Just as youth is often wasted on the young, so too is great hair. You probably complained about “bad hair days” when you were in your 20s, even though your hair was actually at its peak thickness and strength. From 30 on, your hair’s health usually goes downhill: Repeated styling and color damage, hormonal changes and hair loss tend to leave locks dull and limp. With a few changes to the way you care for, color and style your hair, though, you can reclaim some of these signs of younger, healthier hair.
Why you lose it: As you get older, estrogen levels begin to drop, causing a decrease in sebum production. Less oil in the scalp means hair becomes dry, leading to less shine. Coarse gray hair can also leave locks lackluster. “As you begin to gray, your hair reflects less color and appears less shiny,” even if you color over grays with your natural shade, adds Paul Labrecque, owner of the eponymous salon in New York City.
How to get it back: A cool-water rinse at the end of your shower can help close hair’s cuticles so each strand reflects a bit more light. Labrecque also recommends shine-enhancing serums that contain silicone (like Garnier Fructis Sleek & Shine Anti-Frizz Serum, $5.99, soap.com). Just be sure to use them sparingly to avoid adding weight to your hair—a small drop spread throughout hair is plenty. Eating foods that are rich in fatty acids can also help boost shine from the inside.
Why you lose it: Hair ages for hormonal reasons (like estrogen loss) and as the result of external factors like heat styling, coloring, UV damage, product use and aggressive styling. The more damage done to hair, the less moisture it can retain, which leads to breakage and split ends. Many women also tend to use less and lighter conditioners as they get older, fearing that too much will weigh down their already-sagging strands.
How to get it back: All hair, no matter how fine or flat-looking, needs conditioner. Just like you wouldn’t leave the house without a facial moisturizer (we hope!), your hair requires daily conditioning, too. After you shampoo, apply a lightweight conditioner (like Philip B. Light-Weight Deep Conditioning Crème Rinse, $26, beauty.com) from mid-length to your ends then rinse thoroughly. This will help keep hair hydrated as well as make it easier to comb through strands, which can prevent further breakage. And don’t forget to protect your hair from UV damage any time you’re in the sun for an extended period of time. Gray hair is lacking in melanin, which provides some natural sun protection during our younger years. Wear a hat during the summer and spritz strands with a UV filtering hair product (like Redken Color Extend Solar Screen, SPF 12, $19.99, amazon.com).
Why you lose it: By age 60, nearly 40 percent of women will experience some degree of hair loss. Less hair means less bounce and body.
How to get it back: Yes, volumizing sprays and other body-building styling products can help, but getting fuller-looking hair starts with the best possible cut. “When you are older, you should always have layers in your hair,” says Labrecque. “Layers help the hair move and give it more fullness, whether you have long hair or short.” Just make sure your stylist doesn’t go overboard when layering. Too many can actually make hair look and feel even thinner.
Why you lose it: Many women tend to get stuck in a style rut, clinging to a ’do that’s now more of a don’t. Yes, changing the way you and your hair look can be scary, but an unflattering or out-of-style cut can be aging.
How to get it back: Swap your dated style for an of-the-moment cut.“It’s not about being trendy,” says San Diego-based celebrity hair stylist Jet Rhys, “but about feeling sexy no matter your age.” To get that look, Rhys suggests the “middy cut,” which falls right at mid-neck length. Hollywood stars who have embraced this chic and sexy cut include Helen Mirren, January Jones and Christina Hendricks.
Why you lose it: With age, our bodies gradually begin producing less melanin, the pigment found in hair (as well as skin and eyes). By age 50, most women are about 50 percent gray. Coloring over gray is always an option, but sticking with the same shade you’ve always used can look different now, as gray strands don’t hold or take on color the same way your natural hue may have.
How to get it back: Certain hair colors are more aging than others. Ashy blondes, for example, make hair look dull and lifeless, which adds years. Shades that are too dark against your skin tone are also aging, as they make your complexion look pale and sallow in comparison. You should also make sure there are some highlights in your hair, as solid hair shades can look drab. “Have your colorist interlock more than one shade when coloring,” suggests Rhys. “Three is perfect; one light tone, one medium and one dark.” That said, “the number one thing you need to do is use an ammonia-free color, in order to protect your hair’s weakening cuticle,” says Labrecque. Using these gentler dyes will ensure that no matter the shade you choose, your hair stays healthy and shiny.