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. This is due to changes in the hair follicles located in the skin that produce hair. Over time, hair follicles get smaller and smaller, which means the hair coming out of the follicles is thinner and harder to see.
Dryness is another symptom of aging hair. Oil glands located in the skin around the hair follicles produce less oil as you get older. If your hair was very oily when you were younger, you might think this is a good thing. But reduced oil production can leave hair dry and brittle.
These age-related changes can be exacerbated by high heat when drying or styling hair, as well as by chemical hair treatments including bleaches, hair color and hair straighteners.(3)
Just as we can’t stop time, there is no way to completely stop the natural aging process for your hair. But you can limit hair weathering by avoiding things that are known to damage hair and using the right products improve the appearance and health of your hair and scalp.
To learn what you can do to protect your hair from weathering and other damage, read 9 Tips to Help You Keep Your Hair Youthful.
If you are concerned about hair thinning or hair loss, see a dermatologist to find out what might be the cause of these changes and what can be done to slow or stop the process.
Reviewed July 14, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
1) What ages hair? International Journal of Women’s Dermatology. Assaf Monselise, MD et al. Web. Retrieved July 11, 2016.
2) Aging changes in hair and nails. Medline Plus. Web. Retrieved July 11, 2016.
3) Aging Hair Signs And How You Can Treat Them. Huffington Post. Anthonia Akitunde. Web. Retrieved July 11, 2016.