Growing Out Your Natural Hair

Since I launched this column, lots of women have written to me asking for advice on how to grow out their color without cutting off their dyed hair.

I have to say right off the bat, it's not easy. When I decided three years ago to let my hair go gray, I thought I could relatively easily "strip" the color out in one easy salon visit. When I naively announced to my colorist that I wanted to do just that it was all she could do not to laugh. She very patiently explained what I didn't understand.

Each time I'd had my roots done with my single-process color, that inch or two of hair had absorbed the color differently from the inch or two below and the inch or two below that. And the few times a year when I'd had the color "pulled" all the way through my hair to deepen the faded ends had only exacerbated that problem.

My hair was a patchwork where each strand had not only absorbed the color differently; each inch along each individual strand also had a slightly different color. If I were to strip the color out, she told me, my hair might end up looking something like a hyena's hide. And trust me, if you've ever seen the patchy, scraggly way a hyena's fur looks, you don't want to go there.

It turned out that the only real option available to a person who wants to let their gray grow in without cutting down to their roots is to begin to add lighter (or depending on your hair coloring, darker) colored streaks to your hair, so that as the roots grow in, the highlights work to blend the line between the old colored hair and the new non-colored hair.

I had the highlights put in about every three months and each time my colorist added those, she would add a toner to further blend in the colors. It was not perfect. The difference between my old dark color and my new gray was still visible.

The ends of my hair also began to look really dried out. After about a year - yes, a year - I decided to cut off several inches and speed along the process.

And I discovered that I had also needed a style makeover. My longer-than-shoulder-length hair had needed to be lightened up, but what had worked when I was in my 30s wasn't so good in my late 40s. And once I got the new cut, the color transition didn't feel so burdensome. Here are my tips:

1. Like any renovation project, know that it will probably take longer than you estimate or want - but that it's worth it.

2. Work with a professional colorist to help you manage the transition - and if your colorist isn't keen to partner with you, get a different one.

3. Consider cutting off some of the length once you've made progress - and get a cut that makes you feel fresh.

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Anne Kreamer is the author of "Going Gray."
Going Gray
To learn more visit her website,


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