For way too long, traditional beauty standards for women have deemed gray hair as something to be hidden at all costs—despite the fact that going gray is an inevitable part of the aging process for nearly everyone. Up until recently, the pressure to maintain dyed hair was enough to send many of us to our colorist or reaching for a box of hair dye at the first sight of a single gray hair. But thankfully, times are changing and having gray hair has never been cooler. Now more than ever, women are feeling empowered to embrace their natural locks and wear their gray hair with pride.
And, if there is anyone that knows about the power and beauty that comes from choosing to let your hair color take its natural course, it’s Teruko Burrell. The model sprouted her first gray hair in her thirties and has been proudly rocking a head full of gray curls ever since. Ahead, Burrell opens up about her gray hair journey—from the products she swears by to her gray hair icon.
The Tease: Do you remember when you noticed your first gray hair? How did you feel?
Teruko Burrell: I started going gray in my early 30’s. At first, it was a single streak on the right side of my face. Following my mother’s footsteps and my co-workers at the time, I immediately started coloring my hair. As I look back, I regret not letting it grow in. The white streak was so unique!
When did you first decide to start embracing your gray hair?
Burrell: I moved to New York City in 2006 to see if I could break into modeling. A model I became friendly with was working on a regular basis. She had very pretty gray hair and encouraged me to stop coloring my hair. She said it was the main reason why she booked jobs. I thought about it for a couple of years and by 2009, I was naturally gray.
How was the transition process for you?
Burrell: The process took almost two years. I did not want to cut my shoulder length hair, so I wore lots of headbands. As the months passed, the headbands became wider and wider! I also tied my hair back in a pony. The crown of my hair was salt and pepper and my pony was black!
Did you experience any resistance at all with your decision to embrace your gray hair?
Burrell: I did. Mostly with my personal thought process and of what society expects of you. It took a couple of years to discard this way of thinking and let my gray grow in naturally. It was the best thing I ever done. It is so freeing.
Were there moments where you had the urge to dye your hair?
Burrell: No. Once I made up my mind to ditch the dye, it was a done deal.
How do you keep your gray hair looking healthy and gorgeous?
Burrell: Thank you! My all time favorite product is Shu Uemura’s Yubi Blonde Purple Mask. It has some blue mixed in with the purple color. The slight blue hue makes my gray shine and pop with brightness!
What are some hair products that you swear by?
Burrell: Shu Uemura’s Yubi Blonde Purple Mask, Shu Uemura’s Yubi Blonde Anti-Brass Purple Shampoo, and Shea Moisture’s Coconut Hibiscus Shampoo, Conditioner, and Styling Cream.
There seems to be an unspoken rule for women as they age: don’t let your hair turn gray. Why did you decide to reject this rule? What advice do you have for women who want to do the same?
Burrell: This unspoken rule of not letting gray hair grow in is what I grew up with. My mother colored her hair for decades and as a teen, I accepted it as fact. Dye is what you do with gray hair. As I saw more and more women my age let their silver shine, the rule for dye began to fade and finally break. I am very health conscious and I believe being dye-free leads to a cleaner lifestyle and prettier hair. Albeit, proven safe, why would I continuously put harsh dyes on my porous scalp?
I always encourage women to let their gray grow in! I have had ladies approach me that are skeptical and afraid of looking older. I tell them how beautiful and confident they will look as the gray grows in. I am happy to be an example that gray hair can be fun. I suggest a good cut and perhaps a vibrant red or berry lip color.
Sarah Jessica Parker recently spoke out in Allure about how she is not brave for embracing her gray hair. What are your thoughts on this statement?
Burrell: Sooner or later, everyone will find their own way of how and when they will accept aging. Mrs. Parker’s response is candid and most women fear aging. It is unfortunate our society often equates beauty with youth. The maddening pressure to always be young is most harsh on celebrities. Personally, I believe the passage of youth is part of the wonderful cycles of life. Aging naturally is about self-confidence, authenticity, and self-acceptance.
We’ve seen a lot of women, especially high profile women, start to embrace their gray hair. What do you think about this gray hair revolution that’s happening?
Burrell: I treasure the gray hair revolution! It is an exciting time to grow older. I love the fact that the definition of beauty is becoming more diverse and inclusive. Every decade is a celebration and we now see women of all ages in advertisements. Social media is filled with older women with beautiful silver locks. In fact, it is still a trend for gals in their twenties to dye their hair gray.
Lastly, who is your gray hair icon?
Burrell: The late, great Cindy Joseph. She was the first successful model with long, beautiful gray hair.
For more from Teruko Burrell, be sure to follow @terukolaura on Instagram.