5 Going Gray Don’ts

July 27, 2021 (updated March 21, 2023) — Written by

My going gray guide for anyone making a decision about if growing out gray hair is for them. I share some of the pitfalls that trip people up when going gray, and give you tips for success by avoiding these 5 going gray don’ts. And don’t forget to check out more of my going gray guides below!

a side by side image of me before and after going gray
Lisa before she starting growing out her gray (left) and three years into her gray grow out (right).

By: Lisa Fennessy

Growing my hair out gray has been one of the scariest and most rewarding experiences of my life. 🏆 But the actual decision process was not something I took lightly. I’m a people pleaser and I didn’t want to do “the wrong thing.” Negative comments I received weighed heavily on me.⁠

Now that I’m on the other side, I can say, listen to YOUR gut (no one else’s gut!). And if your gut isn’t saying anything rn, give it time. You will know when you are ready to go gray. And when you do jump in (or if you’re here because you’re diving in already), you’ll want these tips for what NOT to do when you go gray.



1. Don’t use blue or green shampoo

First of all, you may not even need a toning shampoo at all. The first couple of years I grew out my hair gray, I was convinced my experience transcended purple shampoo.

Then, three years in, my hair started taking on a brassy tinge. I couldn’t tell if my whites were actually white or if they were browns that hadn’t turned white yet. It was all getting a bit muddy and I found myself craving something to add brightness, definition, brilliance and clarity to my grays.

Thankfully, a purple shampoo will help remedy that, which is why it’s so important to a going gray guide.

Purple shampoo is the best toner to use when it comes to gray hair because it neutralizes brassiness caused by heat styling, medications, product buildup, sun, salt, chlorine and environmental pollutants.

Why purple shampoo? It’s basic color theory: Yellow is opposite from purple on the color wheel, indicating these two tones cancel each other out.

RELATED: The best all-natural purple shampoos for gray hair (or silver or white or blonde hair).

A look at how Bruns Purple Shampoo tones a blonde wig, before and after.
A look at how Bruns Purple Shampoo tones a blonde wig, before (right) and after (left).
A look at how hair reacts to Oway Purple Shampoo.
A look at how OWAY Silver Steel Hair Bath tones a blonde wig, before (right) and after (left).

For more, check out how purple shampoo works and my top natural purple shampoo picks.

That’s also why blue or green shampoo is NOT the choice for gray hair. When we look that same color wheel, we know that yellow + red make orange and red + blue make purple etc. So when someone with yellow-y gray hair uses a blue shampoo, guess what color you are going to get? That’s right. GREEN! Blue shampoo is not designed to be used on gray hair; its function is to neutralize orange tones in brown hair.

collage of pictures showing different shades of hair from darkest black to lightest blonde
Madison Reed hair level chart.

Lastly, purple shampoo will only work for gray hair that is a level 8 or higher (which in this case, means lighter), so if you have darker gray hair or dark hair with just a few grays, purple shampoo may not work for you.

RELATED: Should you use Overtone on gray hair?


The before image of a woman with dyed hair.
8 years ago, when I dyed my hair every 4 weeks.
The after image of a woman with gray hair.
5 years after going gray.

2. Don’t start until you are ready

It seems a bit counterintuitive for me to be encouraging you not to go gray but seriously, don’t start until you are ready. How do you know you are ready? YOU WILL KNOW.

Sometimes this knowing will arrive via a slow build over time or sometimes it strikes via a “straw that breaks the camel’s back” moment. This could be someone glancing at your roots (AGAIN), or an unsupportive hairdresser telling you not to go gray, a boiling frustration with having to schedule a hair appointment every three weeks or even seeing another beautiful woman rockin’ her grays.

When you are ready, your inner voice will sound something like, “That’s it. I’m not going dyeing my hair anymore.” (Or something a little louder with a couple trash-mouth swears thrown in.) And that’s when you will know it’s time.

My inner dialogue convinced me to dye my hair again just ONE MORE TIME (which you can read all about in my Going Gray: Before and After Pictures post).

If your inner dialogue still sounds like, “I want to go gray, but I’m not sure.” Or “I will go gray…just not yet.” Or, “It looks great on you but I could never.” Don’t force it, friend. Give yourself some more time to build the confidence and desire to jump in. Find inspiration in other women, find other women’s going gray stories, read going gray books, search Pinterest or join a going gray group like The Gray Book. This will help you build confidence; I promise.

Then, at some point, something will happen and you will feel your inner voice getting louder and louder. And when it starts screaming words like, SCREW THIS!, that drive, that commitment, those feelings of being fed up will propel your experience forward and give you more strength and more tenacity to ride the ups and downs to come.

