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.