The Women Embracing Grey Hair In Their 20s & 30s

Photo: Westend61/Getty Images.
I still remember that excruciating moment when a colleague stood over my chair, squinted at the top of my head and said loudly: "Are you going grey?" Thanks. I was 25 and really had no wish to highlight the silvers starting to poke through my naturally dark hair. Not long after that, I started getting my hair coloured to cover those stubborn strands. But over the years it's left me wondering: Why do we have such an issue with grey hair?
"People usually notice their first greys in their early 30s," explains Anabel Kingsley, trichologist at leading London hair clinic Philip Kingsley, stating that on average, over half of our hair will be white (unpigmented) by our 50s. However, she adds, hair can start turning grey much earlier for some people and is strongly reliant on genes.
So our parents and their hair history can be a strong indicator of when we’ll start to go grey. Jessie Young, a 21-year-old student from London, admits she was a little shocked to find her first grey at 15, but it wasn’t completely unexpected. "My mum was entirely grey by 30," she says, "so I guess that affected my feelings about it because there was some sense of inevitability." Although she currently has no desire to cover the greys she has, Jessie says she’ll see how she feels in a few years when it becomes more noticeable in her brunette hair. "I hope I can just embrace it. I’ve dyed my hair white before and if it happens naturally then it will be a lot cheaper to keep up."
Martha Truslow Smith from Charlotte in North Carolina decided to stop dyeing her hair two years ago at the age of 24 when she realised that the stress of "falsifying an appearance" and covering her roots was chipping away at her self-esteem. She says it created "a miserable pattern I could see myself locking into, like so many women, for years to come". She set up an Instagram account, @Grombre, which now boasts more than 8,000 followers, both to give her encouragement on the hard days when she was growing out her hair, and to create a platform to celebrate the beauty of grey hair. She’s strongly in favour of reframing the conversation to move it from being something to be ashamed of to something to be loved.

Happy Friyay! @young_and_gray29 #gogrombre #grombre

A post shared by Going grey with (grohm)(bray) (@grombre) on

"I am so sick of being told what to look like," Martha says, insisting that it's important for women to take control themselves. "I don’t think women have suddenly lost any taboo or shame of grey roots. Growing them out takes profound bravery that often doesn’t go unnoticed (for better or for worse), but what I’ve found to be more powerful than any negative words, is the ability to look in the mirror and be able to see myself, not a version of me others have told me to construct." Katie Petersen, 34, from Portland, Oregon, agrees. Having decided to stop colouring her hair a year and a half ago, she now rocks a neat brown bob streaked with silver. "I know it’s hard not to worry what others think, but ultimately do what feels right for you. Nobody really cares about your grey hair as much as you do."
Martha warns, though, that going grey shouldn’t be considered a trend and that embracing it isn’t for everyone – and that is okay. Beauty journalist Sali Hughes has brilliantly documented the trials and tribulations of her own greying hair and insists on the right of every woman to make a decision that suits them, be that ditching the dye or grabbing it with both hands. Writing for The Pool, Sali declared: "All we 'should' be doing, as ever, is encouraging women to do with their bodies whatever they damn well please."
It is undeniable though, that despite grey hair positivity and platforms such as @Grombre, there is still a stigma attached to greying hair, especially when it begins prematurely. As such our relationship with our locks losing their colour can be complex, and one we don't always feel comfortable talking about. Personally, I was struck by how many friends, colleagues, acquaintances and strangers shared their stories, once I asked the simple question: "When did you find your first grey?" If I thought I was the only one who'd found more and more grey hairs before my 30th birthday, I was most definitely wrong.
One 27-year-old who got in touch but didn’t want to be named described how she had spent almost an hour the night before her wedding plucking out every single grey hair she could find – almost 100 strands in total. Although she doesn’t colour her hair, she does admit feeling both self-conscious and conflicted over it: "Rationally, it doesn’t make sense to spend money on, but it sticks out and bothers me."
A 31-year-old who spotted her first grey at 17 told me how a streak of silver hair on one side of her head makes her feel self-conscious, despite reassurance from friends that she’d look cool leaving it uncovered by root spray (a non-permanent colour in a can, which she says has been a game-changer for her as she can dye her hair less frequently): "I get self-conscious about it because I think it ages me and I don’t like how it looks on me. Some of my guy friends said it would be cool if I let it grow out as a streak but I don’t know if they’d say the same if I was grey all over."
Elizabeth Hodge, a 31-year-old mother of four living in Florida, was 13 when her mum spotted her first grey hair. "At the time we just laughed about it but over the next couple years the grey hair quickly multiplied," she explains. "By the time I was 15 some friends would tease me about it and pull one out to look at it in amazement." At 17, her cousin, a hairstylist, began colouring her roots every four weeks but after a decade of this routine, she decided enough was enough. "I didn’t want to spend the time and money, and also I was curious about what my natural hair looked like," she says. "I was frustrated with the apparent general expectation that young women don’t have grey hair. I got my premature grey hair from my dad and he was never pressured to colour it; in fact, his good looks were often attributed to having grey hair."
Anabel agrees that there is a double standard between the sexes when it comes to going grey. "It’s generally acceptable for a man to sport grey hairs," she says. "It’s even thought of as attractive and distinguished – hence the phrase 'silver fox'." But for women, she says, it can be a different story: "It signifies becoming less desirable and is associated with the negatives of ageing. The fact of the matter is that society puts more pressure on women to remain looking youthful."
Whether you choose to dye your hair, leave it natural or streak it through with whichever
colour suits your mood, in the complex world of greying hair and society's relationship with it, there is only one solution, and it's Sali's: Do whatever you damn well please.

More from Beauty

R29 Original Series