By Abbie Kozolchyk
Everyone knows someone who sports a striking shade of sterling -- to say nothing of Jamie Lee Curtis, Emmylou Harris, and the rest of the silver all-stars. And these gorgeous women don't lack for sex appeal (71 percent of respondents in a prevention.com poll say women with gray hair can be sexy, whereas 78 percent say the same for men). But even though many of us admire gray hair on others, we're often averse to trying out the look ourselves, according to a 2010 study in Ageing & Society.
Many experts are wondering why: "Women can do so much to keep their faces and bodies looking young--there's no need to think gray hair will necessarily make you look older," says Rita Hazan, owner of the eponymous salon in New York City.
And everyone can pull off the look, says Diana Lewis Jewell, founder of the Going Gray, Looking Great Web site (goinggraylookinggreat.com). "Women often tell me why they think gray hair won't work with their eye color or skin tone. But the fact is, for every one of those preconceived notions, there's an example to the contrary of someone who looks fabulous gray," she says. Read on for some inspiration--and a little education--that will help you answer the question of the ages for yourself: To gray or not to gray?
The root cause of gray hair
"The process of going gray--which occurs as follicles stop producing melanin--is determined by DNA, not diet or other factors," says David Bank, MD, director of the Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic and Laser Surgery in Mount Kisco, NY. Although new research on mice shows exercise may stave off the loss of hair pigment, while stress may speed up the process, these findings haven't been replicated in humans. So even though it seems as if every president goes gray after a few months in office, there's no proof (yet) that stress is the cause. Even the seemingly accelerated speed at which certain sections go gray (temples first for some, the crown area for others) and the exact shade of gray you get (white, charcoal, or any of the other variations) are genetically predetermined. "Your head has roughly 100,000 hair follicles, and each functions autonomously," Bank explains. "If one runs out of melanin, even if you pluck the resulting gray hair, there will be no impact on surrounding follicles--nor is your lifestyle likely to affect the color."
How to let yourself go gray
If you dye your hair, the transition to gray can be awkward. To make it smoother, ask a pro for guidance. She may suggest coloring your gray roots as they grow in with a demi-permanent dye, such as Redken Shades EQ Cover Plus (redken.com for salons), an ammonia-free color that covers up to 75% of gray. Once you're ready for the reveal, you just let the dye wash out (it can take up to 28 shampoos).
Polish your silver
Gray strands are usually drier than pigmented hairs, so they have a tendency to frizz and can easily look dull if you're not vigilant about upkeep. Try these tricks for a smooth, chic look--and perennial shine.
Get a modern cut with clean edges, suggests Yvette Gonzalez, senior stylist and makeup artist at Sahag Workshop in New York City. "Ask your stylist not to use a razor, because it can cause the ends to fray, making your whole style seem untidy," she says. Whatever cut you choose, be sure that you get a trim every 6 to 8 weeks. "Gray hair can start to look unruly if it's not trimmed frequently enough," says Gonzalez.
Protect your assets
Environmental pollutants and UV light can make any hair color--including barely pigmented grays--look dull. So wash at least every other day (to prevent buildup) with a hydrating shampoo and conditioner containing antioxidants, which help protect against UV and environmental damage. Try Giovanni Colorflage Perfectly Platinum Color Defense Shampoo and Conditioner (both $9; drugstore.com).
Even with the right products, gray hair can take on a yellowish cast, so lather with a silver-specific shampoo once or twice a month. The classic product many stylists favor is Clairol Professional Shimmer Lights Shampoo (sallybeauty.com, $9), which has a violet toner to counteract any yellow.
Skip heavy pomades, waxes, and oily serums. "They can coat gray hair and make it look dusty," says Kathy Galotti, a colorist at the Rossano Ferretti Hairspa in New York City. To combat frizz, try One 'N Only Shiny Silver Ultra Shine Spray (sally beauty.com, $7), a shine spray without drying alcohol.
"You look great in gray!"
That's what people will say if you accent your hair with the right clothes and makeup.
"When you see a really attractive gray-haired woman, she's often wearing charcoal and silver clothing, which makes her gray hair even more striking," says Galotti. You don't need to restrict your wardrobe to that color family, but black, white, shades of gray, and jewel tones (ruby red, sapphire blue, and deep purples) are your best bets. Avoid earth tones such as beige and olive, which can wash you out.
If you're going to commit to gray, the labor you save coloring your hair should be switched to putting on makeup, since gray hair tends to make your complexion appear dull. The best place to start? Blush. "Go for shades like apricot, peach, and rose--not beigy or tawny colors," suggests Gonzalez. "They make your skin tone look muddy next to gray hair."
Most important of all: Groom your brows. Trim wayward hairs (grays tend to be wiry), and define your arches with a taupe pencil so they don't disappear.
Are you proud of your gray? At what age did you find your first silver strand? Tell us on Facebook.
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