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My Radiation Face and Thoughts on Beauty Advice

As I age, I note that beauty advice is more of a conversation among friends, family, and even strangers. Sometimes this input is unsolicited; sometimes it’s just like when Madonna appeared on the 2023 Grammys, looking like she had swollen a tick, and the conversations were about beauty, ageism, plastic surgery, gray hair and pressure both internal and external, to have merit beyond physical attributes.

Most of us, unlike Madonna, don’t make a living off of our physical appearance but that doesn’t stop me from the treadmill of keeping up appearances. This means trying to look like one of my best selves at 27 (or at least 47) before my body fell apart.

The Hair Conundrum

The gray hair debates probably irritate me the most. I tried it – it was called the pandemic. My natural hair is brown, and I have been highlighting it since I was 24 and feeling good about it – as well as spending a lot of money on its maintenance. But the pandemic freed me. I went natural!

Staring at our pandemic hair, my friend Lynne, with her six inches of roots, said, “Our hair looks like shit because it has absolutely no color. All the pigment is gone.” She was right; I couldn’t find a corresponding color in the BIG Crayola crayon box – the one that has ten crayon shades of brown hair. This was not the shimmering silver hair some of my friends were blessed with.

Plus, my no-color aged me 10 years. And by aging, I mean I looked tired, ill, peaked, and like I needed a nap and a cup of oatmeal or a blood transfusion. The person in the mirror wasn’t remotely close to who I knew myself to be. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead to the salon!

No sooner did I get some golden highlights, I read a NY Times editorial about blond hair and racism. Oh God, am I now a racist? Another thing to worry about… But I couldn’t discount the idea of blond hair which had played out in my family.

The story I remember was from my father, first generation Italian, growing up in Brooklyn in the 1930s with his cousins. The Mariongones are northern Italian, reddish brown or blondish hair, green eyes, but the Insinga and Peluso line, are Sicilian, which my sister, who favors them, says, “This means we are African.” Dark skins, black hair and dark brown eyes.

When my blond father and dark-skinned Uncle Vito went to work at a soda fountain across from the Plaza in New York, my father was at the counter, Uncle Vito was washing dishes.

I wonder how this has played into my choice of hair color.

Hair and Makeup Work Together

Ultimately, it’s really come down to vanity and how much makeup I need. When my hair is lighter, I seem to need less makeup to look alive. Yet, this didn’t stop me from wanting to go back to my natural color. So, my daughter insisted I try her hair colorist. We booked appointments, and I waited for the day when I would have my natural brown hair restored. It had been over 30 years since I’d seen it.

When the stylist started blowing out my hair, my daughter gasped then put on a brave face. The dark brown hair made me look 110 years old. If I’d had any natural glow in my face, it was gone. I looked a bit dead, and not even embalmed.

Experimenting Can Be… Interesting?

My daughter’s next suggestion was lash extensions! Well, no one told me that ageing resulted in no eyebrows or eyelashes, so I was game. Despite the price, it actually seemed to provide a small face lift and mitigated the hooded eyes that had also come with aging. I looked awake! But the burning and itching sensation that soon followed wasn’t as attractive.

I cannot begin to catalogue the bronzers, foundations, mascaras, that my daughter has suggested that eventually grew mold after three uses because, let’s face it ­– I am getting old and no product known to man is going to fix it.

Yet, I Was Swayed by Peer Pressure

My cousin and sister had been raving about a new skin cream that had made my cousin look GREAT (she is 64). And she did look great. My daughter encouraged me to get the product, which I dutifully applied to my face and then I had some extra goop on my fingers so I put it on my neck.

Within 24 hours my face turned the color of a ketchup bottle and it burned. My neck, as of this writing, still has a constant rash that itches. No one told me that you need to apply sunscreen DILIGENTLY with any products with retinol. But it did diminish fine lines and wrinkles. Perhaps I will attract a lobster.


Aging Can’t Be Escaped, But I Will Do It My Way

My friend Jan will not dye her hair because she won’t play into standards of beauty. And, we are having more celebrities and magazines that celebrate that beautiful grey hair and old women.

But I don’t want to look tired and ill (which I often am due to my health issues) because inside, in my precious little heart, I feel great! Today I may be on the couch wondering if I am going to die, but I know that tomorrow I may be galloping a horse over a giant green field. I want to look in the mirror and see the person that can do that, not the one that’s lying on the couch.

