Hairdresser Judy Atkinson said as long as she has an ounce of strength in her body, a gray hair will never be seen growing out of her head. And she might be onto something — at least for herself. The attractive St. Petersburg hairstylist looks at least 10 years younger than her 69 years. "As long as I can reach up here," Atkinson said as she brought both hands up to her scalp, "I'll never be gray."
Many Hollywood celebrities aren't so adamant. In fact, some young actors have gone voluntarily gray. Kate Moss, 39, Kelly Osbourne, 28, Mary Kate Olsen, 26, and Pink, 33, have all been seen in varying shades of gray, with Osbourne sporting a striking, almost lavender, tint at this month's Golden Globes ceremony.
So we're not talking a dull gray, the shade of lead. New techniques and products can make sterling, pewter and pearl tones glimmer and shine.
The topic of "owning, not hiding your gray hair" seems to trend every couple of years but should reach a crescendo as the thundering herd of baby boomers overtakes the majority of the population.
Gray is certainly no longer synonymous with Grandma — 71 percent of respondents in a prevention.com poll say women with gray hair can be sexy and 78 percent say men can — but most of us remain able to admire it on others but not see it on ourselves.
Atkinson said only about 25 percent of her clients who are gray actually stay gray, and those are usually her older clients. And, that's something that hasn't changed much in the 52 years she has been a hairdresser.
"What happens is when they get to a certain age, it begins to be too much trouble and expense," she said.
Questioning the need to color happens especially to clients who have been coloring their hair for decades.
And, hair tinting is becoming even more routine with many girls starting to get highlights or lowlights before they are in their teens.
Kathy Wise, a 51-year-old from Redington Beach, who was getting her own gray touched up in a salon recently, is a stock trader who maintains that if you want to get a job, you've got to get rid of the gray.
"On the trading floor in Chicago, there were thousands of women and none of them had gray hair," Wise said. "Women don't want to look old. People don't want to hire you."
Barbara Green, a stylist with Atkinson at Aqua Salon in St. Petersburg, echoed that.
"If you're a hairstylist, people don't want to come to you if you have gray hair," she said.
On the other hand, Colette Bancroft, the Tampa Bay Times' book editor, would never think of coloring her hair, which started turning gray in high school.
"Early gray runs in my father's family, and as a teenager I thought it was coolly unique. My husband thinks the silver is sexy, and if I did dye it people wouldn't recognize me. It's who I am," she said.
One thing's for certain: It's no longer a matter of have-to dye; it's a matter of want-to dye.
Even if the boomers decide gray is for them and the world is topped with silver for the next 10 or 20 years, it could be the last time that ever has to happen.
The hair-color giant L'Oréal has spent years working on a gray-prevention pill, expected to come out in 2015. It will contain an undisclosed fruit extract that mimics the chemical tyrosinase-related protein or TRP-2, an enzyme that protects pigmentation production, the company told the Huffington Post last year.
Bruno Bernard, head of hair biology at L'Oréal, explained further to Cosmopolitan magazine:
"We intend for people to take it in the same way as a dietary supplement. It won't be expensive. Ideally you would take it for your whole life, but realistically we would encourage people to start using it before their hair goes gray because we don't think it can reverse the process once it has started," he said.
In fact, you'd need to take the pill regularly for 10 years prior to going gray to reap the benefits.
While that may seem like a long time to ingest a supplement to treat a problem you're not sure you'll ever have to face, Atkinson said she would absolutely have taken such a pill if it was available and proven to be safe.
"You know how it is. We're all crazy. We'll take anything that will make us look better," she said.
Patti Ewald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8746.