I am 3 1/2 months in to a very awkward gray hair grow out. Oh, I’m Rockin’ the Gray alright, as in, this grow out is very, very rocky.
Sigh. I loved henna on my hair right up until I decided to stop coloring. Henna nourished my hair and made it incredibly shiny. It was all good. But now that I want to let my gray hair out of the closet, I find that there is really no way to get rid of the henna. Apparently, it binds with the keratin protein in the hair. Even if the henna you used doesn’t contain metallic salts (which is a big no-no, by the way), you probably won’t be able to bleach the all henna out. By the time you have processed enough to lift the henna color, you will probably have destroyed your hair. Pretty.
Which brings me to, “I look like a freak!! What do I do!?!” and other scenes of panic.
I seriously considered cutting all my hair about 2 inches long and rockin’ the pixie, but my husband…well…let’s just say he wasn’t on board. Now, things are getting serious. Somehow, I have to survive over a year of bad hair days.
I needed tricks. I needed ways to fool the eyes. Not just the eyes of the general public, but my own eyes as well. Maybe no one ever told you this, but growing out your gray is hard on your ego. On days when you feel especially like crawling under a rock, there will always be someone to tell you how bad you look and what a bad choice you’re making. Don’t get me wrong, most people are incredibly supportive. There are always a few, though, who feel compelled to dictate what you can and cannot do with your own hair. They seem to be able to smell it when your confidence is lagging and choose that for their moment of attack. I have to be careful to answer nicely, because sometimes I want to point out how ridiculous they are, because, I mean, it’s MY hair. I should get to choose what I do with it. If I decide to shave myself bald and draw sharpie pictures on my shiny head, what is that to them? Besides, it is only hair. Why is my hair such a big deal to them? Unless they have control issues… But I digress. Tricks. We were talking about tricks.
Tips & Tricks for Dealing with an Awkward Gray Hair Grow Out
1. Join the Gray & Proud Facebook Group. No seriously. You need this. They will support you when you feel like you just can’t do this. You will see regular pictures of other people who are doing what you are doing. You will see before & after pictures. You will have a place to ask questions to people who have been where you are and understand. You will learn about Manic Panic. Oh my. Just join the group.
2. Cover it. You can use a hat, a root cover, or even a wig. I couldn’t bring myself to do this, because it felt like I was caving to the naysayers. I felt like I was denying my true self to try to make these people happy. They aren’t going to be happy with me. Not now, not ever. I’m not covering up my hair. So there. But you can totally do this, if you want.
3. Wear it up. This helps so much. I usually wear my hair in a ponytail or a bun. Sometimes I wear it half-up/half-down. Regardless, I wear it pulled back somehow. This helps break up the demarcation line and make things look more intentional.
4. Pull the bangs back. Let’s face it. Bangs that are half color-treated and half-silver are never going to be nice. I pin mine back in a cute little twist. Voila! Intentional.
5. Hair chalk. Oh, yes. Hair chalk was my bestie for the first 3 months. I don’t always use it now, because the new growth is long enough that I can mess with my hair a bit to break up the demarcation line, but in the beginning, I used this all.the.time. I would use white and gray chalk to coat random color-treated sections of hair before I pulled it up. It broke up the demarcation line into something more tolerable. I use HairChalkCo Gray and LAC White Now, I have enough growth that I pretty much only use this for special occasions or when I need a morale boost.
If you decide to use hair chalk, there are a few things you should know.
a. If you try to do your whole head, you will look like you have fake, dull, chalky hair. Use it minimally in key places to achieve a cohesive look, but don’t over-use.
b. Apply the chalk (one of mine requires that you wet the chalk first, then apply, the other doesn’t). Set the chalk with heat — either a blow dryer or flat iron.
c. For a softer look, brush through the chalked hair. This will cause some of it to flake off, and it won’t give you the same level of coverage, but it will look less “plastic”.
d. Spritz with hairspray after styling to further set the chalk.
Hair chalk washes out in one shampoo, so there is zero commitment.
If your hair has been color-treated and you have some reason why a salon won’t work for you (dye allergy, damaged hair, too expensive, or you are dealing with old henna like me) there is always Manic Panic.
Color treated hair has a tendency to go brassy as it fades which doesn’t exactly blend very well with the new silver coming in. They might be able to tone it at a salon, but you can also use Manic Panic as a temporary toner.
Manic Panic is deposit-only temporary hair dye that comes in punk rock colors. Wait, don’t freak out. I’m not saying you should dye your hair Punk Rocker Pink. But you can use a little color theory to fix your hair.
Color Theory 101
Gray hair is hair that has no color saturation (think of black and white movies — no color). But brassy or orange hair has too much of the wrong color. We need to neutralize that color. (There is a great post about this at OverTone Haircare).
If you want to neutralize color, you need to mix it with it’s complementary color (the color on the opposite side of the color wheel). That’s why people use purple shampoos and conditioners to deal with gray hair that has started to yellow. Purple is the color that is opposite of yellow — it neutralizes the yellow and brings yellowing hair back to a lovely cool silver.
But what if you hair is, er… Orange? Ahem.. You need green. If your hair is red, you need blue. My color-treated hair is red-orange, so I need turquoise (blue-green). This method won’t lift any color, but it will tone down the warm shades so that the treated hair is more harmonious with the new growth that’s coming in.
How I Used Manic Panic to Tone my Hair
1. What you need: Manic Panic (I used Voodoo Blue — see color theory chart above to choose your color), gloves, a color mixing bowl, a highlighter brush, any conditioner that is a white color (as opposed to yellow, purple or whatever), rubbing alcohol, time and a steady hand.
2. Mix 1 part Manic Panic with 2 parts conditioner (although others have used a 1/2 and 1/2 ratio) in the bowl. Don’t skimp on the mixing or you’ll have odd streaks in your hair.
3. Put on your boxing gloves. No one needs to add blue hands to an already awkward gray hair grow out.
4. Make sure your hair is clean and dry. Apply to the color-treated part of your hair, using the highlighter brush and being very careful not to get the mix on your new hair growth. If you have white or silver hair coming in and hit it with the Manic Panic mix, you WILL have turquoise hair. Now you know. If you accidentally get the mix on your gray hair, don’t fall apart. Just use the hair chalks to cover the turquoise until it washes out. The white chalk didn’t cover very well, but the gray chalk did. Not that I would know anything about turquoise hair or anything, because I would never do that. Nope. Not me.
5. Once the Manic Panic is applied, set a timer for 20-25 minutes. Look around your bathroom. It will look like you murdered a Smurf. Use the rubbing alcohol to clean up the evidence before CSI arrives.
6. When the timer goes off, rinse. And rinse. And rinse. It takes pretty much forever for the water to run clear.
7. Dry and style as usual. Enjoy the lack of clown-orange hair. Be happy.
The Manic Panic takes a while to apply and washes out pretty quickly, but it is still so much better than what I had before.
Here is the Before and After (complete with my young photo-bomber):
What about you? Have you ever thought about letting your gray sparkles shine? Do you have any tips to survive the awkward stage? Or do you just enjoy reading about my tween-esque awkward-ness? (No worries if you do. I think it’s pretty snicker-worthy, too.)
Have a great day!