Going Grey Early? It’s Not The End Of The World
From left: Mr George Clooney. Photograph by Mr Steve Granitz/Getty Images. Mr Chris Pine. Photograph by Mr Clemens Bilan/Getty Images. Mr Oscar Isaac. Photograph by Mr Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images
It was my second year at university. We were in the flat, pouring boiling water into Pot Noodle cups, firing up the GameCube for a marathon session of Mario Kart, when my friend Fritz stopped on his way to the fridge. “Mate,” he said, standing behind me, concentrating on the back of my head. “You’ve got a couple of grey hairs.”
As he continued into the kitchen, unaware of the atom bomb he’d just detonated, I lifted the foil lid off my chicken and mushroom noodles, let the salty steam envelop my face, stuck a fork in and stirred. My first thought was: going grey at 19?
And then, I freaked out. Grey hair meant ageing. Grey hair meant ugly.
Sixteen years later, my hair is around 60 per cent grey, and I can’t altogether say I’ve accepted the change with grace. In my mid-twenties, as the sliver strands at my temples and sides began to make themselves more conspicuous, I promptly went to the barber and asked for a skin-fade. From then on, I repeated this pilgrimage every three or four weeks.
For men in their middle age, going grey can be stressful, sure. “A reminder that you’re not going to be around forever, and your body is decaying as we speak,” as Mr Raul Aparici, faculty lead at The School of Life, tells me over the phone. But morbid as that may be, at least it’s a natural signpost on the way to older age. For younger men, going grey can feel, to put it mildly, unfair.
“When we are forced physically to look different to the way we think we should look, that’s going to throw all sorts of questions into our minds,” says Mr Aparici.
Surrounded by a culture and a media that reveres youth above all else didn’t help when I was grappling with my greys, either. I couldn’t find one Hollywood actor, or athlete, or musician under the age of 30 that had gone grey (or wasn’t hiding it). According to Mr Aparici, the hair itself is not the issue – it’s what it signifies. For me, I felt I was losing what looks I had in the first place.
When hairstylist Mr Larry King found his first grey hairs, he was in his early twenties. He took, perhaps, a healthier approach. “I never paid much attention to them,” says Mr King, who has worked with Messrs Jared Leto, Chris Hemsworth and Zayn Malik. “My dad was always grey, but had a full head of hair. I’ve always embraced it; I’m not sure how true this is, but I find if men go grey earlier, they tend to hold onto their hair a lot longer.”
Mr King actually embraced his new barnet. “Early on, I had quite a strong grey streak through the front of my hair, and I really liked it,” he says. “It really played a part in my look – so much so that people thought I’d done it on purpose. I think embrace it. Wherever the grey is, make it a feature.”
Thankfully, these days it’s much easier to find grey-hued inspiration. Aside from Mr King, who has empowered countless men in his London salons to celebrate their colour, an array of celebrities have opted to show off their salt-and-pepper locks. Take Mr Chris Pine, who appeared at Cannes in 2016, then aged 35, with a shock of silver running through the sides of his hair. Or Mr Oscar Isaac, who at the age of 36 was wearing arguably Hollywood’s Greatest Hair in a shade more grey than not.
The key to embracing your early greys however – really embracing them – goes beyond hunting for external validation. For those of us not blessed with the confidence of Mr King, or indeed that elite group of silver foxes over which Mr George Clooney undoubtedly reigns, looking behind the hair to figure out what it means to you is the first step.
“What are the real fears here?” asks Mr Aparici. “What is it that I’m losing?” Whether it’s your looks, the feeling that your best days are over, or that you’ve set out to achieve certain goals but haven’t even come close, you can’t begin the process of acceptance until you admit what it is that’s making you scared.
“Once you’ve started making peace with your greys, use them as a powerful, daily reminder to take action on the things you want to achieve”
“It might be difficult,” says Mr Aparici, “because sometimes it has to do with feeling less of a man. Or maybe that your wife might be lying and really she doesn’t like it as much.” Maybe, he tells me, growing up there were certain associations that your family made when it came to white hair – that you were completely past your physical and mental prime if you lost your colour, or that no one would find you even remotely attractive with a head of silver – and these “powerful messages” are still playing in your mind.
Writing these fears down can make the process much easier. “There’s something that happens to our brains when we put our feelings into words,” says Mr Aparici. “That’s when we relax a little bit.” Once you have your list, you can begin to work through it: the physical words allowing you to deal with things in a “step by step, rational and more objective way of thinking”.
Is it attractive, say, for a 50-year-old to have the hair of a 20-year-old? How do you make your decisions about what attractiveness is, and can you choose to feel differently? Once you’ve started making peace with your greys, you can look at them in the mirror and use them as a powerful, daily reminder to take action on the things you want to achieve, right here, right now.
If you’ve embraced your new status as a silver fox, congratulations. But there’s one more thing to consider. “Our hair changes when it goes grey,” says Mr King. “It becomes coarser and thicker.” To make your greys look the best they can, Mr King recommends opting for a “blunter cut as opposed to thinning it out”, to avoid a bristly look.
“Stretch out your washing routine,” he continues, “so you’re only washing your hair every three days.” This ensures your natural oils, along with the products you’re using, can really be absorbed. By day three, a silver mane that looks shiny and feels silky will sit majestically atop your head.
The finishing touch is using styling products that nourish your greys. “My Velvet Texture Clay and Social Life For Your Hair cream are really good on grey hair,” says Mr King, “as they both sink in without leaving the hair looking greasy. [Instead, they maintain] that lovely shine and texture, which is what you want. Wet products can make the hair go stiff, so the clays and creams that are softer and more malleable work better.”
I’m 35 now. And while I’m less bothered about my greys than I was in my twenties, I decided to cut my hair even shorter during the first lockdown, opting for a buzzcut. My first thought after my DIY styling? Great, it hides my greys more. To be honest, I’m enjoying the look.
It’s gruelling work, fully embracing who you are. But I’m hopeful that when the time comes for a change, I’ll have overcome any qualms I have about my greys. Perhaps I’ll start to believe my wife and my friends, after all these years, when they say the grey looks good on me. And maybe, just maybe, you will, too.