21 Jan 2008
As you get older, your hair begins to change colour - here's how to deal with it
Once you hit 40, you will probably notice that your hair starts to change. Often it becomes dryer, along with your skin, and for many women, this is when their grey hairs really start to get a grip.
If you are used to colouring your hair, it often helps to break up your colour now and switch to highlights and lowlights rather than have an all-over shade, especially if you've had an obviously artificial colour. Strong, bright, all-over artificial shades are fun when you're young, but they need a Zandra Rhodes-size personality to carry them off when you're older. Instead of looking current, it can make you look like you're trying too hard to look younger.
It also pays to go a little lighter at this time, as the pigment in your skin is starting to fade and your hair colour would naturally keep step with it if left to its own devices. One tip is to think of the colour you had as a child. If you were blonde as a child and over the years your hair has faded to brown, for instance, you can probably take added blonde shades very well. Highlights AND lowlights, especially graduated towards your face, are very flattering and can give your hair colour real depth.
At 43 I decided that my naturally fair hair had gone dark enough and was verging on mousy, so I switched back to blonde. There are five shades in there, including lowlights and highlights, with the back and the undersides darker, and the front and top layers lighter. This gives the hair more vivacity and impression of movement.
Western society has a problem with grey hair because we do not respect ageing, or any outward appearance of it. I remember seeing a gloriously grey Emmy-Lou Harris in the 1990s, and thinking how beautiful she was, just as my mother -in-law (fiercely blonde in her late 70s) exclaimed: "God, hasn't she got OLD!!!"
Whether or not to go grey is therefore a very personal matter. Many women choose to cover their grey hair in their 40s but allow it come through in their 50s, for instance. My view is that blondes can get away with redying to blonde shades, but that darker-haired women always look better allowing the grey to come through, especially if their eyebrows and eye colour are dark. As you can see here, Helen Mirren switches from blonde to grey and back again as feels like it, or as roles demand, while these before and after pictures of author Anne Kreamer speak volumes - going grey took years off her, compared with her heavy chestnut colour.
Grey hair doesn't usually come in all at once - some women get threads appearing all over, like Charlotte Rampling (left), while others find it appears more in certain areas, especially around the face. However, if you colour your hair, the place you'll notice the grey is your roots. If you decide to let the grey hair grow in and the fake colour grow out, switch to temporary colourants until about 60 per cent of your grey has grown in. Then get your hair cut and allow the grey to show.
A great approach when going grey is to ADD more grey than there is naturally in the form of highlights. This can look very pretty, as grey in itself is a beautiful colour with many variations - pewter, charcoal, platignum etc. Many dark-skinned, dark-eyed women look very good with lowlights added back in quite a thick section around the facial area - creating a dark frame around the face, or the obverse, with the front section of the hair made much paler than the rest, again creating a frame. Personally, I'd love to see a grey-haired woman with fine but zingingly artificial streaks like purple, pink and blue in her completely grey hair - it would be perfectly clear that you're not naffly trying to look younger with this treatment, but simply more interesting.
Grey hair is different in structure from pigmented hair - often it is thicker, dryer and more wiry. It also takes artificial colour differently. Therefore I would recommend salon colouring rather than at-home colorants once your hair goes grey. Your hair needs more tlc and over-the-counter options are less effective - it can be very useful to have the heat-activated deep conditioners and subtle heat-activated colour glazes that only salons offer. At home, use shampoos and conditioners specifically designed for grey hair, which will help support the colour.
Watch out for the colour of your eyebrows and consider having them lightened if they are very dark. Brow lightening can soften your whole face. And keep your brows in good trim - heavy, dark eyebrows coupled with greying hair can look surprisingly mannish, especially as your face loses its youthful bloom. If you have the odd grey, wiry eyebrow hair coming through, it often behaves differently from your normal eyebrow hairs and can't be tamed. Pluck it out or cut it off at the roots with sharp scissors.
Cut and condition
As for length, again that's a personal matter. As you can see here, Dame Judi Dench looks great with very short hair (she's also, btw, using one of my fave clothing techniques - picking up her eye colour in her accessories), but some women prefer to keep their hair longer. More important than length when it comes to grey hair is the condition. Whether you colour, or don't colour, once you're grey, eat lots of protein to keep your hair in good fettle, and give your locks a hot-oil treatment once a week - you need to condition the bejasus out of your hair now to keep it looking good. And don't smoke! Grey hair picks up cigarette smoke and changes to an unflattering brassy yellow.
Grey hair and coloured hair may take more time and attention than naturally pigmented hair, but it is worth the effort - get your hair right and it's like putting a jewel into a great setting.