To anyone who's ever considered "catching some rays" a valid summer agenda item (and alas, we've all been there), crow's feet, brown splotches, and rough skin come as little surprise. But at least the antidotes are well-known. There's another kind of aging, however, that tends to catch us off guard, and its fixes aren't nearly as famous as alpha hydroxy acids or retinoids. We're talking about timeworn tresses — and not just newfound grays: Subtle changes in texture, shine, moisture, and manageability can eventually add up to a head of hair you barely recognize. Fortunately, scientists and salon pros alike are paying more attention to age-proofing hair these days. Here, the newest and best solutions to the biggest problems.
Defy Drought Conditions
Even if you're taking care of your hair as you always have, you may notice that it has become suddenly — and chronically — dry. "Sebum [oil] production declines as you age," explains Jeni Thomas, Ph.D., senior scientist for Pantene. "It tends to kick in right around menopause, when your scalp may be producing only half of what it did at its peak." And though some would view the demise of the greasies as a good thing, it comes at a price: You're forfeiting sebum's protective properties — among them, the lubrication that minimizes friction from neighboring hair strands, combing, and brushing. "Sebum can also decrease flyaways on dry days by removing the built-up static charge," adds Thomas. "So when you're low on sebum, hair feels rougher, looks duller, and is less manageable."
To counteract these issues, "you have to treat dry hair as you would dry skin," says Oscar Blandi, owner of the eponymous New York City salon. For starters, don't overcleanse: Try alternating between dry shampoo and your usual suds. "Washing too often strips the natural oil from hair," says Blandi, "whereas dry shampoo can clean and reinvigorate the scalp while sparing your strands the sapping that can come from a shampoo and blow-dry." Try Umberto Dry Clean Dry Shampoo ($9, Target).
On the days you do shampoo, follow up with a leave-in hydrator. Try Nexxus Botanluxe Nourishing Botanical Leave-In Conditioner ($12, drugstores). And for mini moisture boosts throughout the day, Thomas suggests you keep a travel-size spritzer of your leave-in on hand. "You can stash one in your purse or at your desk, and spot-treat any areas that start to feel dry." If you've ever run your hands through your hair to find that it's alarmingly crispy in places, this tip is especially good for you.
Masks packing concentrated moisture, such as The Body Shop Rainforest Moisture Hair Butter ($14), are also particularly important now. If you already apply one every other week, see if weekly use leaves strands softer and healthier-feeling without weighing them down. And if you already apply one weekly, don't be afraid to try it twice a week now. (Expect to experiment before you find the winning frequency.) Curly-haired women, take note: You may want to use masks several times a week; scalp oil is much slower to travel down ringlets than down straight strands, and may never reach the very tips of your hair.
A final note on parched hair: For extra insurance against any attendant dullness, try the occasional glaze — a clear treatment that adds glossiness to your mane and stays on through multiple shampoos. The professional versions are generally among the least expensive treatments a colorist performs — and there are plenty of at-home options as well. Oscar Blandi At Home Salon Glaze Shine Rinse ($25) is one of our favorites.
Disguise Thin Evidence
The ever-widening part, the ever-shrinking ponytail, the ever-more-visible scalp: They're probably not imagined. "The number of actual hair fibers you have on your head starts decreasing in your 20s," says Thomas, "and may shrink 30 to 35 percent by age 60."
There's another, subtler kind of thinning going on, too: "Recent research suggests that in your early 40s, the actual diameter of each strand starts to shrink," says Thomas. "This shrinkage is believed to be linked to hormonal changes that happen with perimenopause and menopause, as hair growth is such a hormonally driven process."
Subtle or not, thinning is no fun. To fight back, first reconsider the shampoo and conditioner you use. A common impulse is to wash with a clarifying formulation (women often equate the resulting squeaky-clean feeling with bounciness). And while you do want to start with a clean slate to avoid limpness, says Thomas, clarifying formulas can strip too much protective oil from inherently fragile thinning hair.
A better choice, says Blandi, is a keratin-enriched formulation. As hair thins, it loses some of its protein (hence the fragility). Products such as Paul Mitchell Awapuhi Moisturizing Lather Shampoo and Awapuhi Keratin Cream Rinse ($19 and $20, respectively, salons) can help reinstate a bit of that lost strength. And don't skip conditioner for fear of weighing hair down: "You'll only make the strands more vulnerable to breakage," says Thomas. "And then your hair will look even thinner."
Your styling routine should be rethought as well: "Hair can go from thick to fine over time, and will behave really differently in each state," says Thomas. (Fine hair, for example, is much less adept at holding a style.) So you may not get great results from your old styling regimen. Make sure the new one includes fine hair — specific products, such as Pantene Pro-V Fine Hair Style Triple Action Volume Mousse ($4, drugstores).
Another important styling step is to avoid back-combing, says Barbara Fazio, owner of Cleveland's B. Fazio salon. "While the urge is understandable with fine hair, keep in mind that you're roughing up — and permanently damaging — the already fragile outer layer." Instead: Go for a root lifter, such as TRESemmé 24 Hour Body Root Boosting Spray ($4.50, drugstores). Try to minimize exposure to damaging heated styling tools, too. If possible, air-dry your hair most of the way, and blow-dry only to remove the last bits of dampness and to style, says Fazio.
