Janet Silver Ghent sporting her new look. (Photo/Courtesy Silver Ghent)
Janet Silver Ghent sporting her new look. (Photo/Courtesy Silver Ghent)

Thanks to the pandemic, I’m finally learning to live with my gray hair

Our back lawn is sprouting clouds of gray, remnants of our Covid-19 haircuts safely executed outdoors. My husband had salt-and-pepper hair when he answered my 1999 ad in this publication, then called the Jewish Bulletin. Now the pepper is gone. I am running out of pepper, which has migrated to the back of my neck, invisibly. Full frontal, in the mirror, I am gray and I see my mother. Now in my eighth decade, I have earned my gray locks. I will never go blond, like the older women in my mother’s building. I will also never go orange, lavender or pink, although my hair has turned all those shades, much to my consternation.

In my 40s, I had dyed my hair a couple of times, but after a month or two in the sun it began turning orange. Even worse, the fumes from the dye made me gasp, so I left the salon while the color processed, standing in the alleyway where I was surrounded by stylists on a cigarette break. After that experience, I went the do-it-yourself route.

First, I tried Clairol Loving Care, a temporary rinse touted as covering only the gray. Ha! It covered everything but the gray — towels, shower tiles and the sink. My wiry gray strands put up a valiant battle and resisted the assault with bravado. Not so the shower curtain at the Holiday Inn in San Diego.

Janet Silver Ghent
Janet Silver Ghent with brown hair.

After that, I called Clairol’s hotline for advice. My problem, I was told, was Resistant Gray Hair. She recommended the stronger stuff, so I bought a bottle of Nice’n Easy, in a medium warm brown shade. At first it was nice and easy. Then it became hateful. After two months of oxidizing in the sun, my hair was turning auburn, with a line of demarcation at the roots. I was in danger of being expelled from the sort-of-winter color harmony, sabotaging my fuchsia lipstick, my wardrobe and my integrity. Medium ash brown toned down the auburn and helped me through spring, but after I sat through “Richard III” on a hot day in Golden Gate Park, Agent Orange returned with a vengeance.

Once again, I called the Clairol hotline and was told to try Loving Care. Hadn’t I done that once before? After I spent $35 on a color corrective product, the orange disappeared, and my days of dabbling in dyes and rinses ended — for an entire decade.

But in 2000, shortly after I remarried, my hairdresser persuaded me to try a new semi-permanent rinse that contained no peroxide or ammonia. After my husband said, “You look terrific,” I was back on the bottle again.

For the next 20 years, I experimented with shades of Clairol Beautiful, which I applied at home. It did not turn my hair orange. It did not turn my hair blue. And it did not make me gasp. But during the summer of 2019, I began receiving interesting comments about my punkish pinkish-lavender hair.

“It’s really cute,” my teenage granddaughter said. “I love it!”

But at an outdoor Beth Am reception, a congregant drew me aside.

“Janet, what are you putting on your hair these days?” she said. “It’s pink!”

“Hmm,” I said. “I’m not putting anything new on my hair. I’ve been at the beach, and the sun must be having its way with me.”

The next time I saw her, with my hair freshly rinsed in ashen brown, she said, “Much better. Now you look like you again.”

Then Covid-19 came along, and I went off the bottle. I trashed the silvery Advanced Gray bottles for super-resistant gray: they contained toluene, reputed to be carcinogenic. Then I tossed the non-toluene-containing copper-colored bottles: Honey Brown, Cedar-Red Brown, Medium Ash Brown, Medium Warm Brown. Gone, gone, gone.

After four months without a haircut during Covid-19 isolation, I phoned my hairdresser, who brought her tools to the back yard. Now semi-retired, she had stopped using hair coloring herself, but she wondered why I had decided to go gray.

I thought of the women in my mother’s apartment building. They grew blonder and blonder as they aged. I thought of my mother, who finally embraced the gray, which was less aging than the blond of her friends and neighbors. I also thought of Glenn Close, Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Rita Moreno and Helen Mirren.

“I’m starting to like my gray hair,” I said. “Blond is so yesterday.”

Janet Silver Ghent
Janet Silver Ghent

Janet Silver Ghent, a retired senior editor at J., is writing a memoir on her late-life romance. She lives in Palo Alto and can be reached at ghentwriter@gmail.com.