I was at the hair salon the other day, having my “volumizing” extensions reapplied, when my hairdresser gave me what she thought was good news: “You’ve got lots of brand-new baby hair growing around your forehead,” she pointed out. I peered into the mirror. “You mean all those little blonde guys?” She laughed. “Well, actually, they’re silver.” My inner Soup Nazi was screaming, “No tip for YOU!” (I’m not a fan of grays, as you can read here.)
But in all fairness to my hairdresser, it actually was good news. According to Marina Azizova, senior director of Beauty Care/R & D for Henkel, an international hair-care company, almost half of us will experience hereditary-based hair loss by the time we reach 40; 80 percent of us will share that pain at some point in our lifetime. