Hello - my name is Denise O’Neill. I live in a town called Lisburn in Northern Ireland. I am married and a mum of two teenage children (a daughter who is 19 and a son who is 16) and I work part-time as an administrative assistant in a university college in Belfast. Here is my journey to grey …
It’s funny how aging sneaked up on me and bit me on the (bleep) - lol!
When I reached the milestone of the ‘Big-40’ I thought I still looked ok for my age, so I sailed along merrily continuing to do what I was doing - keeping an eye on my weight, wearing nice clothes and make-up, colouring my hair – just trying to look my best. And, it all worked very well until, at the age of 45, I really took a good look at myself – a really good look. At this time, I was also experiencing the early days of the peri-menopause so things were changing both physically and psychologically for me. I started to notice how old I was beginning to look. My complexion was beginning to change - my skin was beginning to lose its elasticity and fullness, causing more wrinkles to appear and my hair was getting thinner around the front area making my scalp more visible. Bottom line - I was losing my ‘youthful glow’.
When I was younger, my natural hair was a very rich dark brown and I suppose I felt the need to start colouring it at the age of about 35. I always used the same colour, ‘Light Golden Brown’, a semi-permanent colour by Clairol. It did the job of colouring my hair quite nicely and, although it wasn’t the perfect choice of colour, it was the best I could find after I had experimented with other shades. In the early days of colouring I was able to apply the colour every 3-4 weeks. It was quite easy - really no bother to do – and it gave my hair a lovely, shiny finish. But, after a few years, I found that I needed to apply the colour more frequently, with less time between colour applications - the grey roots were showing up more quickly and more abundantly. It had got to the stage where I was putting on colour literally every 2 weeks to get rid of the new grey regrowth coming through. The colour was beginning to look very ‘flat’ and ‘hard’ so I tried putting in a few lowlights to lighten things up a bit. I could see that I was becoming a ‘slave’ to constant colouring and I resented putting chemicals onto my scalp which might not be a healthy thing to do. As I said above, my hair was thinning a bit at the front so the harshness of the colour was making my scalp more visible through the thin hair.
So, one day when I was due to apply the dye I looked at my silver roots and I could see that they were creating a nice glow to my face. They were only very short roots and, as I pulled my hair back tightly from my face, I tried to imagine what they would look like if they were longer – and it looked promising. There and then I decided I would give it a go. I just had to see what I would look like - the REAL ME. I always had the habit of making a note in my diary each time I coloured and the last day I applied dye to my hair was 14 June 2008. When I had made my decision to stop, I entered into that day ‘last day of colour’ – it’s there on record – no more dye!
I went ‘cold turkey’ and it took me about a year, with a lot of patience, to grow out the dyed hair. Firstly, I decided to get my hair cut quite short - it had been in a bob style. During the growing out phase my hair was such a mess, a mixture of the old dyed colour, my new natural dark brown and the grey coming through. I felt that other people were thinking I had I had let myself ‘go’ - that I didn't care about how I looked. Of course this is not true - I really cared! And, being honest, it was so difficult.
At this time, I remember typing in my computer the words ‘grey hair’ into ‘Google’ to see what might come up. I felt the need to search out anything about women and grey hair – information on products, guides and tips about grey hair, pictures of grey-haired women, hair styles for grey-haired women – I was so HUNGRY for information. I searched ‘Amazon’ to see if I could find books on the subject and came across 'Going Gray' by Anne Kreamer and 'Going Grey - Looking Great!' by Diana Lewis Jewell. So, I immediately ordered these two books from the USA. I couldn’t wait for them to arrive. I devoured the books, digesting everything I could about the subject and was so glad to discover that there were other grey-haired women in the world and that it was actually becoming quite fashionable in the US, that these two authors were trailblazers and that we, in the UK were so far behind everyone else. I was so glad of the support of these two books (thanks Anne and Diana) and, during difficult times of my transitional phase, I would look at the pictures contained in them and read them to inspire me to keep going. And, they did!
I stuck with growing out the dye and every time I had a new cut I could see the grey/white strands of hair shining through more and more (especially round my face like a light). It was like a metamorphosis. I felt so free - free of the shackles of colour - free to be the real me. It wasn’t just the outer look that felt free but inside I was changing too.
Once I had grown out my dyed colour, I quickly learned that it is not enough to go grey and expect to wear the same colours in clothing and make-up. I had to look at my colour palette and discovered that I could no longer wear warm autumnal colours like browns, creams, beige, green and yellow because these simply did not go with grey. In fact, they looked terrible with my grey hair! I had to re-stock my wardrobe with cool colours to match my new look, ie black, charcoal, certain blues, aubergine, purple, certain pinks, white. The bottom line for me was to avoid colours that contain any warm yellowy tones
I had to look at my make-up and learned to highlight my face so that it did not look washed out. I use a slightly lighter foundation both in colour and texture, some pink/natural blusher, smokey/taupey/silvery eye shadows, charcoal grey eyeliner, black mascara, and pink/natural lipstick. I learned to define my eyes and lips so that they stand out but in a natural way to complement the lighter hair around my face.
I found that had to change my hair products in order to care for my new grey hair, using a shampoo specifically for grey hair at least once a month (or just when I notice that it needs done) and using a regular shampoo to keep it clean and moisturised. I found that the texture of my new grey hair was quite fragile so I had to avoid using electric straighteners (as much as possible) which can be damaging.
So, now I am a 48 year old woman who is grey and proud – yes, GREY AND PROUD! I will NEVER dye my hair again. I feel I look more natural. It's funny how, if you let nature do its own thing, everything is harmonious. My eyes, skin and hair match just the way nature intended.
In June 2011, I discovered Facebook. I had actually toyed with the idea of joining up for quite some time but felt a bit shy and reserved about doing it. But, with the encouragement from my daughter I gave it a go. Then, in early July I did the same thing I did 3 years’ ago in ‘Google’ … I typed the word ‘grey’ into the Facebook search box and guess what? I found a group called ‘Gray and Proud’. I just couldn’t believe it – I had discovered that a group of people actually shared the same thing as me – they were grey and proud of it – happy to be what they want to be. I asked to join the group and soon learned that it is made up of the most inspiring group of people from all walks of life who are so friendly and supportive. I just wished I had known about its existence when I started out on my journey but that’s not important now – I have made friends with so many lovely people and that’s all that matters.
Since I joined 'Gray and Proud' on Facebook, I have learned that there is a huge number of women who are being ignored by companies in their marketing of products. I think attitudes need to be changed about grey-haired women, ie attitudes in women themselves, society in general, the media, and in the world of beauty/fashion and advertising where trends are set and where influence is created. I am convinced that there are a lot of women who would consider going grey if they could only see how beautiful they could be by the example shown in advertising. Advertising is so powerful and has so much influence on people's attitudes and lives. So, advertisers listen - we want to see chic and sassy grey-haired models on television, in magazines, in fashion catalogues, in newspapers, on billboards, on the internet, etc! My big wish is that the tide will change and that we will see more grey-haired women featured in advertising and that society will view grey-haired women as 'normal' and, yes, beautiful.
We grey-haired women have a voice and we matter too!
The journey is not over yet. I can't wait for my hair to go even more grey/silver and I plan to enjoy every minute of the continuing changes to it.
From Lisburn, Northern Ireland, UK