For me, it was deciding to go gray and then immediately chickening out. The moment I announced I was going gray, I made a hair appointment to get my hair dyed. I didn’t even last a week—haha! But going to the salon, sitting in that chair, looking at myself going through the motions one last time really gave me the closure I needed to move on. I often equate this last hair appointment with “breakup sex.” I needed that one last rendezvous to be sure—and it ended up being just what I needed to move forward.

RELATED: Need more going gray inspo? Check out our Going Gray Lookbook, with real women’s going gray journeys.


3. Don’t go gray alone

One of the most major keys to my success was having support. My husband was super supportive and he really gave me the guts to start. Then as I starting talking about the process publicly, I started getting words of encouragement from readers and even random people around town and it was just so….helpful.

I wish I could say I had the strength to do this alone but to be honest, there were several times along this journey that I needed to hear: “Your hair looks good.” These words of encouragement and this external affirmation really TRULY helped me continue on.

So, seek out support from friends and family, because it will make such a difference. I also realize that not everyone’s friends and family are supportive so I started a Facebook group for women to convene, exchange stories, support and identify in each other, grow, lead, follow….all of it, in one place, for your going gray guide. You will find support here. Come join us!

going gray lookbook

a woman going gray chose to shave her head.
Kiva Sherr chose a close crop.
Woman with gray hair going cold turkey
Julianne Statnick went cold turkey.
Woman with gray hair extensions
Carol Love tried gray extensions with twists.

4. Don’t limit your options

There’s no one way to go gray! I personally went cold turkey even though I begged my hairdresser every time to give me some highlights or lowlights or a gloss…SOMETHING to take the edge off. She never agreed because my hair is naturally so dark and she said it would just take too much processing to lighten it to where we would want to get it.

She said she did that for a client once and it made the client’s hair so weak that when she put her hair up in a bun at the beach, her bun fell off. And…that’s what convinced me to just wait it out (and to share it in this going gray guide).

But there are so many different things you can do during the grow out like getting highlights, lowlights, ombre blonde or gray, a cute pixie, a shaved headI’ve seen so many creative approaches. Check out my post with 10 ways to grow out gray, featuring REAL LIFE WOMEN’S before and afters!

I especially love this one woman’s approach: She told me she grew out her grays in her early 40s and then decided to start dyeing it again when she turned 45 and now, a couple of years later, she’s growing it out for a second time.

There are no rules, friends! Have fun with it.

RELATED: Easy braid styles for gray hair.


5. Don’t listen to naysayers

A big part of a going gray “guide” is this: Don’t listen to people who tell you not to do this. It can really change our trajectory when our mom or our dad looks us in the eye and says, “Don’t do this.” Or, “You’re too young to go gray.”

This is a classic example of “result” and “intention” clash. People who say that genuinely MEAN WELL. They truly think they are doing you a favor by “telling you something you don’t know.” They think they are enlightening you, bringing you out of the dark. Sharing knowledge. Helping you.

The reality is, it’s just really hurtful, unsupportive and it makes us feel less-than and alone. That’s not the intent of their words, but it’s the effect. Read more about this + what to say back in our 101 Ways to Respond to Rude Comments About Gray Hair.

I wish every woman could have a picture like this of themselves before starting out…

A woman with dyed hair.
My dyed hair before going gray.
A woman with gray hair.
3 years into my gray journey.

A gray hair crystal ball if you will. I used to pull and pry at my roots while covering my dyed hair with my hands to see, Am I gray enough? Will it look too mousy? Do I hate it? Do I love it? What will this all look like in the end?!

This 👆 is me a little over three years into my journey. And I would choose this route every time. Again and again and again. And I think other people would be supportive from the beginning as well if they knew this was my outcome.

These types of comments come from fear, inexperience, ignorance and love. Until we have more women walking this earth with their natural grays glowing, we will continue to have our loved ones respond this way. They want the best for us and their idea of “best” is shaped by history and societal norms.

Change starts with you and change starts with me. But first we have to get there so FIND SUPPORT along the way.


More support for going gray

Looking for a go-to going gray guide? For more on going gray, check out:

xo, lisa
The Going Gray Lookbook.

FAQs for our going gray guide

Should I use green or yellow shampoo on gray hair?

Neither. You should use purple shampoo on gray hair to combat brassiness. Learn more here.

How do I know I’m ready to go gray?

Don’t start until you’re ready. If you’re having doubts about it, give it some thought, connect with women going through this journey, or join a group like The Gray Book.

What’s the best shampoo for gray hair?

Purple shampoo is definitely the best choice because it neutralizes brassiness. Check out how purple shampoo works.

By Lisa Fennessy

Lisa is the founder of The New Knew. Passionate about clean beauty, organic eats and nontoxic lifestyle, Lisa writes to create awareness. Conscious consumerism and informed decisions will impact the marketplace, our health and THE WORLD!

