How To Go Gray: Before and After Pictures

August 31, 2020 (updated May 9, 2023) — Written by

Growing my hair out gray has been one of the scariest and most rewarding experiences. Documenting the first 18 months with photos, products I used and more!

going gray 18 months
18 months since my last dye: Look at that transition!

By: Lisa Fennessy

I have always been obsessed with my gray hair since I started growing them in at 19-years-old…and not in a good way.

I used to pluck them all out with my Tweezerman’s but when I couldn’t keep up, I started hitting the salon every 2 months, which turned into 6 weeks which eventually turned into every 4 weeks as the years passed.

Over the past 20 years, I figure I’ve spent almost $17,000 and just about 30 entire DAYS in the salon chair getting my hair dyed. And I was a die-hard. Let me tell you, with the conviction of a thousand men and in my deepest heart of hearts I just knew I would NEVER stop dying my hair. NEVER.

Now that I’m on the other side, I can tell you exactly what not to do when going gray AND exactly what to do when going gray—like using an effective purple shampoo, reducing heat when styling and how to take care of gray or silver hair on the daily.

I can also tell you that you don’t have to just sit and wait for your gray hair to grow in—like I did. You can try fun things like the dye strip method, gray hair blending or these 10 additional ways to go gray.

IN THIS POST:




What inspired me to go gray at the age of 39

One day, I saw this beautiful woman in a restaurant in Hingham, MA. (Stars on Hingham Harbor to be exact—for all my South Shore, Massachusetts friends).

Anyways, she struck me because her face looked so young and her hair looked so…gray. And she was… BEAUTIFUL! Beautiful skin, a joyful smile, cute sassy curly hair—and she seemed, happy. She was enjoying a bottle of wine, dinner, and a few laughs with her hubs.

In that moment, she kinda blew my world open.

And then something came over me. I couldn’t help myself. My legs got up and started walking right toward her.

The next thing I knew I heard myself say, “Hi! My name is Lisa. Your hair is gorgeous. How did you do it? Was it hard? Did you have to cut your hair? How about hats? What did your friends say and HOW OLD ARE YOU!?”

She was 45, it was hard at first but then it got easier. Her kids didn’t like it but now they are indifferent. And it’s been 3 years and the best thing she ever did.

This woman changed my life. It took my curiosity from back seat to turn up the music, put it in cruise control and roll down the windows because MAMA’S DRIVING!

This woman had such an impact on me and she will never know it. After I saw her, my thoughts started changing and instead of thinking “I wonder….” I started deliberately thinking; “What if?” and “When?”

And just as thoughts get louder and louder the longer you sit with them, it got to the point where I couldn’t turn it off. So one day I casually mentioned to my husband, “Maybe I’ll stop dying my hair.”

I’ll never forget what he said because it was the final push I needed. He looked me right in the eye and said, “You should totally do it.”

So the following month I made a hair appointment and…dyed my hair. Hahaha!

I don’t know why I did that. I think I just needed one last time. It’s like the boyfriend you broke up with but you get together with that one last time just to kind of make it all final.

I think I needed it to really solidify that I made the right decision. To give myself the opportunity to officially say goodbye. It’s was almost like I wanted to create and opportunity to commemorate the experience, really give is space, honor every part of it.

And then let it go.

Photo of a woman with hair dye applied to her head, dying her hair for the last time.
April 2017, the last time I dyed my hair.

And then…I let the growth begin.


How long does it take?

For anyone planning on growing out gray hair or for anyone wondering how long it will take, I would say to plan on a solid 2 years for the grays to grow past your chin. This will give you a long bob type of hairstyle.

But that being said, it’s not 2 years of hats, scarves and hiding. I would say it’s a solid 9 months to 1 year of “making due” and then another year of just waiting it out.

I documented the cut I got at the 2 year mark in the video below. I call this my “final cut” because it’s where I cut off all the remaining dyed bits of my hair marking the first time in over 20 years that my hair was 100% it’s natural color. Check it out…


My daily nontoxic haircare staples

It’s been a lot of trial and error to see what products work with my gray hair and my new gray hair needs. After three years of caring for my grays, these are the top 5 products I keep going back to and they are what I recommend for anyone going gray.

  1. BRUNS purple shampoo is the most natural purple shampoo on the market formulated with nourishing hair ingredients and no nasties! Read my full BRUNS shampoo review.

2. EVOLVh’s SuperFinish Polishing Balm defrizzes, adds moisture, softness, shine, strength, prevents breakage, splitting and is a UV protectant that helps avoid hair yellowing.

