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Hair Color: Pros and Cons, or "Why I Stopped Coloring My Hair"

Jaye likes to share with readers things she has learned in her life journey.

Those Silver Highlights are Natural

DIY haircut and natural color

DIY haircut and natural color



I decided nearly three months before writing this article to stop coloring my hair. There were several reasons for my momentous decision. Before I list them, let me give you some background about my hair and the problems I've encountered in my quest to improve it.

I was born bald and was still nearly so in a studio photograph of me at age 10 months. An unsmiling child with chubby cheeks wearing a “comb-forward” (toddler version of the infamous comb-over) hairstyle stares glumly at the camera. My mother obviously wet my hair before combing the very few, very finely-textured strands forward from my crown to my forehead where they ended in extremely short, cut-straight-across bangs. That was 1944, after all!

A year later, I had enough hair to pull back and catch with a barrette, and the color was a very dark brown. It had grown enough in length to be cut just shy of my ears in a very straight cut. My hair was still fine and straight as a ruler. No curl, no body. I would be getting home perms by the time I started to school at age five. Until then, I spent Saturday nights sleeping on pin-curled hair as Mom tried to force my stubborn locks to at least curve, if not curl, for Sunday morning church attendance.

Sleeping on bobby pins wasn’t comfortable, but that was a breeze compared to choking on the noxious fumes of chemicals contained in a home perm kit. My mom, like many mothers of that period, longed for her daughter to look like child actress Shirley Temple, a moppet whose ringlets were popular when said mothers were young. However, mine gave birth to a truculent child with limp hair that hung from its roots in perfectly straight lines. Mom tried to change my hair—oh, how she tried! But the curls wrought by bobby-pinned circles slid out within an hour or so, and perms in those days just made my hair frizzy and fried.

I recall having a “heat wave” (not to be confused with the weather or body temperature) when I was about twelve years old. The curling apparatus hung from above the beauty salon chair with tentacles that attached to partings of the customer's hair. Stinky chemicals were also involved in this new method. In addition, the treatment entailed the use of heat. It was tricky for the beautician to time it just right and unfasten the tentacles before the smell of singed hair overpowered the chemicals. Oops! I got that frizzy-and-fried look again, but at least my hair wasn’t straight. This was a temporary fix that lasted for about three months.

My hair has always grown quickly, especially while permed or short, when I’d prefer it to grow much more slowly. My mother believed fervently in girls wearing their hair cut short, so it was never any longer than just below my rather large ears (which she did like to cover, and I don’t blame her—I still do). I would be grown before I had long hair. I grew it down to my shoulders in the ‘60s—long, ruler-straight (when it was fashionable) or flipped and parted in the middle. During that period, I shampooed it every morning and let it dry naturally for several hours. But, wait . . . I’m getting ahead of my story. Let me backtrack a bit.


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When did I first begin ”assisting” my hair color? I decided to become a blonde in 1964. Instead of entrusting my hair to a professional hair colorist, I opted for DIY at home. After all, one of my friends lightened her own hair, and she always looked stylish.

I bought my first package of hair color at the pharmacy, wavering between choices of temporary, semi-permanent, or permanent color formula. Suffice it to say I was completely ignorant about all of them, but timid about going all out with permanent color the first time. I settled for the temporary color kit.

Since my hair was so dark and contained a lot of red pigment, temporary color did not get close to making my hair as light as the photograph on the cover of the package. The end result was more of a muddy red. Oops! Well, that wouldn’t do, and I couldn’t leave it like that. So, back to the pharmacy, and this time I bought the semi-permanent formula.

I followed instructions and waited the requisite twenty-four hours between treatments, but the minute that twenty-fourth hour passed, I used the new formula. Which, by the way, required a different approach, with a too-brief learning curve. It didn't make the process easier that I tried to see the back of my head by holding a hand mirror behind it while daubing drippy hair coloring mixture with the other hand encased in a rubber glove.

It still didn’t turn out right! My hair was supposed to be a flaxen blond (according to the picture on the box). Instead, it was a brassy dark blond or brassy light brown, depending on the lighting, and still hinting of red. Arrrgh! Back to the pharmacy.

