Recently, factors like a rough economy have made frequent trips to the salon seem too indulgent for many. Combine that with the perpetual frustration of having to keep up such a high maintenance hair regimen plus a bevy of popular celebrities who are sporting silver strands, and you have the latest trend: more women are tossing aside bottles of dye and expensive salon bills in favor of going gray naturally.
And they're loving it.
"I stopped dying my hair two years before a class reunion. And not only that, I let it grow past my shoulders -- two things that older women seldom do because the so-called experts tell us not to do that. I knew I had done the right thing when men started to compliment me. Never too old to get a compliment...especially from younger men. My favorite compliment was being told 'you've aged beautifully,'" says StyleList reader Suzanne.
Many experts today have modernized their opinion on gray hair, saying that the shade can look effortlessly chic and stylish if you take good care of it.
Certain women should even welcome gray strands with open arms, says Mike Van Den Abbeel, owner of Mosaic Hair Studio in Florida.
"There are several professions for women that we recommend not get 100% gray coverage. Any woman working in law or dealing with money shouldn't try to cover up all her gray hair. In these cases, a little gray will help give a sense of experience and authority," says Van Den Abbeel.
GRAY HAIR CAN MAKE YOU LOOK YOUNGER!
For women who are nervous about taking the gray plunge, the most common reason is the fear of looking older. For what seems like forever, the traditional thinking is that gray instantly adds ten years to your look. Yet StyleList reader Marcia Ramsey has had a very different experience.
"I quit dyeing my hair when I was in my late 40's, and I had people ask me if I had a face lift," says Ramsey.
Some women actually do find that too-deep color can look harsh against mature features, and the levity of well cared-for gray can actually brighten and enliven the face.
We asked a handful of stylists whether gray hair can ever make a woman look younger, and the answers were completely mixed, from "Absolutely never!" to "You bet!" However, there was one thing everyone did agree on: a beautiful head of gray hair coupled with a quality hair cut and chic styling can look positively striking, no matter how old you are.
It can even be your trademark, much like a favorite fragrance or distinctive feature.
"I'm one of the first wave of baby boomers, so you can do the math on the age. I've never colored my hair and like it gray. I think it makes my face look younger because it's soft. I wear it very short in a pixie style, and since I'm petite, everyone says it flatters me. It's my signature look - everyone remembers me by it," says Miriam Silverberg, who owns a boutique publicity firm in New York.
Click through to see our picks for the most iconic gray haired celebs of all time.
Courtesy Everett Collection
THE BEST CUT FOR GRAY HAIR
"Gray hair can be gorgeous! The cut makes a huge difference. Don't give in to 'old lady hair.' Do something fresh and maybe even a little trendy. A graduated bob is always in, and is complementary to any woman," says Houston, Texas stylist Lauren Zabaneh.
"Keeping your hair chin length or shorter is key. Putting yourself together, keeping cognizant of skin tone, complexion and chic-factor is vital to making gray hair gorgeous."
TEXTURE CHANGES IN GRAY HAIR
Many women complain that gray strands are prickly and unmanageable, and that attempting to tame them is akin to doing battle in front of the mirror everyday. There are scientific reasons behind the change.
"Texture changes when hair turns gray because the outer cuticle layer can become more coarse, giving gray its wiry look and feel. As the follicle of the hair shuts down its color production, it uses those amino acids to build more cuticle. This can lead to difficulty in coloring or a rough texture," explains Van Den Abbeel.
Funny enough, the latest Brazilian keratin straightening craze has been shown to smooth coarse gray hair through the experiences of women who were curious about trying the service, without the original intention of treating their gray hair.
"We've had brilliant results with the keratin straightening system on coarse, porous gray hair. It makes the hair smooth as silk and as straight as baguettes," says stylist Vikkie Foxe at Lefore's Spa in Washington.
Another instant texture changer? Highlights.
"I recommend a woman try highlights, since they'll have an instant new look for themselves, plus the added benefit of good texture again. I usually introduce white highlights into the hair to 'match' the gray. It may sound counter-intuitive, but this actually makes the hair look more vibrant and bright, as well as increasing body and texture," says Friscioni.
There's one group of women who can actually benefit from the texture change in gray hair: those with fine hair. The rougher cuticle and denser feel of strands produces a thickening volume that thin-haired types most likely ached for in their youth. With an application of shine serum, you'll be able to enjoy your now thicker mane in all its gray glory.
