“I’m thinking of going grey. Am wary because my mom never coloured her hair and she was always called a mataji long before she was ready to be one. Please advice."

The ex-colleague had hemmed and hawed on Facebook (where I hover these days coaxing people to “like" the new Mint Lounge page) before she finally got to the point.

Six years ago strangers would walk up and ask if I had intentionally coloured my hair white. I began greying in my 20s and after some experiments with colour, I decided it wasn’t for me. All through my 30s, my hair was a mass of black curls with dramatic white streaks. At family weddings, mine was the only visible grey.

Now, I’m older and almost fully grey. The white no longer looks like it could have come from a bottle. Everyone believes I don’t colour my hair, but I occasionally subject myself to a tedious “low lighting" session where the stylist darkens individual strands of hair to reduce the overall percentage of white so my hair still looks “natural" and not coloured. It takes at least 2 hours, costs a lot of money, and nobody can tell the difference. “What exactly did you do in the salon," the husband invariably asks.

These days I’m convinced low lighting is a dreadful cop out, deceitful even. I should just pick one or the other. “Indians are quite paranoid about grey hair because it stands out against our dark hair colour," says Satyaki Ghosh, director, consumer products at L’Oreal India, which has a 75% value share of the cream-based hair colour market. Nearly 80-90% of us use hair colour to cover greys (rather than as a style statement) and most people take the plunge by 30, he adds.

My best friend slathers organic hair colour over her hair once a fortnight. After I saw a picture of a classmate on, where else, a Facebook school group looking glam and sexy, I SOSed my girlfriend: “I’m the only one who looks old and destroyed." “Stop," she replied. “Or I will hold you down, colour your hair and force you to look like everyone else—old, destroyed and dyed." Girlfriends can always be relied upon to say the right thing.

If you’re the mother of a schoolgoing child, the grey hair quandary gets trickier. In a world that increasingly pushes women to be perfectly coiffed and look as young as they possibly can (grey hair is seen as a sign you don’t take care of yourself), children obviously want to know why their mother isn’t following the rules. Many women I polled on, where else, Facebook, said they were bullied by their children to colour their hair. Who can blame children if they are caught unawares by that dreaded question: “Is she your mother or grandmother?"

Conversely, the relaxation of rules can also encourage women to colour their hair. The idea of age-appropriate dressing has passed its sell-by date. So many of us barely tweak the way we dress as we flit from decade to decade—but maybe it’s tougher to dress like a 20-year-old when your hair is more salt, less pepper?

My ex-colleague’s mataji may not have coloured her hair but two other family members swore by colour: Her 36-year-old sister, now fully grey, has coloured her hair for 10 years and her 80-year-old aunt has been at it for half a century. “Now she is experimenting with going white," she told me. “But her younger sister (who is also upwards of 70 and has “jet black" hair) is trying to talk her out of it."

So what advice did I end up giving her? The same advice I give every time. Do what makes you happy. If your fortnightly fix of colour makes you feel better, please ensure you get it. If you want to be natural, don’t worry about your children/partner or their friends. See the page “The Grey Matter" on Pinterest for inspiration. And get yourself a shampoo meant for grey hair the next time you travel. Think silver fox, not grey goose. Coloured hair or not, there will be days you feel old and days you feel young. The good days will probably have more to do with how healthy and happy you are than the colour of your hair.

And why just women? The same rules apply to men too. Ghosh says some 40% of his consumers are men. “That’s why we have a man’s photo on the back of our Garnier Color Naturals pack," he says.

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