Why I’m Going Blonde at Age 48

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Going blonde in my 40s

Why I'm Going Blonde at Age 48

I haven’t written about how I have recently changed my hair color. I didn’t have any grand plans to go blonde, but you’ve seen on Instagram and in recent outfit posts that my hair is lighter. After bleaching my hair blonde two decades ago I swore I’d never do it again because the maintenance was so intense. However, at age 48 I am finding blonde-ish hair to actually be lower maintenance than keeping my original brunette tresses.

Change Your Hair, Change Your Life?

I am no stranger to, “Change your hair change your life.” It began in middle school, when armed with a photo of Tiffani Amber-Thiessen, I went to a proper hair salon for the first time and asked for the same layered cut. Not realizing I had curly hair, such a cut had me look less like Kelly Kapowski and more like a member of REO Speedwagon.

9th grade high school
High school, I think 9th grade. I'm the one with the choppy flat black hair in the front. Please tell me your high school also had personality photos!

I was devastated, but then leaned into it, playing with hair accessories and then color. I dabbled in Sun-In, soaked my tresses in Red Zinger tea and Kool-Aid, and got daring with Manic Panic. In high school I got more daring with my hair. I cut off my hair a la Marie Fredriksson from Roxette and then dyed it blue-black a la Nice ‘n Easy. I shaved my head from eyebrow to eyebrow, gave myself an at-home perm, and tried almost every color on the shelf at the local Peoples Drugstore.

karl and me 1993
Karl and me, the summer of 1993. One of the many times I was a redhead.

Near the end of college I toned down my look but still had fun with color. I was really into red hair, and did several shades of auburn. Here I am with Karl at Niagara Falls the summer after 12th grade, and we both have some pretty fantastic early '90s do's going on!

Trying Blonde in College

Alison in college
When I was blonde in college, before it grew out and I ended up with pink roots. Check out those terrible brows and that tanning bed glow!

In college, with the back of my head still shaved, I tried pink and red and navy and then a la another Kelly (Taylor, 90210), cut it all off again and dyed it auburn. One time I bleached it blonde and it was really pretty until I had to bleach my roots and they turned pink and my hair so damaged it would break off in the shower.

Alison 21st birthday
Me on my 21st birthday, so psyched to finally get into The Santa Fe Cafe I had my picture taken with the bar staff. It rained that night and my brown hair dye dripped all over that white shirt and never came out.

I dyed it with temporary brown color to cover the mess, scared anything stronger would make my hair fall out. I'd have to add it back in after every shower. The photo above is my 21st birthday. It rained that night and that white shirt ended up covered in brown splatter from my hair color melting as I walked home from the bars.

After college, I had jobs in retail, apparel, and beauty where I had freedom to be creative with my hair. I’d braid it, iron it, curl it, and do at-home cuts and colors. I am glad that digital cameras and smartphones weren’t a thing then; while I rocked some of my styles, some required several tiny butterfly clips or Bobby pins to hold back the mess until it grew back.

Trying Blonde in my Early 20's

Alison blonde hair
Me on the right with my badly bleached and badly cut blonde hair, trying to make it work with creative eye makeup.

In 2001, I read a piece in Jane magazine about yet another Kelly (Osbourne) who put her hair in a side ponytail and cut it off to get her signature asymmetrical haircut. At 3am after a double shift, I pulled my my hair into a side ponytail and with a pair of kitchen shears lopped it off. Less than a week later, again at 3am after a double shift, armed with two boxes of L’Oreal Super Blue I went platinum. It was a dry, damaged mess, but I rocked it with iridescent green eye shadow and many bandanas covering the worst days.

When the roots started coming in, I remembered my last experience and just let the roots grow until they were past looking punk cool and then just dyed the whole head a new color (I think it was a black-brown). Soon after that I was promoted as a trainer for my company and felt I’d look more like a leader and authority with “adult” hair and went back to natural-ish colors and simpler cuts.

Since then, I have had occasional fun with color and cuts. When I was pregnant and thinking my youth was over, my stylist at the time indulged me by putting magenta and purple streaks in my hair. But in general, my late 20’s through my early 40’s were various shades of brown and the cuts anywhere from chin to shoulder blade. Any creativity usually came with bangs.

Going to a Professional for Hair Color

I got my first gray hair when I was 29, but I didn’t have enough to need to really cover roots until my late 30’s. By that point, I was established enough in my career to see the value and be able to afford regular salon visits where a professional, not a box from CVS would expertly cover my grays and make it look natural and healthy.

