MANHATTAN—It’s a Friday afternoon at Hair by Jordana, a crowded salon on Broadway, north of Dyckman Street in Inwood, which mostly caters to Hispanic women. The place is bustling with women of all ages getting their hair cut, colored, blown out, flat ironed and curled—patiently reading magazines while their hair processes under stationary dryers. The one thing nowhere to be seen—gray-haired women.
“In our culture, a woman with gray hair means they don’t take care of themselves. It’s a personal care thing,” says Lizbeth Garcia, a salon stylist at Hair by Jordana. Garcia says that for Hispanic women, letting their hair go gray means they are not maintaining their look.
Complexions change with age. Hair goes gray. It’s just a fact of life. Over the years, the trend in Caucasian and African American women to let their hair go gray has been growing steadily, but not as quickly for women of Hispanic origin, until recently. In October 2022, Suggest.com hyped the Hispanic influencers experiencing the freedom of transitioning to silver hair.
Paige Rodriguez, 53, an office manager at a local grocery store on 187th Street and Broadway, is of Cuban descent and proudly shows off her gray hair. Rodriguez started going gray at the age of 43 and eventually got tired of covering it up.
“I was coloring my hair every six weeks, but the gray was coming back in every two weeks,” says Rodriguez. She liked her gray so much that she found a stylist to bump up her color with platinum/silver highlights.
Armando Toro, 52, hairstylist and makeup artist at CNN, hears women come into his private Washington Heights salon, Beauty by Armando, and complain that their color doesn’t last the eight weeks it used to. “Sometimes touch-ups have to be done every two weeks to keep the gray away,” says Toro.
‘Granny Gray’ Becomes Trendy
The trend of going gray seemingly became more noticeable during the pandemic, when salons were closed and women were forced to let their hair grow out, taking the color with it. But Toro says it was becoming prominent even before that. Around 2017, he said young women around the ages of 21 or 22, with bleached hair were deliberately dyeing their hair gray–calling it “granny gray.”
“Suddenly, this gray hair became very fashionable and trendy and of-the-moment. For me, that seemed to be the impetus for women of a certain age to let the gray come in,” says Toro.
Academics say the use of hair dye can be traced back to ancient Egypt, or even earlier—as early cultures used natural substances like henna to not only cover up gray hair, but change the color of their hair to reds and browns.
In 1907, before he founded L’Oréal, Eugène Schueller created the first synthetic hair dye. L’Oréal is now ranked as the world’s largest cosmetic company with a market value of $236.7 billion, according to Oberlo Statistics.
Today, box hair dye can be purchased at any local drug store, supermarket, or stores like WalMart and Target. L’Oréal offers gray box hair dye with colors like Smokey Silver and Soft Silver Blonde that can turn light hair all kinds of shades of silver. There is even a company called Go Gray with a box treatment called “Remove” that removes color build-up to reveal gray and silver hair.
At Modern Salon, further south on Broadway and 183rd Street, owner Elizabeth Liz says she has some Hispanic clients with gray hair. “Some people like the glamorous gray with highlights. I do get asked for that, but it’s a personal thing. Everyone is different,” says Liz.
Eli Mortiz, 42, works in advertising for Spotify. She is of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent. She gets regular blowouts for her long, dark hair at Liz’s salon. Mortiz laughs and says she has a practice of pulling out her individual gray hairs with tweezers, “I pluck out the grays and name them after the things that stress me out in my life like my husband, my daughter and my son.”
In Hudson Heights, a local neighborhood overlooking the Hudson River to the west and Broadway to the east, many white and Black women proudly sport gray hair as they walk the streets.
Renee Burke, 61, retired director of childhood daycare programs, has a silver/white afro. Burke’s hair started going gray at the age of 40 and she just accepted it. “I don’t like using a lot of chemicals in my hair, so I just decided that once it started going gray, I would let it go completely,” says Burke. She gets a lot of compliments on her white afro.
‘Silver Hair Can Look Quite Beautiful’
Gray-hair proponents say going gray or silver can be a true freedom from stereotypes that have traditionally pressured women to color their hair to be seen as vital and sexy.
“This whole idea that we don’t age is ridiculous,” says Kelly Ceynowa, 46, an executive coach and organizational psychologist. “There is rarely a week that goes by that people don’t ask me if this is my real hair color, if it’s gray and then they will ask me who colors it,” says Ceynowa.
She started to go gray in her 20s. By the age of 30, she had a very big gray streak appear. Her hairdresser loved it and since it was costing hundreds of dollars every few months to color it, she decided to let her hair go natural. Ceynowa recalls her mother was a great role model.
“My mom has gorgeous, silver hair. She let it go in her 60’s, so I got to see that gray/silver hair can look quite beautiful.”
As reported on ABC’s Good Morning America, content creator Randi Honeycutt is breaking down the stigma around graying hair. Honeycutt says she was 36 and she was tired of managing and scheduling her life around hair dyes. Honeycutt found a community of women on the internet who supported her through the ‘grow-out process.’
Christa Justus, 59, a freelance artist and former Broadway actress, never really considered going gray until faced with the death of her mother. Justus remembers seeing her mother at the end of her life when she was unable to color what hair she had left. “I kept encouraging her to be free and unencumbered by societal standards of having to dye her hair.” After her mother passed, Justus decided to stop coloring her hair in honor of her.
“With gray hair, I am authentically myself,” says Justus.
Marcia Rodriguez is 57 and a lung cancer survivor. She’s also a Dominican woman with shoulder-length gray hair. Rodriguez first started going prematurely gray at the age of 18.
She dyed her hair brown and red with highlights at a very young age. She stopped dyeing her hair on the recommendation of her doctor when she was diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of 51. Rodriguez says she has tons of Dominican family members with gray hair by choice. “The ladies in my building saw my gray hair, loved it and then started going gray naturally,” says Rodriguez.
Toro says he has seen a shift in attitudes take hold.
“Latina women are now starting to embrace it, although it’s still a struggle and they still want their dark hair, but there are more Latina women embracing their natural gray.”