Gray Hair or Silver Fox?

helen mirren gray hair greyBlythe Danner, Meryl Streep, Emmylou Harris, Jamie Lee Curtis, Helen Mirren and Paula Deen – why are these over-40 stars with white, gray or salt and pepper hair called “silver foxes” while my dearest friends tell me at every opportunity to drown out my gray?

Even famous under 40s are opting for white hair, too.  Kelly Osbourne, Lady Gaga, Pink and Kate Moss have all given “gray lights” a try. I definitely wouldn’t bring on the gray if I didn’t have it naturally.  But I do, and I haven’t found an alternative that I think makes me look better. If I could, I would go for it in a heartbeat.

Before I embraced my gray, I tried lots and lots of hair color strategies in hopes of looking younger, fresher and more attractive.  First a plant-based dye, then semi-permanent, and then the real deal – permanent color.

But, as my gray strands began to outnumber my dark ones, I had to get that permanent color applied every three weeks to avoid the white skunk stripe down my part.  Every three weeks meant too many hours of my time, too many chemicals, and way too much money.

I actually should have reapplied color after two weeks, not three, to keep my stripe at bay, but I just couldn’t bring myself to spend more time with my hair colorist than with any friend or family member.   And worse, the artificial “natural” dark shade looked harsh against my more “mature” facial features.  I think it made me look older, not younger.  Not the look I was striving for.

My next attempt was to lighten my natural dark brown a couple of shades in hopes of a softer contrast against my skin and a less prominent white line down my part.  But, that strategy transformed my hair into a funky reddish orange every time the sun hit it.  No good against my pale skin and the shade screamed “fake – she must really be gray” given my almost black eyebrows.

Out of desperation I went back to the darker shade, but this time I left a one inch-wide- white stripe of hair along the front of my face. While this bold look suits Bonnie Raitt and Cruella de Vil, it clearly wasn’t my style.  Now, I opt for low-light foils to achieve the salt and pepper look.  It’s my strategy for growing out my gray without a harsh horizontal divide between black and white.

Unfortunately, not one of my friends has ever complimented me on my silver strands.  Clarification — not one of my friends who dyes her hair has ever given my gray the nod of approval.

I consider myself to have a good aesthetic sense – and apparently my friends think so, too. Many solicit my opinion on how they look, what to buy, how to style…  So, could I be that off on how my own hair looks?

Maybe it’s that my gray make my friends feel disingenuous. Virtually all my gal pals dye their hair, yet they wouldn’t dream of doing anything else that they would have to cover up.    (Well, maybe just one or two things.)

Is it that my salt and pepper tresses make my liberated group of girl friends feel sexist?  Have you ever noticed how middle-age men go gray, but the ladies don’t?

Perhaps my friends’ biggest issue with my gray is that it makes them feel old.  Let me reference Bonnie Raitt again, not for her stripe of white hair, but for the lyrics in her song “Nick of Time” that supports my hypothesis:

I see my folks, they’re getting old, I watch their bodies change

I know they see the same in me, and it makes us both feel strange

No matter how you tell yourself, it’s what we all go through

Those eyes are pretty hard to take when they’re staring back at you

I don’t expect to get to the “root” of the problem.  But whenever I see a middle-age woman sporting shiny gray, I go out of my way to compliment her hair.  I know it makes her feel good, and it makes me feel good, too.  We silver foxes must stick together.

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Liz Suneby

Elizabeth Suneby is an award-winning writer who writes books to help teens and children find their voice in a hopeful world, magazine articles that inspire us to live life to the fullest, and marketing content for corporation large and small. Her latest books are fall 2013 titles: The JGuy’s Guide: The GPS for Jewish Teen Boys and Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s Dream of an Education. Razia’s Ray of Hope, published by Kids Can Press, is based on a true story of an Afghan girl who is determined to attend the school outside of Kabul founded by Razia Jan, honored as a 2013 CNN Hero. The book is a powerful introduction to the lives of women and children in Afghanistan and the power of education to change those lives. Liz holds a BA degree from Brown University and was a marketing executive before launching her writing career. Learn more at 

  26 comments for “Gray Hair or Silver Fox?