As for how the gray strands come in, everyone's experiences can differ -- from a salt and pepper-like spread all the way to skunky streaks. Front hairlines are often the first to go, with white hair working its way back to the nape. Yet women tend to be "blessed" with more white growth where you can see it first, and, if they decide to keep it, where it frames the face beautifully.
"Most women tend to have more concentration on the top of the hairline, where as men tend to have more concentration on the sides," says Dimitrios Tsioumas, creative color director for New York's Mizu salon.
If you're not super gray yet, you can check out mom's roots for a preview of what's to come. According to Friscioni, your personal graying pattern is hereditary. Thank your parents.
HOW TO PREVENT BRASSINESS
For women who embrace gray, one of the most common fears is the threat of brassiness -- that embarrassing yellow tinge that can make your gorgeous silver strands look drab. Experts say the biggest culprits of staining are all environmental.
"Smoking or sitting in a smoke-filled environment can lead to a yellowish cast, which is very hard to remove. Iron-laden water is another source, as is pollution. Some hair is just more porous and will absorb or stain more easily," says Melissa Koebler, stylist at Secrets of Hair Design Spa, just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Fortunately, there's a slew of shampoos that can help treat and prevent brassiness, and stylists who work with products day in and day out know what really works.
"A clarifying shampoo can be used to remove any mineral deposits from the hair. A blue-based shampoo such as Clairol's Shimmer Lights can be used to eliminate the yellow hue," advises Van Den Abbeel. For best results, thoroughly cleanse with a treatment shampoo at least once a week.
Another option is to try a glaze, which you can purchase at a beauty supply store to try at home, or you can ask to have done at a salon.
"The best way to tackle brassiness is to get a glaze. This adds shine while toning the hair to keep the brassiness away from the gray color," says Nicholas Penna, Jr, owner of SalonCapri in Massachusetts.
HOW TO HANDLE GRAY BROWS
So say you've decided to grow in an all-gray mane. How should you handle the eyebrows?
We asked another handful of experts if you should keep gray in the brows or color, and responses interestingly varied by region.
Our advice? Figure out whether you personally want the natural look of gray brows, or the glossier look of color-enhanced brows.
Then put down those tweezers.
Eyebrow hairs evolve into a state of gray much slower than the head. People have a tendency to tweeze grays in an attempt to tame brows or preserve color, but it's a big mistake that could destroy the hair follicle that supports hair growth.
While it may not be your desired hair color, gray brow hairs still provide a bridge in the continuity of the brow line, says Renee Gilanshah, brow specialist and owner of Virginia's Salon Amir.
If you want colored brows, choose a shade in the lighter side of your natural color palette for the most attractive results.
"The most common error that I see is that women choose a brow color that is too reddish brown. The warmth from red tones is too great of a contrast with the coolness of gray, silver and platinum hair colors," says Gilanshah.
"Pencils will work best on shading sparse growth and powders are good for bulking up fine hairs, but neither product will adhere to the texture that gray hair develops. Opt for a tinted brow product such as a gel, cream or wax instead," advises Gilanshah.
BEST MAKEUP FOR GRAY HAIR
As for the rest of your face, makeup choices should also change to enhance gray hair -- or else you risk washing out your complexion, says beauty expert Bobbi Brown.
"It's important to pick brighter shades of makeup to give your face a lift. Sweeping a soft pink or coral blush on the apples of the cheeks will help to instantly brighten the face, as will brushing a pretty rose, pink or coral lip gloss on the lips. Define your brows with a color-correct powder eye shadow or pencil, and apply a dark brown or black liner to open up your eyes and polish off your look," suggests Brown.
For a photographic example, check out our coverage of Brown's Pretty Powerful campaign, which includes a makeover of a gray-haired beauty.
BEST CLOTHING FOR GRAY HAIR
And did you know that wearing certain clothing colors could take years off your look by making your gray strands pop?
"Stick to black, navy, pure white -- never ivory -- and all the jewel tones like sapphire, royal blue, ruby, fuchsia, magenta, purple and violet," says image consultant Sandy Dumont, who has wardrobe-advised individuals and corporations for over 30 years.
You'll also want to stay away from certain shades. Avoid going matchy-matchy with gray clothing, as it can age you. Greens can also be tricky, as they can actually make your hair look green when you're standing in the sunlight, says Dumont.
Convinced gray is for you? Use StyleList's tips to pull the hue off fabulously -- and have a blast saving or spending all that extra cash you'd otherwise spend fighting your hair color.
Want more facts about silver strands? Find out if stress really makes hair turn gray.