If a few highlights help, I’m going for it!

My cousin of the young face is sending me a product that grows back eyebrows and eyelashes. What the Hell! Hope springs eternal.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

How is your hair faring post-pandemic? Did you start coloring it again? If you haven’t, how does your no-color reflect on your face? Does gray hair age you more? Do you need more makeup to look vibrant? Have you tried products that claim to make you younger? Does peer pressure affect your beauty decisions?

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I have never colored my hair but then I’ve been blessed with a colour that works for me. As my hair began to turn white/Grey my hairdresser said it looked great as it was. I was one of the fortunate ones who turned Grey in a flattering way. This isn’t the same for everyone. I can remember my mother telling me that her hair turned Grey only down the center of her head so she looked like a skunk. She used hair color for decades and only quit in her very late 70s when her entire head was Grey. I love how many women so effectively use highlights to go with this new change in their life. For others, colour works best. Some women look great with their hair colored into their 70s, while others look great with their natural look. Go with whatever works for you. Don’t be swayed by what others are doing.

Terry Steranko

I agree with you on those lash extensions! Retinol is wonderful but I actually had contact dermatitis. Talk about itching! I get facials every 6 weeks and laser and that seems to keep my face nice and fairly tight. I use good products and alternate the ones I need to and it seems to work great. You do have to invest a bit to stay looking young, but it is good for the soul and makes you feel great when you go out.


Hello 👋 everyone 💕 I stopped coloring my hair 2 years ago and I’ve never looked back. I feel so free. I still have a lot of brunette but it’s peppered with silver. Very pretty 😍 i was shocked. We all have to do what makes us happy so to color or not….have a lovely day sweet friends 🎶🎼💜peace☮️


Having always had very light fair hair, I am now finding I’m going darker rather than grey! But it’s a dull very dark blonde so am searching for a hairdresser that is a good colourist and stylist, without costing the earth! I haven’t yet tried a home colour, just have highlights at a hairdresser but I wonder if there a home colour that would give highlights too? I’m in the UK.


I’ve colored my hair since I was in my 20s. From a home highlighting catastrophe, I went from dull mouse brown to blond. Over the years my blond has become more a strawberry blond with lighter highlights, and finally a pixie cut that is mainly strawberry blond (with a few highlights to brighten it all up). My sisters are both a vibrant white/grey (one actually colors her hair grey/white, and the other is natural), and they look great! For me, the lighter my hair, the more washed out I look. So short/pixie strawberry blond I remain.

As I age (I’ll be 60 in a month and a half!) I need the vibrancy that hair color, mascara and little eye liner bring! I will say that I am having the WORST time finding a great mascara… I used to use one by Clinique that went on smooth/gel like. It’s been discontinued and all mascara seems to have flakes or clumps or go on too heavy. Sigh. It’s tough getting older – but as my Dad used to say “It beats the alternative!” AND, I mostly love the confidence, joy, and feelings of “I’ve got this!” that strengthen with each year!


Love ❤️ strawberry 🍓 blonde hair 👱‍♀️ was hoping my grandchildren would be red but they have blonde and they are sooooo beautiful 😍 its all good. Can’t wear mascara, have no eyelashes can’t wear eyeliner due to surgeries but i too consider the alternative lol 😂 have a nice day🪷


Kristin, I hear you on the Clinique mascara! (“Naturally Glossy”?) Boots No. 7 did one similar called “Lovely Lashes.” Unfortunately this has also been discontinued but can occasionally find on Ebay and the like. Your strawberry blonde pixie sounds great!


Try Thrive mascara. It’s the best I have ever used. And makes your lashes look longer. I’ve tried a few different over the years snd you can’t go wrong. Good luck!


Lifelong mascara addict here👁️. L’Oreal regular not waterproof in carbon black is great( drugstore) also Tarte in the purple lizard case, or Dior Dior show ….I’ve prob tried 12 new ones this past year- really dislike the new tubing mascara as they all clump and are too wet…. Best of luck👍💗

The Author

Margaret S. Marangione is a Professor of writing at the University of Virginia and Blue Ridge Community College. Her novel, Across the Blue Ridge Mountains, has been submitted for the Pen Faulkner award. Additionally, her short stories, essays and poetry have been published in Appalachian Journal, The Upper New Review, Lumina Journal, Enchanted Living and Sagewoman magazine.

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