Toronto actor Nicole Fairbairn entered the pandemic lockdown with long ginger locks. The 50-year-old is coming out of it ready to embrace her now natural salt-and-pepper.
It wasn’t just the inability to professionally maintain her hair colour with salons closed as part of public health measures, but the self-reflection and shifting of priorities that she experienced in the face of an urgent global crisis.
“I was one of those people that said ‘there’s no way. I’ll go to my grave with dyed hair,” she says. “But then when the pandemic happened, I was like ‘I don’t want to be fussing around with this. There are more important things.’”
If the proliferation of Facebook groups for “women who dare not to dye,” is any indication, Ms. Fairbairn is far from alone. The group Silver Sisters has 17,000 members; Curly Silvers has 26,000; Silver Revolution, 20,000.
Grey hairs are also popping out all over Hollywood, a place where people spend big bucks to prevent looking their age. Actors Sarah Jessica Parker and Cynthia Nixon recently showed off their silver hair on the set of the Sex and the City reboot, while others like Kelly Ripa, Tracee Ellis Ross and Allison Janney are also posting grey-hair pics on social media.
Ms. Fairbairn was going to a hair colourist every month to maintain her colour. “I felt like I was always stressing about my roots showing and fussing,” she says. “So, it’s given me a sense of freedom to finally say ‘I’m just letting this happen.’ And I feel like more and more women are saying, ‘No, I’m going to be sexy and vibrant and have grey hair. And that’s okay.’”
Why you can’t stop grey hair
An online search on grey hair will reveal a long list of websites that claim preventions and cures for greying hair. But buyer beware, says Dariush Honardoust, a teaching and research professor at BC Academy of Medical Aesthetics and Skin Care Inc. and a faculty member at the Canadian College of Aesthetic Dermatology.
“There is a lot of misleading information out there,” Dr. Honardoust says.
He explains that cells in the hair follicle, called melanocytes, produce melanin. Melanin is the natural pigment that injects colour into the hair shaft. As we age, those cells die off and no longer produce melanin. Over time, “your hair becomes white,” he says.
The rate at which these cells diminish is genetic and, contrary to popular belief, stress doesn’t cause grey hair. “It has nothing to do with that,” Dr. Honardoust notes.
Gradually greying hair is normal, even in early adulthood, and not an indication of any medical issue, he says. However, there may be cases where a rapid change is a red flag.
“If your hair starts to go grey one by one, every day or every month you get a couple more; that’s a normal process,” Dr. Honardoust says. “If the entire hair on your head starts to go grey at the same time, that’s something you need to take care of. It could be linked to some underlying disease.”
In that case, he suggests consulting a medical professional.
There are also no proven ways to prevent or stave off greying hair, Dr. Honardoust adds.
“If your hair follicle cells are (genetically) programmed to behave that way, they are programmed. You can’t change it,” he says. “There is no proven scientific fact that says you can prevent them from getting grey.”
Going grey gracefully
Cosmetic change, like hair dye, is still the only way to deal with grey hair – if you don’t want it.
“I’m finding for a lot of women want to look their best and they want to age gracefully,” says Amanda Freeman, a hair colour technician at Blyss Salon in Toronto. “Once upon a time, clients would come in, and it was like ‘Get rid of every single grey hair on my head.”
There was even a recent trend among young people without naturally grey hair having their hair dyed grey, she says, though that’s waning.
Many clients don’t stop colouring their hair completely, Ms. Freeman says, instead opting for gradual greying that transitions over time and treatments that accentuate their grey.
With the potential for another pandemic lockdown, Ms. Freeman says many clients are looking for treatments that grow in gradually if they can’t come back for a while.
She says men typically don’t come in to have their hair dyed permanently, but to have their grey “stained” darker. That type of treatment fades out more easily.
“So they’re never stuck with that strong demarcation line,” she says, otherwise known as roots.
“At the end of the day, my advice for clients … is that they need to do what is going to make them feel comfortable,” Ms. Freeman says.
For Ms. Fairbairn, for a long time, that didn’t mean embracing the grey. As an actor, she worried that there are few roles for women with grey hair.
That has not proven to be the case. Ms. Fairbairn recently booked a job with her new, more natural hair and she’s received many compliments on her gradually greying coif.
“And I like it,” she says. “I think it’s so programmed, especially in women that grey equals old, like your life is over. Now I think we’re all just stepping into ‘No, that’s ridiculous.’ You can look amazing with grey hair.”