So much black ink to discuss gray hair

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 11/15/19

In the 1970s, when my older brother and I were kids, we got a lot of amusement from television advertisements for Grecian Formula.

Those commercials for men’s hair coloring ran frequently during …

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So much black ink to discuss gray hair

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In the 1970s, when my older brother and I were kids, we got a lot of amusement from television advertisements for Grecian Formula.

Those commercials for men’s hair coloring ran frequently during the shows we liked and every time we caught one we mercilessly mocked the product and the people who’d use it.

To us kids, the notion that anyone would be vain enough to color their gray hair was endlessly hilarious.

So it was with no shortage of irony that a few years later, when I was in my mid-20s and noticed my beard beginning to gray — a small patch, at first, on my chin — I attempted corrective action. It wasn’t Grecian Formula, but some comparable product designed for facial hair I purchased, somewhat self-consciously, at the drug store to remedy matters.

Returning with my illicit purchase to the privacy of home, I unpacked the contents of the box — two tubes of product, a plastic tray to mix them, a tool to mix them, and a small brush for application — and followed the instructions, mixing the thick, dark dye with the gooey clear “activator” before brushing the youth-reclaiming product to the hairs on my chin. I left the dark goo on my gray patch for the full prescribed amount of time, aiming to the maximize its effectiveness, before I rinsed and stood before the bathroom mirror waiting for the magic to happen.

What happened instead was an allergic reaction.

Where the dye had contacted skin, I had an angry red rash that lasted about a week, drawing more attention — and more discomfort — to my chin than the gray hairs ever would.

No doubt the blistering experience — my only close encounter with hair coloring — was penance for being an insensitive youth taking amusement at the foibles of the vain.

In the time that passed since my attempt to turn back the clock, my beard continued to turn gray and by the time I was in my mid-30s, save for some odd colors in the mix, my facial hair had turned completely gray.

The hair atop my head has been slower to turn, but it’s also happening.

To both — chin and head turning gray — I’ve long returned to the original attitude of my youth. While I don’t mock anyone for their choices, of gray hair I believe it’s No Big Deal.

Or is it?

I’ve been impressed — or maybe nonplussed — with the amount of black ink (virtual, at least) given to the topic of gray hair over the last week or so.

Creating the stir is, of all things, Keanu Reeves’ girlfriend.

If you somehow missed the pressing news, I’ll recap: 55-year-old Reeves — an actor whom, judging by the positive press he frequently receives, we all collectively adore — was photographed at a Hollywood red carpet event hand-in-hand with artist Alexandra Grant, 46, who was mistaken by some observers for Dame Helen Mirren, 74, because of their similarly-colored hair.

“The mix-up left people wanting to know more about the silver-haired woman who captured Reeves’ heart,” wrote

The bloggers and the tweeters and the journalists — or whatever you call people who write about things such as the color of Keanu Reeves’ girlfriend’s hair — didn’t stop there, seizing the opportunity to pontificate not just on hair and hair color but also on aging, ageism and age-appropriate dating.

I don’t get the fuss.

These days, I see people with hair of all sorts of colors — even purple sometimes, which I’d be tempted to try myself if it weren’t for the allergic reaction — and none of it raises a single one of my brown eyebrows.


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