Alison curly hair
I believe this is the first time I went curly, thanks to Billy Maloy (right)!

I was searching for a new stylist and checked out a trendy salon I saw on Instagram. The first stylist I tried there was talented but I didn’t feel cool enough to be in their seat. The next one was a warmer, friendlier person but the cut didn’t feel me. As I sat under the dryer for that session I saw another stylist in the salon that caught my eye. He had the most glorious long silver hair and a fabulous laugh and seemed to be friends with everyone. I asked his name, and next hair appointment I made with the silver fox Billy Maloy.

And I am still trusting my hair to Billy Maloy, who now has his own salon in Silver Spring, Maryland. Billy is the one who encouraged me to embrace my natural texture and become a “curly girl.” And Billy isn’t afraid of experimenting, encouraging me to step out of my “curly brown shag” box.

Changing Up My Look Every March

Alison hairstyles | Why I'm Going Blonde at Age 48
Red hair in March 2022, and then an ombred brownish shade six weeks later.

Each March, I come to Billy desiring a change-up. After months indoors for winter, spring arrives and I feel sallow and sad and boring. Last March, we went with a shorter French bob with bangs and a red color which was fun, but didn’t feel like me. The thing with hair is it is easy to change. You can cut it, let it grow, dye it, dye it again. And Billy the genius took it from red to this ombre brown to blonde that grew our beautifully.

I didn't regret it, making a big change pushes you to see things differently, especially yourself. You literally see yourself differently, and it makes you reassess your closet, your makeup, your priorities. Is the hair too high maintenance? Do you have inspiration to be more bold with what you wear? Do folks address your differently? How does it feel? So this March, when I was feeling the “Change my hair, change my life” tug, I went with it. I had been watching Poker Face on Peacock and was inspired by Natasha Lyonne's messy shaggy blonde hair.

Going Blonde at Age 48
Adding blonde to my hair for the first time in over 20 years

Having Billy, not a box of bleach in my bathroom, bring on the color felt safer to me. And partial highlights of a sandy color meant it could grow out beautifully if I decided it wasn’t for me. Along with the blonde partial highlights, I asked Billy for a bit of a mullet; above is a picture I took when I got home from that salon visit. I felt very modern and cool yet still me.

Less Makeup and Less Visible Roots

Unlike when I have gone darker brown or red, my blondish hair didn’t require a change of makeup or clothing colors. My everyday face, even my brows still looked right. So right, a lot of folks didn’t even notice the color change. Most just asked if I went on vacation, some folks saying I looked tan or “sunkissed.” As a woman over 40 who had been indoors all winter and hadn’t been in the sun, I loved those compliments. I was surprised how a few blonde highlights brightened up my face more than any new makeup product.

Folks didn’t notice I was going blonde, but also wasn’t noticed was my roots. Usually around five weeks I start seeing roots. My hair isn’t even gray enough to be called salt and pepper but there is enough to make my already thin hair look thinner. The grays were so close to my scalp color no volumizing product could counteract their ability at even one-eighth an inch, to make my hair look thin and patchy.

Alison and family
This is seven weeks after adding blonde. At this point I'd be freaking out about my roots, covering them with powder or spray. I wasn't even thinking about them when this photo was taken!

But the partial blonde highlights turned my hair into a calico cat. Some were paler, some were darker, and with spring here and me outside more, my natural auburn highlights were beginning to show. When my grays grew in I didn’t notice. In fact, when it was time for my scheduled hair appointment I considered rescheduling to a few weeks later. But the “mullet’ was growing out and needed a shape-up.

partial blonde highlights
Hey girl, move a little closer… you're too shy shy

At that next appointment, Billy added a few more blonde highlights and didn’t cut much to let the mullet grow out so we could end up with a longer curly shag. It was exactly what I wanted, but I felt I looked a bit Kajagoogoo with my blonde on top and brown “party in back” heading towards my shoulder blades.

Summer was coming, and I remembered how easy it was having a curly shag that ended before my shoulders. It could air dry, it looked good sweaty, it fit well under a hat, and even when it was bad it didn’t look that bad. So after a few weeks I went back to Billy.