I have no idea why my hair didn’t all break off even with my scalp after soaking up all those chemicals, but my luck held. Partially. While my hair didn’t break off, and not too much of it fell out, there was a decidedly green tinge to the lighter color I achieved, particularly right around my hairline.

That’s how I learned (belatedly) that the various types of hair-coloring treatments available in those days weren't supposed to be used interchangeably. Semi-permanent formula was not meant to be used on hair already treated with a temporary color, because the ingredients weren’t compatible.

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Another twenty-four hours went by, after which I employed a potion known as a “drabber” to rid my locks of the green hue and some of the brassiness. At last! I was a BLONDE.

It only took a couple of weeks before my very dark roots grew out enough to see the decidedly noticeable line of demarcation between the blond me and the brunette me. The process of coloring just the roots was even more difficult than the initial whole-head treatment, so it wasn’t long before I used a dark permanent dye to reverse my hair back to its natural shade. I left it alone and its color “unassisted” for the next 20 or so years.

In my forties, I began coloring my hair again. Let me tell you right here, the reason was not to cover up gray like the commercial claims. I didn’t yet have any gray, which surprised me since one of my grandmothers went completely silver-haired by her fifties. I was simply bored with my appearance and wanted a change. For a while, I kept my hair frosted (not to be confused with tipped or foiled, both of which I did later). Frosting dark hair made it streaked, the dark brown alternating with streaks of medium blondish color.

By this time, I didn’t have the time or inclination to do it myself, so I entrusted my hair to various hair colorists. They each used different products and different methods, so my hair's “look” changed accordingly.

I stayed with blondish shades until my early fifties, when a professional colorist suggested I go red. Hey! That’s a good idea. I’ve always liked red hair. I told her okay and gave her carte blanche with the tone.

The shade of red I got was a deep red, but not auburn. Actually, it was really, really RED. Not quite a primary color, but close. I liked it. My eyes suddenly looked much more green than blue. I really liked it. I also liked wearing the colors of clothing and makeup that look good on redheads. Now I finally had the hair color to match my temperament, so I kept it red for a couple of years.

During that period, I moved and began to try DIY hair coloring again. The products had gotten better since my initial amateur hair-coloring ventures. I had such a hectic schedule that making time to go to a salon was more difficult than applying the mixture myself. That’s when consistency of color really got knocked out of the water! The shades vacillated between a deep burgundy and the bright red that’s in the smallest Crayola™ box.

I recall one time when the shade was so “off” that I desperately needed professional remedial help, and I needed it right then! I had to take a personal day away from work, covered my head with a scarf to go to the salon, and it took a three-step treatment and all day to make me look human.

After that, it was back to brown . . . auburn . . . and then, medium ash blond . . . followed by . . . I'm sure you get the picture. My hair color changed so often that small children in my extended family were apt to get confused whenever they saw me.

Fast forward to after I retired, when a new phase of my hair care adventure began. I was still coloring my hair once a month in front of the bathroom mirror, but the shades still varied a bit from coloring to coloring, depending on what was available or on sale in the hair products section at the supermarket. My retiree budget did not extend to professional color treatments.

It grew more difficult for me to treat the growing-out roots on the back of my head. The dual problems of not being able to really see what I was doing and difficulty holding my arms aloft so long wore me down. Consequently, there were times when I had chunks of hair that got left out of the coloring treatment altogether—little streaks of dark brown with gray sprinkles that shone through the colored hair. I kept asking myself: Is it time to give in to nature and let my hair go gray?

By then, my hair was turning gray. I'd worn it either bleached or dyed for so long I wasn’t aware how much gray hair existed on my head until I slacked off keeping the roots tinted. I'd look in the mirror and do a double take. What is that on my head? From that point on, there was no pretending the gray wasn’t there. How did I feel about it? I still wasn't sure. Did I really want to see just how much gray hair was hiding under the hair color? So, it was 2010 before I finally made the Big Decision and went au naturel.

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Here are the reasons I decided to stop coloring my hair:

(1) The process had become too unwieldy for me to perform myself because of physical challenges. I started dreading the procedure the moment I took the box of hair color from the shelf.

(2) My stretched-to-breaking budget could not afford the frequent expense of even the DIY treatment, much less the cost of salon treatment. I often cut my own hair, handling the back by a combination of touch, two mirrors and plenty of guesswork. I'd recently gone shorter with my hair length than it had been in years in the quest for comfort and ease of care.

