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Going grey: to dye or not to dye?

14 January 2020

We all end up going grey in the end, so do we stay silver or cover up with colour?

A beautiful older lady with naturally grey hair

We look into the pros and cons of going grey with advice and anecdotes from three beauty experts

Style and beauty writer Lynette Peck

Going grey is an inevitable part of the ageing process; as the hair’s melanocytes (cells that produce pigment) make less melanin, hair seems to turn grey.

In reality, it’s just losing its natural pigment – your hair doesn’t acquire a grey colour, it is just a variation in shade. Some end up with a head of white hair and others silver, or dark grey.

Of course, the greying process is all linked to genetics. Some go grey in their twenties and others their sixties or beyond. Just blame your parents.

Going prematurely grey, prematurely

Bizarrely, there has been a trend recently for very young men and women to dye their hair grey before they have even had one grey hair appear.

Known as (don’t wince) the ‘retiree rinse’ and ‘granny hair’, it has been seen on celebrities such as singers Lady Gaga and Rihanna, various models, and has been a trend on fashion catwalks.

Well, so be it if they wish to copy those who do have natural grey hair. Take it as compliment, I say.

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To dye, or not to dye?

The decision to conceal with colour or go grey is always a tricky one. Many women prefer to colour their hair, as they feel it makes them look younger.

Chemically colouring hair is obviously time-consuming and involves considerable financial outlay. It can also lead to hair breakage and a dry, itchy scalp, if not cared for correctly.

The jury is out on this one though as each person will have a different take. Letting hair go completely grey is certainly easier in one respect (not having to dye it) but it does bring some other hair issues to the table.

It is harder to manage, on a day-to-day basis, as it is drier and more flyaway. Plenty of moisturising and smoothing products will sort this out though.

Getting a decent cut can take years off you, regardless of hair colour.

Read our real-life makeovers on Saga readers who volunteered to have hairstyles to look younger

Some of my key findings in the ‘going grey: to dye or not to dye’ debate:

• I would argue that those of us with olive or yellow toned skin might want to consider colouring their hair, as grey is a cool shade and doesn’t always look great with warmer skin tones.

• If you have very fine or thinning hair then going grey can make hair look sparser. Adding some colour will give the illusion of bulk. But again, it has to be cared for and it is best to seek professional advice.

• If hair is frizzy and flyaway then grey hair will be harder to control; colour will add weight and make hair sleeker and easier to manage.

• For ‘salt and pepper’ hair go to see a professional colourist, as they will be able to blend the patches with strategic highlights. If salon prices are beyond your budget, then either go for an all-over colour or all-over grey – both can be done at home.

• If you have been colouring over grey for so long you are not sure how much of your hair is grey, then you can gradually go back to your natural colour. This will mean switching from permanent to semi-permanent colour to start with and gradually going lighter each time you dye. Only colour the new growth and not the ends – it will all catch up eventually.

• If you have gone mostly grey but would like a hint of colour, then blonde highlights are your best option (we love Helen Mirren’s colour).

• To look after your grey hair (which can be prone to yellowing and dryness) then condition it as often as you can and use hair masks every week. Also try a brightening shampoo and rinse once a month with water with lemon juice in.

Saga Magazine contributor Patsy Westcott

There was no lightbulb moment when I decided to go grey, just a dawning feeling that I could do better things with my time – and money – than spend them at the hairdresser’s.

Time was when my dark tumbling curls were my signature. When the first grey strands made an appearance I turned to henna, which served me well until, some years later, my hairdresser suggested a semi-permanent tint and, as the greys continued to appear apace, permanent colour.

Salon visits became ever more frequent until I was spending more time with my hairdresser, covering up the evidence of my age, than I did with my family. My hair was in terrible condition and the trademark curls were a distant memory.

Around this time I had some photos taken for a website. Freshly coiffed, I imagined I looked nowhere near my true age — until I saw the pictures. Far from making me look younger, my dark helmet of hair was distinctly ageing.

It was another year, during which I agonised, before I took the plunge. Friends were divided: many said it would make me look old. To boost resolve I roamed Pinterest for images of silver-haired icons, such as Canadian fashion influencer Grece Ghanem, model Yazemeenah Rossi and Helen Mirren. Meanwhile on Instagram @grombre, a celebration of grey hair, became my go-to follow.

