Does Your Hair Make You Look Old?

From the WebMD Archives

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We’re accustomed to fussing over our faces, trying to turn back the clock on sunspots and lines. But there’s another age giveaway that could use more attention. "A woman in her 40s doesn’t have the hair she had at 20 — it’s not just her imagination," says British hair expert Philip Kingsley, author of The Hair Bible. As we age, our locks and scalp are affected by a trio of tribulations — namely dryness, dullness, and thinning. But our accumulating birthdays are not all to blame; dyeing, blow-drying, and styling all contribute to the damage. "Women need to think about their hair the same way they think about their skin," says Gretchen Monahan, a Boston hairstylist and style expert for the Rachael Ray Show. "We’re used to moisturizing and protecting our faces, but we don’t apply the same care basics to hair." So, while there may not be a time machine for your tresses, here’s how a little extra TLC (plus the right products and styling tips) can make your mane look years younger.

When Thin Isn't In: Advice for Women with Thinning Hair

If your part is expanding or the thickness of your ponytail is shrinking, you’re likely thinking (okay, panicking) that your hair is falling out, but that’s not always the case; thinning may be the culprit. "The diameter of the hair shaft diminishes as we get older," explains Zoe Draelos, M.D., clinical associate professor of dermatology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. That means you may have the same number of follicles, but thinner individual strands will make it look like there’s less volume. (They’re also more prone to break, and since hair growth slows as you age, the damage becomes more obvious.)

Even if you do see extra hairs in your brush or in the shower drain, you don’t necessarily need to worry. Although 40 percent of women experience some hair loss by menopause, shedding around 100 strands a day is normal, reports Paul M. Friedman, M.D., clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. If you seem to be losing more, see your doctor — the problem could be related to declining estrogen levels, an iron deficiency, or stress. Once these problems have been ruled out, a 2 percent minoxidil solution (available over the counter as Rogaine) is an option. "It’s the only clinically proven, FDA-approved treatment for female pattern baldness," says Dr. Draelos. In the meantime, although you can’t permanently restore heft to the individual strands, there are plenty of ways to boost overall volume.


Start with a volumizing shampoo; look for ingredients like rice or wheat proteins, which thicken strands. Try Sally Hershberger Supreme Head Shampoo for Normal to Thin Hair ($9.50, Walgreens) or Pureology PureVolume Shampoo ($26,

Ditch the stiff, maximum-hold hairsprays — they can fracture the hair shaft when you brush them out. "The new ‘flexible’ versions are less likely to cause breakage," says Dr. Draelos. We like Pantene Pro-V Classic Hairspray Flexible Hold ($4, drugstores) and Jonathan Finish Control High Shine Flexible Hairspray ($30, Sephora).

Avoid too-tight ponytails, teasing, or other styles that put excess tension on hair — you’ll just promote breakage, says Dr. Friedman. Disguise sparse areas with CRC Concealing Color ($28.50, For a fast, temporary fix, stipple the cream on with a brush to "blend" your scalp into your hair.

Keep in mind that dye or perming solutions penetrate thinner hair more rapidly, says Dr. Draelos. To avoid excess damage when touching up color at home, she recommends applying the dye just to the roots, and combing it through to the ends for only the last five minutes.

Antiaging Products for Your Hair

Like the ideal bathing suit or pair of jeans, the perfect shampoo gets tougher to find as you age. Volumizing formulas often skimp on the conditioning that drier hair desperately needs, while heavier, more moisturizing shampoos can leave fine locks limp. But new products targeted specifically at more mature hair claim to nourish without sacrificing volume, thanks to a mix of mild cleansers and lightweight moisturizers.

To find out if they work any better than the regular stuff, the Good Housekeeping Research Institute put five of the newest ones to the test with women between ages 40 and 60. The results: Our volunteers were impressed with the category as a whole, but L’Oréal Professionnel Série Expert Age Densiforce Shampoo ($20, and Masque ($30) earned top honors. Testers reported that the duo left their hair soft and delivered on the moisture-plus-body promise. "My hair looked great — shiny, manageable, and better than usual," said one woman. "The price is high, but this combo is worth the money." A budget-friendlier option, which ranked a close second: Dove Pro-Age Shampoo and Conditioner ($6 each, drugstores).