(3) I’d read that some of the chemicals in dark hair dyes may be dangerous, possibly carcinogenic. Actually, these warnings about dark hair dyes were published for at least a couple of years before I paid attention, but they seemed to be aimed at women of childbearing age (obviously inapplicable to me). There did not seem to be any conclusive evidence, and many scientific studies (sometimes depending upon how they were funded) contradicted each other. Still, with the years adding up, I tried to avoid known and potential toxins. Why take a chance?

(4) The very youngest children in the family didn't know from one visit to the next what color GiGi's hair would be. ("GiGi" is short for Great-Grandmother.)

(5) What the heck! As the official matriarch of my family, at that point getting closer to the Big 7-0, a senior citizen (and what a very young person would consider "an old lady"), why shouldn’t my gray hair shine for the world to see? It may be a sign that my vanity decreased with age, but I strongly felt, Hey! It’s okay to be gray!


The History of Jaye's Hair

Two years old with short straight hair

Two years old with short straight hair

Five years old with hair "fried" by home perm

Five years old with hair "fried" by home perm

Oh, those short bangs and permed curls!

Oh, those short bangs and permed curls!

Still short bangs & permed hair

Still short bangs & permed hair

My first attempt at becoming a blonde! Age 21 and still wearing a dorky hairdo

My first attempt at becoming a blonde! Age 21 and still wearing a dorky hairdo

Longer hair & natural color, age 23

Longer hair & natural color, age 23

Long straight hair, natural color, age 30

Long straight hair, natural color, age 30

Natural color and straightness in my mid-30s

Natural color and straightness in my mid-30s

Glamour blonde (in my mid-40s)

Glamour blonde (in my mid-40s)

Dark red hair & perm, in my early 50s

Dark red hair & perm, in my early 50s

The Dallas days--big hair and big shoulder pads, age about 47. I also wore "enhanced" nails.

The Dallas days--big hair and big shoulder pads, age about 47. I also wore "enhanced" nails.

Almost a primary red, in my mid-50s

Almost a primary red, in my mid-50s

Here I'm a strawberry blonde, about 58 yrs. of age

Here I'm a strawberry blonde, about 58 yrs. of age

Will I Change my Mind? Not Likely!

Making the decision was the easy part. Watching my hair color change inch by inch as my hair grew out, seeing the “calico cat” look in my mirror as three colors fought for domination—artificial reddish brown, natural dark brown, plus more and more gray as the length was scissored off—took real determination. It would have been so easy to give in and cover up the gray, but I held fast to my decision.

After all, I’m human and a woman, albeit one for whom the term "senior citizen" has a different meaning now that it describes me. Once all the artificial color was trimmed away, and the hair on my head was a salt-and-pepper mixture (not to mention those silver wings in front and on the sides), I realized: that’s really and truly the “natural” me. Different, but okay. Yes, I'm okay, and so is my hair in its normal state.

After I began writing this account, I read Gray Hair is Sexy, by Isabella Snow. Isabella is beginning to get some grays in her early thirties, so if her hair turns silver overnight, granted, it will look sexy on her. People who are prematurely gray usually look striking, and I've seen her photo. She looks good (though I saw no grays). I did notice that the first photo she featured in that article is one of EmmyLou Harris, the singer/songwriter. EmmyLou has been on the music scene for quite a while, so she can't be very far behind me in age, and her hair is gray. She does look sexy! With those cheekbones, she undoubtedly has good genes.

I look at magazine photos of Helen Mirren (now, there's a woman who ROCKS gray hair!) and almost wish the remaining pigment in my hair would disappear. Meanwhile, I have built-in silver highlights and silver streaks. That's enough drama for me--that is, until I finally become a lady with shining silver hair.

The updated photo (2019) beneath the article title shows that my "natural frosting" has nearly taken over. It also displays one of my DIY haircuts. I've become completely comfortable with the natural me. The best part? My new "do" is low-maintenance and doesn't cost me a cent!

UPDATE: On December 4, 2019, the International Journal of Cancer published the results of a study that indicated regular use of permanent hair dye or chemical straighteners may cause breast cancer or interfere with hormones, particularly for black women.