252 Comments

  1. Reply

    Douglass Bazinet

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Reply

    Natalie

    Love this! I’m 37 and have stopped colouring my hair within the last 6 months. My aha! moment was when I was looking in the mirror after missing a hair appointment and feeling sad about covering it up. I found that I actually really liked the silver!

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      That is such an amazing “decided to grow out my hair gray” story. Thanks for sharing! xo, Lisa

  3. Reply

    Jen

    I decided to go gray when my hair fell out from chemo.

    Don’t believe the lie that hair dye is safe. It’s toxic and no one should be dying their hair. It’s not worth it. Gray is BEAUTIFUL. Be glad you’re alive to sorry the gray, ladies! Many women don’t get there and I refuse to be ashamed of my hard son gray hair now!

  4. Reply

    Anna

    Prachtig omgeschreven maar wat voor shampoo gebruik je eigenlijk? Ik ben 47 jaar oud en mijn beslissing heb ik al maanden vast – nooit meer verven ! Ik ben trots op en kijk ik iedere dag na mijn uitgroei.

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Anna! I like the BRUNS purple shampoo the best. Have you tried it? You can also check out this post where I try a bunch of purple shampoos to compare them. xo!

  5. Reply

    Liz

    After spending days reading your story several times. Today I took my first steps, having dyed my hair black for over 35 years, I haven’t dyed my hair for 4 weeks and today I used colour remover ( not stripper ) to remove years of built up dye.
    I forgot I had reddish Auburn hair. Looks so pretty with my grays.
    Now just fingers crossed that everyone will be supportive.

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Oh my gosh, amazing! I’m curious, what color stripper did you use and are you happy with how it worked?

  6. Reply

    Cynthia

    What is the best way to deal with frizzy gray hair, long, that constantly falls out?
    Thank you

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Cynthia! To help with the frizz, check out this post for tips. One of the biggest ones being to choose hair products with a pH under 5.4 which will help reduce frizz. For hair falling out, that can be for several reasons and it’s best to talk to your doctor or derm or nutritionist about that to try and get to the root cause rather than treating the symptom. (Think plugging the hole in a boat as opposed to just bailing water). But something you can try at home is gently massaging your scalp. This will help improve circulation and the scalp which can help support hair growth. Hope this helps! xo, Lisa

  7. Reply

    Sandra

    I also was tired of dying my hair. The dying process went from six weeks, to five weeks, then four weeks. I grew tired of the expense as well as the time spent at the salon. I am now 59 years young and and have been going through the process for about two and a half years. When I initially made the decision, I was told that I shouldn’t and that I would look old. I told everyone that I was embracing my age, hair and everything else that came along with it. My hair specialist does a matching gloss every six weeks, just to keep the ends blended. I have also decided to let my hair grow. It is curly/wavy and a bit longer than mid back. I receive several compliments and have been told by other women that they wish they were brave enough to do the same. Society places to much pressure and emphasis on a woman’s look or the decisions she makes to go against the norms. It it time we break free of these societal constraints and embrace who we are.

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      AMEN! So happy for you Sandra!

  8. Reply

    Emma

    Hi Lisa, your story gave me the encouragement/support I needed to grow it out, and embrace the grey! 8 months in cold turkey and love my natural and silver colours!
    Thank you for giving so many the courage to start this journey! x

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      I am so excited for you Emma! 8 months is a huge accomplishment. Keep it up! xo

  9. Reply

    Wanda

    Thanks for sharing your story and helpful tips! I found myself reading this and saying, “yup, that’s me, that’s exactly how I feel!” I haven’t decided to go grey yet but I’m getting closer everyday. I have dark hair like you did and I’m hoping mine will look as great as yours when I am ready to take that leap. Thank you!

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      It will Wanda! That’s the cool thing about gray hair. Yours was made just for you!

  10. Reply

    Stacey

    I am 61 and tired of coloring my hair every few weeks.. I am naturally a medium to dark brown and I do color on level five and used to color level 3.

    Sally beauty supply sells a product that is a hair color remover with no chemicals.. I had used it in the past and I recall my hair being an orangy ugly shade, but I was doing this on purpose to color a lighter shade of brown.. well ladies, I am ready to stop coloring!!!

    My hair is several inches past my shoulder and I’m not willing to cut.. but I also don’t want to do just cold turkey.. and would like to avoid bleaching out what’s left over after I remove color.. so I’m going to have to sit here and think hard and long about my options and how to get to a silver gray quicker.

    I understand about purple shampoo but I think because of my darker brunette hair that perhaps a blue shampoo would benefit me until I am 100% naturally gray which then of course I would start using that purple shampoo.

    Happy I found this article and that I am in a boat with a ton of beautiful women wanting to sport their natural beautiful gray hair.

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Stacey! I totally hear you. This post might help! It talks about a bunch of different ways to go gray, not just cold turkey!

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