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Image / Style / Beauty

‘It felt like taking control of the wheel’ – Sali Hughes on the beauty of going grey


By Sarah Finnan
31st May 2021
‘It felt like taking control of the wheel’ – Sali Hughes on the beauty of going grey

Beauty writer Sali Hughes recently made the move from brunette to grey, and she's been documenting the whole thing over on Instagram.

Going grey is, for some, the absolute last thing they’d ever consider. Sure, hairdressers have been closed for months on end but between home dye jobs, strategically placed hair accessories and a global pandemic to hide behind, most people have been able to toe the line until their next salon visit. 

We’ve all had to forgo some of the usual luxuries we’re used to, and while living a more low-key lifestyle has definitely been nice at times, that doesn’t mean that we plan on continuing all of those habits if we don’t necessarily have to. Certain things will stay (slow mornings, coffee in bed, turning email notifications off after work hours), but certain others will go… most of them pertaining to our grooming and beauty upkeep. 

While the former group consists of things we learned to appreciate after life forced us to slow down, the latter is populated mostly by things we wish we could have been doing all along, but couldn’t due to the circumstances. One beauty writer has decided to embrace the greys though, even with the salons reopen and the chance to go in and get gussied up at her fingertips once again. 

The Guardian’s resident beauty editor, Sali Hughes is a journalist, presenter and broadcaster. Specialising in all things beauty, women’s issues and film, she’s a reliable source to turn to when in need of some product advice – be that on what facial mist to invest in or to ask about the best sustainably packaged skincare. Whatever your query be, you can almost guarantee she’s covered it. Often credited with having “the Delia effect”, her recommendations usually result in overnight success for whatever she’s given the seal of approval. Such is her pull on the beauty industry. 

So, when she writes an article in Vogue about going grey overnight, you can bet that we (and many others!) listened. Questioning whether hitting the fast-forward button on the ageing process qualifies as a midlife crisis, Hughes admitted that deciding to go grey “had been a long time coming”. In fact, she’d spent three years researching how to make the transition, but “repeatedly copped out” as she knew the move would end in a full stop, not an Oxford comma.  Why? In the minority, Hughes is dangerously allergic to PPD and its non-identical twin PTD, a chemical substance used in all 100% grey covering hair dyes. So, she didn’t really have a choice. 

“I can personally vouch that nothing ruins a girl’s day like an emergency adrenaline shot, blue lights to A&E, heart monitors and a paramedic’s claim that ‘we thought we’d lost you’, and so consequently, I haven’t used a grey covering hair dye in almost a decade,” she writes. “I have tried every available alternative, from henna to root sprays to wash-ins, to ammonia-free this and organic that (neither has anything to do with the presence of PPD, so don’t be fooled and always, always perform a skin test), but not one of them did more than offer a nice shine and zero lasting grey coverage.”

In her own words, her options were as follows – “live with my mostly concealable salt and pepper temples, moving my parting a fraction every few months like some kind of hair sundial, or to adopt the attitude of ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’, and nuke all their neighbours with bleach”. Choosing the latter, she said that the issue doesn’t stand with being grey but with going grey “at a glacial pace”.

I suppose it’s a bit like when balding men get the confidence to shave off the fluff. It felt like taking control of the wheel and steering into the skid.

Deciding to go grey is something that, for most other people, comes down to their own personal choice. Your head, your hair, your decision. Such was not the case for Hughes though, who revealed that she was privately advised against the move – those offering her their two cents citing concerns over it being bad for business/her brand. Not immune to the thought that this could well be the case, Hughes knew that it was a possible outcome. But, admirably, that didn’t stop her. “I have never lied about my age, and one thing that I have never been able to tolerate is being told – either directly or indirectly – how I should look,” she continued. 

Lots of research, many skin tests and a seven-hour appointment later and the deed was done. If you think going grey would involve minimal effort, you’d be wrong… at least if you want to speed up the process, that is. As she puts it, “I’ve known toddlers less needy than this hair.” Weekly washes, dedicated silver shampoo, proper conditioning, shine spray – the list of essentials goes on, but Sali Hughes has no regrets. So, perhaps now is the time to follow suit and embrace those pesky silver strands peeking their way through your lockdown regrowth?