What causes gray hair? For most people, it’s age-related. As your hair follicles (and you) age, they produce less color, so when you go through the natural cycle of shedding and growing new hairs, they’re more likely to come in gray after a certain age (typically around 35). That said, genetics factor heavily into this, which is why some people start to gray in their twenties, while others won’t notice a significant change in color until their 40s.

Regardless of exact timing, it’s something that eventually happens to all of us. I’m in my early 30s now and have noticed the one-off wiry strand. (I have the compulsion to pluck them out when I see them, but I imagine that won’t be sustainable once there are more.) My mom, who is in her 60s, has been dying her roots every couple of months for the last 20 years, and maintains that she will for the foreseeable future.

It’s a personal choice for everyone and is subject to change pending your means, or, as was the case for many in 2020, a global pandemic that kept us from our standing appointments at the salon. For some, it’s a simple shift in perspective.

To that end, I was curious about how other women have handled going gray…so I asked them. From a young mother who proudly rocks her silver streak to a 72-year-old who gets highlights, here are their stories.

RELATED: 7 Secrets of Women Who Rock Gray Hair

Dana Oliver, Philadelphia, PA (30's)

When did you first notice gray hairs? Around how old were you?
I first noticed my gray hairs around the ages of 31 and 32. My then hairstylist pointed them out to me, noting that I had this "small patch" hidden within my thick coils.

How did you feel about them?
I didn't give much thought to my sprouting gray hairs because they were virtually undetectable; however, as my patch turned into a streak, I began to question whether or not I should address them. Should I color them? Should I stick to natural hairstyles where they'd go unnoticed? I was really on the fence, yet I didn't feel particularly rushed to conceal my grays.

What did you do about them? Color them or leave them as is?
I left them, and I've been embracing each and every single gray hair. After giving birth, they started to grow with more intensity. Maybe because of the stress of being a new mom. My ability to embrace this change is largely because of how other Black women with gray hair have celebrated this transformation, pouring into me with kindness and support. I've even had a few people question whether my gray streak is actually "real" because it's growing in so "perfectly." My 2-year-old son JP is absolutely enamored by it, but we're still working on getting him to stop pulling at Mommy's strands!

Do you think this will change in the future? Why or why not?
I don't think my love for my gray hairs will change in the future, as I've never colored my hair (besides a temporary purple hair wax that simply magnified my silver strands) and have had conversations with different hairstylists on treatments and braiding style I can use to make them stand out even more. They're here now, and that's OK!

Jillian Quint, Brooklyn, NY (30's)

When did you first notice gray hairs?
I noticed my first gray hair in college.

How did you feel about them?
I was horrified and used to pluck them individually. For a while in my 20s I embraced it as sort of a silver fox thing, but by the time I hit my mid-thirties I realized they were just looking dull and frizzy, so I decided to start dying my hair.

What did you do about them? Color them or leave them as is?
For years, I had it colored professionally, but during the pandemic I've been doing it myself using over-the-counter semi-permanent dye, and honestly, I might never go back!

What did you do about them? Do you think this will change in the future?
The maintenance is exhausting. I have dreams of cutting it all off and going all gray, Jamie Lee Curtis style.

women going gray kaiming cao
Kaiming Cao

Kaiming Cao, Gaithersburg, MD (60's)

When did you first notice gray hairs? Around how old were you?
I was around 40 years old when I found my first grays.

How did you feel about them?
Honestly, I didn't expect to have gray hairs at such a young age.

What did you do about them? Color them or leave them as is?
I color my hair when the grays became really obvious.

Do you think this will change in the future? Why or why not?
I will continue to color my hair for now. Maybe, I'll stop coloring it when I am 70 years old. I've seen older women with heads full of white hair and I think it looks beautiful!

Lauren Becker, San Francisco, CA (30's)

When did you first notice gray hairs? Around how old were you?
I was in my early 20s when I first started noticing strands of gray. I have dark brown hair so even one strand is easy to find. Once I entered my late 20s/early 30s, a distinct patch right along my part started to form.

How did you feel about them?
I thought it was quite novel when I first noticed them. As the number of grays increased along with my age, I started to consider dying my hair to cover them up.

