weeks to cover my roots. Besides the amount of time and effort it took, I also felt the burn of my scalp with box dye and professional dyes. Was this my new reality? I also began wondering if the dye was in any way impacting my health. I found research about chemical hair straighteners and permanent hair dyes, which opened my eyes to the reality of what I was putting on my skin more largely. In September 2019, I was headed on a weekend trip to New York City and decided to just stop dying my hair and see what happens. I would say I am more “salt and pepper” than completely silver at this point in my transition. Here are six of my biggest lessons so far:
(1) There are no quick solutions to covering or easing into gray/silver hair: I did experiment with some natural hair dyes (which did work somewhat at the roots). I also tried henna (which did not work for my gray hair). I even bought some sprays and powders at CVS and Amazon to “cover” grays in the beginning. I went to a professional who promised light silver highlights (which did not work and ended up being blonde-ish). The point is that there is no quick fix or easy transition into gray hair. It is a slow process. I guess that is why they call it a “gray hair transition.” With any transition of life, it is a period of changing from one state to another. Knowing your “why” and seeing other women who have gone gray provides inspiration in the meantime.
(2) People have their own perceptions of what gray or silver hair means: I was surprised how many men and women commented on my process (solicited and unsolicited). I think the solicited comments actually hurt more. When I dug deeper with people who had resistance to gray hair, it was interesting to see that they had stories about being shamed at different parts of their life for having a gray hair pop up. There is also a strong feeling people have with gray hair and the aging process. I had to face what “aging gracefully” means to me, and step into a confidence I did not know I would gain from standing my ground.
(3) You have to develop a strong “why”: There will be some people who totally get it. There will be others who will tell you their unsolicited opinions. I realized pretty quickly I have to really understand my own “why” so I could feel comfortable answering or not answering people about my transition. I recognized that there were still some unresolved issues within myself that was emerging outward when people said silly comments. Once I explored the questions of “what does this mean to you?” and “why are you doing this?” it made it easier to show up to family events or a friend get together with confidence. At the end of the day, it is always your choice how you respond to a question. You have the choice if you even want to respond.
(4) You may have to shed an identity (or two): I always thought I was a bad-ass feminist, and could handle anything to do with rebelling against traditional beauty standards. Well, I was wrong. I felt some guilt around having a tough time letting go of my black strands. When I spoke with other women, many of us have physical identities that we carry with us, both uplifting and restrictive identities. Some people love their ruby red hair. Some love their tight curls. Some love their natural hair transition. Some people feel liberated when they cut off all their hair. Some love their buzz cut. Some love their long locks. I do not judge anyone for having these identities. Rather, I ask people to stop and think about what identities they might have strong associations with. I am still the same woman, just with some salt sprinkled in my pepper hair. I have to say that I feel a strongly with my new identity of having silver strands. Maybe identities are not a bad thing, as long as you know why you relate to them.
(5) There will be bad hair days: Just like with your normal hair routine, there will be days you wake up and cringe a bit at the gray hair or have trouble finding a hairstyle to work the new strands. The way gray hair receives products and heat is different than non-gray strands. Trying new hairstyles or haircuts can be a huge help as your hair grows out.
(6) You need to give time to see the pattern in your hair: I got professional highlights after only 1 month into it to try to lessen the blow. I think a better approach is to wait 6 months and see what pattern your hair comes in. For example, I am mostly going grey only in two patches on the sides of my head (think bride of Frankenstein).
I am not saying I will never dye my hair again, but I would think long and hard before I did it and question my reasons for doing so. I found an untapped part of myself—a new way of being that requires me to embrace myself as a I grow older. In the meantime, I am truly loving the adventure and accepting my new hair colors.