How to Save Time and Money with Gray Hair

Think you need to change your hair color? Think again.


From do-it-yourself kits to high-end salons, the hair color industry is a multi-billion dollar business. On a personal level, consumers spend small fortunes to touch up dark and graying roots or to switch hair colors. For instance, Michele Meyer, a gray-haired beauty featured at the Going Gray Looking Great website, calculates that she spent $52,000 to cover her premature gray hair during a 20-year period. Likewise, Anne Gray, author of the memoir Going Gray, estimates that salon hair-coloring sessions cost her $65,000—unadjusted for inflation—over two and a half decades.

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For many consumers, embracing silver hair is a gold standard that translates into a frugal use of time and money. Here are several reasons to embrace silver streaks and avoid hair dyes.

Annual bonus

You can worry less about quarterly salary bonuses or merit awards if you skip expensive salon visits. Color treatments at salons can cost $120 to $200 a session or $1,440 to $2,400 on a yearly basis. Even low-cost DIY color kits can inflate the household beauty budget. With price tags of $10 to $12 per box, home color sessions can cost $120-$200 a year. That money could be used for utility bills, retirement accounts, college savings plans, vacations or family entertainment.

Natural disasters

In an effort to banish my gray hair, I have mixed cold coffee with hot henna mixes and applied the muddy, messy goop to my hair. It’s a difficult process. From the stove-top preparation to the bathroom drain, the application of henna is a time-consuming process than has wasted four to 8 hours of my scarce time. What’s more, during one disastrous process, the henna turned my silver streaks into a brassy bronze shade that appeared plucked from a clown’s wig. At the end of the day, I had wasted time, money and coffee trying to create a natural shade of brown with henna and coffee beans.

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Time crunch

The typical salon visit for color treatments is two hours, not including the commute. On Going Gray Looking Great, Meyer writes about regretting the “693 hours I spent in a hairdresser's chair, my scalp itching and my nose twitching from the fumes.” The time spent on hair dye could have been used to earn money, relax at a day spa, write a book, exercise or enjoy quality time with friends or family.

Health risks

Some hair dyes include a potentially toxic mix of chemicals linked to various health problems. The jury is still out and the safety of hair dyes is a hotly debated topic. The Environmental Working Group, a consumer watchdog group, urges consumers to avoid “hair dyes with ammonia, peroxide, p-phenylenediamine, diaminobenzene;[and] all dark permanent hair dyes.” P-phenylenediamine (PPD) is a commonly used hair dye ingredient that has caused allergic reactions, with long-term side-effects in extreme cases.

Sharon Harvey-Rosenberg is a special financial news contributor for Wise Bread. She is the author of "Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money” and a contributing author to ”10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.”