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'I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled'
You may be familiar with these lines, taken from T.S.Eliot's famous poem entitled 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'. To be honest, I have never quite understood the second line about rolled trousers. But as every line of Eliot is supposed to have some deep symbolic significance, presumably it has something to do with conveying the idea of adapting to change as one grows older. Or perhaps Eliot could not think of a suitably apt word to rhyme with 'old' - 'cold'?; 'fold'? - even literary geniuses presumably have their off days.
However, the first, line has a 'moment of truth' power all of its own. I had one of those anguished 'Aaargh, I'm growing old' moments recently, when I looked in a mirror and saw streaks of silvery grey in my hair, made all the more noticeable by the cruel glow of flourescent lighting. OK, I know how the greying process is rationalised, about how a little salt and pepper can supposedly add seasoning to one's locks, or how a little steel grey can make one look wise and distinguished. But I don't want to look distinguished or be an eminence grise. I want to look like me - and my self image is a person with brown hair.
The sight of grey in my hair made me think of how much we can be defined by others by our hair colour, particularly if it is grey or white. The words 'old and 'grey' are often juxtaposed. The easiest way for cartoonists to depict old people is to add a splash of white or grey to their hair. I remember being amused some years ago when I visited an old people's home and discovered that the nurses referred to their white haired residents as 'Q Tips'. Recently, I was on a crowded bus, with several people standing in the aisles. A woman who I would guess to have been in her mid forties, but with greying hair, got on and a teenager offered her his seat. She looked mortified by this kind offer, but I suppose any greying, forty-something person looks ancient to a teenager.
My 'Aaargh' moment also caused me to consider a choice between two alternatives: whether to follow the path of acceptance, or of resistance. Acceptance would mean acknowledging to myself and indeed the world that I am going grey , inevitably and indisputably, whether I like or or not (and I don't) .
This is of course the more realistic option. None of us can resist nature's process of entropy, by which all living things decline and decay. This years' beautiful rose will soon wither, fade and die. Unlike roses, however, we do have some control over the pace of our decline, if not over the end result. Today's fit young man could be tomorrow's grey, balding, paunchy couch potato, unless he takes action to correct it. Even Jennifer Lopez has to work out daily to keep her magnificent, thirty-two year old rear from sagging southwards. Even the most beautiful flower child of the sixties could now be a wizened, witch-like, raddled old hag, if she has let herself go. On the other hand, if she has looked after herself she could have matured into a woman who is still beautiful. It is certainly true that, if you are not happy with your appearance, you can change it (to some extent at least)!
After some thought, therefore, I decided on the strategy of resistance. So it was off to Boots, to locate a suitable hair colourant for a greying male. I discovered that there are two types of product on the market. 'Just for Men' promises an immediate solution: just wash it in and hey presto, all grey can be banished. This is the 'big bang' approach, where the problem is solved in one go. This sounds great. The 'before and after' examples also look great on the packaging. However, there is an immediate problem concerning which shade to choose. What I wanted was my hair restored to its natural colour. I am aware that in reality the 'after' can look a lot worse than the 'before'. Being of a rather cautious disposition, I checked out the Ciao website for reviews of this product. I discovered that one reviewer found that 'Just for Men' turned his hair orange. Mmm -this put me off. Orange hair may be an advantage on the Shankill road on 12th July, but I can't think of any other reason why one would want to risk it. And even if you don't end up with orange hair, you may find that the result is noticeably different from the 'before' stage.
The other factor to be taken into consideration is that there is still a certain stigma attached to men dying the grey out of their hair (not so bad as wearing a wig, or using a perma-tan, but a stigma nonetheless). Women can transform their hair colour overnight from peroxide blonde to henna red , without being thought of as weird (OK, guilty of a mistaken and unwise cosmetic decision perhaps, but not weird). If a man dyes his hair, a common assumption is that there's something not quite right about him, something phoney and even faintly ludicrous. For example, in Germany recently much newsprint was devoted to the allegation that Chancellor Shroeder died his hair (and allegation which he thought worthy of the trouble of strenuously denying).
The second type of product favours the more gradual approach. Boots actually sells three of these 'gradualist' products, namely 'Grecian 2000', 'Formula 16' and 'Restoria'. These products differ from 'Just for Men' in that they promise a gradual, controllable way to remove the grey. They also promise to restore your hair to its natural colour. They all supposedly work in more or less the same way: you massage a lotion or foam into your hair on a daily basis for about two weeks, and then once the grey has disappeared you top up the treatment again about once a week. This approach appealed to me a lot more than the 'Just for Men' technique, for two reasons: firstly, because I thought it would be less prone to a major tonsorial disaster (i.e. I would be less likely to end up with orange hair); and secondly, as the process was more gradual, the dye would probably be less obvious. So the next stage of my decision was to choose between the three 'gradualist' products. I finally decided on 'Grecian 2000', mainly because I had heard of this product before and thought that as it is produced by a big US company, it must be well tried and tested.
