Thursday, February 03, 2011

To colour or not to colour

There's no getting around it. I am going grey with a vengeance. It's in my genes. Both my parents were well past the salt and pepper stage when they touched forty. And now at 60, my mom's hair is almost completely white so I am under no delusions about the fate that awaits me.

Even if I did choose to delude myself, kind friends and family are ever eager to remedy any lapse on my part. A recent family wedding was a prime example. I don't think there was a single cousin or aunt in the place who omitted to comment, in horrified tones, on the white hair sprouting from my scalp. And then proceeded to gape at me in wide-eyed amazement when I announced my intention to stay away from hair colour!

My hair stylist has tried unsuccessfully to get me to colour my hair and has finally given up. On my last visit, she finally gazed upon me with an expression that scientists usually reserve for a new strain of a wildly infectious disease and pronounced that she was very impressed with my guts to stay grey when everyone around was succumbing to the hair colour trend. She even went on to say that it didn't look bad on me since it didn't seem to bother me and that I was carrying it off with confidence. Hmmmm... I am still wondering if her tongue was firmly ensconced in her cheek!

Let me set the record straight. This is not about rejecting vanity. I am as vain as the next girl, or almost so. I frequent the salons - pedicures, manicures, blow-drys, waxing and facials are all performed on me with varying degrees of regularity. I spend a good proportion of my discretionary income on clothes and am quite a brand whore. And while I am no Imelda Marcos, I do love my shoes. So why not colour my hair?

Well, the big reason is the chemicals. I am just 35 (or will be in less than two months) and if I start colouring now, I'll probably have to keep going till I am 60. And unlike hair straightening (which I have done 3-4 times), this requires a monthly commitment to keep the roots from showing. So, if I am going to colour my hair every month for 25 years, that means I will dumping a shit load of chemicals on to my hair, scalp and possibly into my bloodstream about 300 times! That's about 290 times too many, as far as I am concerned.

There is also another reason for my colour-ban stance. This whole preoccupation with age bothers me. If the average beauty TV advertisement is to be believed, ageing gracefully and looking one's age is no longer an option and the jazzy anti-ageing potions, hair colourants and cosmetic surgery are the must-haves in every sensible woman's arsenal. The alternative - you won't get a man or the one you have will lose interest. Bah! And have you looked at the models in these ads who are worrying about greys and fine lines? None of them look a day over thirty, if that. Is the thirty the new fifty??? In other more disturbing news, a range of anti-ageing beauty products for tweens is just around the corner. What next? Wrinkle cream for toddlers? Diaper rash cream with AHAs

Sometimes, people do make me feel a bit like a freak. Imagine being all dressed up to the nines and you get more comments about your white hair than about your pretty face or lovely outfit... It can get somewhat disconcerting. But most of the time, it really and truly does not bother me. So no, I don't plan on changing status quo any time soon.

What about you? Where do you stand on the colour divide? Or are you one of those lucky souls who will probably get their first grey hair at 60?

ETA: Check out Planethalder's post for some truly inspiring pics of grey-haired women


  1. Hey Ro - I wanted to email you after reading your resignation story. I just happened to see this post and had to comment. Why not henna? I use Henna on my hair. My grey's don't show too badly - but they do show when you come up close - because of the mop of hair I have on my head. I don't like to use chemicals either - so far I am getting away with Henna. I don't see anything different in coloring to look/feel good than straightening hair or threading your eyebrows. May be if all women/men in society never colored it won't feel any different. It's no big deal in my mind. Come on, color it with Henna, Ro! :)

  2. Anonymous2:55 pm

    I agree with u totally on the color ban. And for exactly the same reason - I dont want to have to color my hair every month for hte next 30 yrs! Ugggh!

    I got my first grey strand as soon as I started working. At the ripe old age of 22. But thankfully, it stayed at just 1-2 strands. Over the last 6 months, a handful have sprung up. Right on my forhead. Where u cant miss 'em.

    And so far, I've stuck to my guns and refused coloring them.

  3. I color my hair ... have to, must be almost silver by now, if I go by the roots. Wish I had the guts to stop doing it. The day I retire .... that is what I keep promising myself .....