What did you do about them? Color them or leave them as is?
I thought about dying my hair several times, but I have never colored my hair before and so there wasn't a precedent. I think if I had a prior relationship with hair color, I may have been more open to the idea. In the end, there were four main reasons I didn’t (and still don’t) color them: 1) The upkeep: I am grateful for having a very full head of thick and wavy hair that has not required a lot of work to this point. The idea of having to introduce a new maintenance plan to prevent gray roots from showing is unappealing. 2) Cost: I would incur an additional expense whether from getting it professionally done or doing it myself at home. 3) Social demands: The longer I left my grays untouched, the more people would ask me "why" and comment on my hair—especially women who are older than me. My initial reasonings were simply upkeep and cost, but then, as I entered my 30s, my choice to stay natural unintentionally evolved into a counter-culture statement. I have had many women (both friends and strangers) comment on my choice and say that it "looked great" and was "inspiring". And so, this fueled my decision to stay grey and bolstered a sense of pride for "going against the patriarchy that expects me to cover up or fix any sign of my aging DNA." 4) Charity: Since I have a lot of hair, I try to grow it out and then donate it every few years, and most organizations can't accept dyed hair.

Do you think this will change in the future? Why or why not?
I don't know, but I would be lying if I said I haven't thought about it. I am not married to the idea of staying in one lane for the rest of my life when it comes to hair color. The most important thing is that whatever I choose, it is something that brings me joy.

Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon, Miami, FL (50's)

When did you first notice gray hairs? Around how old were you?
I first noticed them in my 30s: wiry gray kinks sprouting from the roots of my waist-length dreadlocks.

How did you feel about them?
At first, they were a novelty. But as I moved into my forties, not so much! They started to make me feel old. Always smooth-skinned and baby-faced (I credit genetics and SPF 50), like many Black women I’d been “passing” as much younger for most of my life. Back then, the only woman with gray dreadlocks I knew of was Toni Morrison. And she wore them well. But I was too young to look like Toni Morrison!

What did you do about them? Color them or leave them as is?
I dyed them black for years. By my late 40s, I was spending almost an entire day at the salon every two weeks just to keep the grays at bay.

I knew I didn’t want to be a slave to the salon for the rest of my life. And at the same time, I just couldn’t see myself with a headful of gray locks. So, on my 49th birthday, I made an appointment with my stylist, who cut my hair into a TWA (teeny-weeny afro), which I planned to grow out into a silver halo of hair. But it turned out that I didn’t have as much gray as I thought (mostly just at the hairline) and that #frolife involved too much maintenance for me.

Do you think this will change in the future? Why or why not?
Now my hair journey has come full circle. Back in 2015 when she cut my dreads, my stylist had encouraged me to keep them. When I flippantly declared that I didn’t need them, she had the foresight to keep them. And three years ago, she permanently reattached all 80! Now I’m rocking an ombré crown, silver roots giving way to natural (ish!) black locs. I couldn’t be happier and, ironically, eagerly look forward to being completely gray.

mama judy
FJ Hepworth

FJ Hepworth, New York, NY (70's)

When did you first notice gray hairs?
I am now 72 and first noticed gray hairs in my mid-forties.

How did you feel about them?
I was not overly upset, but I had always thought that one of my best features was my very dark brown hair. My hair is quite thin and fine, but the color was good, so it was an asset.

What did you do about them? Color them or leave them as is?
I started to color my grays at home, sporadically, back to my natural dark color. Eventually, I started seeing a professional for single-process coloring. As I got older, I accepted the truism that “old skin and dark hair are not a great match,” so I started getting highlights instead to lighten the overall color. I continue to do that. Of course, the pandemic has limited my visits to the hairdresser, and I have only been able to go in once since February. I am doing at-home touchups and they are working out okay. I miss my dark hair, but it is not a big deal.

Do you think this will change in the future? Why or why not?
I will continue to get highlights for the foreseeable future. If I had thick enough hair to cut it short and look good, I would consider going fully gray, but I am not there yet. However, I do admire gray hair on other women. My mother had beautiful gray hair with a white streak in the front. Alas, I did not inherit that.

women going grey angela pares
Angela Pares

Angela Pares, Brooklyn, NY (30's)

When did you first notice gray hairs?
When I was around 24 years old. (I know, life is so unfair.)

How did you feel about them?
If I had to describe my relationship with my grays in one word, it would be "non-committal." When they first started coming in, they only grew in one single spot—right at the front of my hairline. I had many friends tell me that I should grow it out (à la Stacy London), but I felt like it was too soon in my early 20s. I'm now in my 30s and I still feel that way.

