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Weighing The Decision On Going Gray

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) -- Women and men of a certain age have asked themselves: What would I look like with gray hair? The decision to go gray is often an emotional one.

"Gray is good!" says great-grandmother Shirley Tubens, who started seeing the streaks in her early 30s. But many women see gray as the dividing line between young and old and want no part of it.

Men too. Just because President Barack Obama or George Clooney may look powerful, distinguished, or sexy doesn't mean salty hair is always welcome.

Artist Ray Holbert said he spent years darkening his hair. "I'm coming out of a generation of people who grew up with the wrong notion that gray was a negative," Holbert said.

In the 1960s, Clairol marketed hair dye to the masses with ad lines such as "Hate that gray? Wash it away." Commercials often concluded with an announcer intoning, "It'll make your husband feel younger too just to look at you."

The notion that dye equals romance persists. When the dating website polled its members last summer, 54 percent of respondents said they would consider coloring gray hair to appear younger on a date.

But Holbert said by his early 40s he got tired of hiding his roots. "It was like a masquerade. It was like makeup," Holbert said. He stopped, but his new gray got mixed reactions. "A lot of people thought that something dramatic had happened to me. Like maybe a heart ailment," he recalled.

CBS 5's Dana King can relate. Going gray in March, viewers wrote in asking about her health (she is fine). For King, it was about deciding to match looks with experience and time on the planet.

But Cindy Fassler of TSS, a job search company, said people should think twice about going gray, especially if they're looking for work in this tough economy.

"I mean it's reality that people still, unfortunately, get discriminated upon based on that first couple of minutes when somebody sees them," said Fassler.

"And the standard line is: Oh, it's gonna age you 10 years," said author Diana Jewell. She wrote the bible on gray hair, "Going Gray, Looking Great." Jewell also runs a website that allows women to share their fears, photos, and successes about the issue.

Jewell said the decision to go gray often starts when women find within themselves a deeper definition of beauty.

"They're tired of being told they have to color their hair to look youthful," said Jewell. "And it begins with accepting yourself. It begins with wanting to be authentic."

Although it's hard to track, by some estimates 40 percent of women regularly color their hair by age 40, despite the expense, the smell, the mess, and the possible health risks. Multiple studies have shown links between hair dye and cancer -- while other studies show no clear connection. So the health risks are still inconclusive.

"Your friends are gonna say your crazy," said Jewell when counseling women deciding to go gray. "But deep down, you want to be authentic, you want to be yourself. You can do this. And you can have a lot of fun doing it."

Editor's note: Going gray is a combination of a very personal issue and a very public feature. You can weigh in on our Facebook and Twitter pages, or post a comment below.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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