We all want beautiful, healthy hair. But just like our skin, aging can affect how our hair looks and feels, and even how much hair we have. Here’s what you should know about the natural aging process your hair goes through.
If you think of aging hair, your first thought may be of men who lose their hair as they get older. Baldness is a common problem that affects both men and women as they age.
But there are other changes that affect hair as it ages in addition to simply falling out or not growing.
Weathering is a term used by dermatologists that refers to the combination of environmental effects that can damage hair.
According to a study reported in the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology, these factors include UV radiation, humidity, wind and chemicals used on the hair. These factors can negatively affect both the growth and the texture of hair over time.
Each healthy hair is surrounded by a protective cuticle which is similar to the overlapping shingles on a roof. Inside the cuticle, the cortex of the hair contains keratin and melanin. Keratin strengthens the hair while melanin provides the hair’s color. Melanin also protects the hair shaft from sun damage by acting as a barrier for UV radiation.
Photodamage occurs in hair when iron, water and light interact and produce free radicals. Melanin protects hair from this damage by absorbing free radicals. But when melanin is overwhelmed by excessive free radicals, the cortex of the hair can melt and the hair can become very brittle.
People with light-colored hair — blond or red — have less melanin in their hair, which means they have less natural UV protection. These people are also at higher risk for photodamage.
Hair turns gray when cells in the hair follicle stop producing melanin. This is a natural side effect of aging. Hair often starts lightening and turning gray in the 30s. About half of all people will have gray hair by the time they are 50. Gray hair also has less melanin, which means less UV protection.(2, 3)
As we age, hair also naturally becomes thinner or finer.