What did you do about them? Color them or leave them as is?
I have been coloring my hair (a single-process dye) since the grays first appeared. I'm one of those women who goes to a salon because I'm very particular about my color not appearing one dimensional. However, due to the pandemic and quarantine this year, I let my grays grow out for the first time in my life (!). It was eye-opening to see how many I actually have, and surprisingly, I was on board to fully embrace them (and doing quite well with it). But then, one day in September, I looked in the mirror and felt 40 years older than I am. So, I scheduled a hair appointment and we're back to brown these days.

Do you think this will change in the future? Why or why not?
Maybe! This summer was a great experiment and it helped me to assess what a full growth period would entail. I also got some very kind feedback from my husband, friends and family, so if anything, now I have the confidence to know that rocking my grays is not the worst thing.

Kelly, Merrillville, IN (40's)

When did you first notice gray hairs? Around how old were you?
I noticed my first gray hair at age 19. I knew I would gray early because all of the women on the maternal side of my family grayed early. My mother’s hair was white at age 50, so I was not shocked in the least.

How did you feel about them?
I have always felt great about them because of my aunts and cousins. They all have beautiful gray and white hair. I do have days where I feel “old” because of them but they do not stay for long.

What did you do about them? Color them or leave them as is?
I stopped coloring my hair when I retired from tour modeling for haircare companies. I have not colored my hair since March of 2015.

Do you think this will change in the future? Why or why not?
It will not change in the future because I’m allergic to the ingredients in most hair color. Lol. Honestly, even if I did not have the allergies, I would not color my hair. My gray hair is a sign that I have lived a life. I often look at my old modeling photos and say, “Wow, I looked so young,” but I remember the stress in my life at that time. Now that I am halfway to 50, and have settled and have settled into the woman I am, there is not as much stress. My hair is gray and that is ok. It is not something to be ashamed of.

Jaqueline Bergrós, Germany (30's)

When did you first notice gray hairs? Around how old were you?
I had my first gray hair at the age of 18. At the time I didn't think too much about it. At 21, I started to color my hair regularly. At 25, I had to color it every 3 weeks.

How did you feel about them?
I was always told that I was too young for white hair. I was constantly asked whether I had a deficiency or a genetic defect. Either way, it was obvious to everyone and so I felt like I had to hide it. I was really ashamed of my white hair. Nobody should ever see and find out that I have white hair so early on. Especially in my job. I working on stage and I have to be cast as certain types at auditions. Who wants to see a gray-haired Jasmine in Aladdin? I was ready to bear more and more allergic reactions, hair breakage and hair loss and even considered it to be "normal." The more I colored my white hair, the faster they were visible again. Today I know: my white hair wants to be seen.

What did you do about them? Color them or leave them as is?
On March 5, 2020, I colored my hair for the last time and decided that my health is more important to me than having brown hair. I don't want to hide and lock myself in a cage any longer. I was very afraid to show myself, especially because of the negative reactions. Since I let my gray hair grow out, I have received countless compliments and great admiration. I shine in a new light because I am simply me. The way I am. Some people even ask me if my gray hair is dyed. Many people simply can't get the picture of a young woman and gray hair together.

Do you think this will change in the future? Why or why not?
I hope that more people will have the courage to stand up for themselves and realize that they are more than just their outer shell. We are so much more. Every single person is perfect just the way they are. For a long time I believed that I had to change, hide and feel ashamed just to be "normal" and fit in. Today I know, I can be the way I am. I want to inspire and encourage other people to believe in themselves. What makes you "different" is what makes you special.

Kat Salazar, Las Vegas, NV (30's)

When did you first notice gray hairs? Around how old were you?
I noticed my first grays around 18 years old.

How did you feel about them?
In the Filipino culture, it’s a sign of old age. Left undone or untreated, the assumption is you’ve left yourself go.

What did you do about them? Color them or leave them as is?
Since I was 18, I colored my roots. I went from treating them every 10 to 12 weeks to every three weeks until December 1st, 2019.

I no longer color my hair. Maintenance and cost were my main reasons for embracing the grays. Also, I found it extremely unfair that society finds men to be distinguished with salt and pepper hair but women are considered to be haggard-looking with grays. I want to change that!