  1. Diane Lutz
    January 22, 2013 at 7:12 am

    I started to go grey but my 10-year old did not want me too. (Yes, I am 52 with a 10-year old.) I think she is afraid I will be mistaken as her grandma and not her mother. Come to think of it, I am friends with a couple of her friends’ grandmas. When she is old enough not to care, I will do it. In the meantime, I will support all you silver foxes with compliments and a bit of jealousy.

  2. liz suneby
    January 22, 2013 at 9:33 am

    Diane, Well, if it makes you feel any better, my 16 year old wanted me to wait to go gray until she graduated from high school. I couldn’t. Thanks for your support. You’ll know when its the right time for you and all of us silver foxes will support you!

  3. January 22, 2013 at 10:16 am

    I tried; I couldn’t.
    I saw photos of myself, silver hair at the temples, brown hair everywhere else, and shuddered. The next week, off I went to Keith. I told him I don’t feel old, I don’t want to look old… and here’s a picture of my older sister, who actually looks younger now thanks to a head of cottonpuff blonde going white by way of platinum.
    “Make it so,” I said, and he did.
    I now sport the Bonnie Raitt highlight around my face, but it blends the silver into platinum into gold into bronze. I like it.
    Now to correct my makeup colors…

  4. liz suneby
    January 22, 2013 at 10:38 am

    Ah, Pamela, you are so lucky to be able to sport a blonde tone…it is so much easier to blend gray/white with a light shade than my really dark brown hair. Enjoy your new look. liz

    • January 23, 2013 at 9:10 am

      Alas, of the fifty shades of gray (couldn’t resist) not all of us have been blessed with beautiful silver/white strands. My gray is “mousy”, though makes great highlights with the blonde dye. Beside, I love the intimacy with my colorist. My husband does it for me in the privacy of our home. Now that’s sexy for this young gramma and grampa…

  5. January 23, 2013 at 9:26 am

    Besides, I think you’re beautiful! I’ll always support you, my lifelong friend…

    • liz suneby
      January 23, 2013 at 12:56 pm

      that’s what friends are for 🙂

  6. Alexis
    January 23, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    I LOVE my gray hair. In fact, I couldn’t wait to go all gray. I’d heard that you need to be at 70% gray before it looks good and I was so impatient, but so glad I suffered through those weeks of “skunk hair” once I stopped coloring to begin the process. I laughed with delight as my stylist cut my hair super short to reveal my new sliver hair. It’s been 11 years and I love it. My skin tone and green eyes look so much better with gray hair and I laugh whenever a well-wisher asks me who colors my hair because it’s so beautiful – I tell them it’s God!

    • Annie
      July 3, 2013 at 7:23 am

      I hope you read this Alexis. I love my silver hair too. No more dying – heaven! May I ask you what you do with your eyebrows?

  7. djm
    January 24, 2013 at 9:47 am

    I could have written this! When I decided to stop coloring and go completely silver…my female friends (most if not all who color their hair) were horrified…told me I shouldn’t do it..I should go back to coloring it. INterestingly enough…men I didn’t even know would stop me on the street…or at a business conference (and preface their remarks with (I know this isn’t PC) but your hair is beautiful! I have been silver now for over 10 years, I am 55, and just a few months ago a man was staring at me on the subway…I got the willies..until he came up to me as he got off the train, and said, I am sorry, I was admiring your hair, I wish my wife could see it…..sometimes our female friends are not always right! I did not go silver to attract men…I am just merely pointing out the differences in how the sexes view hair color.

  8. January 24, 2013 at 10:07 am

    I started getting gray hair really early. And I do not have the patience, time, or money to get my hair colored often enough. I just roll with it… most of the time. I do end up going to get it colored every now and then.

    You are beautiful Liz!