As for the best cut: You want layers around your face and on top for volume, says Blandi. "But no layers on the bottom: When you remove thickness there, your hair gets stringy — the opposite of what you want with fine strands."
If — despite the right cut, care, and styling — the thinning still bothers you, see a dermatologist. Stronger remedies range from Rogaine for Women to Aldactone (a blood pressure medication that's been used successfully off-label to restore hair growth). You should also see a doctor if you notice discrete patches of hair loss on your scalp, or if the thinning has been accompanied by any swelling, scarring, or severe itching, says New York City dermatologist Doris Day, M.D.: "Whether the underlying cause is an autoimmune issue, stress, or anything else, you want it checked out."
A final note on thinning: If your part has gotten wide enough that you're self-conscious about it, but you don't want to take hair-restoring drugs (or you're waiting for them to kick in), consider CRC Concealing Color Kit ($38), a brush-on, stay-put scalp makeup that's far more believable-looking than the old, inky "spray-on hair."
Restore Faded Glory
"Decreased production of melanin — which gives hair its color — is one of the most visible hair changes as we age," says Thomas. "By age 50, 50 percent of us will be 50 percent gray."
That's a lot of fading. And it comes with side effects: "When melanin is present, it absorbs UV rays," explains Thomas. "In its absence, your hair's protein absorbs them instead, resulting in weaker strands." Melanin also boosts shine; less of one means less of the other.
So if you want to go gray gorgeously, "start with a shine-enhancing shampoo," says colorist Rita Hazan, owner of the New York City salon of the same name. She favors Clairol Shimmer Lights ($9, drugstores); you use it once or twice a week to reduce the yellow and boost the silver: "The look is not only much glossier, but chicer and more youthful, too."
And given gray hair's susceptibility to UV damage, you need to keep yours protected with a hat or UV spray — particularly if you're going to be in the sun. Try Aveda Sun Care Protective Hair Veil ($26). As for those wiry, stand-up grays: "A very light shine spray will help tame them — and obviously help boost shine," says Fazio. Try Garnier Fructis Triple Nutrition Nutrient Spray ($6, drugstores).
Of course, many women opt to cover their gray instead — and if you fall into that camp, choose your color wisely, advises Hazan. "As you age, it's harder to get away with really dramatic colors, which tend to look too severe — and highlight every skin flaw." So skip the black-brown in favor of a chocolatey hue, the platinum blond in favor of a golden blond, and the deep red in favor of auburn. "The warmer tones are the more forgiving ones, especially if you stay within a shade or two of your natural hair color," says Hazan.
Fix the Wiring
No matter how smooth and flowing your locks once were, their texture may be anything but that now. "Researchers in Japan have recently found that hair curvature changes as you age," says Thomas. "There's more of it, but not in a nice, curly way — rather in a wiry, less manageable way." And that newfound texture is also more vulnerable to damage (the tiny kinks leave weak spots along the hair fiber).
Struggling to tame some wiriness yourself? There are two kinds of products that should help, says Fazio: those that protect hair from damage (particularly thermal), and those designed to keep strands smooth. A good example of the former: Blow Heat Is On Protective Styling Mist ($18, Ulta). And of the latter: Aubrey Organics NuStyle Organic Hair Smoothing Serum ($21)
Also, the kinkier the hair, the greater the risk of brushing-induced damage. "Forget that old 100-strokes-a-night rule," says Thomas. "Anything beyond minimal brushing can create too much friction." So if you can get away with a wide-tooth comb, great. Otherwise, try a boar bristle blend brush such as Goody Boar Blends Ceramic Paddle Brush ($7.50, drugstores) for detangling and getting your hair into place, and stop there.
GHRI Test: Can a $40 Tress Treatment Turn Back the Clock?
A new salon treatment, Redken's Time Reset, aims to combat several of the signs of aging hair: texture change, diminished density, increased dryness, surface dullness, and fragility. The star ingredient is called Intra-Cylane Technology, a years-in-the-making silicone molecule said to fill and seal gaps when it comes into contact with wet hair. The active ingredient is present at a 10 percent concentration in the salon treatment, and at a 5 percent concentration in the accompanying set of four Porosity Fillers (included in the price of the treatment) that you use once weekly at home. The line's Shampoo, $13; Conditioner, $14; Youth Revitalizer deep treatment, $17; and Corrective Defense protective lotion, $20, are sold separately.
To test Time Reset's claims, the Good Housekeeping Research Institute enlisted 23 women ages 40 and up and had salon pros administer the professional portion of the treatment — and give the testers blowouts afterward. Panelists then took the full line of products to use at home for a month. The results? Testers were satisfied overall, and particularly pleased with the salon service's ability to make hair smoother, softer, and more manageable in the immediate aftermath. "My hair looked so much healthier," raved one. "My color looked richer...and my hair felt very soft and shiny." The group was less enthusiastic about the products' ability to make hair look and feel thicker. And for thin- and/or fine-haired testers, the treatment was almost "too smoothing," i.e., a bit flattening. On the other hand, testers with thicker, frizzier, and/or more damaged hair appreciated that same quality.
Originally Published on October 25, 2010