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November 18, 2022

Is it a Gray Area?—Why Sporting Gray Hair is (probably) a Good Thing.

One time, when I was lecturing on a serious topic in medicine, cancer survivorship, an older gentleman got in the question line with other attendees after the talk.

Instead of asking a question, he said something like, “I just wanted to stop over and applaud you for not dying your hair. And by the way, it looks great.”

When I put a lot of effort into offering a well-referenced, organized, informative lecture, the last thing I am looking for is a compliment about my hair. But a compliment is a compliment, so I thanked him and moved on to the next person in line.

When I started to see shiny silver hairs within my dark brown hair in my 40s, I kind of liked it. I felt like I earned every one of those hairs raising three teenagers, working as a naturopathic doctor, and well, being alive in this world.

Now fully salt and pepper, I rarely think about dying my hair. About 70 percent of women and about 40 percent of men in the United States use some kind of hair coloring. I imagine a whole bunch of reasons go into this decision: preferring a different color or some fun highlights, all the elements of wanting to look younger by covering up gray, or, in that vein, to help with job prospects, or as one of my patients likes to say, as a mood elevator.

I am not in the habit of judging anyone’s fashion choices whatsoever. I do want patients to consider less toxic alternatives, that’s for sure. Public demand and more information about toxin overload have led to the availability of more natural hair dyes and hennas. They are becoming more affordable, and importantly, there are better quality products that consumers want.

Dying hair involves a complex chemical reaction in each hair and then numerous additional chemicals are needed to break down the hair cuticle for the dyes to take. Health issues may arise due to inhalation of small chemical particles and also through absorption on the skin of the scalp.

Hair straighteners have even more evidence in their relationship to increasing certain illnesses including cancers. Salon workers have often complained of health hazards in their work and research shows that ongoing and extensive exposure to chemicals used in salons can be harmful to health.

More studies are needed with specific recommendations articulated.

Enter the COVID pandemic, when most of us stayed home more than usual and many people forewent dying or straightening their hair either because they didn’t see the purpose because they hardly saw anyone or they didn’t want to go out to the salon.

People of all ages, sporting all kinds of hairstyles had an unusual chance to let their hair grow out, to avoid the sometimes awkward in-between state.

I’m seeing a lot more people of all ages in all walks of life letting the gray take over or letting natural hair be the new norm—and I like what I see!

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Amy Rothenberg ND  |  Contribution: 1,125

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