Few women welcome gray hair with open arms. When the salt outnumbers the pepper, most of us—as many as 75 percent of women, according to various sources—turn to the beauty industry for an all-over color correction. But once you start dyeing your hair to cover the grays, how do you know when enough is enough?
When 56-year-old former brunette, Paula Winnig, was 35 years old, a number of well-meaning friends handed her their colorists’ business cards, a not-so-subtle nod to her rapidly graying hair. She took the hint and began dyeing her locks, a practice she continued until quitting for good at age 50. “I hated having to schedule my life around my roots showing,” says Winnig. “I also hated the expense, and I didn’t like looking in the mirror and seeing a stranger looking back at me.” With her hair dyeing years firmly behind her, Winnig couldn’t be happier. “I am thrilled to have my own color again—it is very freeing,” she says. “Coloring my hair was a necessary evil, but I’m glad I don’t do it anymore.”
Paula made her decision from the gut—she knew she resented the entire hair-dyeing shebang. But if you’re on the fence, consider these tell-tale signs you should go gracefully gray:
1. Your hair feels dry and brittle
Traditional hair dye that deposits color typically won’t damage your ‘do, says Melissa Piliang, M.D., a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic and a member of the American Academy of Dermatology. But if you engage in the more involved ritual of processing your hair to lighten it in preparation for a light-colored dye, damage is almost certainly in your hair destiny. “The hair fiber has a coating called the cuticle,” says Dr. Piliang. “When your hair is healthy, the cuticle looks like the shingles on a roof, all laying down. When it’s damaged, the shingles can flake off or peel back. Bleaching wears away cuticle.” The result? Hair that can be described as ‘straw-like,’ dry and brittle, or frizzy. Split ends, flyaways, and hair of varying lengths are other sure signs of damage and breakage, she says.
2. Your grays return within two weeks.
If you can’t seem to keep up with the advance of your gray hair (either at the roots or all over), it may be worth it to leave your coloring days behind you, says Sarah Nitz, contributor for Latest-Hairstyles.com. “If you have an appointment at the salon every two weeks, but you could go every week, it might just be time to let it grow in,” she says. “You want to enjoy every minute of your pending (or current!) retirement, traveling, visiting with friends, not visiting the salon.”