I naturally grew out my hair since December 2019 and let my moonlights shine! It was definitely a tough transition in the beginning as the line of demarcation was so prominent. However, I went to Instagram constantly for inspiration. Some of my favorite accounts were @grombre, @silversistersinternational and the #youngandgrey hashtag feed.

Do you think this will change in the future? Why or why not?
As a professional in the marketing industry, I want to change the stigma around gray hair for women. I have a whole highlight bubble on my IG stories called, Girl Gone Grey. It’s the highlights of my gray hair journey.

Sharon, Ontario, CAN (20's)

When did you first notice gray hairs? Around how old were you?
My mom says I was born with gray hair. People commented so much on her baby having gray hair, she used to have to put mascara on it. I wasn't so conscious about it until about 12 years old.

How did you feel about them?
I immigrated to Canada when I was 12. Displacement is a traumatic experience, coupled with puberty and culture shock, it was not a great time in my life. I had no friends when I first came to Canada. I was in a predominantly white part of Toronto. So, just being in a brown skin felt horrible. Couple that with emerging body hair, breasts and now long, graying hair at 12? I felt like a complete freak!

What did you do about them? Color them or leave them as is?
I started with henna hair dye. Henna is very gentle and its actually really good for you. My mom used to make the Henna from leaves. Henna is also very culturally relevant for us. Henna leaves hair with a hint of orange. (It also takes 3+ hours and often leaves a very herby smell). By the time I hit high school, I wanted to be "cooler" than a smelly henna (I was still trying hard to assimilate as we had moved as I was about to enter high school). So, I started dying my hair using boxed black die. I did that till I turned 27.

Do you think this will change in the future? Why or why not?
I have always dyed my hair a natural colour to fit into the narrative of "youth". When I turned 27, I realized I don't need to keep putting dangerous chemicals to look young - I am young (comparatively). Growing out my gray hair has been an act of self love for me. It coincided with a healing journey of working on my internalized racism, and shadeism. I fell back in love with dark skin and my white hair. My "grays" are pure white. I am not planning them dark colour ever again. However, I am excited that white hair means, IF I ever wanted to try some fun colours - I actually wouldn't have to bleach it. So, who knows!

Tanya White, Paso Robles, CA (30's)

When did you first notice gray hairs? Around how old were you?
First grays were noticeable around age 20.

How did you feel about them?
I felt very insecure about them. I felt they aged me, that they marked me as a particularly stressed person. I felt I was too young.

What did you do about them? Color them or leave them as is?
In the beginning I honestly pulled them out when I would find them. Then as that became overwhelming I colored them in every way possible. I began using henna dye about eight years ago as a natural alternative. I would color every six weeks and did not want any gray showing. In April of 2020 I decided to shave my head as a bucket list item. This is when I fully came to terms with how gray my hair truly was. And I decided to give not coloring it a try. It has been quite difficult. Sometimes I feel like I look old or I worry about what others must think of me. Sometimes these thoughts become so loud that I want to run back to coloring my hair. But then I think about how far I have come and how interesting it is seeing my hair evolve and change as it grows out from the buzz.

Do you think this will change in the future? Why or why not?
Outside in the sun it appears very grey, but inside all of the sudden not so much. I’ve had people actually ask me if I’ve highlighted my hair. So, I guess the answer at this point, is no I don’t see my perspective changing in the near future.

Leiza Cerdinio, Marysville, WA (40's)

When did you first notice gray hairs? Around how old were you?
I noticed my first gray hair in middle school, around 12-13 years old.

How did you feel about them?
A classmate of mine would make fun of me and beg me to pull them out if she found them and I was so embarrassed for being that young with gray hair I would agree. It was up until my Auntie told me that when you pulled one gray hair, three would grow!

What did you do about them? Color them or leave them as is?
After failed attempts at using Sun-In (basically a hair bleach) in high school, I started coloring my hair in college. From then on I just kept coloring it, box for the most part and then getting it professionally done when I started working. God forbid I let my grays show being in my mid 20s! Basic black, highlights, ombré, balayage, I’ve done it all. I even invested in the root coloring wands and kits to make sure I didn’t have even the slightest gray show.

Do you think this will change in the future? Why or why not?
I finally stopped coloring over a year and a half ago after coming to terms with it. Now I’ve had most of the color cut out and am loving the silver streaks that frame my face.

RELATED: 15 Celebs Who Have Embraced Going Gray

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