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Are you ready to embrace the grey? Northern Ireland women talk tackling their silver roots


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Nichola McCabe

Nichola McCabe

Freddie Parkinson

No choice: Nichola McCabe

No choice: Nichola McCabe

Freddie Parkinson

Nichola before she had to stop dyeing her hair

Nichola before she had to stop dyeing her hair

Cover up: Gilly Campbell is happy maintaining her blonde hair

Cover up: Gilly Campbell is happy maintaining her blonde hair

Freddie Parkinson

Liberated feeling: Maureen Boyle with her new hair-do

Liberated feeling: Maureen Boyle with her new hair-do

Freddie Parkinson

Maureen Boyle before the transition to grey locks

Maureen Boyle before the transition to grey locks

Colour fan: Kim Kelly

Colour fan: Kim Kelly

Freddie Parkinson

Nichola McCabe

Celebs like Glenn Close, Helen Mirren and Sharon Osbourne have debuted grey hairstyles recently. Leona O'Neill finds out what four NI women really thought about showing off their natural shade.

‘I’m allergic to dye so there was nothing else I could do’

Office manager Nichola McCabe (46) lives in west Belfast with her partner James and their daughters Summer (13) and Erin (15). She says an allergy to the chemicals in hair dye forced her to embrace the grey long before she wanted to.

"I started going grey about five years ago," she says. "I always had dark brown hair so I dyed my roots. But then one time it started to get itchy and my hair started coming out in lumps.

"I then took a severe allergic reaction and my head started to swell and there were weeping sores. I went and got a patch test done and they said that I was allergic to the paraphenylenediamine (PPD) in hair dye. I was devastated.

"I had been grey from my 30s and I just kept dyeing my roots when they came through. The worst part of being allergic to PPD was that I had to grow my hair out. I had to use sprays and powders to cover the grey until it was down long enough for me to get it cut. Then I just let the grey come out itself naturally.

"I had to change my hairstyle completely. I had to get it cut up really short to get rid of my dark brown hair. It was a nightmare, it really was."

Nichola says the change in her hair left her feeling self conscious.

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No choice: Nichola McCabe

No choice: Nichola McCabe

Freddie Parkinson

No choice: Nichola McCabe

"I was really devastated," she says. "I just couldn't accept it. But I have accepted it now. I just had to get on with it. But at the time it was so hard. It was the whole topic of conversation everywhere I went. People would say to me, "everyone is paying money to get their hair dyed grey" but it didn't ease my burden.

"It really affected my self-confidence. I would be talking to people and I could see that they were looking at the top part of my head and the grey coming through.

"I saw myself explaining to people what was happening. I was seeing people I hadn't seen in years and thinking 'oh my God, I have grey hair'. It really did make me feel self-conscious."

Nichola says she eventually accepted the change, essentially because she "had no choice".

"I think I had to just accept it," she says. "There was literally nothing else I could do. I did go to a few different hairdressers who used natural products in their hair colours. But then they did the patch tests and every single thing gave me a reaction.

"I went and got my blood tested and it showed that I was at the start of the menopause. So I don't know for sure, but it might have been connected to that.

"I'm okay about it now, because I have no other choice, but I do sometimes look in the mirror and think that I hate it. And there are other days I think it's not that bad.

"I still don't like it, but I just get on with it. I'm also saving myself a fortune at the hairdressers."

‘I found my first grey hairs at 13 and I’ve been dyeing it ever since’

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Cover up: Gilly Campbell is happy maintaining her blonde hair

Cover up: Gilly Campbell is happy maintaining her blonde hair

Freddie Parkinson

Cover up: Gilly Campbell is happy maintaining her blonde hair

Arts Council employee Gilly Campbell (46) lives in Belfast with her husband Daniel and their daughter Sally (8). She went grey in her early teens and has covered up all trace of it ever since.

"I was around 13 years old when I started going grey," she says. "I just remember one day this kind of streak of maybe three or four grey hairs began to grow and got bigger. I started plucking it, and that old adage of if you pluck grey hairs they come back two-fold is true. There were definitely more coming back and they were really coarse.

"I was embarrassed by it but even though back in the teenage years things are usually difficult, in a way being different wasn't as awkward as it is now. I don't think any of my friends said anything at the time. And because I started dyeing it straight away, maybe they didn't notice it.

"I have dyed it ever since. I went blonde in my late 20s because it was easier to hide the grey. God knows how much grey is under there. But when the roots grow back, I'm still seeing some grey and at my temples also. I am always very quick to go to the hairdressers."

