4 Black Women Reflect on Caring for Their Gray Hair

Her journey: Throughout my life, I’ve had so many possibility models for what my hair could do and could look like. My mother and sisters really spoke lovingly to me about my hair and they let me try different styles, which only affirmed the notion that my hair could do what I wanted, with a little patience and skill. I learned early as a Black girl that hair was a site of beauty, community, connection, even politics—and those lessons, often indirect and subliminal, reinforced messaging that my hair was special, my own, an extension of me and to be treasured. Some of the direct messaging was about my perceived spiritual strength and wisdom, that I was blessed and held by our ancestors. I also learned lessons the hard way when rushing, being careless and even neglecting my hair in busy or stressful times. It always showed and I caught on that my relationship to my hair was a lifelong, malleable commitment. I would have to love it because we’re only blessed with one head of hair (this may be debatable now because of where hair technology has brought us since the ’90s). Even as a little girl, I understood this.

Although I started graying at 15, it wasn’t until college and grad school that it really started to fill out. My mommy was fully gray in her mid-twenties and I knew I was on the same track. It was an easy transition for me because I loved how much it set me apart from other people. It was unique and vibrant and damn, it looks so good on my dark brown skin. It was a very ease-filled process for me and I was mostly curious to see how it would come in, compared to my mom, grandma’s and great gran. Curiosity is what I was mostly guided by.

Her regimen: If my hair isn’t in braids or another protective style, I typically wash and condition one to two times a week. I do a hair mask or deep condition every two weeks and lastly, I see one of my favorite hairstylists, Shan Fine, once every two to three months for a trim and steam treatment. If my hair is out of braids and curly, I spritz it with water regularly (several times a day). I sleep with a silk bonnet and take Prose supplements daily. Right now, I’m in love with the Olaplex system. I use about five to six different Olaplex products and my faves are the bonding oil and purple shampoo, which I like to leave on a few extra minutes for extra brightening of my silver strands. I try to keep my product usage to a minimum, but a staple for my hair and body is Planted Hair Care’s Aloe Ginger Hair & Skin Oil.

Olaplex No. 7 bonding hair oil

Olaplex No.4p Blonde Enhancer toning purple shampoo

Planted Hair Care aloe ginger hair and skin oil

Her advice: I read a lot about gray hair and the science of premature graying. Understanding and knowledge are really important tools. Get to know your hair. Get into a relationship with your own hair. Not understanding or seeing your hair through the prism of hair marketing messaging, but from experts and the full body of science and information that is accessible to us. I also want to affirm, for women and femmes specifically, that we do not need to embrace anything we do not want to. If you are growing gray and don’t like the look, you’re entitled to do what you need in order to be most at ease with your hair and body. That might look like dying your hair, adding gray extensions, clip-ins or getting a perm. I think that embracing graying hair looks differently for everyone doing the embracing and that’s okay. Some work I had to do was unpack and work through my ageism. I had to unlearn the idea that premature gray hair would make me appear older and possibly more undesirable. These standards require each of us to explore our own assumptions about graying, desirability, getting older, mortality, wisdom and changing, often outright paradoxical beauty standards. Doing that inner work is guaranteed to result in an embrace and acceptance of your hair’s gorgeous and unique existence as it is—and any way it rests on your head.

Walda LaurenceauPhoto: Courtesy of Walda Laurenceau

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