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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Grey Hair (#4 is Harder Than it Sounds!)

When I finished my book Grey Hair & You, I came to the realisation that the greatest prejudice against grey hair in women comes from women themselves.

There is an incredible number of women who believe they look younger with dark hair. I have yet to figure out why that is. In reality, dying your hair can be too harsh once you’re past a certain age.

These same women believe, along with many of their sisters, that grey hair makes them look older. This is true for some women because they fail to consider the two most important factors in dealing with the challenge of grey hair.

There are just two considerations – yes, only two.

Your One Shade of Grey Hair

White-looking hair is fabulous; scaffold-grey is not. Simple, really.

Of course, white hair isn’t white; it’s clear in colour. The difference between the white and the grey hair is caused by the pigments eumelanin (dark) and pheomelanin (light).

More often than not, you will find both eumelanin and pheomelanin in hair. In grey hair, though, that’s largely unlikely as eumelanin is the more common.

The range of colours produced by melanin is limited to shades of yellow, brown, red and black. Grey hairs contain only a few melanin granules spread throughout the hair, and those granules are likely to be eumelanin.

White hairs contain no melanin at all: their whiteness is an optical effect, due to the way in which they reflect the light.

Make-Up Changes and Grey Hair

Silver or grey hair is an excellent backdrop for a complete make-over in the make-up department. Since grey hair can make you look washed out, using warmer tones in your makeup will make you look and feel brighter!

Charlotte Tilbury Luxury Eyeshadow Palette

Charlotte Tilbury Luxury Eyeshadow Palette

This is the perfect time to have fun in some of the major department stores. Also, remember that in this instance, less isn’t always more. You can afford to be a little heavier handed when you have grey hair but please, do not forget to use blusher-without-sparkle – you want to look brighter, not like a Christmas Tree.

Laura Mercier Matte Blush

Laura Mercier Matte Blush

In Grey Hair & You I have included an entire chapter on Makeup Tips For Looking Great With Grey Hair. I’ve also added a chapter with Tips for Colouring Grey Eyebrows, which isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Steel Grey

A colour always deserving of special mention, steel grey is often reminiscent of scaffolding! Loved or loathed, trying to colour any hair that is predominantly non-pigmented usually results in a flat-looking colour.

Since grey hair is technically hair that has no pigmentation, a natural look calls for some variation in the shades – as it does with any hair colour. This can be achieved by using translucent dyes which leave the hair’s true colour variations visible under the added shades.

If you actually want steel grey hair, you can achieve it with foils – small, random strands throughout the hair – and a dye which will provide you with steel grey. Your best bet is to consult a professional colourist who can recommend the right colour application.

Instant Santa-White Hair

Snow-white hair is almost impossible to achieve unless you’re prepared for some torture. Really, it’s best to wait and hope your genes do the right thing.

In reality, you can’t make the snowy white colour of Santa’s hair because he is 100% grey. His hair lacks any pigmentation whatsoever and is therefore slightly translucent.

To get somewhat similar results, you may be able to lighten your hair to the lightest possible hue, and then tint it using a platinum blonde tint. Also, you will have to use a toner (which is purple but doesn’t look purple).

However, the operative word here is may: the effect you accomplish largely depends on the colour of your natural hair. So, you should definitely see a colourist!

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Does grey hair make you feel invisible? Have you changed your makeup to go with your grey hair? Do you see grey hair as an opportunity to re-style and re-invent your look and even, to some extent, your persona? Please join the conversation!

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I inherited my mother’s fabulous white hair and I thought I would go all white, but I have a different complexion than she had and the white tended to wash me out even with brighter makeup. Instead, I now use the close to lightest platinum blonde color in my hair and let my roots blend in for weeks at a time. Who knew I”d go blonde but it’s barebly blonde and works better with my complexion.


Rhona that’s me also and I’ve been looking for something anything to help my hair can you please let me know the exact formula you are using I’d sure like to try it.
much appreciated


When the greys began to take over in my 40s, people of all ages, races and genders would stop me on the street to say, “I love your hair!” I guess I’m a lucky one; never had patience for smelly toxic dyes or sitting still in a salon chair.

Does it make me look older? Probably, but maybe it’s an unexpected counterpoint, given that historically I’ve looked much younger than my years.

Now, my hair is mostly a shaded silver, lighter around my face. Everything about my appearance is chosen to flatter and highlight my hair. Wouldn’t change it for the world; I love my hair!

Lisa Stege

As my hair went from dark blond to dishwater brown, I started weaving in blond (professionally) to “restore it to its’ natural color”. Today, at 75, I still have so little grey, that I can’t “go natural”; it would be way too drab. I think that our hair is a very important feature; you wear it every day, and it surrounds your face, so spending the money on it instead of more clothing or makeup makes a lot of sense to me.
By the way, I think that women with white hair look gorgeous, and not necessarily older. Think of Emmylou Harris, for example, and I can think of others as well.


Same for me Lisa. I have highlights and will keep having them as my blonde hair has darkened yet I have only a tiny amount of grey. I am 70. I think it is down to personal choice and ladies should do whatever feels best for them. Not be pressurised either way.


Since I’ve gone grey about 8 years ago, I’ve had to adjust my wardrobe colors and make-up. I was surprised to read your recommendation of wearing warmer make-up colors with grey hair. Everything else I’ve heard or read suggest wearing cooler colors, pinks, roses for blush and eyeshadows in neutral taupes, grays, purples, navy, as long as they are not over powering.

Lee Ann Phinney

Personally, I think men look distinguished with gray hair. And most women I know who have chosen to go gray look older to me. At 66, I have enough challenges with aging, both visible and invisible, without electing to give up blonde highlighted hair.

The Author

Penelope Jane Whiteley is the self-appointed Queen of Aging Disgracefully. A writer, international speaker, clothes designer, stylist and traveller, she helps other women to live their lives on their own terms. Her courses include “Lose 10 pounds in 10 minutes,” “The Reboot,” “Just Write the Damn Book.” Find her on, Twitter, and Facebook.

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