Make the (Right) Cut: Tips for Younger-Looking Hairstyles

The Magic Length

You don’t have to automatically resign yourself to a supershort crop. Instead, consider a length anywhere between your collarbone and chin. "Hair that hits within those three inches is most flattering," says hairstylist Gretchen Monahan.

Layering 101

Avoid a choppy, overly layered cut if hair is thinning — you’ll just play up the problem. "Often women get lots of layers because they hear this adds volume, but layers won’t help if the hair is simply not there," she says. Instead, opt for a cut with long layers and subtle graduation, rather than shorter layers throughout.

Styling Do’s

If your face seems more angular these days, soften the edges by wearing gentle waves or curls around your face. If a fuller, round face is the issue, do the opposite — a sleek, straight look is an easy way to instantly counteract heaviness.

Fringe Benefits

"Side-swept bangs give you a fun, youthful vibe," Monahan says. "Plus, they instantly create fullness toward the front of your head, where women tend to lose hair." Go for thicker bangs (wispy is aging — it just looks like hair is thinning), but keep the ends soft and fringy; blunt’s too harsh.

Fullness Fake-It: How to Fake Fuller Hair

Mousse is unbeatable for building body — but tough to apply. Plopping it on deposits too much in one section; rubbing it in your palms first deflates its airiness. So we loved this trick from celebrity stylist Nathaniel Hawkins: Squirt a dollop onto a vent brush and stroke it through your hair. The product will slowly leak through the brush’s openings, distributing it from root to end. Our pick: Tresemmé Tres Mousse Extra Hold ($4, drugstores).

7 Shine Boosters: Tricks for Shinier Hair

Get in Condition

"Use conditioner every time you wash," says New York City stylist David Evangelista. Worried that it’ll leave your hair looking lifeless? Preserve volume by applying it only from midway up the hair to the ends and avoiding the healthier roots. (Extra benefit: Conditioner cuts down on friction — and, in turn, breakage — as you brush.) In addition, do an at-home deep treatment once a week. Try Organix Nourishing Coconut Milk Instant Repair Treatment ($7, drugstores) or Alterna Caviar Anti-Aging Hair Masque with Seasilk ($40, 888-425-8376).


Be Cool

"Do a cold rinse at the end of your shower, or blast your hair with cool air once you’re through blow-drying," says Evangelista. "Both help seal the cuticle so it lies flat and stays shiny."

Protect Yourself

Whenever you use a blow-dryer, curling iron, or straightener, be sure to apply leave-in heat protection, says Gretchen Monahan. These lotions or sprays go on before styling to form a barrier between your hair and the hot appliance, cutting down on damage. Try VO5 Extreme Style Heat Defense ($3.49, drugstores) or GHD Thermal Protector ($25, Sephora).

Brush Right

"Choose a brush with lots of tightly packed bristles to really smooth hair," says Monahan. "Boar bristles are great for fine strands; a boar-plastic mix is best for medium to thick."

Mist It

Give heavy serums a time-out, and switch to a lightweight shine spray instead. "It’ll give you sparkle and reflection without weighing hair down," says colorist Louis Viél of the Miano Viél Salon in New York City. Our picks: Umberto Beverly Hills Shimmer ($9, Target) and Privé Flash Brilliance ($19.50,

Hit the Salon

Consider a gloss treatment, which coats hair in a shine-amplifying glaze for a few weeks. Viél suggests having one right after a color service, when hair is extra porous: "You’ll get the most benefit, and your color will last longer."

Color Correctly

Ashy, mousy, or gray shades don’t reflect light well, says Viél. "Brighten and add brilliance with warm tones, either with allover color or highlights." Bonus: Because dye swells the hair shaft, your hair will look thicker, too.

Originally published on February 20, 2008

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WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine
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