Have you sprouted a few gray hairs since being on lock-down? Read why I stopped dyeing my hair in 2019.
As a young woman, I balked at most traditional femininity rituals. I wasn’t one to mimic the habits of my mother. But I dutifully followed one tradition passed down from grandmother to mother, from mother to daughter…and that was to dye my hair. While they colored their hair Grace Kelly blonde, I chose Dita von Teese black. Yet there was no denying our common thread. We were vain, proud women raised to believe that our value was equated to our beauty. And to maintain it at all cost.
For women around the world, hair is a social barometer of femininity and attractiveness, intrinsically tied to one’s identity. It’s estimated that 60 to 74% of all women dye their hair. I often speak about the inculcated ideas we assimilate around sex, beauty, and aging. I encourage women to boycott all women’s magazines advertising unrealistic beauty standards, and to find their own sexy. Despite my side-stepping the mainstream at all cost and my passion for bio-hacking health and longevity, my hair dyeing ritual maintained immunity.
My Wake-up Call
By 2019, I was hauling myself down to the salon every three weeks. And the more time I spent in the chair, the more I wondered. Was there was a connection between the chemicals in the dye and the escalation of my allergies, thyroid issues, and struggle to regulate my hormones? My inner voice got louder and louder, Do you have any idea what she’s f*cking rubbing into your scalp? You know that shit that burns your eyes and makes you itch?
So, I did a little research. The first thing I discovered was that the FDA doesn’t regulate the ingredients in hair dyes. Not good news. This means that the responsibly is on the manufacture. Good luck with that one. Furthermore, the US Department of Health and Human Services’ National Toxicity Program classifies some of the chemicals used in hair dyes as “reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens.”
Things weren’t looking good. I dug in deeper.
What alarmed me initially was that coal tar, a common coloring agent in darker hair dyes and permanent hair dyes, had been under scrutiny for years. This notorious cancer-causer is in the majority of hair dyes as it’s the oxidative chemical that changes the color of the hair shaft.
Para-phenylenediamine (PPD), a ubiquitous hair dye chemical, referred to as “hair dye poison” and banned in the European Union, is linked to respiratory distress, asthma, lupus, kidney problems, and all kinds of cancers including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A 2001 study said that “those who dyed their hair once a month had an increased risk for bladder cancer, which was higher with long-term use and more prevalent in darker dyes.” Bladder cancer has increased 50% in the last twenty years.
Two of America’s most celebrated icons have been screaming from their graves for years. Jackie Onassis died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Elizabeth Taylor of a brain tumor. Many believe their longstanding habit of dyeing their hair dark caused the diseases that killed them.
It Gets Worse
I couldn’t imagine my hair any other color. I’ve always loved my dark tresses. I’d been dying my hair Goth black for 25 years! In my mind I see a creek, black and poisonous, gurgling with the runoff from all my hair coloring visits. I cringe at the environmental impact.
If I hadn’t already hit the tipping point, a December 2019 study by the National Institute of Health using data from 46,709 women sealed the coffin on the issue for me. Alarmingly, the study concluded that women who regularly dyed their hair were 9% more likely to develop breast cancer, and African American women have a 60% greater risk of developing breast cancer.
It took the breath out of me.
And I can’t blame the hairdresser; she has her head deep in the sand too. Otherwise, she’d have to come face-to-face with the fact that she’s at a higher risk than most of dying from dementia or Alzheimer’s. And that she’s 5 times more likely than the general population to get bladder cancer and three times more prone than ladies in other occupations to develop breast cancer. The hair dye inquiry was a rabbit hole and a wake-up call, but the beautiful thing is that once you take off the blinders and discover the truth, there’s no turning back.
Reclaiming my Silver Hair Super Power
It’s not easy to unravel fears about aging. It’s frightening to go gray when we equate beauty with value and gray hair as old and over the hill. How does our society react to aging, sexually, powerful women? You may know already. Or you’ll find out eventually if nothing changes.
But the wild woman intuitively knows the direction of authentic power and influence. As she awakens, women everywhere are ditching the dye for their natural color. Even when that color is gray. And we do it with pride. We do it as an act of rebellion against harmful norms. We do it because the impact extends beyond the individual.
Author, life coach, and esteemed astrologer Eileen Grimes was in the vanguard of the movement to unabashedly own your silver locks. Seven years ago, she made a conscious decision to “come out gray” and began the 12,000 plus members strong Facebook group, Going Gorgeously Gray. Eileen told me that she noticed her head cleared once she got the color off her scalp. When she said she felt an increase in mental clarity, I listened. Perhaps, I too could lay off the nootropics.
For months now, I’ve been popping biotin like M&Ms but hair grows as hair grows—not so fast. It’ll be a journey. I’ve read plenty of stories, and everyone seems to have gone through their moments of doubt and insecurity. I am grateful for my life coaching training, as it really is all in our mindset. I see ditching the dye as a powerful statement that will serve to inspire others to be sexy at any age.
The beautiful Tantrika, Douala and Reiki master, Amy Jenkins, posted,
“Being human is sacred. Aging is sacred. Change is sacred. Transition is sacred.”
Growing wiser and older is a gift; it’s something to be cherished and honored. My wish is to empower you to own your age, your silvers, your wrinkles, and keep doing the things that make you happy. Let’s redefine what aging and silver hair bring to mind to that of one who knows her power, sources from her embodied wisdom, and boldly speaks her truth.
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I specialize in coaching women 40+ to release harmful cultural beliefs, shame and confusion.
I can help you #own your true sexual essence. Reach out here for a free 20 minute consultation with me, Bella.
Bella, what a wonderful job you have done combining grounded scientific research with heartfelt and honest personal discussion! May your words reach many, many beautiful women and may all our decisions on hair products (paraben-free shampoos for example) be well-considered. Thank you!
Fantastic angle to this topic. There is so much to dig into when we begin to excavate the social, cultural, and sexual expectations of our lives as women, and start questioning if the story told there makes any sense. Your silver hair is absolutely stunning, which of course matches the rest of your nicely – inside and out. Bravo.
I’ve been waiting for my silvers since I was about 6, but even so, I’m aware of the pressures that come with aging. Here’s to changing the archetype and reclaiming the mysteries.
Thank you Bella for this post. Being you as you truly are is a blessing and a gift. Your tresses are divine just as they are. Be well and thank for the gift of you.
There is nothing wrong with the gray. I have a gray streak in front and when I let it grow, I always get asked how and why I do it. I just usually laugh about it.