Thanks for reading and supporting this HubPages writer!

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I hope you will leave comments, and it's even okay to laugh at my vintage photos. (I did in the process of assembling them.) Your feedback is valuable to me.

NOTE: I am the author of this article, and it is owned by me in entirety. It is not available for use by reproduction in any form without my express written permission. If you see all or any part of this article as written and/or my original photographs on another site, please notify me where it can be found. Theft of a writer's work is plagiarism, and stealing another's words is no less wrong than any other theft.

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© 2010 Jaye Denman

Comments

Jaye Denman (author) from Deep South, USA on March 07, 2015:

Hi, Maggs - I enjoyed your comments about your own hair "history" quite as much as you liked my hub. I remember those metal clips because my mom also tried them in my straight hair--to no avail. My hair was very thick back then, and its weight would pull out the very slight wave soon after the clip was removed.

Your "pink" color fiasco reminded me of the green tint around my face when I used two different types of color to lighten my hair in my younger years. (And that was long before the punk look of bright colors was in vogue!)

Your silvery hair is very pretty in your photo. I wish my own would get past the gray streaks with salt-and-pepper dark sections to reach the silver stage.

Thanks for reading and sharing your stories. Regards......Jaye

maggs224 from Sunny Spain on March 06, 2015:

Hi Jaye, I loved your hub, especially the photographs, I will be voting up and hitting the relevant buttons on my way out.

I only tried colouring my hair once, when I was in my late forties, by that time I had quite a bit of grey and white in my hair.

My daughter started colouring her hair at around 17 and has had every colour in the natural range plus stripes of green purple and other unnatural colours during her Goth period.

I have always been a fan of wash and go, but my mother, like yours, inflicted all sorts of torture to try to make my straight brown hair look pretty.

I remember her using what she called dog clips, they were metal and had crocodile-like teeth. My mum would clip two or three of these onto my hair, they pulled my hair and were very uncomfortable to wear. Complaining was futile and just seemed to prolong the process lol...

These dog clips created a gentle wave much like the ones popular in the 1920s, I don't know why my mum bothered because the wave only lasted for about 10 minutes after the clip was removed.

The one time I did try a colour I tried a wash in auburn which was supposed to last through two shampoos. It didn't go well, the white and grey went bright pink, I looked like a punk and it lasted far longer than the two shampoos.

Now I am pretty much white, which suits me, and my straight hair suits the shorter cuts too :D

As for home perms, don't get me started on those lol... When I was mostly grey and white and had a perm my hair looked like a brillo pad. If you don't know what a brillo pad is try google images there are plenty of photos there, it was not a good look at all.

Jaye Denman (author) from Deep South, USA on February 11, 2015:

Hi, Mariel - So nice to meet you, and thanks for your lovely comments. I'm glad you enjoyed this trip through my big decision to let my hair gray, with its funny photos from different decades, and delighted that you got some giggles along the way.

While I enjoy the "easy care" aspect of allowing my hair color to go natural, I've discovered other advantages as well. One of those is that people do tend to be helpful to someone with gray hair. I recall my late mother telling me (during her seventies) that nearly everyone is nice to older ladies, giving up their seats, helping with packages, etc. I've discovered that she was right.

By the way, thanks for the tip about spraying hair with "shine." I'll give that a go!

Regards,

Jaye

MarieLB from YAMBA NSW on February 11, 2015:

Hi Jaye,

What a great hub!! I would never have had the courage to 'bare all' like that, but I found myself giggling at what you said and did on the way to the Freedom Stage! Strange how similar some of us are!!

I took the plunge some 5 years ago, and my hair is pretty much all over grey, which is fine, but I would have loved to have white hair, but it doesn't look as if it will happen. I like to use a touch of "shine" which gives me silvery highlights. Looks good. I just love the freedom of wash & wear. I dont even blow dry it most times, just let it dry.

One big advantage of this is that for the first time in my life I get offers of help if I am carrying something bulky or heavy. That never happened before.

I really enjoyed this, thanks Jaye.

Jaye Denman (author) from Deep South, USA on August 05, 2013:

Thanks, Au fait - I wish my hair would go ahead and turn silver or white, but I have streaks around my face and sprinkles through the rest. I'm afraid I will look like Cruella de Ville! (I probably misspelled that name.) Ha-ha.