  4. Wow - am first to comment. Uaully if I read your posts in the afternoon my time, there are so many comments and sometimes another new post also - that I feel like you may not even notice my comment! So am kind of kicked that I actually am the first to comment on Ro's post! :)

  5. I have grey hair and I am 29 :( but I dont think I will ever mom used to colour her hair till 6 months ago..she started early and needed to do it every month and I hated it and eventually so did she gave up after retiring and uses henna instead and guess she looks cute with red hair :):) no I am not colouring, ...its too time consuming and I dont have that dedication! henna may be later if I have the time and inclination and oh everyone comments on my grey hair as well...I have stopped caring! and imagine hubby comes from a family where my MIL is 60 and has lesser grey hair than I do, naturally!

  6. I'm 36 Ro, and have lots of white, and hair loss (that apparently is getting better), so I don't have the option of coloring it. I'm just grateful if it hangs onto my scalp :P

    I'm as bothered by you by the rampant age-ism. The media is splashed with pretty young 20 somethings, and the 'imperfections' of the rest of us have become invisible, just like dark skin, 'overweight' really gets my blood boiling. Each of us is beautiful as we are, and the more beautiful we feel from inside, the more natural beauty we have. Immersing ourselves in chemicals and procedures is not the answers.

    At the same time, it is bleddy hard, the pressure to 'look good'. I don't judge those who colour, my mom does, and she looks prettier that way, but I'm as worried about what the chemicals are doing to her.

  7. same situation here too.. both parents had white (grey) hair in early 30's itself, and I have lots to display since past 5-6 years..But i do use henna..apply it myself. people though ask me if i do hair coloring in the parlour..

  8. Hi Rohini, I've been using henna for the last ten years and it has done nothing bad for the hair. It's still as thick and healthy. I was 25 when I started greying (substantially) and at that age, definitely did not have the confidence to let my greys hang loose :) I donno whether I would do the same if I'd started greying at 35 or 40.
    But hey - whatever works for you. I think most people get unnecessarily freaked out about how they look. I don't see the same proportion working out/eating healthy -- a far more important preoccupation than obsessing abt looking good.

  9. beyond4:37 pm

    i color my hair regularly.and only because i have noticed that grey hair get oily quite early.if i want to keep my hair gray,i will have to wash it everyday which i dont i color it once a month.but i like it.i think it makes me look fresh.

  10. I started getting some random grey hairs in my teens itself. Around 20-25, I got a lock of grey hair starting from my forehead. Similar to the aged woman they typically show in movies.

    I have used Henna since then and Good thing is if I comb right the flame red hair are not visible :). If and whenever they are visible, people have asked me if I have done highlights and I have blurted out that no no they are grey hair and then promptly put my foot in my mouth.

  11. Anonymous5:56 pm

    I noticed this extremely elegant Indian lady the other day at the Alliance Francaise in Bangalore, and she was all salt and pepper - but her hair was shot though with a few fine streaks of silver! I looked really hard, but couldn't tell if these were extensions (very fine, natural and very few) or if she had streaked a few strands silver. Am not sure if you can do this in India, but would be worth checking out. It will shut everyone up very quickly, I promise you :) As for the rest, I was saddened to see a picture of a red, blotchy Cindy Lauper in the paper this morning, where she was being bitched out for looking like this, compared to her last appearance (a few days before she turned red!); where she was lauded for looking 30 - when she is really 57 years old. C'est la vie.

  12. I'm going through this myself. My latest post on it is here (with some photos of women looking lusciously grey):

  13. Given my scanty hair, I have been very worried about any chemicals on the hair (one bout of hair straightening and I was horrified by the itchy scalp). Now I have finally succumbed to my hairdresser's charms and gotten streaks done. I must say I love it and I enjoy the effortless poshness it adds to my appearance even when you I am not wearing much makeup or a smart outfit. Luckily my scalp is also taking this well.

    p.s. You do know that grey is the new rage and Lady Gaga has streaked her hair grey?

  14. My mom's past 50 and has almost no grey hair to show for it. I am fervently hoping that the genes have made it through to me! If not, I think I will color till I turn 40 and then leave it as is. Or maybe start using henna (though I do think the henna-red soaked onto mostly white hair looks odd).

