The color of our hair


Ageing, hair color, hormones and so on. Much to relate to when we get older. Some embraces it, some feel lots of stress. One thing that seems to affect most women though is their hair. Should one keep it long? Or is a shorter cut looking better now? And the color, dye it or go for grey? Accepting the natural changes does not mean you need to look old and boring, it is how you handle them. Today's interview is with a lady who has given this lot of thoughts and also keeps herself updated on things. Read and enjoy!

Name: Jeannie Collins Beaudin

Age: 64

Occupation: Retired pharmacist and author, website and blog:

Family: Husband, three children and two grandchildren

Lives in: Cap-Pelé, New Brunswick, Canada

You have been interested in women's health and aging for years as you have worked as a pharmacist, but recently something else about getting older has occupied your mind: the color of your hair. You dyed your hair as it started to get grey but you have decided to let it be its natural color now. Why?

When I saw my first grey hairs, I would pull them out. Who likes grey hair? My daughter teased me: "Mom you're going to be bald if you keep doing that!" When it got worse, I started coloring it, just a little at the temples at the beginning. I used semi-permanent dye that I thought I could wash out when I changed my mind, but semi-permanent dye is actually permanent although less harsh. Eventually, as the grey areas expanded, I dyed more to cover some greys I could see in my bangs and where my hair parted on top.

But recently I read some articles about hair dyes: how they are possibly associated with cancer in women (although not proven), and how they can cause serious allergic reactions. And I read stories of women who had decided to stop dyeing their hair. My sister and several friends had already gone natural, and I liked how their hair looked.

I started to let my hair grow out for a couple of months last spring, then "chickened out" and dyed it again. I decided to try going natural a second time after buying a permanent dye by mistake. It was so strong! It turned my hair darker than what I usually used. I switched to a medium brown semi-permanent color for a couple of months so the "line" wouldn't be as dramatic, I hoped. I thought I would also color the roots for a while with a temporary color that really would wash out. Then, once the roots were long enough, I would cut my hair short and get rid of the dye all at once. I had a plan!

I finally found a hair color spray that said it only lasted for one wash. It sounded like it would be non-toxic. But right after I used the temporary spray, I felt dizzy, nauseated and had cramps in my stomach. A few weeks later, I tried the spray again-but just on a small area this time, along my part on top of my head. Right away, I felt dizzy, so I washed the product off and didn't use it again.

I can't say whether it was toxicity or if I am just sensitive or allergic to the ingredients, but I was sure my dizziness was caused by the spray. I decided it really was time to stop using products that could be making me sick when I could solve the "problem" by just letting my hair go natural. I found a hairdresser who would help me through the transition.

Seems like the self esteem is very connected to the color of our hair, and the grey is connected with being old. Men on the other hand are often told they look charming when they begin changing hair color. Any thought about that?

When two of my close friends decided to let their hair go natural, I started to think about why I was coloring mine. I'm 64 and a grandmother of two beautiful little girls, so why shouldn't I have grey hair? I don't work now (well, except for my writing, which doesn't feel like "work"), so I don't need to worry about workplace discrimination (which I've experienced in the past). So, I asked myself, what does it matter if I look a few years older? Why not just be proud of who I am and how old I am? I am the same person, regardless of what color my hair is. By the way, one friend told me I look younger with my new short haircut...

But it is interesting that far fewer men worry about grey hair. For men, it often seems to be a sign of knowledge and respect-think of CEOs of large companies and respected judges with their grey hair. No-one thinks any less of them because they don't have "young looking" hair. Why should it be any different for women?

I think men worry more about losing their hair, which is a problem for some women too and can be worsened by dyeing the hair. My husband and son both started losing their hair at a young age. They both "solved" their problem by intentionally going bald, shaving the entire head. I teased my husband that he was getting rid of the grey at the same time. It's a popular look for men these days. There is always more than one way to solve a problem although I don't think many women would want to try this strategy.

So, what are your feelings about hair color? Seems like a big step to take even though many women look great with their natural hair.

In responses to my recent blog "Dying to Quit Dyeing", many women told me they have never dyed their hair and were very happy with how they look. Some talked about how they stopped dyeing and grew theirs out. Others said they were still dyeing their hair but were interested in the discussion.

I think anything we do to change our appearance should be done as safely as possible. To decrease the chance of allergic reactions and toxicity while still having some fun with changing looks, highlights or streaks of color are a good option to reduce exposure, especially if they don't start right at the scalp. I have also read that companies are working to develop safer hair dyes in response to the demand for products without PPD (para-phenylenediamine), a highly suspect ingredient. So, maybe hair dyes will be safer in the future.

But rather than coloring hair, embracing its natural color and playing with styles to create flattering looks and just have fun is a great option. I enjoyed my long hair, creating braids, buns and interesting twists or just leaving it long. Now, I'm getting lots of compliments on my new short style that just shows a little of the grey that's taking over the sides of my hair-step one of my transition to natural hair. My hairdresser did a wonderful job. And once all the dye is gone, I'll probably let it grow longer so I can play with hair styles again.

You do know a lot about female hormones. Would you say they play us tricks about our approach to the changes of our look and body? Perhaps the hormones make us demand too much from ourselves? If they are in balance we are as well and are more relaxed. Would you agree?

Hormones can affect our moods, memory and energy but I think society has more influence on our attitudes toward appearance. Photos of young, slim beautiful women in advertisements and magazines send us constant subtle signals that this is how we should look.

Being very thin is known to be as hazardous to health as being very overweight, especially as we get older, but you don't hear about that very often. Low testosterone, associated with low sex drive, can also cause hair loss and make women feel fatigued with loss of interest in doing activities they normally love to do, for example outdoor activities or hobbies.

Low progesterone is associated with memory loss such as word recall-like "what's the word for that thing I use every day?"-and, as with all hormones, is best if replaced transdermally, using a patch or cream to deliver the hormone through the skin. Progesterone is a relaxing hormone with many receptors in the brain, and there is some thought that low progesterone may also be associated with anxiety.

Tell us about your weekly health blog. Why did you start writing it?

I initially started writing a blog about hormones and menopause to promote my first book, "Can I Speak to the Hormone Lady?", and to start creating an online presence-what they call an author's "platform". But I find that I really enjoy blogging and especially interacting with readers. I gradually expanded the blog to write about various topics on mid-life health and aging well, often answering questions from readers. I still read a lot of pharmacist educational materials and health information. I like to share some of what I read through my blog when I think readers might be interested. It's nice to feel like I'm still helping people, even though I'm retired!

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