My dad's mother had completely white hair in her 50s, and I never saw her any other way.

Jaye

C E Clark from North Texas on August 05, 2013:

I think white and/or gray hair is great! My favorite is silver and I hope mine will be that color. There are several older ladies where I work with the most beautiful white and gray hair. I call it platinum blonde. ;)

Voted up and interesting!

Jaye Denman (author) from Deep South, USA on May 25, 2013:

Aunt Jimi--I'm a "wash and wear" kind of gal, too--at least, that's what I've become in my later years. While vanity played a role in how I wore my hair during my youth and middle age, so too did wanting not to look (quite) my age while still in the workplace. At this point I've decided to be happy with my "self" as it is--lived-in looks and all!

Thanks for reading and commenting. JAYE

Aunt Jimi from The reddest of the Red states! on May 25, 2013:

Hair really is a pain in the butt, isn't it? I decided a long time ago to be a wash and wear sort of person. I tried the coloring business a few times in my early 20s, but decided it was too much trouble -- a horrible mess, and the Stink! Paying a salon the awful prices they charge every 4-5 weeks was out too. I figured God probably knows more about what He's doing than I do, so for the last several years I've just left it alone. Get it cut now and then, and then wash it and let it air dry.

Awaiting your next photo and I'm sure it will be beautiful! Voted up & etc. Will share too!

Jaye Denman (author) from Deep South, USA on May 01, 2013:

Hi, Wabash Annie--Thank you so much for your kind words about my hubs. I'm glad you enjoy them.

I think a lot of men are also preoccupied with their hair, for a variety of reasons (not just potential baldness). Vanity certainly isn't limited to women, nor is all the hair color sold bought by females! Some men feel vulnerable with gray hair, especially if they're surrounded by younger people in the workplace. I know a salesman who's been coloring his hair for years. He's now approaching retirement age, and I wonder if he'll let it go gray then.

Personally, I've experienced a wonderful feeling of liberation since I abandoned the "chores" of coloring my hair, but I realize going gray is not for everyone...and that's fine.

Thanks for reading--Jaye

wabash annie from Colorado Front Range on May 01, 2013:

I enjoy your hubs ... how well you write them, and the wonderful variety. This one particularly caught my interest as I, too, have had some adventures with my hair. In later years, I used Revlon's Fanciful to perk up my brown which had turned mousy colored. It had been shot with red and yellow. I gave up perms many years ago as they made my hair grow fast. Now I get razor cuts which seem to turn the ends against each other so that I have waves, some curls, and more body. I wonder if men are as preoccupied with their hair as we women are ... other than keeping it, of course. Thanks again, for your great hubs.

Jaye Denman (author) from Deep South, USA on April 15, 2013:

Ilona1...Thanks for reading. You're right--I'm happy with the results and don't feel chained to a schedule of coloring my hair frequently. I even trim my own hair most of the time, so I save money and time.

Jaye

Ilona from Ohio on April 15, 2013:

kudos! My story followed a similar path...but I never went red. I think you will ultimately be happy with the freedom from dyeing every 6 weeks:)

Jaye Denman (author) from Deep South, USA on April 08, 2013:

Paul...Thanks for reading and for your feedback. Once you stop coloring your hair, you will feel liberated. Besides, most men look good with gray or graying hair, and women (in general, including young ones) usually agree about this.

Theresa...You've got pretty hair, and it looks so thick in your photos--lucky you! I did enjoy my "redhead" phase, even the brightest shade, since I always liked red hair. Thanks for all your kind compliments (my ego thanks you, too--I don't get many of those at this age.)

Jaye

Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on April 08, 2013:

Jaye - I have never done anything to my hair, except I rolled it when I was 11 and 12. The only reason is that I am horribly impatient and don't like messing with it. So it has alternated from shoulder length to hip length, depending on the decade of course. I would, wash, air dry, brush and that was it. It was always pretty straight, but after fifty for some reason I developed a little natural body. I started turning gray in my mid forties but it blended well with my light brown hair. I was almost all gray by 50 and fortunately it was a reasonably pretty gray. I know I would look younger if I colored it, but I would be so resentful of the time and effort - it wouldn't be worth it.

So, (1)