By Gul Berna Ozcan
I had frizzy boisterous black hair for as long as I can remember. Not only was it difficult to tame but also I lacked styling skills. It took me forty years to discover its curls! I decided to see if I could stop dyeing my hair one summer and this is what happened.
(If you’re looking for a list of specific products that can be used for stripping hair color click here.)
Until the birth of our second child, I never dyed my hair. Then the sudden spread of white hair in my mid-thirties led to two decades of hair coloring, blow dry sessions and frequent hairdresser visits. Initially, I enjoyed this and allowed stylists to flatten and straighten my hair, and exercise their tricks.
Going to the hairdressers once a month became a kind of pampered luxury for a mother with two kids and a full-time job. Alas, over the years, dyeing sessions became more frequent and increasingly a burden. I tried to do it myself but disliked the mess the whole thing generated.
I also played with supposedly organic and ‘natural’ dyes. Eventually, I became increasingly dissatisfied with the whole hair coloring enterprise.
But most friends reacted with ‘Oh no!’ when I suggested just going white as I would be naturally. “Don’t stop dyeing your hair!”
However, I became aware that people with natural white hair did not look unattractive, as I was made to believe by friends and others in my social circles. When working in Seoul, I first thought Koreans just don’t go grey, perhaps for genetic reasons, as almost everybody has pitch-black hair.
Later I saw a striking newspaper photo: the Korean minister of foreign affairs looking fetching as well as commanding surrounded by her male cabinet colleagues. All had unnaturally black hair while she stood out with her distinguished silver-white hair.
I began to notice other examples and decided to try. First I psychologically prepared myself. Once I wore a silly white wig and used that image as my WhatsApp status.
Then my daughter confirmed what was only a nagging suspicion when she showed me images of women with curly white hair from hairstyle pages. They all looked stunning.
I chose the summer break for transformation, as it would allow time to go back to the status quo. I took those images to my hairdresser and asked to be transformed.
Although initially he was not enthusiastic, he agreed with me that it was worth trying. It took two sessions with a two weeks interval to get rid of the dark dye.
Within a short time my white hair, with a few fetching natural variations and highlights, delighted me. By the time I returned to work I was more or less used to my new hair colour.
But it was an initial shock to my family and friends as well as colleagues. Yet, many expressed their surprise that it suited me much more than they imagined.
There is much to say about how our attitudes to hair are constructed through very early childhood experiences and how these later get embodied in social pressures and manipulated by the fashion industry for an enormous profit. Through these experiences, we often negotiate with our natural endowments and physique.
I must have been about 5 years old when my mother and sister returned to our provincial town from a long visit to Istanbul. Somehow, I had the impression that my little sister had returned with blond curly hair, so I demanded the same hairdo from my parents.
As opposed to my thick black hair, my sister had soft light hair. It seemed to me that my hair often looked like a hedgehog and was in general kept in place with pins. Moreover, blonde girls were adored and popular where we lived, especially as the vast majority had dark hair.
My mother was a primary school teacher who hated girls who came to class with fringes and loose hair, especially over their eyes or cheeks. As with passport picture requirements, all girls had to have ponytails or very short hair with their faces and eyes fully open. She would occasionally insist they use hairpins and would put them on her students herself if she felt it necessary!
Our conservative town in those days would not tolerate boys coming to school with long hair, but there were always contradictions, often funny. One neighbour braided her son’s long hair until he reached school age.
However, in our household, hair was something to be kept orderly at all times and my sister and I had limited chance to play with it for different effects during our early adolescence. This may have been one of the reasons why I had a delayed discovery of my own hair.
When she was growing up, my mother was not allowed to cut her hair and endured painful combing and braiding sessions prior to going to school every morning.
She recalls it as daily torture that brought tears. Her first act of defiance, when she left home for teacher’s training college, was to have short hair.
Her class pictures show about two-dozen girls mischievously smiling, almost all with boyish short hair, a common form of rebellion in 1960. Women were supposed to have long hair as part of their traditional identity, as an act of social conformity and following the expectations of feminine beauty.
