How Your Hair Changes As You Age — and What You Can Do About It

Let's get to the root of it all.

Grey Hair
Photo: Getty Images

The only constant in life is change — including your hair. Whether you can now triple-wrap a hair elastic around your ponytail without breaking it, or your once tight curls are now loose waves, shifts in your hair are inevitable as you get older.

With age, the length of the hair growth cycle gets shorter, the diameter of the hair follicles gets smaller, and the scalp can become drier. All of these factors influence the look and feel of the hair that comes out of your head.

"Oxidative stress affects the scalp function by disrupting the hair growth cycles, decreasing lipid production, which affects the shine, smoothness and softness of hair fibers, while changes in hormones as a result of aging affect the diameter of the hair fiber making it thinner," says Bridgette Hill, certified trichologist and founder of Root Cause Scalp Analysis. "Hair types and textures that are prone to dryness, such as coily, curly, and highly textured hair, will expect to experience more dryness simply as a result of the hair texture's inability to retain moisture due to the genetic design of the hair fiber."

Then on the other hand, there's the color factor.

Finding a gray hair is often the first physical sign of hair aging people notice. However, contrary to what you might want to believe, it didn't grow overnight.

"Just like the rest of your body, we're always moving away form our prime. Our bodies begin to age at the cellular level as soon as your early 20s," says Dr. Craig L. Ziering, board-certified hair, brow and facial hair transplant surgeon. "For the hair, the process of aging takes place below the hair's surface at the hair follicle, specifically the hair root or bulb."

It's impossible to completely stop your hair from aging, but understanding why you experience changes in texture and color can help slow the process down, and in the case of hair loss, promote growth. Because knowledge is power, we've tapped Dr. Ziering and Hill to break down how your hair ages — and what you can do about it.

Going Gray

Everyone remembers their first gray hair, whether it was a sparkly silver strand sticking up at your crown or a friend pointed out a white wiry strand at the back of your head.

"Gray hairs are caused by slowing of melanin production in the hair follicle. As your follicle loses the ability to produce melanin as you age, they become more transparent. And that manifests as gray and white hair," Dr. Ziering explains. You can also get premature gray hair from a shock to the system, like a major health event.

Hill says a decrease in amino acids needed for melanin production can also be a factor. "The latest research and science is looking at the decrease in the amino acid tyroseine, required for melanin production, in the body along with glutathione, which is needed to fight oxidative stress."

What You Can Do About It:

Because gray hair tends to be more sensitive to external factors like weather or pollution, it can be drier and frizzier. Opt for a shampoo specifically designed for silver stands like L'Oréal Paris EverPure Brass Toning Shampoo and Conditioner, which hydrates, boosts shine, and eliminates brassiness. And if you aren't ready to go full-on gray, Color Wow's Root Cover Up will conceal any silver strands in-between color appointments.

Hair Loss and Thinning

Hair shedding is completely normal, and experiencing fallout in the shower is typically nothing to worry about. According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, normal hair loss is about 100 hairs per day.

However, hormone fluctuations can cause a dramatic difference. "The body's systems and functions that are regulated by our hormones and endocrine system trigger most factors that lead to the decline and deterioration of scalp and hair health in the aging process," Hill explains. "There is a delicate balance of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone that impacts healthy scalp and hair growth. Research has proven that even the slightest shift in these hormones can lead to severe hair shedding and hair loss." Prescription medications, diet/nutrition, haircare products and hairstyling practices, vitamin/mineral deficiencies, and emotional stressors can all disrupt hormone balances.

Given that hormones fluctuate during menopause, your hair is subject to drops in estrogen and progesterone. Pregnancy is another life event that can throw hormones out of wack, which in turn, can lead to postpartum hair loss.

"The surge of hormones women experience during pregnancy is going to level off and diminish after childbirth," says Dr. Ziering. "As the hormones levels normalize, they cause shedding and the positive news is it's generally temporary and should reverse itself."

What You Can Do About It:

There are a number of treatment options based on the severity of hair loss, and if you're concerned about how much hair you're losing, it's always best to consult with a board-certified dermatologist or trichologist to discuss a treatment plan.

First, there are over-the-counter options, including topical minoxidil treatments like Rogaine and supplements like Viviscal and Nutrafol. A laser therapy cap is another route, which helps stimulate growth and strengthen hair.

In-office, Dr. Ziering administers a treatment he calls Z-Factors (a cocktail of growth factors factors, cytokines, extracellular vesicles, peptides, proteins, and hyaluronic acid) topically to the scalp to help reverse some of the hair loss and thinning. PRP injections are another in-office procedure that's common.

But hair transplant surgery is the only permanent solution for hair loss. "It's best to preserve the hair you have first because there's a limited supply of what you can move for the transplant," Dr. Ziering says. "We like to use medicines and/or treatments at least to stop or slow down the progressive nature of genetic hair loss. When we know a patient is committed to a program, we would resort to the hair restoration because it's the only permanent solution."

VIDEO: Fact: Your Scalp Ages Faster Than the Skin on Your Face, So What Does That Mean for Your Hair?

Hair Texture Changes and Dryness

Spending summers in the sun without wearing an SPF or a hat can accelerate signs of aging in the skin — and the same goes for our hair. "Like any other delicate fabric not properly cared for, the wear and tear will compromise and designate the quality of the threads," says Hill. "Our hair fibers are not any different. Dependent on our individual scalp and hair care routines, the changes can run the gamut."

Along with sun exposure, damage from hairstyling, heat styling, and chemical treatments like coloring can all expedite age-related hair damage along with the body's natural timeline.

What You Can Do About It:

Maintaining a healthy scalp is key for preventing accelerated texture changes. Incorporating a treatment like a scrub or serum into your routine can help keep your scalp balanced. Briogeo's Scalp Revival Charcoal +Coconut Oil Micro-Exfoliating Scalp Scrub Shampoo is a scrub that lifts buildup from the scalp while hydrating it and is designed for all hair types and textures. And Better Not Younger's Fortifying Hair & Scalp Serum is a leave-in product that nourishes the scalp and hair follicles to condition the skin and roots and in turn, create optimal conditions for hair growth.

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