Suburbanbushbabe (henceforth referred to as SBB) was gracious enough to grant me an interview about her transition to gray hair. SBB, already a lady in possession of a beautiful natural head of hair, is one of many helpful members of Curltalk and always ready with a good word of advice.
As someone who plans to embrace my gray as it comes in, I admire her and am very interested in the process of transitioning to gray hair.
Kcurly: How long did you color your hair before deciding to stop?
SBB: I colored for 20 years until last year, April 2008.
First I one-process colored and texlaxed. Then during the blonde trend, I decided to get hot foiled to medium blonde, which for me was a two-process service – lifting my base color and then hot foiling lighter streaks. And I still texlaxed! Believe it or not, I was going for the natural look.
I was blonde for 7 years until 2000 when I went to a new stylist for a cut. She told me my hair was breaking off due to the permanent color plus relaxer. Maybe I was enchanted and hadn’t seen it until then, but it was an “Emperor has no clothes” moment. I saw clearly how damaged my hair was.
I stopped the hot foils but continued texlaxing. At the new hairdresser’s suggestions I got rinses. But frankly she wasn’t very good at coloring and the results were erratic to say the least. So I colored myself using various “semi-permanent” colors: Wella Colorcharms or Clairol Natural Instincts, both of which gave a slight lift. But with the texlax my hair was still breaking. So I went to temporary rinses (6-12 washings) – Clairol Beautiful Browns or Jazzing. I still wasn’t happy with the color or hair health, even when I stopped texlaxing.
When I became fully natural I read about Robert Craig color, a permanent, deposit only color, and began to use it. It kept my hair healthy, but was still darker and redder than I liked even though I was using a Golden Beige blond color. And I noticed it got darker with continued use.
I come from a family with a long tradition of coloring. My father was gray by forty and colored for professional reasons, to combat ageism. My mother still colors at age 84. All my sisters color their relaxed or texlaxed hair. I didn’t know anything else except my maternal grandmother who during my childhood, walked around with gray hair, braids, a housecoat and nylon stockings secured at the knee – the quintessential old lady and not a good role model for glamour.
Kcurly: What were your main reasons for transitioning to gray?
I was aging, almost finished with perimenopause. My skin, face and body were changing. My hair had thinned during the 7 years of perimenopause and at one point I had a little bald spot. My color was too dark and felt slightly harsh. The alternative would have been to get professionally colored to slightly lighten. I was not ready for that time, chemical or money or health commitment.
At about the same time I saw more and more images of women — attractive women — who were gray, silver or white. Anne Kreamer wrote a book called Going Gray, Looking Great that I recommend for anyone considering going gray. There were gray transitioning blogs on the web. Some members of www.naturallycurly.com had gone gray successfully. But I still hadn’t come up with a plan to gracefully transition, nor was I ready. I decided I would go gray in another 5 or so years. That was in early 2008.
But by April of that year, I made the decision and stopped coloring. I guess some new level of truth in me just wanted to break free. I joined an nc.com Transition thread. I was the only going gray. Everyone else was either trying to get length or transitioning from relaxed to natural.
Kcurly: We all know how hard it can be sometimes for those transitioning from relaxed to natural. How would you compare that type of transitioning to transitioning to gray hair? Which one was harder for you?
SBB: The gray was most definitely harder! I had to cold turkey and looked like a mutant skunk. My initial plan had included getting low lights to blend the demarcation or using a temporary rinse. At the hair salon I used to frequent (Curlisto affiliated Goldwell color experts) I went for a free consultation and was strongly advised by not just one but all 3 of the stylists that the permanent low lights would not be good for my hair. They suggested a temporary rinse. So off to Sally’s I go for the Roux Fanciful Rinse. And – I was allergic! That stuff stung on my scalp.
So I toughed it out for 6 months. Then at my next curly cut at the Devaconcepts salon I had been going to for the last 3 cuts, my stylist suggested semi-permanent lowlights with a natural line of color she used. She said it would soften the harsh demarcation between my white and colored brown, without hurting my hair.
Oh how I wish I had consulted her earlier! I felt so much more comfortable because my hair looked a lot better. Not different, just better. It did just what she said and lasted for about 2 months. By that time the colored hair was fading and the new growth was blending better, so I didn’t repeat it. But I may do it again. I liked it!
Kcurly: Have you been getting any negative comments about your new gray?
SBB: Surprisingly no, not even in my skunky awkward phase, and I work in a corporate environment. Then again, I live in New England where people may think you look like ish but they won’t tell you!
Kcurly: I’ve read that allowing your hair to go gray can be considered an act of feminism. The theory is that you’re not conforming to the beauty industry’s ideal of what is beautiful. What is your take on that theory?
SBB: It’s not an act of feminism or any –ism. It’s not political. And I’m not out to attract the industry or the popular zeitgeist either. As a natural I’m already far off the charts of the industry’s ideal of what is beautiful. I’m just here on this planet to be myself. My silver/gray/white hair is about tapping into and revealing my true energy. Gray and white hair is an indicator of energy change.
Going gray is about self-realization and reaching for my true beauty. It’s about finding the root of my individual beauty and working out from the core. One of my taglines, borrowed from another nc.com member, Jillipoo, is “There is nothing sexier than a woman who is proud of whatever she has”.
Kcurly: Any advice for any ladies who are considering transitioning to gray?
- You will know when the time is right. Wait until you are ready.
- You may think you look younger coloring, but may actually look older. Many women actually look younger with gray hair.
- Find the right trustworthy stylist. It takes time but it’s worth it. I didn’t even know my curly stylist did color until she knew I was transitioning. Until she felt this knowledge could help, me she did not try to sell me on it.
- If you twist or braid to transition, you can get blended gray twist hair for extensions
- Other transition strategies – wigs, temporary rinses, natural semi-permanent low-lights. Consider natural color and find a stylist who can low light you with natural color.
- Be prepared to feel self-conscious during your transition. You are getting used to your look too.
- There is nothing more beautiful than knowing one’s self and feeling free, loving, trusting and strong enough to reveal it to others. This is a slow-growth process I have been on all my life. Being gray is just another step in being in my time, in my age, in my energy, and in God’s beauty and love.
- Document your progress with photos – it’s fun!
- Join a transitioning challenge or support group.
- Your gray hair will likely be coarser and more wiry than your colored hair and require different treatments or products. It may also be drier. Give it TLC.
- Certain non-color treatments can deposit unwanted color on white or gray hair. Do your homework. I cannot use cassia or certain Indian herbs and certainly not henna. Some conditioners have dyes in them that may leave a yellow cast. I use Deva Blonde One C as a leave in and it keeps my white hair from yellowing.
- Gray hair changes the way you look. Make sure to change your make up and the colors you wear! Gray, white and silver hair requires a totally different color approach.
Some of SBB’s inspirations:
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