    • liz suneby
      January 24, 2013 at 3:28 pm

      The beauty of doing business over web and phone!

  9. January 24, 2013 at 11:04 am

    I like what you wrote Liz. The older I get the more I enjoy and appreciate the natural things. It is a blessing to live long. Enjoy life and may you always have good health. Eliane

    • liz suneby
      January 24, 2013 at 3:27 pm

      Thanks, Eliane!

  10. January 24, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    I’m 55. I color my hair and have for years. My gray is dingy, not silvery and pretty. Dingy is not a look I’m craving, truth to tell. I will continue to dye it. Meanwhile, I applaud those of you with beautiful silvery strands.

  11. Jennifer Lesnick
    January 25, 2013 at 10:59 am

    Great article, very well written and a good point. I enjoyed reading this article as I am at the salon every 3 weeks coloring my hair, definitely something to consider and you have given me the idea to try.
    Thank you for the great story!

  12. Salt & Pepper
    January 26, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    I never colored my hair. Now at 58.5 I am more salt than pepper. My reddish highlights on dark brown have turned gray first – how disappointing. Sometimes people tell me my hair shines. I think it has more to do with what shampoo one uses than anything. I’d love to see more articles and products that help gray hair shine!

    The REAL key, however I think to sporting gray hair is to Find and Keep a GREAT HAIRCUT/ HAIRSTYLE and to wear it with pride atop a great body with stylish clothes. One really has to keep the total package up. And that goes no matter if you dye or nut!

  13. NotSilverYet
    December 7, 2013 at 11:44 pm

    Liz, thank you for your encouragement! My friend is salt and pepper from root to tip and was considering dying her hair again! But, I quite literally begged her NOT to do this. She is in a wheelchair and cannot do her own hair. I told her that if she ever had someone dye it, eventually she would have to start over again and contend with “skunk stripe”! That is where I am–1 inch of “skunk stripe” up against dark brown dyed hair! I think I may try low-lights to make me salt and pepper. This may shock my friends to see me with silver strands after decades of dark brown hair (out of a box). But, I’m 54. I’m allergic to all kinds of chemicals and I’m not 20 anymore. Time to face nature with love and embrace it! Forget society fantasies! When “you dye, you lie”! I think you are gorgeously beautiful. And this is a compliment–you resemble Helen Mirren, one of my favorite actresses! Thank you so much!!!

    • September 5, 2015 at 1:25 pm

      never do that – calling it a skunk stripe…
      but there are alternatives – just a new ‘hair mascara’ that I saw at my health food store would do the trick if you have a hairstyle with a definite part. then you just let the silver (or whatever) hair grow in below, gradually!
      I have a link for a method where you still do a little new dyeing of the hair, just a bit, just at the root line…
      (and you can get your hair dresser to do it, too, maybe, blending the natural color, or lack there-of, in gradually)
      in the meantime there are a ton of other things you can guard against to protect yourself from common risks:

      Take care!

      and there is even a ‘natural hair challenge’ running
      – for checking out how your natural hair really is, which of course is what is most likely to complement your own particular tones, but many people no longer have any idea how it looks. 🙂

      best of luck!

