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The Politics of Going Gray

by March 20, 2019

How to go gray gracefully

Image by Madison Reed

There’s no shame in the gray hair game these days—everyone from Instagram darlings Maye Musk to Diane Keaton to Jane Fonda are flaunting full tinsel locks. Going fully gray goes against past hair color conventions; now, embracing silver is a way to make yourself stand out. Celebrities like Lady Gaga and Rihanna have even experimented with shades of gray in their 30’s. If you're curious about rocking gray hair, read on to find out how to transition to and maintain beautiful gray locks...

The Causes of Gray Hair Are...a Gray Area

Contrary to popular belief, gray hair is not a direct result of a single stressor—it more likely has to do with normal aging and genetics. (Look to your mother and grandmother for a good gauge.) Chronic stress as a source of silver has been mostly refuted, but the science isn’t certain just yet. Some medical conditions and lifestyle habits, however, such as smoking and diet do play a role.

Hair contains a pigment called melanin that lives in your hair cells. As your hair follicles age, they produce less melanin, resulting in gray or silver hair and eventually white hair. And no, plucking your grays won’t keep them at bay (nor will three hairs emerge in the place of one removed). Once the melanin is gone, it’s gone forever.

The History and Perception of Gray Hair

People have been covering their grays as far back as Ancient Egypt when vegetable henna was used to color hair. The Ancient Egyptians apparently hated gray hair so much that they even dyed it after death. This was true for both men and women; since then, and particularly in American culture, men have progressively been “allowed” to go gray. The first at-home hair color was launched in 1909 and marketed to women, often with a heavy dose of gray-shaming. One print ad from the 1940’s led with the headline, “Losing Friends! (because your hair is gray?).” This double standard has only grown stronger with the idea that gray-haired men are distinguished silver foxes—think George Clooney and Anderson Cooper—while women going gray is somehow an alternative choice. 

While it’s true that gray hair has traditionally been synonymous with age, that perception is slowly changing. This shift is much needed. After all, some people notice their first gray hair as early as their teens and 20s, and typically most people start going gray in their mid-30s—hardly “old age.” Let us pause for a moment and say there is NOTHING wrong with getting older, either! Age is a luxury. The recent trend of dyeing hair milky shades of gray and silver has helped destigmatize the look. Gray hair color has gone from dreaded to desired, from tinsel to trendy.

Going Gray is a Gradual Process

If you’re ready to embrace the hue, there are several ways to go gray gracefully. The path you choose depends on your starting hair color and where your grays are located. Gray hair can come in sporadically spread throughout your head or in patches, typically at the temples or the hairline.

For blonde hair going gray, one way to make the transition is by blending your silver strands with blonde ones. Try our Light Works® Balayage Highlighting Kit to paint on lighter strands. It’s a low-maintenance way to stretch your blonde. Light Works will lighten or “lift” up to 3 levels on color-treated hair, and up to 4 levels on hair that has not been previously color-treated. Your results will vary depending on how light or dark your current color is, and whether you currently have color-treated hair.

Applying Light Works highlights

For darker shades, one option is to gradually dye your hair lighter shades until the gray grows in. Keep in mind that may take years, depending on your desired hair length. Note that hair generally grows 1/2 an inch a month. If your hair is natural and not currently color treated, you can safely lift your hair two shades lighter using Radiant Hair Color.

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Of course, the other option is the most obvious—go gray naturally without covering any of it. This is a particularly great option if you’re one of the lucky ones whose grays spread out evenly through dark hair for a coveted salt-and-pepper look. 

Creative hairstyles, such as braids and buns, can be a beautiful way to show off the blending of shades during the transition from color-treated hair to natural gray. While women often opt for short hair for easier maintenance and to achieve full gray faster, longer hairstyles are an option and look just as fabulous.

How to Go Gray Gracefully: 3 Tips

Polish Your Silver

Just because you’ve gone au naturel doesn’t mean you get to ignore your locks. Keeping your hair shiny and healthy-looking at any age (and any hair color) requires maintenance. While your hair might feel coarser and thicker as it grays, it’s typically drier (and sometimes finer), thanks to the lack of oil production when your hair loses its melanin. So, when going gray it’s important to condition and nourish it regularly.  Use a sulfate-free shampoo likeColor Protecting Shampoo to gently cleanse your hair (bonus: the UV protectant helps counteract harsh sun, which can discolor that pretty gray hue), and aColor Protecting Conditioner to nourish it. Try a deep conditioner once a week, or simply leave your usual conditioner on for 10 minutes for an impromptu treat. It’s also a good idea to brush your hair a few times throughout the day to distribute the natural oils from the scalp to the ends, which, in turn, will boost radiance.

Madison Reed Color Protecting Shampoo and Conditioner


Have you noticed your gray hair feels more textured? Treat it as a positive—you might find that your hair suddenly holds a curl or wave better. Pro tip: avoid using hot tools too often, as the heat can dull the color and cause breakage. When it comes to styling, lightweight products will be your best friend to tame frizz. Maintain shine and neutralize yellow tones with Color Reviving Gloss in Crema, a violet color made specifically for blonde and gray tones.

Going gray gracefully: before and after picture

Keep it Trim

We’re not talking length, but however long or short you prefer your hair, make sure to get regular trims to prevent split ends and frizz. We love a cut with clean, streamlined edges on gray hair, but honestly, good hair isn’t as much about the cut and color as it is about confidence.

The Silver Lining

Gray hair is striking and beautiful but requires a little extra maintenance to make it really pop. If you decide to forgo your gray shade, we’ve got your grays covered with Radiant Hair Color; for full coverage, there’s a special formula for resistant grays. Whether it’s a fun experiment or a badge of honor (go team #grayhairdontcare), gray hair is beautiful and should be celebrated.


Originally published: 3/20/2019

Updated: 6/28/2021