  15. Anonymous9:11 pm

    I am 35 and have no grey hair. I had to comment ‘cos of the similarities among us. I have a boy (6 year old) and a girl (2 years) and I turn 35 in couple of months too. I went to business school and work full time too (I know, not a similarity anymore). Sooo… coming to grey hair..My mom started graying relatively early (she must have been in her early forties). But I am hoping (fingers crossed) that I get my dad’ s side of genes. My older sister is 45 and does not have a single grey. I hope I have the exact same genes…

  16. [Noon] I don't like the reddish-orange colour that henna imparts to white hair. And I have enough white hair that it would be pretty visible. And I read and reply to your comments even if they come in later, ok? :)

    [Richa] That sounds like an Indira Gandhi look in the making ;)

    [Phoenix/ R's Mom] That's what my mom did - stopped colouring closer to retirement. But that interim period when the hair is half and half is quite horrible. Another reason why I don't want to even start.

    [Starry] Oh I don't judge those who colour either. We are all fashion victims in one way or the other, whether it is destroying our knees and spines with heels or suffering through the pain and indignity of waxing...

    [TP] Wow! Sounds like you are quite the expert at henna application.

    [Aparna] Somehow henna does not seem to suit my hair. Makes it even more dry and frizzy than usual.

    [Beyond] Really? Because my grey hair seems to be drier than the black hair.

    [AA Mom] LOL! Well, at least your grey hair is distributed well. Mine is in all straggly bits and pieces.

    [Memories] Ooh the silver streaks sound very interesting.

    [PH] Thanks for sharing that. Those pictures are inspiring!

    [Anita] Me and Lady Gaga on the same side of the fence? Whoa! I don't know whether to feel good or bad about that :)

    [Archana] the henna-red soaked onto mostly white hair looks odd ... Amen!

    [Anon] Same pinch ;) And fingers crossed on your behalf.

  17. I have a grey(or 10) every single day. They are multiplying and having babies and triplets.

    My frenemies have mentioned henna but I hate the sindhi look of red hennaed hair.

    I have yet to decide about what to do.

  18. Your blog friends love you just the way you are. :)

  19. Anonymous8:02 am

    Ro the day I dump my job the colour goes - have been colouring my hair for yonks now and want to stop .:(


  20. My mom's genes will ensure I head is white before I turn 40 ... on the other hand, my dad's side I will probably hit 70s with salt and pepper.
    I spotted my first grey hair about a month back ... am curious what awaits me.

  21. Premature greying is prevalent on both sides of the family, so there was no way I could escape it.I started greying at 21 and have been applying henna since then.At 32,the hennaed hair has kind of started looking weird,but I don't want to succumb to hair colour for the same reasons, coz I dont want to pump in chemicals into my system every month.I think I will wait till I am 40 or so and then stop even the henna.My 53 year old MIL has just one single strand of grey hair at last count and thinks I am greying coz I dont oil my hair enough :(

  22. [Sraikh] Yeah, I hate the colour henna gives too.

    [Richies] Awwww.... thanks.

    [RM] Be prepared for the interim phase. It really sucks. My mom used to look like Cruella De Ville's Indian twin :D

    [CA] Let's hope your dad's genes win out on this one

    [BC] I get that all the time - that my hair is greying so fast because I am doing something wrong - not enough oil, too much shampoo, not enough sleep, too little ghee in my diet... and so on.

  23. Sorry Rohini, I may be repeating what others before me have said, but this topic is something I have thought about a lot(greying is quite prevalent in my family) so here goes:
    1. Hate chemicals - my hair fall is bad enough without subjecting my hair to more stuff.
    2. Too lazy to do it regularly.
    3. The thought of how and when to stop is scary enough to make me not want to start :).
    4. Hubby still has very black hair and if he takes after parents will have it forever so why even try to compete with that!

  24. ha ha ha... I started greying when I was 16... there was no way I could go around with grey heair at such a young age...

    I started out with henna... and as life got more hectic, I moved onto hair color. Yes, I agree it is a lot of chemicals that I have to dump on my hair every month... but sometimes you cant help it...

    Every month I balk at going to the parlor or buying that pack of hair color to dump on my hair... I do know one thing - the moment I touch 45- I will stop coloring my hair... but that means I have another 14 years to go :-(

  25. Anonymous4:35 pm

    Never understood the fascination for henna, how is orange hair better than grey!

  26. Anonymous5:42 pm

    As long as you continue to care for your hair, use the right products to groom it well, ensure hairfall is reduced to minumum and style your hair at the best salon grey can be a style statement!! Go on Rohini, make Going Grey fashionable. I have barely a few greys (thanks to my genes) but i won't color even when i do get more whites.


