My Gray Transition: Month 2 ~ Highlights & Toner

So a few months ago, I blogged about my choice to embark on a gray transition. I decided, after decades of being a slave to hair dye, I was going to quit and embrace my natural gray, silver and white strands that have been struggling to be seen for years. So far, so good. Of course, as I noted in this video, it’s a helluva lot easier to make such a bold proclamation when you have zero silver showing. Slightly harder to say it with confidence with an inch of outgrowth.

But I’m committed to this journey. And besides, I live on a tiny rock in the middle of nowhere. I work for myself, and stay home a lot. I have a supportive husband, and my friends know enough not to talk shit to me about going gray. My dogs really don’t care what color my hair is, so long as the treats maintain a consistent flow. So really, right now is the best time and place to do this transition. As of this moment, I have not been invited to be interviewed on any major news channel, nor do I expect a sudden influx of paparazzi chasing me down. I can pretty much look like shit for a few months and nobody will probably even notice. Island life, you know.

I Learned I Am Not An Au Naturel Transition Kind Of Girl

Still, that doesn’t mean I was ready to do this cold turkey, without at least a little help from my fabulous hair stylist. While I wavered for a hot second and considered just letting things grow out “as is,” an honest look in the mirror (and a little introspection) made clear that I am not one of those women who can sport the stark “skunk” line between stunning silver and whatever dark color their hair was before. Besides, my long, dyed hair was fried at the ends. Salon intervention was needed in any case.

Two months in and loving the new colors. But no way am I carrying on without some changes!

So with at least an inch of outgrowth present, I booked an appointment with my stylist to create a hairstyle (and color) that would ease the transition. Three hours (!) was marked off in our calendars. The plan was to do highlights, lowlights, and toner. An all-over bleaching was not ideal for me, since I have very little gray around the back of my head. Most of my gray is on the crown, temples and above my ears, so highlights made more sense.

The hoped-for outcome? Silvery highlights and ashy brown hair that would look similar to the way my natural haircolor was growing in. I was nervous and excited but mostly stoked for something new.

Highlights and Lowlights and Toners, Oh My!

When I arrived at the salon, Bärbel (my stylist) elected to skip the lowlights. Her belief was that the extreme UV exposure here in the Caribbean would turn any lowlights brassy really fast. Since I definitely wanted to avoid the dreaded blorange so common in brunettes with dyed hair (of which I often suffered already), I was fine with skipping the lowlights. Instead, she heavily highlighted the crown, sides, and back of my hair to a nearly platinum blonde. What she did NOT do is touch any of my new, natural growth.

While the highlights were processing, Bärbel applied a toner to all the hair not in the foils (again avoiding the new hair growth). The idea was to tone down any brassiness (and there was A LOT!), and give my dark strands an ashy brown tone.

After the first 4 inches went, but before the Big Chop! Oh lord…that blorange. Painful to look at.

Once she removed the foils, Bärbel then applied an all-over toner that really eliminated any yellow tones. Which was a good thing, because the highlighted bits were not quite white (yet), and I was a little concerned with the alarming (to me, anyway) yellow hue that I saw. But I had zero reason to fear anything. The toner worked its magic, and the end result was pure platinum/silver highlights and an ashy tone to the rest.

But the fun didn’t stop with color.

The Big Chop

I didn’t wake up the morning of my appointment thinking I was going to cut off all my hair that day. After all, it had taken years to grow it to the middle of my back. But one honest look in the mirror told me that there was zero chance that my dyed, fried hair was going to make a miraculous recovery. Especially with the heavy bleaching that was to come.

When I arrived and announced my desire to lose some length, Bärbel immediately gathered up my hair and cut four inches off the bottom. Four inches of dry, brassy, ickiness. I was glad to see it go. And because the highlighting took an hour (a lower concentration of bleach left on for a longer time results in less yellow…the things I’m learning), I had plenty of time to scroll through Pinterest looking for fun, short haircuts.

I saved about 20 pictures and when it came time to discuss a cut, we went with a very short, choppy-layered bob that is still below chin-length in the front. Admittedly, the first snip that took off a long strand in the back caused my heart to skip a beat. I always think I have a round, chubby face and that a short style makes me look like a pumpkin. But I trust Bärbel implicitly, so I just let things flow. After all, as has been my motto throughout this transition…it’s just hair, it will grow back!

Before the toner was applied.

I honestly couldn’t be more thrilled with the results. I ended up with this funky mix of platinum, ashy brown and silver hair. The demarcation line blends seamlessly between new growth and the colored parts. And the shorter style is so much easier to deal with in this tropical heat. The old days of always wearing a messy bun to hide a multitude of hair sins is long gone. Now I can wear it straight, wavy or pulled back – whatever I feel like that day. It looks healthier than it has in years, too.

Advice For Anyone Considering Highlights For Their Gray Transition

So why am I telling you all this? Well, when I was thinking about going gray, I read a lot of stuff on the internet. Unfortunately, much of it was along the lines of “don’t do highlights, you’ll be sorry.” And while I can’t presume to know about other women’s experiences with other stylists, I have zero regrets so far. I feel like there should be a voice out there talking about the upside of going this route. Because there IS an upside, and my hair is proof!

Yes, it is true that maintaining these artificial colors will require time, care, and likely more than a few return trips to the salon for more toning. This is especially true given that I live in the UV zone. Hell, even walking from my car to the grocery store exposes my hair to significant UV damage. Let’s not even talk about my love of kitesurfing and spending time in the sunshine. I see a lot of hats in my future, at least when I venture outdoors during daylight hours.

All-over toning (avoiding the new growth as much as possible), after the highlight processing was complete.

But I have a plan.

I’ve already cut back to washing my hair only 2x a week, and I also have an array of purple shampoos being delivered to me via Amazon and visiting friends. Unfortunately, the drugstore selection here leaves much to be desired. (My plan is to eventually do a review on my experiences with purple shampoos.) I plan to invest in professional deep conditioning treatments and toners going forward, too. And regular trims are now on my calendar. All of this costs money, of course. And professional highlights themselves are not inexpensive, either. So the highlights/lowlights/toner route is not ideal for everyone.  But I’m willing to make the necessary sacrifices to make this work. A few less umbrella drinks, a few less bottles of rosé.

Advice For Anyone Wavering On The Big Chop

The other thing I wanted to say has to do with thoughts on cutting your hair. I know many women have a hard time letting length go during a gray transition. I was originally one of them. But as I discovered, there are many ways to cut your hair that are quite flattering and – at least in my case – end up looking far better than the long hair ever did. And I wouldn’t have known this unless I just went for it.

…and the end result. Now Island Boy and I have matching hair color. 💕

I did have a terrible experience in high school cutting off my long hair, so I have always been hesitant to go too short. In fact, I never have since. Until now. My hair now is the shortest it has been since cutageddon back when I was 17. But damn…you have to get over your insecurities at some point. And while a pixie cut isn’t the answer for everyone (including me…hello, pumpkin head), a shorter style that flatters your bone structure is possible. You just have to be willing to take a chance.

The other benefit? Going shorter makes the transition quicker, too! Win-win.

Of course, you have to do you. At the end of the day, you need to be comfortable in your own skin. But I’d encourage you to at least consider a major change during your transition. Because, as I learned first-hand, you never know what is possible unless you just go for it!

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Got questions? Want to know more about island life? Thinking about making a big life change (whether that includes gray hair or not)? I’d love to hear from you. Check out this post or send your thoughts to hello@theadventuresofislandgirl.com and let’s connect.

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