Can Your Hair Actually Age?
While your strands don't physically age, the processes responsible for them do.
If you feel like your hair has changed quite a bit in the few years, or even in the past few months, you're probably not mistaken. In fact, just like the rest of your body, your hair goes through its own aging cycle. Strands become finer or more coarse (depending on your original texture); hair also loses pigment (hello, silver!) as we get older, explains Tina Malhotra, a stylist at Mia Wagner Salon in New York City. There are many reasons for this. "The biggest factor is the loss of collagen, which strips hairs of the naturally-produced oils that keep it healthy and thick. This also affects the natural pigments in the hair that need moisture for continued production," Malhotra says. "Another element is the hormonal changes that occur with age, which can not only shorten the hair growth cycle—and lead to faster shedding—but shrink follicles and create thinning strands due to a loss in estrogen."
While some of this might sound quite familiar, you like still have the following question: Is it our actual hair that ages or something else that leads to it falling out or becoming more brittle? According to Daniel Koye, a licensed cosmetologist and hairstylist who works in theatre, film, and television, no—our hair isn't necessarily "aging." Its growth is a result of cell regeneration and protein assimilation, which is an internal process. Strands "age," then, because of the general aging of our bodies. "Our stem cells slow or stop regenerating as we get older, so our cells get smaller, making the glands in the follicle produce less of the oils that condition our hair and skin," he describes. "If our hair becomes dry, that leads it to becoming more brittle and prone to falling out or breaking off." But there is good news: Even if your hair is looking a few years, or maybe decades, older than it once did, these expert-approved solutions can help it appear more youthful.
Get regular trims.
Your stylist has probably told you the importance of getting regular trims—ideally once every six to eight weeks to snip off the weak, split ends. Doing so, Malhotra explains, gives the appearance of thicker hair, and keeps your strands healthier over time.
Give supplements a try.
Malhotra recommends Nutrafol ($88, amazon.com), a supplement that was uniquely designed with a combination of essential nutrients (including zinc and antioxidants) to promote growth. "Collagen is another supplement that can strengthen hair, skin, and nails," she adds.
Invest in a high-quality brush.
A regular brushing routine with the correct tool can do wonders for your scalp. "Just like we used to see in old movies, adding hair brushing into your nightly routine can promote healthy hair growth," says Malhotra, noting that this is a wonderful ritual for those with aging hair; she recommends using a Mason Pearson brush ($195, nordstrom.com), which she likes for its ability to stimulate blood flow. "By gently brushing with its boar bristles, it gives your scalp a massage and can help increase thickness over time." Run it across your crown and down to your ends to redistribute your scalp's natural oils and promote continued growth.
Take a break from heat styling.
Over-styling your hair with hot tools weakens your strands, which can lead to more breakage and damage, warns Malhotra. Consider letting your hair air dry—or shower at night and sleep in braids to create a natural look sans a straightener or curling iron.
Use excellent hair products.
If the ingredient list on your favorite shampoo or conditioner is full of chemicals you can't pronounce, the product is likely doing more harm than good. "Harsh chemicals and alcohol strip your hair of its natural oils, which causes your scalp to dry out and your hair strands to become brittle," notes Koye. He recommends looking for products that are free of sulfates, parabens, phthalates, dyes, retinyl palmitate, formaldehyde, or polyethylene glycols (PEG). "Things that are good for your hair are mild surfactants and naturally derived butters, like shea, mango, and cocoa," he adds.