  27. It is symbolic. I found my first grey hair yesterday. I am 27.

  28. Anonymous5:20 am

    Had to delurk. You could try one of the organic brands, less harmful than the regular ones. Naturtint & herbatint - they claim to be made with natural ingredients, not sure if they are available in India.

  29. Sowmya2:38 pm

    Way to go! Very soon being natural will be in vogue again. Been waiting for this day!

  30. Hi,
    new to ur blog,its interesting, first grey hair at 60 seems impossible in today's pollution & stress full world, just like u, don't like chemicals as well & the greying has just stared. I just hope I am able delude myself from the coluring as well

  31. [Aparna] LOL at your fourth reason! Most people would colour just for that. Looking older than your husband and all that :)

    [Preeti] Wow! At 16? Mine started in the mid-twenties I think.

    [Anon] Ditto!

    [Dipti/ Sowmya] LOL! Unlikely that I will have any success in getting a Go Grey movement going :D

    [RP] I already had a noticeable handful at 27 :)

    [Anon] I have worked in marketing and in my experience, claims are usually not much more than claims. The recent Brazilian blowout thing, for example. Touted as a natural hair-straightening product, it was discovered to have high levels of formaldehyde!

    [A&E] All the best with doing whatever is best for you :)

  32. Smart choice. The joke is, as you get older, say in twenty years' time, you will have gone entirely white (or as much as makes no difference) and you will care that wee bit less about your appearance so you won't be rushing to touch the roots up in time and trust me, that looks terrible. I know a couple of women like that and it's not a pretty sight.

    For now though, you must believe me when I tell you the grays you're carrying are damn sexy.

  33. :-) Am grey. And don't care. But I don't know if you want to be counted in the same group as me since I am fat and don't care about that either.
    Not about the crumpled faded clothes and frumpy shoes either.

    Hmmm, can almost see you cringe - you definitely don't want to be in the same group as me. You better colour.


  34. [Sue] Oh yeah, untouched up roots are the WORST. Thanks for the compliment :)

    [Zen] What cringing? Your feet are way more groomed than mine ever could be. Mine look like crocodile skin!

  35. 29 yrs old - same same problem...enough gray hair for Henna to give a orange orange look. I colour - Loreal - the ammonia free one - Have very thick hair - and if this starts thinning, then, i will change back to henna.
    Gutsy of you to be able to take ppls comments/staring. :)

  36. You look fantastic- and the gray becomes you.
    I'm one of those blessed with late greying hair, but I was very very sure much earlier on that I would not colour my hair however soon it greyed.

  37. Anonymous8:54 am

    From what I know, hair straightening dumps in boat load of more chemicals in your hair than hair colors. Which in my mind will make up for a year worth of hair color chemicals. No?

    I do not color my hair (not needed yet - but i am not too far behind you) nor have done hair straightening for the same reason.


  38. [I-me-myself] More lazy than gutsy :)

    [Dipali] Awww... thanks :)

    [AP] Agree that hair straighteners are probably worse. That's why I am not straightening any more. Also with straightening, you can stop any time and not worry about having to grow out the roots... hair colour is more of a one way street...

  39. Soul sister!! I just turned 35 and I'm trying so, so hard to stay away too. For exactly the same reasons as well, but the rate at which the greys are sprouting has well-passed alarming.

    As of now, my resolve is still strong. I may succumb to henna, but let me see how long I can stay away from that as well.

  40. Anonymous5:48 pm

    I am going to go a totally different routes than all the above... i do color my hair but I have been coloring them since like 8 yrs now off and on

    mostly because of style.. streaks and highlights and the likes....And u know I like the quality of my hair better when its colored may be because I do take extra care of it because I know I have touched chemicals...

    I am now turning grey too dont know if will go for full head coloring or not...

  41. I totally agree with you! Mine started going grey when I was in my 20's! I am 35 now and i think 35% is grey.

    I'd rather have all grey at 40 than have no hair at 50 because of constant chemicals used on my scalp!

  42. Anonymous4:56 pm

    firstly, welcome to hyd. wrt the colour, i didnt think so much of the chemical impact but the fact that it has high maintenance is something i know i wont be able to keep up with. its just too tedious. the greys on my scalp are so many that now they dont look like "stray ones". i havent yet bitten the bullet