Yes, Your Hair Ages: 4 Signs You're Probably Missing & What To Do About It
We've discussed at length skin aging here at mbg. It's inevitable (and natural!), but there are some to-do's to slow the process. Your hair, it turns out, has a similar relationship with time—each strand on your head ages as you do. You may be thinking: Uh, isn't that what gray hair indicates? To which we say: You're absolutely right! Only, there's a host of other signs your hair is getting older—sometimes, those signals crop up years before your first silvery strand.
You know you likely won't hold on to the lush, full mane of your 20s—big sigh—but there are a few markers to help clue you in to your hair-aging journey. Four, to be exact:
We'll start with the familiar dusting of grays. As you grow older, your pigment-producing cells start to lose their intensity, which leads to that silvery hue: "The melanocytes are pigment-producing cells located near the bulb of the hair and their stem cells," says hair transplant surgeon James S. Calder, M.D., medical director of Ziering Medical, regarding gray hairs. When your hair ages, however, those melanocytes don't function as well and start to migrate away from the hair bulb.
And, unfortunately, you can't really reverse those grays once they sprout. You can potentially prevent premature grays from making an early appearance (see how, here), but you ultimately cannot delay the silver forever.
2. Thinning hair
Ever notice your part widening or your temples looking a bit bare? You may be dealing with female-pattern hair loss or a receding hairline—conditions that come with a laundry list of causes (traction alopecia, postpartum hair loss, and others outlined here), but oftentimes it comes down to run-of-the-mill hair aging. Just as your hair loses pigment over time, hair density takes a dip as well.
As hair restoration specialist Craig Ziering, D.O., FAOCD, FISHRS, FAAD, owner of Ziering Medical, tells us about the condition, your hairline may recede until it reaches a new "mature hairline"—and it's perfectly normal! "Once hair reaches what is referred to as the mature hairline, thinning may slow down or stop," he says. It's when that thinning doesn't slow that there may be something else going on under the surface—you may be dealing with one of the other causes mentioned above.
3. Increased shedding
Perhaps you already know that hair growth slows with age, but at a certain point, those hair follicles stop growing hair altogether. The specific timestamp is different for everyone (for some it's 40; for others, it's 70), but it does signal that your hair has reached its shortened life cycle. Hormones play a role as well, as changes in the endocrine system can affect the rate at which hair grows. "Our hormones change as we age, with women [experiencing] lower levels of estrogen and progesterone, [which] weakens the hair follicle and brings on hair loss," certified trichologist Penny James once told us about hair loss in women.
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While you can't stop the process itself, you can take measures to support hair growth by providing your body with the right nutrients—namely, biotin and collagen. In fact, low levels of biotin have been linked to hair loss, and other studies show that taking these supplements does support increased hair growth in women in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study.* Antioxidants, like vitamins C and E, can also help manage free radicals and oxidative stress as well—which, as you may know, can worsen hair shedding and even lead to premature grays. "Oxidative stress has been shown in laboratory experiments to induce migration of melanocytes away from the hair bulb," Calder once told us.*
Just as your hair follicles produce less and less melanin (leading to a slew of grays), they also tend to produce less sebum overtime—which is responsible for keeping your strands strong and moisturized. As a result, your hair can become brittle, dry, and coarse.
Here's how it happens: "With your scalp producing less of these two things, you lose protective layers on the hair strand, resulting in a cuticle that has a smaller diameter, creating a finer texture to your hair," says Erica Conan, director of education at ColorProof, about gray hair's new texture. "Your finer hair will feel more coarse and dry because it is not retaining moisture as well with the loss of these protective layers."
It's no cause for alarm; it just means you have to tend to your hair a bit differently as you age—especially if you've never dealt with coarser hair in your yesteryears. Perhaps focus on sealing in hydration (since coarse hair can lose moisture rather quickly) with hair masks, hydrating conditioners, and oils.
Hair aging is more than just a sprinkling of grays—your texture and density can also clue you in to the aging process. While there are some ways to slow the onset—just like sagging skin and fine lines—ultimately, everyone's hair ages, and it's perfectly normal and natural. And remember: It doesn't make your tresses any less beautiful; it may just require a bit more diligent care.