Gilly says she is happy maintaining her blonde hair if it keeps the grey away. "I have friends who are greyer than me and they are really embracing it and I think that's great," she says. "And maybe one day I will too, but for now I am happy to be blonde and not go grey.

"My husband is younger than me and he is going grey at the sides and I think on a man, it looks nice. But for me I'm happy keeping it covered up. I like being blonde. When I just come out of the hairdressers my skin looks good, my eyes look bright.

"As I've got into my 40s I've embraced getting older a bit, so I'm not too bothered about going grey eventually and entering a time of life that is a bit different than my 30s."

‘The transition wasn’t as awful as I had imagined it would be'

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Liberated feeling: Maureen Boyle with her new hair-do

Liberated feeling: Maureen Boyle with her new hair-do

Freddie Parkinson

Liberated feeling: Maureen Boyle with her new hair-do

Poet and teacher Maureen Boyle (58) lives in south Belfast with her husband, journalist, author and broadcaster Malachi O'Doherty. Like Nichola, she says has also had to embrace her grey hair due to allergies.

"I started going grey in my 40s," she says. "I had dyed my hair for years. At the point when I started to go grey I was actually a dark red/brown colour.

"My natural colour is brown. Once it started to go grey I was having to get it touched up every six weeks and it was costing a fortune, maybe £90 a time.

"Then I became allergic to the hair dye so I just decided that I had to stop. The thing that made all the difference was my hairdresser. She was brilliant.

"I think if you're used to the roots coming through and getting it coloured, you have this horror of what will happen if you leave it. But she was fantastic, she just worked with it each time and she cut it in such a way that it wasn't so noticeable.

"The transition wasn't as awful as I imagined it would be."

Maureen says the transition to grey made her "feel old" despite everyone telling her her new look was beautiful.

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Maureen Boyle before the transition to grey locks

Maureen Boyle before the transition to grey locks

Maureen Boyle before the transition to grey locks

"I do think it was difficult and I was really disappointed and didn't want to give my lovely dark brown/red hair up," she says. "And I have to say the first few years of being grey, even though everyone said it was gorgeous, it made me feel old.

"I have got over that and I have grown to like it now. It is such a liberation from having to have colours all the time.

"At the start I also gave myself little treats to make up for the money I was saving on getting it dyed.

"The funny thing I find now is that going grey is the nearest thing someone who is dark haired will be to being blonde. And my hair is shiny and in really good condition because I'm not putting dyes on it.

"I would say to other ladies who are going grey to make sure they have a really good hairdresser. That is so important. And I think if you are going grey, you have to keep it in really good condition.

"Going grey is quite draining so wearing bright colours and bright make-up is really important."

‘Going grey made me feel old and I’m not ready to embrace it’

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Colour fan: Kim Kelly

Colour fan: Kim Kelly

Freddie Parkinson

Colour fan: Kim Kelly

Magazine editor Kim Kelly (45) lives in east Belfast with her son Dara (11). She says she spends hundreds of pounds monthly to keep the greys at bay.

"I started going grey really young," she says. "I was in my early 20s when it went pure white - not grey - at the roots. In my late 20s I got divorced. It was very traumatic and the week I was getting divorced I was also moving house and a clump of pure white hair appeared at the front of my hair. I don't know if it was just a coincidence.

"But I have always dyed my hair from the age of 13 or so. I didn't really know what colour my hair was. I was one of those girls who had the Sun-in highlighter, shaders and toners, everything.

"I loved colouring my hair and at the time it first went grey, I had been dyeing it very black. So I had to start getting it coloured every six weeks then. But when I hit my 40s, it would last about 10 days before I would have to start spraying the pure white roots.

"It got so bad that when I got to around 42 I thought I can't deal with this black hair anymore, it was too much work so I decided to go blonde. I didn't realise that you couldn't go from dyed jet black to blonde overnight. It took a while and it was various colours for two years before becoming mid-brown. Then it all started to break off so that is when I decided to get extensions. So that was another level of expense. At the start it would cost £45 every few weeks to get my roots done. Then I started dyeing it with highlights, which cost around £80, then I got extensions which cost between £300 and £500. Then there is the maintenance of them. Plus I've still got grey roots. I would actually describe it now as endless. But I am obsessed with grey hair and I hate the look of it when I see it come through."

Kim says going grey made her "feel old" and that she will continue embracing the cover up.

"Going grey made me feel old," she says. "Most people don't know the extent of my grey hair. I just don't like it. It's horrible. But I think it looks nice on other people, but it's not for me.

"I think I will come to a stage when it is time to embrace the grey, but I'm not there yet. I think I will continue to fake it until I make it."

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