  14. argento
    August 28, 2014 at 10:01 pm

    Can I just make a small correction please? Only because I see this time and time again and it drives me batty……’s not ‘dying’…its ‘dyeing’. Dyeing is to dye ones hair whereas ‘dying’ is to die. Big difference. Not trying to be nasty or patronising or a spelling nazi but there’s a big difference between the two so I feel it’s worth pointing out that little typo. My hair is very silver. I’m 54. I consider it my best feature and get a lot of compliments etc but you know what? I also occasionally get (well meaning) people who tell me that I’m ‘far too young for such gray hair’ and it doesn’t sway me at all. If we expect every single person we meet to fawn over our hair, irrespective of it’s colour, we’ll lose our minds. I mean, it’s crazy. If you like it gray, keep it. If you don’t, dye it. It’s as simple as that and there is no need to overcomplicate it and also don’t second guess or try to read other peoples mind in regards to this. So what if your friends haven’t complimented you? This idea that they have some kind of convoluted reason (ie they’re jealous or confronted ) is also nuts. It’s possible that they haven’t even really noticed it OR maybe they’re not all mad for it in which case, once again, so be it. Rather than say that they don’t like it, they just say nothing. And that’s ok. I’ve had total strangers go right out of their way to compliment me but at the same time, if i think about it, very few comments from friends and family. So what? By the time we have a decent head of silver we should well and truly be comfortable in ourselves and confident enough to not constantly need approval and validation. People have their own stuff going on. Why should they have any opinions on my hair either way? It doesn’t mean that they’re threatened or jealous etc. And if you don’t agree with me thats fine too but think about this. How much time and energy do you spend thinking about other peoples hair?

    • Ronna Benjamin
      August 29, 2014 at 7:22 am

      thanks for the spelling correction…wow, I am so sorry we did not notice and correct that!

  15. June 15, 2015 at 11:53 am

    right on, for the gray foxes!

    btw, grey/gray is another spelling question for debate, but there seems to be none about the dying issue… Thanks, again, Argento, for pointing it out!

    Still, as a biologist, it seems like frequently one has to hope that dyeing won’t lead too much to the one without the e… (many dye molecules are demonstrated mutagens!)

    and that is one reason to encourage the silver foxes especially, to help protect *genomic integrity* of all living beings…!
    (i.e. not to be encouraged for those who dye hair in order to get that super look!)
    Actually, just doing things because we have the technology to do them is not always the most wise course, as some may be gradually learning…

    In this context, I will just add that young and old are called on to take the ‘natural hair color’ challenge, and make wise choices otherwise, by a public service association, AGiR! Action for Genomic integrity through Research!, to avoid suspect activities and exposures, for everyone’s benefit!
    Take care!

    * genomic integrity is a new and dynamic ‘big picture concept’ of all the molecular/genetic details in cells… which many things can impact, including things we choose to do…)

  16. June 15, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    just a little extra point: I have a method to grow your natural hair color out gradually too (the trick is to just keeping on dyeing at the root area only, while letting everywhere else grow…)
    best wishes!

  17. Pat Hart
    July 11, 2015 at 6:59 am

    My hair started turning grey in my late twenties…first I frosted it (the old term for highlights, I think) and then I dyed it blonde for several years. In my early forties I wondered what it looked like and let it grow out. It is white (platinum some say)…I get more compliments than I ever did before and it is so easy. I am always tempted to make a change and then I think of the time, energy and cost of routine hair dye and quickly change my mind. I’m now 65 and the beauty of it all is that my pictures don’t show my aging…my hair has been this color for so long. Funny…my friends all say “but if I had your color I would never dye my hair”. I don’t believe them but it feels good anyway. Bottom line…we all do what works for us.

  18. Maria De Palma
    July 29, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    I just debuted my silver/charcoal hair after letting it grow out for 8 months. I purchased a wig which I wore during that time period. Since I knew I was going grey I bought a silver wig cut in a very youthful style…no one knew it wasn’t my real hair except my friends who I shocked the first time they saw it. I began preparing my own hair in cutting and shaping it into the same hairstyle as the wig as it appeared my own silver/charcoal hair was growing out to look almost identical to the wig…well, I had my debut three weeks ago and everyone still thinks it is my wig…I love it!…my hair is healthier, thicker with more volume than ever before which I attribute to not having awful chemicals in it…also using the correct products for fine silver grey hair…it is sort of a miracle…embracing my “Vintage-ness” has turned out to be the best thing for this newly 70 years old. I actually look forward to styling my hair every day…playing with makeup to enhance the new look. Oh, and I have been hit on several times by much younger men who just love the silver hair.

  19. alma hamer
    February 6, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    I live in California could you please let me know who makes this silver color Thanks Alma

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