Shades of Gray

My father is one of eight siblings, all of whom are currently in their fifties or sixties and he is the only one of them with gray hair; this is not a decision made by nature.

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I am aging and not going about it gracefully.  I have long since mocked people who dye their hair excessively.  Well, maybe not mocked but at least judged less than silently.  Anyway, I think it looks silly when you see someone who is obviously in her sixties or seventies and has jet-black hair.  Yes, I used the feminine pronoun there, it wasn’t a random choice.  Women seem more likely to do this sort of thing than men.  Not that men aren’t subject to a certain amount of vanity as well, especially these days.

I am hardly the first person in my family to begin to gray, not even in my generation.  I have always worried about premature color loss if not actual hair loss.  My paternal grandfather’s hair was completely white by the time he was twenty although he kept a thick head of that snow white hair until he died at around 80 years old.  I have a cousin older than me who have been sporting salt and pepper temples since before he was thirty and another whose loses about ten years in appearance when he shaves because of the gray in his beard.  Somehow my brother (four years my senior) has managed to avoid this particular sign of age so far and he reminds me of it once in a while. (To be fair, only really when I complain about gray but still – uncool!)20170221_164857

My father is one of eight siblings, all of whom are currently in their fifties or sixties and he is the only one of them with gray hair; this is not a decision made by nature.  I think he looks better that way.  There is something comical about seeing three men with jet black hair standing around, their kurtas open at the neck so that their gray chest hair is evident in contrast.  At least this problem does not affect the ladies.  Their oldest sister used to have reddish hair, since she dyed the gray with henna but now it is dark again.  I suspect when there was more red than black, she decided it was time for a change.  Anyway, I decided to take her lead because at this point, I don’t have a lot of colorless strands and it seems less like giving in to my age.

I have dyed my hair before but never out of “necessity” only for funsies.  I have never really had a problem with my hair color.  It is dark brown (not black) and has red highlights in the sun.  Since my hair is dark and I don’t want to bleach it, I am limited in the colors I can try.  I also fear decisions to an extent and have only used temporary color (Clairol Natural Instincts) except for the one other time I used henna.  I have tried to go more red and I have tried to go black.  Neither of these changes were particularly evident when indoors in my regular clothes.  The sun helped show the change and the black ensemble I had to wear when working at Macy’s provided the contrast needed to display my dye job but only when my hair was down around my shoulders.

I have been at work for two days now with my newly henna dyed hair and nobody has yet said anything about it.  I suppose that is good, since I mostly wanted to hide the gray (which I was also told people didn’t notice but I sure did).

Anyway, I’m not sure I really did the henna thing right but it seems to have worked.  By this I mean that when I comb through the strands, I find orangey-red where white ones used to be.  There is not much of a change to the rest of my hair.  There is a change to my bathtub though – there are some weird gunky spots that weren’t there before.  I need to work on cleaning that!

When I decided to do this, I had not washed my hair in several days (I usually do so twice a week but since I was late for work on Friday, I skipped it) and I don’t know if dirty hair is a good or bad thing for dying but it was kind of greasy when I started.

dirty hair

I bought my henna at the local Indian Grocery (well, the local Indian Chain Store, Patel Brothers) and it sat on a shelf in my apartment for nearly a year, so I wasn’t off to a great start.  Finally, on Saturday, I dumped it into a bowl.  The powder is fine and came up in a little cloud which made me cough, I hope it doesn’t give me lung cancer.

henna box  henna powder

I added lemon juice and olive oil per the internet / my vague memory of doing this once before.  I added some water too but I didn’t want to dilute the lemon juice too much since I read that acidity is what activates the pigment but it was not at all wet enough.  I am also a miser who didn’t want to use too much fancy lemon juice topically so I added some vinegar, figuring that’s acidic and I have a huge jug of it.  I don’t know if it made a real difference chemically but it did make the smell far less pleasant.

lemon juice  olive oil  mixed  mixed with vinegar

I covered the bowl and let it sit for a couple of hours (also per the internet) then added an egg.  The egg thing seemed weird to me but several internet people (I know, why would they steer me wrong?) insisted that topical egg application strengthens hair.  I had a partial carton of eggs rapidly approaching their sell by date, so I figured, what the hell, I’d give it a shot.   I cracked an egg into my henna paste that smelled of vinegar and beat it in like I was making cookies.  It actually looked kind of like delicious brownie batter but due to the aforementioned smell, I had no problem not tasting it!

add egg  mixed with egg

I then slathered the goop on my hair, trying hard to both work it into my roots and not get it everywhere.  I sort of succeeded on both counts.  I held sections up with clips as I went, which worked well for the application but when I put on a shower cap so I could let it sit without getting henna all over my apartment, I found that they are not really made to sit on top of all of that.  There were inches of uncovered goopy hair at the back of my head.

side clips  shower cap

I sat around for a couple of hours, watching TV while I tried valiantly to keep my head from touching my recliner.  I seem to have done a decent job since I did not detect any horrible spots on the fortunately dark colored furniture.  I did lose some hardened bits into the cushion, however, when they dried out and dislodged from the hair at the nape of my neck.

Other than the hardened bits around the edges where the cap did not cover and the fog / steam that built up inside the shower cap, there was not much difference when the [more or less arbitrary] time came to rinse my head.  I removed the clips and found that mostly, my hair stayed in place, glued as it was by egg and other nonsense.

shower cap  2 hours later  clips removed

When I got in the shower however, it started coming out.  There was a ton of brownish water running around my feet with a slight greenish tinge that I did not expect.  It’s okay though, my hair wasn’t green at all, even the gray bits.  I rinsed my hair a bunch of times, especially where the dried bits were, until the water ran clear.  I have heard that you are not supposed to shampoo your hair for a couple of days after dying with henna so I “washed” it with conditioner instead, going through the motions of shampooing with a different bottle.  A little more color did run out at that point, but not too much.  When I got out of the shower and dried off, I don’t think I stained my towel at all!

fluffy hair

So, my hair doesn’t look very different (except that it is clean).  The curls happen naturally and as soon as I brushed it, they went away.  I try to keep the curly hair some days but it just turns into a giant fuzzy tangleball before too long, so I rarely do so.

Overall, I am calling this process a success, if slightly unnecessary.

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