In November 2016, I walked into my hairdresser’s and announced, ‘I want to go grey’. Naturally, it wasn’t that simple. The road to grey involved having blonde highlights put in to soften the regrowth: a lifelong brunette, I just didn’t feel like me. What’s more, despite my brave assertions, I feared that having grey locks would plunge me into wraith-like obscurity.

Luckily, this couldn’t be further from the truth. My hair has been its natural colour for more than a year now and it’s been a revelation. I love all its variations of shade.

Meanwhile, no longer stripped of natural oils, its condition has improved. Even my curls are making a tentative comeback.

Perhaps the biggest surprise though has been that, far from rendering me invisible, my hair attracts more attention – and compliments – than before. As for looking old, many of the friends who issued dire warnings now say I look younger. Not that it bothers me anymore. Ditching the dye has liberated me in more ways than one and I couldn’t give a toss of my silver mane.


Pure Blonde Silver Brightening Daily Shampoo (£19.50,

FUDGE Clean Blonde violet Xpander Foam (£14.95,

True Roots by Ronnie Citron-Fink (Buy it at a discount from Saga Bookshop)

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Writer Tessa Hilton  

My eyebrows started it. Of course. They’d always been a problem. Think Denis Healey meets Frida Kahlo before Cara Delevingne made the unibrow an empowering statement.

Apart from occasional vicious attacks with a tweezer, leaving them to their crazy, wild ways under a thick fringe and avoiding looking at them was easiest.

It was at the hairdresser’s (during that frightening bit when someone much older and uglier than you with combed back wet hair appears in the mirror) that I noticed the brows. Still wild. Still crazy. But now half were white.   

So began the big cover up. Grey can and does look glamorous — on other people. On me it would just look old.  The idea of tweakments to smooth lines is too scary and I haven’t even had my teeth whitened, such is my fear of the dentist. Dyeing my hair though is simply the easiest, most painless way to drop a decade from my age.

My natural hair, like my unruly brows, is a boring dark mouse so peroxide has been a lifelong friend, but with increasing variations as I graduated to more sophisticated (and more expensive) colourists.

To maintain a nice tawny mix, my hair dye comes in three colours; dark blonde, light blonde and brown. In colourist-speak, the brown was initially introduced to break up a ‘build up’ of highlights – read unconvincing solid blonde. 

At one point the stripy effect was dramatic. Zebra-ish even. Birthdays rolled by. And without the word ‘mature’ ever being uttered, zebra morphed into subtle. Now the ratio of colours has changed. Brown dominates, to conceal the grey, with alternating foils of tint and just a few with bleach, as I still have some natural brown left, though mostly at the back.

With all the colouring I subject it to, my hair requires more kindness. I wear hats in strong sun, am generous with conditioner and only wash it every five days. 

Of course, it’s time-consuming and costly. Trips to the hairdresser take half a day every eight weeks, and for the last fortnight I touch up the roots with a clever brush-on powder, which does excellent double duty for those brows.

Refusing to give in to grey also means spending the annual equivalent of a luxury week in the sun. But I’m never going to stop. Better to go green and do without a car than ever go grey.


Moroccanoil Moisture Repair Shampoo (£16.95,

Bleach London Reincarnation Mask (£6.99, Superdrug)

wow root cover up (£28.50,

Your guide to holiday hair care

Saga readers say...

'No dye... No roots... No problem.' Sandra, via Facebook

'I am slowly adding more grey colour to the grey I already have - everyone is telling me it looks fab'. Suzie, via Facebook

'Never dyed my hair 72 this year and have hardly any, so I get acused of colouring, so no I won't bother when it goes grey' Hilarie, via Facebook

'I decided to ditch the blonde and go natural grey. I use Pro voke "touch of silver" brightening shampoo. Love the violet highlights.' Marion, via Facebook

'Gave up colouring my hair in May 2015 and I have never regretted it. I gave up wearing make-up shortly afterwards. So liberating and I love it as my hair gets paler year by year. I feel ‘real’ and why not? Think about it, why do we need to hide? Men don’t usually, do they?' Diane, via Facebook


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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