From Ciara’s recent turn in silver at the Met Gala ball, to models strutting the catwalk, gray hair is popping up everywhere — and it’s not just a testament to an aging demographic. In fact, gray hair is increasingly framing the faces of people barely out of college with nary a gray straggler.

It began as a statement of sorts, an ironic declaration of the ennui of Millennials. “We might be 20-somethings,” it seems to declare, “but we’ve dealt with a recession, job searches, relationship seesaws, social media shamings, political bickering and wars. We’re wiser than our age.”

“Millennials like the idea of a fashionable statement,” said Aura Friedman, a colorist at Sally Hershberger salons in New York City. She pointed to gray’s unique duality as being at once neutral and head-turning, particularly when paired with a wrinkle-free face.

Millennials are also often looking for standout shades of gray, which means colorists like Friedman are tasked with swirling cotton candy pinks and lilac violets into a base shade of gray.

For those not familiar with gray hair dye, it’s far from the simple paint job you might think. It all begins with a bleaching — regardless of natural color — to a pale yellow (think Daenerys, forGame of Thrones fans).

“It’s the most intense thing you could ever do to your hair,” Friedman said. “The quality of the hair changes drastically. The texture changes almost immediately.”

Part of the reason why bleaching is so harsh on the scalp? Ammonia. This combines with peroxide to move hair away from its natural state and acts as a “cuticle opener” so that hair is better able to take the dye.

To understand this, a quick chemistry lesson is necessary: Ammonia is alkaline in nature, which means it sucks up moisture. Remember those PH strips from science class, where one end was acidic and the other basic, with the middle perfectly balanced? In the gray hair dyeing process, ammonia pushes hair PH toward the very basic end.

And as anyone with naturally gray hair can attest to, it’s not exactly the texture of a soft bed of feathers. So gray haired folks — whether it’s natural or dyed — are dealing with dry locks that are (unironically) extremely basic.

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