I was in my early teens when I realized I was going grey. My hairdresser was halfway through giving me a very loose interpretation of the Rachel cut (although I'm not sure feathering had quite reached rural Oxfordshire in 1994, so it was a touch more Judge Judy than Jennifer Aniston) when she stopped suddenly and walked over to my mum, looking panicked. I presumed nits as my little brother was a constant source of them. But the actual cause of her alarm was going to take more than a going-over with a metal comb and a bottle of lotion to get rid of: she'd found a fair amount of silvery hair hiding in my sun-bleached bob. Thus began my journey of masking my grey hairs.
I started that very day with highlights to blend the grey, prescribed by the hairdresser who seemingly couldn't think of anything worse than a prematurely greying teen. I then moved on to the iconic '90s pairing of Sun-In hair lightener spray and Wella Shaders and Toners, resulting in a patchy red hue that looked rather like I hadn't washed my hair properly after a nasty head injury.
The early '00s saw bottle after bottle of black box dye destroy my university bathrooms (by then, I'd moved from Rachel to Monica in my aspirations). I gave in to blonde when the grey started to overpower my natural brunette, and have stayed blonde for the last 12 years, with a full bleach and tone every five or so weeks. That is, until lockdown.
It's no exaggeration to say I'd always been quite phobic about showing my natural grey. That initial horror on my hairdresser's face over 20 years ago had set a precedent for how I felt about my silver hair: as something to be ashamed of and to hide at all costs. And cost it has — I'm talking tens of thousands over two decades. Even close friends had no idea I was around 70% white under my bleach blonde, so the thought of not being able to see a hairdresser for god knows how long was terrifying.
I'd had my colour done just before the world shut up shop and was optimistic at first. I thought I might have to wait an extra week or so before I was back in the salon chair. But as time went on I realized that I was going to have to do something. I very briefly considered a home job and texted a hairdresser friend, who informed me in no uncertain terms that it would be a disaster. Then I began wondering whether I could give white a whirl. I wasn't going to be seeing people for a while, after all…
At first it was hard. Whenever I looked in the mirror, all I could see were my roots. But as my roots started to grow out more and I got past my usual cut-off point of half a centimetre, my greys seemed to blend in better with the bleached lengths. With a lot of purple shampoo (L'Oréal Elvive Anti-Brassiness Purple Shampoo) and masking (Kérastase Blond Absolu Masque Ultra Violet, the best combination I've found for colour and condition), I managed to tone my hair enough so that I could barely see my roots. In Zoom meetings, everyone thought I'd sneaked an illegal hairdresser visit.
When no one could tell, I decided I was going to reveal all and posted a picture of me #growingoutgrey to Instagram. I have rosacea and find the platform super supportive and helpful for this, so thought it might work for my hair, too. And it did. I received dozens of messages from people growing out their greys. Lots were just like me and had been embarrassed for years but saw lockdown as a chance to experiment. This gave me the confidence to go further and when I was finally allowed to visit my colourist, I opted for fine, silvery blonde-toned highlights and a pearlescent toner to break up the remaining darkness and enable a more natural regrowth. The aim? Going fully, naturally grey in the next few years.
If you fancy giving your greys a chance, my hairstylist Jo Sarkkinen at Blue Tit hair salon has a few tips. Natural white hair tends to be quite dehydrated so it needs lots of TLC and it's important to look after the condition. Silver shampoo will give you a boost and make hair look and feel fresh. Try a gloss, whether that's with at-home products or professional gloss treatments. At Blue Tit, Oway is the gloss of choice, while salons also champion Redken Shades EQ Hair Gloss, both of which are available in clear to impart a mirror-like shine. Just think about spending the money you'll save on colouring on treatments and masks instead.
Your choice of haircut really matters now, too. A fresh, blunt cut on grey or white hair looks sharp and modern, says Jo. Lastly, think of going grey as a process. Unfortunately, you're not going to achieve it in one salon visit. If I've learned anything in the past 16 weeks, it's that patience is key when it comes to growing out your natural white hair seamlessly.