How to Handle Thinning, Aging Hair

Photo: Trunk Archive

Anti-aging creams, miracle serums, crease-fighting formulas, botox, lasers, surgery — women have proven they’ll do pretty much anything to slow the signs of aging on their face. But what about their hair? It’s an aging concern — maybe the only one — traditionally considered a male problem. But women suffer from the same thinning, breakage, and lack of shine as their hair ages. The problem is that no one talks about it. While there are tons of products that battle gray hair, there are few that target the root of the problem.

So what’s really happening? “As hair ages, the fatty acids that protect your hair cuticles start to dry out, which is the main cause of frizz and the hair’s lackluster appearance,” explains James Corbett, Clairol Color Director. “Additionally, the diameter of the hair strand begins to thin and the curvature changes, causing coarseness and breakage as hair becomes less elastic. The hair also starts to lose pigment as it ages, resulting in grays.”

In fact, you’re not just losing strands of hair, the strands themselves are actually thinning. Elizabeth Cunnane-Phillips, a trichologist with Philip Kingsley Trichological Clinic in New York City, says, “As we get older, the diameter of the individual hairs can decrease, resulting in a noticeable change in volume that will marginally decrease over each growth cycle.” 

It should be said, this isn’t strictly a problem in middle-aged women. “Women of all ages can have hair loss and thinning concerns, but generally speaking by the time many reach their 40’s and early 50’s they start to notice changes,” says Cunnane-Phillips. “I see it as a universal problem for women: hormonal fluctuations, genetic predisposition, elevated stress, poor nutritional intake, and not enough cleansing all have the ability to contribute.”

Ok, so what do you do about it?

Relax
Stress and elevated hormone levels aren’t your friends, so look to increase circulation and decrease anxiety wherever possible. “ Consider incorporating yoga or meditation in combination with exercise,” says Cunnane-Phillips.

Exercise
Cunnane-Phillips says that increased circulation can really help a challenged scalp act younger. “Exercise is not only advantageous for your cardiovascular system, it’s also helpful for hair tissue,” she says.

Mind Your Diet

You are what you eat, and that’s even more valid when it comes to the health of your hair. “A healthy balanced diet which includes animal protein with some complex carbohydrates at breakfast and lunch makes for happy hair,” says Cunnane-Phillips. “This helps to ensure each individual hair is growing to its full potential in length and density.”

Lighten Up
Corbett says now is the time to brighten your hair color. “It’s important to realize skin complexion changes as we age, and as our skin color changes, I recommend choosing a lighter hair color to help brighten your overall complexion.” 

Take Your Vitamins
In addition to a good multivitamin and eating right, be sure to get checked for your vitamin levels regularly. “During your later years, low iron, Ferritin, B12 and zinc can present issues to hair health. Having them checked during a yearly physical is wise.” Cunnane-Phillips also advises adding PK4Hair Dietary Supplements to your regimen (but check with your own doctor first). 

Exfoliate Regularly
Regular washing to alleviate product buildup goes without saying, but mind the scalp as well. “The combination of increased sebum production and an increase in the proliferation of skin micro-organisms all contribute to rapid cellular turnover, resulting in dandruff, flaking, itching or irritation,” Cunnane-Phillips explains. She recommends using a shampoo and hair tonic specifically designed to clarify and rebalance the scalp — and massage it in really well. “Using both hands, start at the temples and gently but firmly massage the scalp in a circular motion,” says Cunnane-Phillips. “Avoid friction and intense rubbing back and forth as this could potentially roughen the cuticle and irritate the skin, which is why this is best done with a mask on the scalp.  Continue through the hairline, moving back towards the crown, and end at the nape of your neck.”

All these tips are helpful, but Cunnane-Phillips warns that you should never just assume these hair conditioners are due solely to aging. “These factors can occur at any age, but when we see them present in women under 40 we want to explore if there are medical/hormonal issues at play.” Always consult your doctor and/or dermatologist if you think something more is afoot. Better hair always starts with a healthier you.