I bought the 'Grecian 2000' foam version, which is in an aerosol can. It also comes in lotion form, but the foam version promises to add body to one's hair. I studied the ingredients beforehand and noticed that the product includes lead acetate. Mmm - worrying. I looked also at the 'Restoria' and 'Formua 16' alternatives and they also contain lead acetate. In fact, this seems to be a key ingredient of this type of hair darkening treatment.
This caused me some anxiety, as I know that lead acetate is bad news as far as one's health is concerned. Until modern times, lead acetate was thought of as having some medicinal uses and was also used by the Romans to sweeten their wine. It is now thought of as having only harmful effects on human health: for example, it is thought to be possibly carcinogenic (based on laboratory tests on animals) . Apparently, unbeknownst to the Romans, it could also cause brain damage if ingested (no wonder there were so many crazy Roman emperors). We all know also about the effects of lead poisoning, for example of the kind which caused children's toys made from lead to be withdrawn from sale many years ago.
This caused me to pause before purchase, not least because I don't want to risk my health for purely cosmetic reasons. Men with greying hair may need more lead in their pencils, but they don't need any lead in their hair. However, I assumed that as the product has been approved for sale, it must be safe if used correctly. So took the plunge and bought 'Grecian 2000'.
According to the instructions, you apply it first in the form of three golf ball sized squirts of foam to your clean, dry hair, massaging it in. You then apply one golf ball sized squirt each day for two to three weeks. The instructions tell you to avoid getting any of the product into your eyes. You are also expected to wash your hands throughly after use. You are also advised not to ingest it. You are also advised to avoid bringing it into contact with any cuts or abrasions. Mmm - this is obviously dangerous stuff. In fact, I was soon to become aware of the potentially nasty side effects of this product.
The first thing I noticed when I squeezed it on my hands was its nasty smell, something between carbolic and a cheap hair lotion. When you put it on your hair, the smell seems to follow you around like a halo. The smell seems to abate after a while, but it never fully dissipates;
Secondly, you have to wash your hands really throughly in order to get rid of the greasy/oily/lotion smell from your hands. However, even when you do this, the moment you touch your hair, some of the smell rubs off on to your hands again Moreover, I can smell it on the pillows, so it is virtually impossible to avoid skin contact in some form or other;
Thirdly, however much one may try to prevent it, it seems almost inevitable at some point that some of the product will get into your eyes: in particular, if you touch your hair and then later, perhaps without realising it, you rub your eyes, you will transfer some particles to the latter. I soon realised this when, a few hours after applying the product, I experienced tingling, stinging sensations in my eyes. This got worse when I was lying in bed and in fact I had to get up twice to bathe my eyes. So one has to be very careful not to touch one's hair after the foam has been applied and just as careful not to rub one's eyes. This is easier said than done, as most of us probably do both on a frequent basis without even realising it.
The fourth thing I soon noticed about the product is that it seems to change the texture of your hair. After using the product for a few days, my hair seemed to acquire a kind of stringy texture to it - greasy string is the nearest analogy I can think of (I am not sure if the lotion has the same effect as the foam).
The fifth thing I didn't like about this product is that, in order for the results to take place fairly quickly, you are not supposed to wash your hair frequently (only about once a week). I live in a big city, so once a week is defintely not enough (I like to do it at least three or four times a week). With 'Grecian 2000' you are expected to live with unclean hair for several days a week, which for me is not really acceptable.
So the only possible reason for using this product is if the intended results outweight the adverse side effects. Do they? Well, for me the answer must be 'no'. 'Grecian 2000' will darken your hair, if the product is applied correctly. What I would dispute however is that it has the effect of restoring your hair to a natural colour. What I think you are likely to end up with (admittedly based only on my own experience) is a greasy looking dark brown, which some may prefer to natural grey.
For me, I think the adverse side effects outweigh the un-greying effect. As the other two products mentioned ('Restoria' and 'Formula 16') also contain lead acetate, I have no reason to believe that they would be any better than 'Grecian 2000'. I have not seen any other reviews of 'Grecian 2000' despite the fact that it is a well-known product: I therefore don't know if my experience is typical. I suppose one alternative for me would be to risk trying 'Just for Men' instead. However, I think on balance I would rather not bother and instead grow old greyfully.
Speaking from a hairdressers point of view,this is one of the worst products out there as are all of the metallic-based dyes, it never looks natural and you should see what happens when it comes into contact with perm lotion (involves dissolving) If you want to get rid of grey, you would do better to go with the 'ladies' products, they work and look more natural and don't do serious damage, especially if you begin with a semi or quasi! Should leave it til the grecian has grown out though! Kes;)
patriciat 19.06.2003 20:35
Excellent op. Isn't men's grey hair supposed to look distinguished? That seems preferable to orange. Pat.t