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Fade To Grey

January 1 | 4 minute read

Memo Grey Hair Hero 16x9


Originally published on | November 22

There is a plan. I set upon this many, many years ago, in the anticipation that one day, in the far, far distant future, I would want to go grey. I decided that when the time came, I would leave the country. I would go somewhere that no-one knew me. I would chop my hair down to a pixie cut. I would spend the next two years in splendid, book-filled isolation as I let it grow out. Then, with my shock of now-overcast locks on full and fabulous display, I would return to Sydney as if nothing had happened.

Now, given my 20-year relationship with the most vibrant of red hair dyes – which coincides with my 20-year relationship with my hairdresser, Brad Ngata – I am neither in a rush to put this plan into action, nor am I so sure that the plan is, shall we say, practical. I may also be in denial as to just how much grey has already crept in. Every time I suggest to Brad that it isn’t too bad, he gives me a look that suggests he (of course) knows otherwise.

I have watched a number of friends set off on their transition-to-grey journey. One opted for Morticia-style streaks down each side from the temple to start the blending-in process with her darker hair. Another did go for a shorter cut, while others have gone various shades of blonde to blend in with the incoming grey.

Not long ago I was at the salon alongside a 40-something girlfriend. She showed Brad a photo of a naturally ice-blonde Scandinavian model in her 20s, asking to go the same colour to hide her greys. Brad had to coolly, calmly explain that her already colour-treated hair could never achieve the same silky cool aesthetic as someone whose hair is naturally like this. (Bringing up Kim Kardashian’s 14-hour bleach job for the 2022 Met Gala did nothing to sway him from his expert opinion.)

Going grey is a life-changing decision – albeit one with less stigma these days, thanks in no small part to the latest wave of age-affirming feminism and social media’s explosion of over-50 influencers, such as Instagram’s @thesilverlining_1970, @silverdisobediance and @agingwith_style_and_grays. Plug “grey hair” into TikTok and you can go down a rabbit hole that will have you wishing that Becca Grey was your new BFF on the grey side.

It’s definitely worth having pro-grey poster women along for your ride, such as British Vogue’s Sarah Harris, actors Helen Mirren, Andie McDowell, Sarah Jessica Parker and Tia Mowry, models Paulina Porizkova and Kristen McMenamy and artist Alexandra Grant (whose plus-one happens to be Keanu Reeves).

Memo Grey Hair 16x9 1

According to Brad, my plan is a legitimate one (minus the moving country part). But for those who don’t want to do the chop and want to keep some length and blend in the grey over time, he says, “You have to have a colour plan, you have to stick to it and you will go through some ugly phases.

“People who are mid-blonde or blonde-highlighted, or tinted to that colour usually have an easier transition,” he says. Medium to darker tones are trickier to navigate. “If you’ve got 50 per cent dark grey and 50 per cent white, I tend to say to clients, unless you want to cut it off super short, it’s best to stop colouring for six months. As your hair grows down you see the natural percentage of colour in the hair.” From there, you can work out how best to blend the two shades, including with techniques such as balayage. But ultimately, he says that colour removal is key, whether that’s removing existing dye or lightening your remaining natural colour to blend in with the incoming greys. “It has to be bleached out – there’s no other way.”

As a result, you have to take extra care of your hair during this time. As well as weekly hair masks, he recommends toning out any bleached brassiness with blue or purple-based shampoos and conditioners or semi-permanent toners.

“It’s a process of a good year of committed appointments and you’re not going to get the result you want immediately,” he says, adding that it can take two to three years to get to the desired result, depending on how long you like to wear it.

He says that once you are at 80 per cent white, things can get more playful. “At that point people can feel washed out, but you can introduce colours like what I like to call ‘French grey’, a very pale grey colour, or all the soft pastel colours. You’ve got a blank canvas at that point – there are a lot of options once you go through the pain.”

And no need to buy a one-way ticket to dullsville.

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