To Gray or Not to Gray? The Great Gray Hair Debate

Short Hair Cut Picture
Alexandra after she chopped her hair to grow our her grays.

Going gray is something that many of us will face. When will it happen? And what will we do about it when it does?

Welcome to The Gray Hair Debate.

A friend once said to me, with a nod to Shakespeare, “To gray or not to gray, that is the question?” And indeed, that is the question that many men and women are confronted with daily.

In my case, I was 27 years old. I could no longer ignore the gray hairs that were growing in. I was a new mother and on top of all of the changes my body had just experienced, I couldn’t believe that I also had greys. I have dark brown hair, so it was noticeable to me (although probably not to others yet).

My natural reaction was to pluck them out, as I wasn’t going to let a little old wives’ tail that two would grow back in its place stop me. I don’t recommend doing this as I learned you can damage the follicle, and hair may not grow back. Soon enough, my one or two lone grays started turning into a small streak. That was when I decided I was ready to take action and start dying my grays. 

Rogue from X-Men cartoon sitting on ground

After my first color, I was so excited to finally be able to part my hair any way I wanted to and to pull my hair back in a ponytail without a large grey streak running through it. My time as Rogue from X-Men had come to an end.

Of course, a few weeks later I found out that we were PCSing overseas to Naples, Italy. 

As a military spouse, finding a new hairdresser is another one of those inconveniences that comes along with relocating every two to three years. Scared that the language barrier might prohibit me from communicating my coloring needs overseas, I reached out to one of my mom’s friends who was a hairdresser. The next time I went home for a visit, she colored my hair and sent me packing with the tools and instructions to dye my own hair for a while. I spent the next year coloring my own roots until my friend introduced me to an Italian hairdresser who I eventually trusted her enough to color my hair. As our OCONUS tour was ending, we prepared to move again. 

Alexandra at sitting in a hair salon waiting to get her hair done.
Waiting to get my hair done at my hair salon in Metairie, Louisiana.

Our next PCS brought us to New Orleans, Louisiana. Once back stateside, I was relieved to find another trustworthy and talented hair stylist through a New Orleans Moms Community Group.  At that time, I also discovered root cover up sprays for temporarily concealing your roots as they grow in. I finally had a great routine down with a stylist I loved, and then a solution to cover up the grays in between. 

Fast forward to 33. I noticed a lot more stray grays coming in, and I went from dying one streak of grays to covering strays all over my head. This came with more upkeep as my hair color would fade in the summer months due to being outside so much. I started to become more exhausted by my hair maintenance routine two years into our tour in the Big Easy. 

While in New Orleans, I befriended some amazing women who were doing what I thought at the time was the unthinkable: embracing gray hair in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.

This is when I started to question why I felt the need to dye my grey hair. Especially since my grays were sparse, minus my former Rogue like streak.

Picture of woman with gray hair
Mom friend with gray hair.

I finally admitted that there were likely two reasons that I felt the need to color my hair:

1) I was a high school teacher, and I was worried what my social media obsessed students would think and say if they realized a 30-something was going gray.

2) I really thought that my Puerto Rican and Dominican mother, of blessed memory, would be mortified if I didn’t dye my hair.

According to Amelia María de la Luz Montes, “Race and culture can influence the decision to dye, says Montes, who identifies as Chicana. For example, dark hair can be an important part of Latina identity, a type of cultural marker, says Montes, 60”. It was very helpful to understand that I wasn’t crazy for feeling that my Latina roots were pulling me towards wanting to color my actual roots.

But what if there was an alternative?

Around this time, my mother-in-law in her early 60s asked me about letting her natural gray hair grow in instead of maintaining highlights to cover them up. The old me was tempted to say, “Of course keep dying your hair if you want to!” But then I had an idea. I suggested she grow out her grays and see if she liked it, and if she didn’t she could return to dying her hair. After all, there are a lot of benefits to not dying your hair, such as the cost, the damage done to your hair, and the time required to maintain your color.

Then I thought to myself, how can I give this advice to my MIL but not follow it myself? So in January 2019, I chopped my hair and decided to embrace my grays. 

Alexandra holds her ponytail after cutting her hair short.
January 2019 when I chopped my hair and began growing out my grays.

Little did I know that 14 months later with the arrival of COVID-19, I would be so glad that I had already made the choice to grow out my gray roots. As you have probably seen throughout the pandemic, growing out gray hair after coloring it can be quite a feat. Thankfully, I didn’t have to panic that I couldn’t go to my salon for a root touch up. Embracing my grays was such a relief!

When non-essential businesses closed down for months, even celebrities had gray roots showing in pics or videos they posted on social media. While some women took to dying their own hair at home, others decided to grow their gray roots out.

As someone who has both covered my roots and then grown out my grays, I can say that there is no right or wrong choice or an easy way to decide what you want. We are all trying to figure out what we want in life and there is so much pressure to look a certain way. For some women, it’s the pressure of concealing their gray hair; for others, it’s losing weight or wearing the most fashionable clothes and accessories.

Daughter kissing mother's cheek
Last family photo shoot in DC, 2020 with my greys on display.

I am really glad that I grew out my grays.

Now I can make an educated choice about how I want to style and wear my hair. My wallet has certainly appreciated being dye-free for almost two and a half years. If I am being completely honest, I am not sure that I will never dye my hair again. I do miss the days where I could throw my hair in a mom bun and not see my gray streak. But for now, I am enjoying modeling for my children and other young people that beautiful hair comes in all colors (and sometimes gray streaks).