When Gen-X makeup artist Nikol Johnson Sanchez decided to stop dying her grey in 2015, online information about the transition process — and the products to use — were hard to come by.
“In 2015, there were the actresses that were older that had grey hair, [but on] social platforms, you couldn’t find anybody” talking about grey hair, she said. And when she tried to find hair products that would help prevent obvious roots during the transition, options were equally limited.
She found just one product, at Sally Beauty, which she said came out like “glitter” on her hair. So she started documenting the process on social media.
As she soon found, demand for online information about grey hair care was strong. Now a published author of a book on going gray, she shares hair advice to her more than 203,000 subscribers on YouTube and 102,000 followers on Instagram, and a private group of over 15,000 women on Facebook. Sanchez is part of a growing movement to embrace grey hair and fight ageism that has taken off in recent years, with the help of pop culture, celebrities, influencers and the pandemic lockdowns. And beauty brands have taken notice.
Attitudes toward grey hair have rapidly changed over the past five years. According to data from Mintel, a November 2020 survey found that 64% of at-home hair-color users agreed that people should embrace their grey hair. That is a dramatic difference from a similar survey in October 2016, where the market research firm found that only 23% of hair-color users said people should be proud of their grey hair.
Even as at-home hair dye flew off the shelves during the initial pandemic shutdown, beauty startups and conglomerates alike were launching new products geared specifically toward silver hair, working with influencers such as Sanchez to promote them.
The latest entrant to the grey hair-care market, founded by hair-dye brand Developlus, Go Gray launched in December 2021 and entered Walmart in January. The brand launched with a line of four products, including those made to fade existing hair color, as well as purple toning products to remove brassiness in silver hair.
“We do a lot of shampoos and conditioners, and in our research, we saw the grey hair trend. We had a lot of people during Covid that decided they wanted to go grey,” said Jenniffer Paulson, the vp of marketing of Go Gray. “We saw there was this great awareness of it.”
Go Gray has joined a growing number of brands and products on the market created to celebrate, rather than conceal, grey hair. Three-year-old hair-care startup Better Not Younger offers purple shampoo and a hair mask specifically for silver hair. Procter & Gamble’s Hair Biology brand, launched in 2020 for the over-50 demographic, offers a silver shampoo, conditioner and hair serum.
“Women today really do think differently about aging, and they want to feel empowered to shatter these stereotypes. [They want] to live their lives as they want, not as society expects them to,” said Sonsoles Gonzalez, founder and CEO of Better Not Younger.
“We’ve found that there was an opportunity in the marketplace to really speak to women over 50. There weren’t a lot of products that were specifically addressing their hair challenges,” said Susan Cavanaugh, director at Hair Biology.
Classic beauty brands have also taken notice. Sanchez said a breakthrough moment was when Pantene enlisted her for a campaign in 2019, flying her to London with six other silver-haired influencers.
Katie Emery, who runs a blog on grey hair called “Katie Goes Platinum” and serves as an admin on a 17,000-person private Facebook group, has seen an uptick in brand campaign inquiries during the pandemic.
“I’ve had a lot more brands” reach out since 2020, she said. “It’s been an explosion, because they want to get the word out. Every day, practically, I’m getting reached out to by brands who are wanting to tap into the grey hair market.”
The pandemic has been a significant factor in driving the silver hair movement among women, many of whom stopped dying their hair when salons shut down.
“Hashtags like #GrayHairDontCare, #EmbraceTheGray and #GrayHairMovement have gained momentum on social media, particularly during the lockdown phase of the pandemic, as consumers leaned into self-isolation by growing out their grey hair,” said Olivia Guinaugh, senior beauty and personal care analyst at Mintel.
Now, they’ve realized they don’t want to go back. Data from Better Not Younger’s site survey found that 20% of respondents said they had grey hair when the brand was first launched in 2019, but that percentage has grown to 32% now. The brand’s purple shampoo for grey hair makes up 20% of its shampoo sales and is its second best-selling shampoo.
“The pandemic really pushed people to understand it’s not as scary as they put it out to be, and they actually like it,” said Sanchez of the transition to grey. “It was like an awakening in 2020 for people that were on the fence.”
Since the pandemic began, numerous celebrities and pop-culture moments have put an even bigger spotlight on the movement. Actress Andie McDowell, who decided to stop dying her hair during the pandemic, generated buzz when she debuted her silver hair at Cannes Film Festival last year. She’s also done numerous media interviews celebrating her new look. Jane Fonda, meanwhile, went on “Ellen” last year to share her decision to go grey at age 82.
The movement also made its way into a storyline in the new “Sex and the City” spinoff, “And Just Like That,” pitting characters Miranda and Charlotte on opposite sides of the to-grey-or-not-to-grey debate.
And actress Cynthia Nixon, who plays Miranda, is having an impact on the grey hair-care market in real life. Better Not Younger saw a massive sales spike when Nixon discussed her character’s hair on “The Today Show,” noting that the brand was used on her on set. She liked the brand name so much, she shared a photo on the show featuring her and her hair and makeup team wearing matching jackets emblazoned with “Better Not Younger.”
But this cultural moment long predated the pandemic, especially with the rise of dedicated influencers and online groups.
“When we started [Better Not Younger] three years ago, it was hard to find influencers in this age group. Now there’s more and more that are popping up,” said Gonzalez.
The online conversation explosion has “given the path to be the green light before we ever had a green light on grey hair. Ever,” said Sanchez.
Private social media groups have been as important as public influencers in driving the trend. Emery became an admin on the Facebook group Silver Revolution, in 2018 after becoming the only woman in her work to stop dying her hair. Founded by Jonie Peck, the group and others like it feature members sharing grey hair-care and transition advice, as well as selfies and discussions on how they still deal with the issues posed by societal stigmas and ageism.
The private Facebook groups are necessary in an online environment rife with ageism, sexism and online harassment.
“It’s nice to have a controlled environment. We get enough social hate right on YouTube,” said Sanchez of her own private group. “That’s the way to control it and keep it where it’s uplifting and positive. It’s an escape, and they don’t have to deal with everything they deal with on other platforms.”
According to Emery, women face many pressures in life to dye their hair. Older female relatives often encourage them to keep dying their hair. In addition, corporate ageism makes women feel pressured for economic reasons.
“There’s already ageism in our workforce. It is kind of scary, like, ‘If you let your hair go grey, are you suddenly going to reveal yourself to your co-workers that you’re older than they might think you are?’” She has been working on using her platform to dismantle these attitudes.
But despite their support of going grey, hairfluencers avoid demonizing hair dye.
“I don’t sit on a platform and say, ‘Oh, everybody has to go grey,’” said Sanchez. “It’s giving women the choice to live a certain way that they thought they couldn’t live because it was so frowned upon.”
“There are no beauty rules,” she said. “And I like to stress that a lot, because people feel like there’s judgment if you don’t go grey or you don’t do this or if you want to do Botox. You do whatever you want to do. It’s what makes you happy and feeling authentic and feeling like you are the most confident and the most beautiful you can be.”