3. Innersense Hydrating Hair Masque to keep my hair conditioned, strong and hydrated.

4. Josh Rosebrook Hairspray to hold down the flyaways.

5. Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer for the fastest hair dry. Less drying time = less damage. Check out my Dyson Hair Dryer review.


How to grow out gray hair that is colored

There are SEVERAL ways you can grow our your colored hair to your natural gray hair. Some of these approaches include:

1. Bypassing the entire grow-out by either shaving your head or getting a cute shortie or pixie cut.

side by side before and after of a woman who went gray with a pixie cut
Photo courtesy of Savannah VanKummer

2. You can dye all of your colored hair gray to blend in with your gray roots. This is more of an option for lighter-haired people. I tried to look into this but my colored hair was too dark to lift to gray. My hairdresser said we would have to lifts my hair so much it would turn brittle and break off so…I took her word for it.

side by side before and after of a woman growing out her blonde to now gray hair
Photo courtesy of Lisa Callow

3. Try low-lighting or highlighting your hair to blend in your new growth with your existing hair color.

side by side before and after of a woman growing out her gray hair with hightlights
Photo courtesy of Courtney Bedoya

4. You can try Balayage which is lightening your ends. This will help that demarcation line seem less stark.

side by side before and after of a woman with long wavy gray hair
Photo courtesy of Lisa Parker Gresham

5. If you have wavy or curly hair, rock it! I have wavy hair and I chose not to blow my hair out straight during most of my grow out to help make the demarcation line appear less prominent.

side by side before and after photos of a woman growing out long wavy gray hair
Photo courtesy of Kristi Ellis Harris

6. And then there is the “cold turkey” method which I personally chose to do. Cold turkey is when you simply do nothing and grow out your colored hair to it’s natural gray. This “sit and wait it out” method worked well for me.

before and after photos of a woman growing out her long dark gray hair
Photo courtesy of Michelle Ortiz


The scoop on going gray cold turkey…

Overall I would say months 2-5 are probably the hardest because you walk around looking like you missed a hair appointment. It’s like being pregnant in your first trimester where you just feel fat but you don’t look pregnant yet.

I was really emotional at this stage which you can see documented in this gray hair transformation video. I had a lot of thoughts to work through as I tried to make sense of this time in my life. Maybe you can relate.

But once my grays grew in long enough to where I could almost tuck them behind my ears (around 6 months) it starts to look intentional rather than questionable and at that point it all started to get a bit easier.

Of course you can wear cute hats, scarves and headbands. Braids, pony’s and buns are super cute too. But really the hard work is just waiting.


The hardest part about going gray

The hardest part about going gray for me personally was deciding to go for it. Once I made up my mind that I was going to go gray, I just had to lean into perseverance after that.

Perseverance got me through the first 5 months or so and then it was less about perseverance and more of a waiting game.

Honestly, once you decide to go gray and you get through the first 6 months or so, it gets so much easier!

That being said, the best thing you can do to help ensure your success is find some support. This can be your sister, mom, friend, husband, wife or finding anyone else who is going gray to connect with.

If you don’t have any of that, consider joining The Gray Book. This is a private Facebook group designed to inspire, create community, share insights, spark conversation and provide solidarity. Thousands of women have found success in this positive and supportive community, we would love to have you join us!


Going gray before and after pictures (and every stage in between)

Photo of a woman who
is growing her hair out to be gray. This photo shows what the hair color looks like 1
month into the graying process.
1 month
Photo of a woman who
is growing her hair out to be gray. This photo shows what the hair color looks like 2
months into the graying process
2 months
Photo of a woman who
is growing her hair out to be gray. This photo shows what the hair color looks like 3
months into the graying process
3 months
Photo of a woman who
is growing her hair out to be gray. This photo shows what the hair color looks like 4
months into the graying process
4 months
Photo of a woman who
is growing her hair out to be gray. This photo shows what the hair color looks like 5
months into the graying process
5 months
Photo of a woman who
is growing her hair out to be gray. This photo shows what the hair color looks like 6
months into the graying process
6 months
Photo of a woman who
is growing her hair out to be gray. This photo shows what the hair color looks like 7
months into the graying process
7 months
Photo of a woman who
is growing her hair out to be gray. This photo shows what the hair color looks like 8
months into the graying process
8 months
Photo of a woman who
is growing her hair out to be gray. This photo shows what the hair color looks like 9
months into the graying process
9 months
Photo of a woman who
is growing her hair out to be gray. This photo shows what the hair color looks like 10
months into the graying process
10 months
Photo of a woman who
is growing her hair out to be gray. This photo shows what the hair color looks like 11
months into the graying process
11 months
Photo of a woman who
is growing her hair out to be gray. This photo shows what the hair color looks like 12
months into the graying process
12 months
Photo of a woman who
is growing her hair out to be gray. This photo shows what the hair color looks like 13
months into the graying process
Photo of a woman who
is growing her hair out to be gray. This photo shows what the hair color looks like 18
months into the graying process
18 months
Photo of a woman who
is growing her hair out to be gray. This photo shows what the hair color looks like 2 years into the graying process
2 years! (the final cut)

