June 16, 2024


Specialists in fashion

The pandemic has inspired Long Islanders to embrace their gray hair

Keeping gray hair at bay has long been a chore — ugh, time-consuming and costly — for many who battle those ever-sprouting silvery roots. But oddly enough, the pandemic and quarantine have given license, time and opportunity for folks to embrace the natural color of their hair.

Take Judy Umansky, 77, of East Hills who for 25 years, every three weeks like clockwork colored her hair a chestnut-y brown at nuBest Salon and Spa in Manhasset. “When the pandemic hit, it was not my intention to let my hair go natural,” says Umansky. But with her classes temporarily canceled, (she teaches Mahjong and Canasta at the Roslyn JCCC) and at her husband Paul’s urging, she succumbed.

“I made a deal with my husband that I would let it go gray if he shaved off his mustache.” She did and he did (and although he ultimately grew it back, she’s sticking with her no-color regime).

Today, Umansky’s short, spiky haircut is her signature and she’s thrilled with the money she’s saved. “I added it up and figured it’s close to $1,800.” Her friends and family all told her, “You can pull it off,” she says. “And I definitely feel I can. I’m a funky, old broad and it’s very liberating.”

Her experience isn’t unusual. After being shuttered from the limelight (fortunate, because there are some particularly ungainly stages to growing out colored hair) the newly grayed are reentering the public eye. They say they’re delighted with the ease and appearance of going full-on gray.


Chris Tiberg, 59, a financial analyst from Westhampton, who dyed her hair a deep, velvety auburn for some 20 years at nuBest, colored it for the very last time 12 months ago. “The pandemic gave me the opportunity to take the leap,” she says.

For the first few months of her hair’s grow out — her company didn’t have Zoom and remaining unseen was fine with her. Following that, she says, she worked the virtual camera angles to the best effect. In August, her colorist, Christian Fleres, the nuBest director of color, lightened up the ends of her hair, he says to, “match her white regrowth.”

Tiberg, says, “I love it. It feels authentic and like I’m embracing who I am now with my hair.” As for the reactions when she finally emerged from the pandemic shadows? “When my family first saw it, they were in shock. But I get a lot of compliments and I’m happy I did it and it’s easy.”

Fleres says there have been “plenty of women who decided that, due to the pandemic, they were going to embrace their gray.”

Katie Emery who documented her own journey to gray and offers advice to women wanting to make the transition on her blog katiegoesplatinum.com, says her website “exploded” due to the pandemic. “A lot of them just wanted to use that time away from their colleagues and peers to grow out their hair and ditch the dye in peace.”

Likewise, Anne Marie Barros, a gray hair expert/colorist at the Roy Teeluck Salon in NYC, who serves Long Island clients, says “For the past four to six months all my clients have been coming to me to do transitions. The pandemic put it over the top.” The encouraging news, according to Barros, is once people are through the process which can last more than a year, “less than one percent go back to their colored hair.”


For sure, Ingrid Penn, 53, a clerk at a health center in Elmont, isn’t retreating from her now snowy coif. The every-two-week trek to get her hair colored was tiresome and expensive, and she says, during the pandemic, “I let it go completely. When I started working from home, it was easier and I got over that whole social thing where people say you’re too young to be wearing your hair like that.”

Parts of the evolution were, “horrendous,” she says. “With the roots growing out I almost wanted to wear a wig.” But she persevered. Other than her mother, who she says, “hates it,” her public and her partner are fans. “I’m lucky that my hair grows fast,” she says, adding, “once you get over the skunk phase, it’s really not so bad.”

For some, it wasn’t about coloring their hair, but a level of acceptance to the changes that occurred during quarantine and the pandemic. So says Steven Kauftheil, 47, a dentist who lives in Manhasset. Last March, he wore his hair short, (no one seemed to mention the bits of gray), but during the pandemic he let it grow into an enviable, shoulder-length mane swirling with gray and white tones.

The length and the gray are a popular topic of conversation in his office he says. “My patients are always asking me, ‘What in the world is going on with you?’ or ‘When are you going to dye it?’”

But says Kauftheil, “I’m totally fine with it. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that I’m flaunting my gray.”


Going all gray after coloring your hair, isn’t, visually at least, the easiest process to endure, so we asked a few experts for some tips on how to manage:

It doesn’t happen overnight: “You have to have patience, it’s a process,” says Christian Fleres, the color director at nuBest Salon and Spa in Manhasset. Anne Marie Barros, a gray hair expert/colorist at the Roy Teeluck Salon in NYC, says that hair grows about a half inch a month, about six inches a year. A short hair grow-out can be done within a year; longer hair can take two years or more.

Don’t get discouraged. “Keep on going,” says Barros. “In the middle months especially, people can’t stand looking at themselves.” She suggests camouflaging with hats, scarves and bands. “You will be rewarded.” Wait it out echoes Katie Emery, founder of the gray centric blog, katiegoesplatinum.com. “You cannot predict what your gray hair is going to look like until the other hair is out. Gray hair is translucent and picks up the color around it.”

Get over the notion that going gray means looking old: “There are teenagers that are making their hair silver these days. It’s actually very cool,” says Jamie Mazzei, nuBest’s owner. “The average age of women transitioning to gray is 40-50,” says Barros.

— Take care of your hair: “The condition of the hair is important,” says Fleres who sometimes recommends services such as glazing and texturizing. Barros suggests keeping hair moisturized at all times. “People are a little more neglectful with colored hair which can become dryish and more brittle.” She recommends, when transitioning, using the smallest amount of shampoo to clean the scalp only, and using conditioner only on the length of the hair.”

Cut is king: “If you’re giving up color, the cut has got to be stylish,” says Fleres. “It’s a balance.”

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