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!
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).
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.
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.
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!
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 head…I’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 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:
- Best Makeup Tips for Gray Hair
- Best Eyebrow Makeup for Gray Hair
- Growing Out Gray Hair: 10 Ways to Go Gray
- Going Gray: Why I Stopped Dyeing My Hair
- Going Gray: 3 Months And Counting
- Going Gray: 5 Months and Counting
- Going Gray: (at 40!) 8 Months and Counting
- Going Gray: It’s Been A Year!
- Going Gray: A Transformation both Inside and Out Video
- Going Gray: The Final Cut!
- Going Gray: Real Life Inspiration
- 10 Things that Surprised Me About Going Gray
FAQs for our going gray guide
Neither. You should use purple shampoo on gray hair to combat brassiness. Learn more here.
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.
Purple shampoo is definitely the best choice because it neutralizes brassiness. Check out how purple shampoo works.
Douglass BazinetMarch 5, 2023
Thanks for sharing.
NatalieMay 2, 2023
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!
Lisa FennessyMay 3, 2023
That is such an amazing “decided to grow out my hair gray” story. Thanks for sharing! xo, Lisa