Certain things are amazing with a little age: A good bottle of wine, a worn-in pair of jeans, or that block of cheddar you enjoy while working on your night cheese. Hair, on the other hand, can get a little dicey. Just like your skin, your hair texture changes as you age in myriad ways and on a different timeline than the people around you. This can make dealing with shifts in your hair texture incredibly scary and alienating — especially if your hair has been feeling a little on the thin side (thanks to the stress of the last two years), but your friends’ manes are as lustrous as ever.
The truth is, though, hair texture changes don’t just happen when you hit 50 — or even 30. Your hair texture is constantly in flux, and the process starts a lot earlier than you may expect.
“Hair aging is an ongoing, subtle process [that begins] from about the age of 16,” says Anabel Kingsley, brand president and consultant trichologist of Philip Kingsley. (That’s right, Gen-Z — your hair has already started aging along with the Millennials of the world.) “The hair follicles gradually change in diameter over our lifetime, producing finer hairs as we age.” And since the diameter of our follicles determines the “thickness” of your hair, it explains why strands seem to thin out the more years you rack up.
Like with your skin, you’ll never be able to fully prevent your hair from aging. (Any product that claims to halt or reverse this natural process should be taken with some serious side-eye.) But if you notice that your texture is changing, there are ways to slow the process down. And in the case of hair loss, you may even be able to regrow those strands.
Scroll on for the best professional advice and products to maintain your mane, no matter how old you are.
How Your Hair Changes With Age
While you may experience texture changes on a different timeline compared to the people around you, the truth is, most people will experience a similar process as they get older. “As we age, the structure of our skin changes, resulting in reduced elasticity and collagen which support skin structure,” Kingsley says. “As the skin of the scalp slackens, this causes a change in the shape to the hair follicle.” According to Bridgette Hill, certified trichologist and founder of Root Cause Scalp Analysis, these changes also occur because of improper hair care. “Years of excessive exposure to the sun and mechanical damage as a result of hair styling are external factors that can accelerate aging hair.” As a result, Hill says, hair can start to appear drier, coarser, or frizzier.
Since your hair is not divorced from the rest of your body, other normal aging processes will also affect your strands. “As we get older, our bodies produce fewer lipids and less sebum,” says Dr. Michelle Henry, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin & Aesthetic Surgery of Manhattan. “All of those changes can transform the way our hair feels.” Sebum, while annoying to sop up with a dry shampoo, helps hydrate hair, which is why your strands can appear brittle and dry the older you get. (The one silver lining of all of this? You’ll probably be able to go longer between shampoos. Win!)
Color & Hair Loss Changes
Normal hormonal fluctuations also affect the hair as you grow older. “There is a delicate balance of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone that impacts healthy scalp and hair growth,” Hill says. “The hair growth cycle is governed by these hormones, in addition to hormones produced by the endocrine gland.” In short, Hill says that even the slightest imbalance of these hormones can affect the hair growth cycle, causing the hair follicle to produce hair more slowly or not at all.
With all of the hormonal shifts that happen during menopause, that means your hair is likely subject to those (completely normal) drops in estrogen and progesterone. “Age-related hair loss can be caused by hormonal imbalances, a decrease in collagen, and a lack of necessary vitamins and minerals,” Hill adds. “As we age, any genetic predispositions to hair loss begin to surface, too.” So it may have less to do with your lifestyle and more to do with genetics.
Graying, on the other hand, is caused by a slowing of melanin production in the hair follicle — which is also caused by those hormonal changes. “Hair actually becomes colorless, rather than gray,” Kingsley adds. Hill adds that gray hair is also more sensitive to external factors, and is generally coarser and less manageable than pigmented strands. “So it’s understandable how aging, gray hair appears to be drier and frizzier.”
All of these changes can happen regardless of what your hair texture was to begin with, so those with coarse, curly hair will experience similar changes to those with thin, straight hair. “[A change in thickness] is not always as obvious on someone with curly hair, however,” Kingsley says. “However, those with curly hair sometimes report their curls are looser, and their hair goes straight in parts.”
How To Tackle Hair Changes As You Get Older
The easiest way to maintain a healthy hair texture as you age, according to these experts, is to maintain a healthy scalp. “It’s not uncommon to see scaling scalp conditions in older people,” Kingsley says. “This can occur because we tend to reduce our shampoo frequency as we age due to less oil production, but frequent shampooing is essential for a healthy scalp environment.” This is because the hair is an extension of the scalp, according to Hill. “Hair fiber formation is rooted in the scalp,” she adds. “The more stable you keep your scalp’s microbiome and skin barrier, the more you extend the function and improve the chances of preventing unwanted scalp conditions and hair loss.”
Lifestyle changes are also important. Reducing stress and maintaining a healthy sleep schedule are a cornerstone to healthy hair. (Cortisol is, after all, terrible for your mane.) “As we age, our body’s ability to absorb as many nutrients from food is reduced, so eating a well-balanced diet full of protein can really benefit our hair’s condition and strength.” A targeted hair supplement can help replace some of those vital nutrients, too.
On the product side, stylers and shampoos that tote volume-enhancing results are great for helping your hair to appear fuller on the day-to-day, even though they won’t cause your hair to actually grow thicker. But if a topical product claims to help your hair grow, you should approach with caution. “Some products do work, however, the only FDA-approved treatment to stimulate hair growth is minoxidil,” says Dr. Henry, which is the active ingredient in the popular Rogaine hair products. Over-the-counter products provide a decent dose of minoxidil, but a prescription from a trichologist or dermatologist can offer more strength.
But most importantly, it’s important to keep your doctor in the loop. You should talk about any hair changes with them first before changing up your hair routine.
Below, find the products that can help maintain your mane as you age.
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