Fifty strands of grey: How Kate Middleton's hair made front page news
After 33-year-old Kate Middleton was 'grey shamed' in the press last week, Deirdre Reynolds asks if it's ever okay to just go grey
Stop the presses! Kate Middleton is going grey!
At least, that was the reaction of one British tabloid that splashed news of the Duchess of Cambridge's stray greys across its front page last week.
Famous for her bouncy chestnut tresses, the 33-year-old - who is seven months pregnant with her second child - was blooming in blue as she stepped out to support a children's charity on Wednesday. But it was her elegant half-updo, which uncovered a smattering of grey hairs, that made headlines the next morning.
It's not the first time the future queen of England has embraced her roots: in 2013, following the birth of Prince George, she also sparked a media frenzy when she appeared in public with salt and pepper strands.
While 'the Kate Middleton effect' has swept the world of fashion however, Zeba Hairdressing artistic director, Stephen Kelly, isn't expecting thirtysomething Irish women to rush to copy her latest look: "Going grey is still considered a bit of a no-no for women. Unfortunately, for brunettes like Kate, it's just that little bit more obvious.
"I would say up to 70pc of our clients have some kind of colour in their hair. Most start battling grey in their early 30s - but I've seen teenagers coming in with grey hair.
"Even women with no greys often go for a semi-permanent colour to improve the shine and condition of their hair."
Hair goes grey when the follicle stops producing the natural pigment melanin.
Although scientists believe that going grey is genetic, stress, alcohol, smoking and poor diet are all thought to speed up the process, with the average Irish person sprouting their first grey hair two years later than Kate Middleton at 35.
Ahead of her 40th birthday six years ago, Jennifer Aniston admits she "flipped out" when she discovered a straggler: "I found a really long grey hair and it kind of flipped me out. I was like, how many others are there?'
"My colourist has to get creative now with what I call my 'natural highlights'."
In 2012, BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce (50) also confessed to hitting the bottle in a bid to boost her career prospects: "Ageing is definitely an issue for women in TV. For instance, I have a few grey hairs. I dye them.
"I don't let my grey hair show when I'm reading the news. Of course, we wouldn't even be having this conversation if I was a man."
Sure enough, while George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Patrick Dempsey grow more gorgeously grey, their female co-stars - and fans - endure endless expensive trips to the hair salon instead. One new study by Toni & Guy found that the average woman spends €16,650 on her hair in a lifetime - or €44 a month - including professional colouring and styling.
"In corporate environments, where youth is such a valuable commodity, there's huge pressure to colour your hair," says Anne Kreamer, author of Going Grey: What I Learned About Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity and Everything Else That Really Matters. "There's this idea that if you do go grey, you're giving up and simply not interested in your appearance."
Dublin-based hair stylist, Lorraine Browne, agrees: "It can be very hard to convince clients to let their hair go grey. Most women reach for the dye as soon as they see a grey hair sprouting up.
"I've had clients as young as 18 looking for coverage with colour; others in their 50s still don't have any grey.
"Unfortunately, the darker your hair, the earlier the white hair can be seen," she adds. "I usually advise brunettes to go slightly lighter than their natural colour so the regrowth is not as obvious.
"If you only have a scattering of grey, you can mask it with a semi-permanent colour that lasts up to 20 washes. If more than half your hair is grey, you'll need it tinted more regularly."
Following an inquest into the death of a woman who developed an allergic reaction to her hair dye in the UK last week however, hairdresser Sinead Connolly -who runs Sin É Hair & Beauty in Greystones - says Irish women are becoming more cautious when it comes to colour: "People are definitely more concerned about chemicals in beauty products.
"We switched to an organic hair colour brand called Natulique about a year ago, and now we get women from all over coming in for it. A lot of pregnant women or women who had cancer are also switching to it."
"During the recession, a lot of women let the dye grow out of their hair to save money," she sayss. "We did have a stage of clients using box [home] dyes, and making a mess of their hair. Now they want their highlights back in. My granny is 90 - and she's still blonde!"
Being pregnant, in and of itself though, isn't an excuse for Kate Middleton to wave goodbye to dye, says award-winning hair stylist Stephen Kelly: "It's a myth that you can't dye your hair when you're pregnant. The toxins present in hair dye is no stronger than a cup of coffee.
"Nowadays, there are so many organic products out there, there's no excuse for going grey if you don't want to. We also sell a product called Color Wow Root Touch Up [€38] which is great for brunettes for between visits."
With 94-year-old Maureen O'Hara likewise still rocking her trademark red tresses, and the original brunette bombshell, Sophia Loren, refusing to join the blue rinse brigade at 80, is it ever okay to just go grey?
"Letting your hair be silver in a society that says you shouldn't expresses a certain confidence," says Diana Lewis Jewel, author of Going Grey, Looking Great! "People are expected to be eternally young. Our 'silver sisters' are proving that grey is just a colour like any other.
"In the same way that you can be blonde, brunette or redhead, you can be ice, silver or platinum."
Fifteen years after going back to her roots, silver siren Jamie Lee Curtis (56) says: "It helps if you can be courageous and cut your hair off like I did. It's much harder to transition with longer hair, since then you're stuck with two inches of grey roots."
In the meantime, an old mascara can help disguise your very own Fifty Shades of Grey, suggests Lorraine Browne: "If you have wiry greys, use an old mascara wand to cover roots and give a little bit of hold between dye jobs. A zig-zag parting that breaks up the line of the roots can also help avoid Kate Middleton moments."