"When do I go grey?" is a question top hairstylist Grant Bettjeman is often asked. His answer: "When do you want to look 10 years older?"
Bettjeman admits there are women who look amazing with grey hair, but he reckons they would still look better with coloured hair. "Grey hair has an age stigma attached to it, like it or not, and coloured hair has the impression of grooming."
If a client is determined to go grey, he says this can be done successfully by their thinking about looking young and funky, adopting a strong haircut, normally short, and dressing immaculately with beautiful accessories and makeup to boost the grooming quotient.
"The idea is to turn nana into glamour."
But he's a fan of staving off the decision, saying in Europe the question would never be asked. "Europeans care about their look, their lifestyle is the main focus, more than their car or their house." In his time working in a high-end Italian salon he routinely saw women of all ages coming back for colour, whereas here women in their 60s routinely start giving the game away.
He reckons the acceptance of greying (along with the mid-life chop) is an Anglo-Saxon thing.
When women become substantially grey, colour upkeep needs a rethink. Blondes have it comparatively easy in terms of transitioning shades with age, redheads tend to fade but can subtly replenish, but brunettes have to fight the white line around the face. "Most people with maintenance issues are quite dark." The need for rootline retouches every two or three weeks also often coincides with women exiting or cutting back on work, so expense can be an issue.
At this stage, Bettjeman advises that women consult their hairdresser about coming up with a cost-effective plan.
"Foxing" is a technique he practices every other haircut for some clients. This leaves greying roots largely untouched, while blonding and blending to the ends. Using highlights rather than global colour is lower maintenance and less costly.
"Everyone ends up lighter," says Bettjeman, counselling that greying is nature's way of lightening up, so even determined brunettes - like me - might find that with age a fairer shade can flatter. "I'm thinking about the Italians who are really dark, by the time you get to 90-year-olds it's soft brown."
People who truly suit grey hair often tend to have "winter" colouring, he says, so for some the option of going silver may appeal. To get there, or go lighter, some of the remaining natural colour may need to be stripped out, but this is not an ongoing regular expense.
It is worth investing in good maintenance, however, by using specific shampoos suited to grey, coloured or mature hair, which tends to become more brittle and duller with age.
Thinning can be an issue, so fortifying shampoos, serums and treatments may be needed, but often the problem is largely visual, rather than actual, says Bettjeman. Particularly among those with fine hair, as their roots whiten, growth at the scalp appears sparser than it is, which is why it pays to integrate lighter colour from roots to tips.
Product-wise, Bettjeman is a fan of specialist shampoos for mature hair (see his picks in sidebar) and prefers root retouch crayons to hair mascaras for a more natural, less stiff look. A few salons, including his own, stock these, or ask in chemists. For those who top-up their colour at home, Bettjeman says ammonia-free semi-permanent shades are best, so salons are not left with unwanted colour build-up to deal with later. (Try L'Oreal Casting Creme Gloss.)
The main concerns seen in clients aged 50 and above are a dull complexion, pigmentation, lines and wrinkles, open pores and cobbled and sagging skin, says Angela Frazer, nurse skincare specialist and clinical co-ordinator at Prescription Skin Care in Remuera.
With research showing a more even skin tone and colour can take as much as 15 years off a person's perceived age - even without addressing lines and wrinkles - it is no wonder many women are signing up to try to improve their skin's appearance.
"A zinc-based sunscreen will always be your cheapest and most effective beauty product in preventing and treating skin ageing," advises Frazer. The production of melanin, which shows up as a tan, is an early sign of injury to the skin, she warns.
Other common concerns are broken capillaries that appear as tiny red lines mainly on the cheeks, patchy skin discolouration, redness or rosacea. Many clients have multiple concerns, including adult acne which combined with ageing just feels plain unfair.
Frazer is an advocate of prescription-based skincare which she says gives more bang for your buck. Examples include new generation skin lighteners and brighteners which target pigment at every stage of the formation process, sunscreens with added ingredients such as niacinamide (vitamin B3 that has anti-inflammatory properties) to help with sensitivity and rosacea while offering protection, and the nightly use of topical vitamin A in sufficient strength to kick-start skin, but without the irritation factor of old.
Treatments might include a course of gentler-style modern peels. These no longer strip the skin, instead being more akin in both price and lack of after-effects to having a hydrating facial. (Prescription Skincare has recently introduced PCA peels, masks and skincare from America, allowing for multi-targeting of concerns with no down-time and suitable for use even on skin undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatments.)
For the most immediate rejuvenation of lines and wrinkles you can't beat Botox, says Frazer, as well as fillers from the Restylane and Juvederm family. But if skin sagging is too much to fix with non-surgical techniques, plastic surgery might be considered.
Whatever the approach you choose to take, when planning for the long-term care of your skin Frazer says women should think of their home-care regime like brushing their teeth, a daily requirement to good health; with additional in-clinic treatments like going to the dentist for check-ups and significant improvements.
1. L'Oreal Professionel Serie Expert Silver shampoo - $29.50
Shampoos that help deter brassiness and maintain colour can be a boon, as many blondes well know. For those with grey or white hair, a silver shampoo is the way to go. This one foams purple, but won't leave you with a blue rinse; it enhances shine while combating yellow tinges.
From selected salons and shampoo shops, ph 0800 657 666.
2. Kerastase Age Premium rejuvenating shampoo - $44
Most hair companies offer shampoos aimed at mature hair, worth switching to if your locks are lacklustre. This works to rebalance the scalp, offers UV protection and contains antioxidants and hyaluronic acid to nourish. If you have specific condition concerns, consult your hairstylist or a trichologist.
For stockists ph 0800 657 666.
3. Roux Tween Time touch-up stick - $40
This crayon or something similar will tide you over between colour retouches. Moisten and apply to grey regrowth. It is a favourite of stylist Grant Bettjeman, who has also tracked down a puff-on coloured keratin thickening powder called X-Fusion Hair Fibres for clients needing to disguise thinning or grey patches. Bettjemans, 52 Coates Ave, Orakei, ph (09) 522 8030.
4. Dermalogica MultiVitamin Power Serum - $125
Vitamins provide anti-oxidant protection from environmental assaults and improve signs of photo-ageing. This serum contains micro-encapsulated doses of vitamins A, C and E. From selected Life pharmacies and beauty salons, see dermalogica.co.nz
5. PCA Skin ExLinea Serum - $184
This serum is recommend as a Botox booster, it's one of those peptide-enhanced products that targets fine expression lines, so if you're spending on injectables you may wish to invest also in supportive skincare.
Exclusive to Prescription Skincare, 243 Remuera Rd, ph 529 5784.