Managing Curly Hair as a Blonde

We discussed the blonde, and how much I liked it. I found maintenance for this color was quite easy. I continued to use LUS Brands | Luv Ur Self shampoo, conditioner, and all-in-one Wavy styler for my curls. Once a week, I’d use the LUS Brands deep conditioner. I also bought Oribe shampoo and conditioner for color-treated hair and would use that on days when I knew I didn’t need my curls to be popping. Oribe is ultra moisturizing and makes my hair look super soft and healthy, but it's not great for curls. I use it like a treatment and think it helps.

Going Blonde at Age 48
I didn't even realize how blonde I was until my friend Gretchen and I took this photo together and I looked as blonde as she!

I said I liked the blonde, and wanted it to be consistent, not just face-framing highlights. I also said while I had worked to get my hair longer, I was ready to cut it off again to have the ease of my summer curly shag. Since I was growing out a mullet with shorter sides, Billy cut the hair to let it all grow together again. And for color, he did highlights all over, not just in front, using a sandy blonde color so it wasn’t too golden and wouldn’t look brassy.

Blonde Hair Equals More Volume

Going blonde does damage one’s hair, but with Billy’s expertise and me not over-shampooing and hardly using hot tools on it, the only effect I’ve found on my hair has been a positive one – more body. As someone with thin hair that has gotten thinner since I hit my 40’s, I’ve struggled to have natural looking, low-maintenance volume while hiding my scalp.

I’ve used mousses, sprays, Velcro rollers, tease combs, and Toppik to achieve volume and scalp coverage. Who would have thought curly blonde hair was the key to it all?

Blonde Hair Means Less Makeup

As we get older, our skin loses a lot of color. What was our natural color can end up making us look washed out, especially if we dye it to maintain that hue. I had been lightening my brown over the years; I can remember when my hair was almost black and I loved that Snow White effect. But I found over the years I had to apply more makeup to balance that intense color.

Celebrities Over 40 Going Blonde

Celebrities Over 40 Going Blonde
Celebrities over 40 adding caramel and sandy hues to their hair:
top row: Penelope Cruz, Halle Berry, Angelina Jolie
bottom row: Melissa McCarthy, Olivia Wilde, Drew Barrymore

Since adding blonde highlights to my hair, I’ve noticed many other famous brunettes doing the same once they hit their 40’s and 50’s. Penelope Cruz and Angelina Jolie have both slowly gone from deep dark brunette to honey shades. Melissa McCarthy and Drew Barrymore have both had blonde tresses over the years, but now it’s a soft caramel that isn’t quite blonde, not quite brown. Same with Olivia Wilde and Halle Berry, both who have played with blonde but their current shade is a sandy hue that doesn’t fight against their skintone and require more makeup and maintenance.

Being Blonde Over 40 is Easier Than Trying to Maintain My Natural Color

Being Blonde Over 40
While I am a bit tan here (Dr. Dennis Gross Glow Pads FTW), you can see how little makeup I need with the blonde hair. A touch of concealer, mascara, brows, bronzer, and gloss.

When I was blonde in my 20’s I needed a lot of makeup to make it work. Even if I spent the entire summer at the pool, I still wouldn’t get a single blonde strand in my hair. It wasn’t natural for me and my coloring so I had to play a lot with foundation, blush, and brows to have it look natural. I often just went the opposite route, playing up the unnatural color with darker brows and bold red lips, occasionally with an extreme smokey eye.

But at 48, this blonde is softer, has more depth, and has a sandy tone that helps my skin glow from within. I can go without makeup and not look like death warmed over. My five-minute face looks a lot more “done” than the same products and process when I was a brunette. And to have more volume and less visible roots? Going blonde at 48 has been a win/win/win.

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. sitting here at 51 with purple Manic Panic in my (thanks for finally showing up!) sun-streaked blonde hair. You’re the best for sharing your adventures with us, Ali–failures, successes, and all.

  2. As usual- so timely for me- I had hoped to get my gray roots colored before a trip this weekend but no luck. So I decided to wait out the summer and see what my color looks like. My base is dark brown that I get highlighted blonde but is probably 50% or more gray!! Thinking maybe I
    Should transition to some gray/white highlights- I do like that brightness around my face!

  3. The blonde looks great! I too find blonde highlights are key to giving my flat hair more body. LOVE all the photos of your hair history and sweet family. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Your hair looks great! I’d noticed it was lighter but just thought you’d been out in the sun more. Obviously, you’ve got quite the healthy glow going on! I’ve had a few brunette friends go blonde rather drastically & then slowly work their hair back to a more caramel color, which looks good. This is giving me lots to think about with my own hair. I’m 51, a brunette who gets my hair professionally colored regularly, & although I don’t have tons of gray yet, I do want them covered right now. But slowly lightening up might be a direction to go.

  5. I’m struck by how beautiful your whole family is. I think it’s your sister, mom and daughter? Your daughter is looking so lovely as she approaches high school

  6. When I got my formerly brown hair grown out into it’s current salt/pepper one of the best features is that I’m no longer styling my hair to avoid an obvious rootline.
    If going blond helps you calico-cat into longer periods before touch-ups and styles that aren’t 100% aimed at avoiding rootlines then it’s a win!

  7. I was naturally a dark brunette, much like you, when I was younger and I too have been adding a lot of blond to my hair in my 40s! I am letting my gray come in pretty much naturally, but I like to add blond highlights to make the brightness in my hair more even and flattering. My stylist does such a good job of placing the highlights so they are harmonious with my gray, as well as the bit of dark color still hanging around. I never would have thought that I would be so happy with so much blond but it is such a great fit, and so low in maintenance!

  8. You look good as a blonde, but I was close to blonde for several years and when I went back to my “natural” dark brunette (my natural shade, but I started going gray at age 30), I realized how much better I look as a brunette. Yep, I get salon color every 4-5 weeks and it’s not cheap, but I’ve been doing it for so many years now that I don’t really think about it. WOW makes a good root touch up. A lot of my friends went blonde in their 40s, but it’s not me. I’ll be brunette until I feel like my skin matches my age, and then I’ll go gray. Even then, my stylist said I might want color if my gray is more drab than striking.

  9. Love it! I’m 44 and two years ago starting getting professional highlights. My hair had gone from light brown to a very dark brown through my 30s (and 3 kids) and I found, like you, that it was challenging to get makeup right. My stylist is amazing, it grows out beautifully, I only need to get it done every 5-6 months, and it looks amazing.

  10. Your blond hair looks great! I colored my hair red for so many years that my husband couldn’t even remember me as a brunette. But about three years ago, I decided it was time to start the transition to my natural, mostly gray hair. I wanted to see what was really under there. It took six hours and my stylist is a saint but we got it there, a pretty, ashy blond with rose gold tint. I rocked that for a while and we gradually stopped coloring the roots and started letting them come in. But I got bored, so we dyed it all purple. Funny thing, because of the different processes on my then long hair, I ended up with a natural ombre that was awesome! White to lavender to purple to violet. Once I had enough gray to cut it off, we did. Now I have the gorgeous purple “Highlights” in my curls and I could not be happier. I honestly wish I’d done it sooner. I don’t look as old as I thought I would. I think instead I look more fierce.

  11. You look beautiful-love the blonde! It’s fun to change up style/color. I recently tried going gray (white for me) and hated it so back to being a redhead again. In the end I really believe it’s what makes us feel best about ourselves! To each their own. Thanks for this.

  12. Oh my gosh I love all the pics with the different hair!! I have been there. I, too, love to experiment with hair. Bleached my light brown hair white-blonde a la Madonna in the 80s, shaved one side of my head, had a long run with Sun-In and Frost’n’Tip (remember that??). Later, when I could afford professional highlights, my hair was highlighted for thirty years. Red highlights, strawberry blonde highlights – the gamut. I loved it.
    And then about a year ago at age 59 I decided to experiment again. I let the grey grow in long enough to get a pixie cut. I haven’t looked back. My hair is healthier, thicker, and has lovely natural silver highlights. I get compliments on my hair all the time now.
    I love the blonde on you. But perhaps in about fifteen years you too will be posting about the beauty of silver hair. Who knows?

  13. Love your sense of humor, which shines through almost every one of your posts! I am pushing 70 and, while I believe a completely dyed to natural hair color head of hair is not a good look for me, I’m not ready to give in to the mousy in-between natural and gray head of hair. My solution is highlights and low lights. No roots, no fussy maintenance and it’s more natural looking. Anything to liven the old girl up, right?

  14. Love it! I’m blonde (or used to be) but for me I need to add lowlights to my hair during the summer so I don’t look like a washed out mess! I love how it thickens my hair. And my gray roots don’t show like my dark haired sister! Win win 🙂

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