Have you gone gray? Tell us about it!

Cursive Lisa signature

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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!

126 Comments

  1. Reply

    Jennifer L.

    I feel like my hair went gray really fast over the course of last year and it is making me feel old! Like every time I walk last a mirror or look in my rear view mirror I am like, holy cow! What happened to my hair! I have never worn make up and now I feel like I might want to because the grey just makes me feel washed out and bland. It is hard! I have never even considered dying my hair until now. I love reading your article. It gives me hope that I might find a way to live with it!

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Jennifer! Yes! There is a way to feel good about your hair and we would love to support you. Come join us on The Gray Book where there are a ton of before and after pics and so much support. xo, Lisa

  2. Reply

    Sarah

    Your hair & you are gorgeous. I’ve been debating going gray for a few years now, and now on the brink of turning 40 I feel ready for so many of the reasons you mentioned but one of my biggest reasons in my hair is so dry and brittle. It’s shiny & lovely after I color but that fades and then I need to color again. Do you find your virgin gray hair healthier? I’ve changed so many bad habits, use hood clean products, I don’t over-brush, I always use a clip no hair ties, I wash my hair 1-2x a week because it’s dry, I use masks on my hair – I can only think this dye is damaging my hair.

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Sarah! I totally hear you. I know my hair is healthier now but it’s not like it’s 1000X healthier. It’s a little healthier. I know what you mean about after dying your hair, it tends to be more shinier. I miss that! One thing you can consider is getting a clear gloss dye applied. This will give you that shiny feeling but without the added color. Just an option! xo, Lisa

  3. Reply

    Liz

    Your hair seems to grow EXTREMELY fast. Judging by your pictures it looks like an inch per month! I’ve been growing mine out for 6 months and it’s only just now covering the crown of my head. What do you eat???

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Lol, nothing special! I don’t know why it grows so fast!

  4. Reply

    Robin

    I’ve been debating letting mine grow out. I have some gray/white hair, and was afraid it would look “dirty” because it wasn’t all gray. But, your hair looks beautiful, and you just may be the inpiration I need. Thank you!

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Let’s go! You can do it Robin! xo, Lisa

  5. Reply

    Jeanne

    Hi Lisa, My hair looked exactly like yours in the 5 month picture. I had 4 months of gray growth when I found you on YT shorts. I researched more about you that helped me quite a bit to make a decision to go gray. The 4 months if gray I had was because I had an accident breaking my pelvis and sacrum. My hair grew longer and gray came out 3 to 4 inches. I decided to go gray! I’m 74 yrs old and decided I was ready. I had already made an appointment with my hairdresser a few weeks before I decided so I just went to the appointment. I told her of my decision and she said well you should of called your appointment is for 2 hours for a color & cut. I apologized and said I’ll still pay you well just take the time for a cut, wash and blow dry. She is a high end salon that does only organic coloring and I fekt bad just getting a cut. We talked about going gray and she said you will have a line defining the gray and brown and it won’t look so good. She said I can use a semi permanent color and we can pick an ash color to blend the gray. I gave in and now I have no more gray just a darker peaking of dark silver for $175.00. She suggested I call when I was ready for a haircut or what I decided to do next. I’m kinda disappointed in myself for not sticking to my decision and now have to start all over. I like the haircut she did and Im leaving it longer than I had 4 months ago but my hair is fine and she said I definitely need some layers. Your hair is so beautiful. I didn’t realize it takes 1 to 2 yrs to grow the gray completely out. So I lost 4 months. Its my fault for going forward with the ash semi permanent color we picked out but I thought she would know I would lose the pretty whitesh gray I had. Thank you for reading and I will continue watching you.

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      It’s okay! Once you are are done with your grow out, 4 months will seem like a blip on the radar. You’ve got this!

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How to go gray