SINGAPORE - She showed up at the glitzy annual Star Awards 2014 on Sunday, surprising everyone with a head of silvery white hair.
Local actress Hong Huifang's unusual hair colour quickly got netizens talking.
While some praised her daring new hairstyle on the red carpet, others criticised it, saying it was "bad" and "made her look a lot older".
To everyone's surprise, the 53-year-old veteran actress clarified on her Instagram account yesterday that her white hair is her natural hair colour, and not a result of bleaching or dyeing.
Hong later told The New Paper: "My white hair is hereditary, my whole family has it, including my mother and aunt.
"In the past, I dyed it black once every two weeks when the white roots grew out, but the constant colouring made my scalp very painful and sensitive."
Hong's scalp became inflamed due to the strong chemicals used in hair dyes and there were blisters growing on it. It was so bad that she had to seek medical help, she said.
Her doctor told her that she had sensitive scalp from the regular colouring and asked her to stop dyeing her hair to let her scalp rest.
She added: "That's why I decided to stop dyeing it since last June, and let my natural white hair grow out. Since then, my scalp became much healthier and less itchy."
Sunday was the first time Hong debuted her natural white hair to the public.
For the past 20-odd years, the mother of a daughter, 18, and a son, 14, has always worn a wig or dyed her hair roots black before stepping out and during drama shoots, she said.
ONLY FEW KNOW
She's had white hair since she was 30, and only her family members and close friends know about it.
Hong said she was apprehensive about showing up at the Star Awards with her white hair, as she was worried that viewers might not like it.
She said: "I even brought along a wig on the day itself, and couldn't decide if I should wear it or not. However, since it's a big event where stars can experiment with different looks, I thought I would let people see my original hair colour.
"I was prepared for the worst as I knew there might be a backlash from the public. I wanted to show people the real side of me."
Even though her crowning glory has received mixed reactions from viewers, Hong said she is not affected.
She said: "I've been monitoring the feedback on Facebook and Instagram for the past few days, and it was interesting to see the people's reactions. I hope that by doing this, others who have white hair like me will not be conscious about showing it.
"Most importantly, it's about ageing gracefully."
Hong said fellow actors were surprised when they first saw her white hair, and asked her why she dyed it.
When she told them that it was her natural hair colour, many praised it, saying it was a nice colour which stood out, she said.
One of them was actress Fann Wong, who posted a comment on Hong's Instagram picture, saying: "It's a beautiful hair colour, Hui Fang Jie (Chinese for elder sister)."
Hong said: "One stylist also came up to me and told me that he had to bleach his hair to achieve this hair colour."
Hong's husband, Zheng Geping, 49, said Hong did not ask him for advice on her Star Awards hairdo, but he did tell her to "just do whatever she wants to do".
"I told her to follow her feelings. As long as she likes it, it's fine," the MediaCorp veteran told TNP.
"She looked good and stylish. Not everyone can have that kind of hair colour naturally and carry it off well. It's different and it stands out.
"It's okay that people said she looked older because she is, in fact, older than me," Zheng said.
"If I have that kind of hair, I will also grow it out and perhaps grow it long. I think it will be quite cool," the hunky actor added.
It's genetic, says doctor
Plastic surgeon Dr Woffles Wu said premature white hair is a genetic predisposition, and can be handed down from one generation to another.
The 55-year-old doctor said: "With regard to Hong, she does not have a medical condition, and there is nothing wrong with it. It's genetic."
He added: "It's like if a father has a squarish jaw, his son will have a squarish jaw, and it does not mean that there is anything wrong. For example, I have a whole head of black hair at 55, and my grandfather had black hair till he was 75. Black hair is genetic as well."
He added: "Hair colour is a strange thing. In my years of medical practice, I've seen people with just a streak of white hair, or a whole tuft of white hair. It is very unusual, but it can be attractive as well. As it is genetic, it can occur as young as in your teens."
This article was published on April 30 in The New Paper.
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