From the 1960s to the 2000s popular expectations about feminine beauty have transformed dramatically towards new forms of social conformity, often alas this time dictated by a corporate world. Greying hair for women has become taboo.
Looking natural as we age is suppressed by an ever-increasing number of fake options and interventions ranging from aesthetic operations to miracle techniques to meet western beauty constructs.
With possible future methods, such as genetic modification, will people eventually all look the same in the pursuit of attaining an ideal standard of beauty? Those of us who refuse to toe the line would be like unaltered ‘organic’ specimens.
The fashion industry, media and the business of aesthetics constantly encourage individuals to become someone other than themselves. One can perhaps disobey traditions and social rules but the corporate prison incarcerating women and men is incredibly effective and has powerful tentacles.
I am delighted to be bucking the trend of aesthetic conformity and embracing what I now consider to be my natural asset, lovely white curly hair that stands out. I hope you’ve enjoyed my thoughts on how to stop dyeing your hair. I’ve not dyed my hair for 4 months and feel liberated.
Summary: Reasons to stop dyeing your hair and best strategies (from our editor)
Why would you want to stop dyeing your hair? There are many reasons. Most hair dye products will necessarily cause hair damage. Henna dye is thought to be a safe way to change your natural color. And you can always lighten your hair with natural products like citric acid (lemon juice). But permanent hair color isn’t good for hair health and could cause an allergic reaction, skin irritation, hair breakage, even hair loss. And consider all those toxic chemicals in traditional hair dye going into your skin every few weeks, to combat the different color hair growth coming through. You may just decide that frequent hair dyeing isn’t worth it because of the hassle and the toxicity you’re exposing yourself to. Is it time to embrace your gray hair and your natural beauty? Which by the way doesn’t diminish as you age – it evolves!
Ways to transition
- Cut off all your hair! The most drastic way to stop dyeing your hair and not have to cope with the transition. If you’re feeling very brave and in need of a complete change! Not for the faint hearted! Your hair stylist can advise on how short you need to go! But it could be your quickest route to your own color of healthy hair! And if your hair is short already it might be doable. And you get a whole new look too!
- Use semi-permanent dyes to tide you over the worst of the transition – you stop the two toned look and can transition to a lighter color of temporary dyes as the process continues. You could also use a temporary root touch-up product such as Root Touch-Up Concealing Powder from Clairol to cover up grey or white roots while you’re moving towards your natural hair color.
- Use color removers or shade-tweaking toners either in a hair salon or at home, to completely change your hair color in one go. Always do a hair strand test on color-treated hair, before you embark on any of these treatments and be sure to moisturize your hair afterwards with a deep conditioner, for example, as these treatments can be very drying. It goes without saying that it’s easier to transition if you have a lighter hair color to start with and aren’t having to lighten darker colors. Although, our lovely author above managed it! But going to the hair salon and asking their advice is the wise way to go. They will have a favorite product. Some people use hydrogen peroxide at home but we don’t recommend this – proceed with caution! It all depends on your hair type. If you already have brittle hair from years of dyeing it, you need to be especially careful with home remedies. Here are some to try (NB these are not personally tested).
- Revolution Pro Hair Colour Remover – free from ammonia or bleach
- L’Oreal Paris Colorista Hair Colour and Dye Remover
- Bleach London Washing Out Liquid
- Superdrug Colour Rewind Hair Colour Remover – free from ammonia and bleach
- Colourless Hair Lightener Go Blonde
- Colour B4 Frequent Use Hair Colour Remover
- Scott Cornwall Colour Restore Iced Platinum – for toning down yellow or brassy tones
- IGK Hair Mixed Feelings Leave-In Cooling Blonde Toning Drops – for erasing unwanted yellow or golden hues
(For more detail on products that can be used for stripping hair color click here.
Listen to silver-haired model Rachel Peru on the Magnificent Midlife Podcast for inspiration
Gul Berna Ozcan teaches international business and entrepreneurship at Royal Holloway, University of London. She is the author of several books and many research articles. Her monograph, Building States and Markets: Enterprise Development in Central Asia (Palgrave, 2010), explores the characteristics of the emerging entrepreneurial middle class in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
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Last Updated on July 27, 2023 by Editorial Staff