SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) — Women and men of a certain age have asked themselves: What would I look like with gray hair? The decision to go gray is often an emotional one.

“Gray is good!” says great-grandmother Shirley Tubens, who started seeing the streaks in her early 30s. But many women see gray as the dividing line between young and old and want no part of it.

Men too. Just because President Barack Obama or George Clooney may look powerful, distinguished, or sexy doesn’t mean salty hair is always welcome.

Artist Ray Holbert said he spent years darkening his hair. “I’m coming out of a generation of people who grew up with the wrong notion that gray was a negative,” Holbert said.

In the 1960s, Clairol marketed hair dye to the masses with ad lines such as “Hate that gray? Wash it away.” Commercials often concluded with an announcer intoning, “It’ll make your husband feel younger too just to look at you.”

The notion that dye equals romance persists. When the dating website polled its members last summer, 54 percent of respondents said they would consider coloring gray hair to appear younger on a date.

But Holbert said by his early 40s he got tired of hiding his roots. “It was like a masquerade. It was like makeup,” Holbert said. He stopped, but his new gray got mixed reactions. “A lot of people thought that something dramatic had happened to me. Like maybe a heart ailment,” he recalled.

CBS 5’s Dana King can relate. Going gray in March, viewers wrote in asking about her health (she is fine). For King, it was about deciding to match looks with experience and time on the planet.

But Cindy Fassler of TSS, a job search company, said people should think twice about going gray, especially if they’re looking for work in this tough economy.

“I mean it’s reality that people still, unfortunately, get discriminated upon based on that first couple of minutes when somebody sees them,” said Fassler.

“And the standard line is: Oh, it’s gonna age you 10 years,” said author Diana Jewell. She wrote the bible on gray hair, “Going Gray, Looking Great.” Jewell also runs a website that allows women to share their fears, photos, and successes about the issue.

Jewell said the decision to go gray often starts when women find within themselves a deeper definition of beauty.

“They’re tired of being told they have to color their hair to look youthful,” said Jewell. “And it begins with accepting yourself. It begins with wanting to be authentic.”

Although it’s hard to track, by some estimates 40 percent of women regularly color their hair by age 40, despite the expense, the smell, the mess, and the possible health risks. Multiple studies have shown links between hair dye and cancer — while other studies show no clear connection. So the health risks are still inconclusive.

“Your friends are gonna say your crazy,” said Jewell when counseling women deciding to go gray. “But deep down, you want to be authentic, you want to be yourself. You can do this. And you can have a lot of fun doing it.”

Editor’s note: Going gray is a combination of a very personal issue and a very public feature. You can weigh in on our Facebook and Twitter pages, or post a comment below.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Comments (10)
  1. Missy says:

    A couple of years ago when the gas prices were rising I had to make a decision about whether or not I wanted to continue to dye my hair or fill up my gas tank! I decided to let my hair grow out naturally and it was nearly white. I get more compliments about my hair and friends say it actually makes me look younger. A lof of my male coworkers have commented how nice my hair looks, but my female coworkers ask me when I’m going to start dying my hair again! The answer is a resounding NO MORE. I love my hair now and it is sooo easy to take care of these days since I have gone au natural.

  2. Joanne Scala says:

    I used to color my hair occasionally but never kept it up, was never pleased with what it looked like and I certainly couldn’t afford to do it as often as needed. I saw my first gray hair when I was about 11 or 12. By my twenties I had quite a lot of gray and started to color. Now my gray hair looks pretty nice, more of it in the front than the back, and I really like it. I’ve been watching Dana’s gray come in and it looks great!

  3. Marvalynn Baker says:

    I can remember having gray hair in the middle right of my head when I was a child of 8 yrs old. Older and should be wiser I’d pull out the gray hairs; yes, I was told you pull one tha two will grow in it’s place. After a short while I was pulling out more and more gray hairs and some black hairs by mistake. Did the hair color jobs at home, the gray (white) haaiirs seemed to multiply when the color grew out. Other’s as well as myself notice my hair was getting thinner on top and on the sides. My decision was to see what patteren my gray (white) hair would take on. Did cut my hair to a length of yours but a littler fuller. The front of my haid, the crown is white; leaving the back black with gray(white) hairs mingled throughout. Still have the gray (white) patch to the middle right in the back of my head. Thank You for doing this story on hair color..

  4. Roderick says:

    Dana, This household thinks your ‘new’ look a huge success!

  5. Laura says:

    I’m 52 and am just starting to get a few gray hairs. Am I going to color these gray hairs – NO. I don’t want the chemicals near me.
    For years my mother-in -law has said I’m lying about not coloring my hair; she started coloring her hair at 29. Good thing my husband knows the truth. My Mom in her 80s is only completely white around her face but salt and pepper the rest of her head.
    Yay for acceptance of white, gray, and salt and pepper on women.

  6. Janet Gillette says:

    Janet g
    I started going gray with a streak when I was in my early 20’s. I started coloring it in my 30’s. I had dark brown hair. I am now 59 and stopped coloring it 5 years ago. Who knew under all that dye it was a beautiful silver mane? (Or so I tell myself.) No wonder it never looked quite right dyed. I wear my hair long (another no-no for my age) with soft curls around my face and down my back. Many people comment on how lovely it looks or how I look pretty in it. I am not sure they are just being polite or don’t know what to say! My hair feels very healthy and soft now. I feel very feminine and comfortable in my skin. When a breeze blows and I don’t have to worry about roots showing. My Husband still calls me “Pretty girl” and loves that it is still long. We have been married 34 years. We have raised 5 children and have 3 grandsons and one on the way. P.S. Dana King, you look (are) lovely! Thank you!

  7. Jennifer Robin says:

    For me, grey hair has always been more an issue about choice than aging. When my hair started to grey in my 20’s I didn’t relate it to getting old. At 55 I still don’t. I will admit that at times it is hard to be “different” but I still love my silvery locks and the flattering light they throw onto my face. Obviously beautiful Dana King is discovering the same softening effect of having lighter hair as you get older. And I can tell you from personal experience what men love most is a warm, beautiful smile. When that beams in their direction the color of your hair in an afterthought.

  8. Kandy B says:

    Dana I love your hair color and it is beautiful on you. I stopped dying my hair some years ago and cut it really short. I currently am rocking (as the youngsters say) a carefree hair style, one of the get up and go kind. You are representing your new look, don’t change it.

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