London: At what point should you stop dyeing your hair? At what juncture does the idea of you being a natural brunette (in relation to the rest of your appearance, that is) feel a little improbable? It’s something I have been thinking about a lot lately, as I approach 60 and, after nearly a quarter of a century of having my hair professionally dyed brown.
I have come to the decision it is time to stop. Time to admit to the world that I am not, in fact, a natural brunette any more. I am almost completely grey.
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And so it is that I am sitting in my favourite hair salon, finally ready to take the plunge. To go out proud and grey, that is, which means getting rid of all the brown and dyeing it to match my grey — no, hang on, let’s be clear about this white roots. If this doesn’t seem such a very big deal to you, then perhaps you are a blonde and can get away with leaving them undone for a while.
For dark brunettes like me, where the contrast is high (and the grey started sprouting in my mid-30s), it is a different story. In the olden days, I could just about manage to visit the salon only every two or three months. Now that it takes only ten measly days for the roots to grow back in — less for my wretched ‘sideburns’, and don’t even talk about my nutty professor eyebrows — it feels almost not worth going home in between.
Am I an anomaly clinging on to the brown? Maybe.
Most of my contemporaries went pre-emptively blonde in their 30s and have largely forgotten what colour they were, to begin with. According to Mintel, only 6 per cent of over-55s who colour their hair in Britain go for brown or darker.
It’s cheaper, I think, being a bottle blonde. Roughly, I spend £100 every three weeks for the roots retouch, not counting the blow-dry, making do in between with my genius Josh Wood Colour root concealer pen (£10, Boots).
The full-on colouring with balayage highlights and so on, which I do every three months, costs considerably more. I know, but what is the alternative? Like my heroine, the late, great Nora Ephron, once said, at a certain point in your life you are only ever eight hours away from looking like a bag lady.
She also wisely pointed out that there is no more potent signifier for old age than grey hair. ‘There’s a reason why 40, 50 and 60 don’t look the way they used to,’ Ephron, herself a brunette, once put it. ‘And it’s not because of feminism or better living through exercise. It’s because of hair dye.
‘In the Fifties, only 7 per cent of American women dyed their hair; today, there are parts of Manhattan and Los Angeles where there are no grey-haired women at all.’ So why do we go grey (and then white)? A lot of it has to do with age and genetics, in that our genes decide our rate of melanin production — melanin being the pigment that colours each hair follicle.
The older you get, generally the less melanin your body produces. There is also evidence to suggest that hair follicles produce minute amounts of hydrogen peroxide (bleach), which when it builds upon the hair shaft, the more so as you get older can lead to losing your hair colour.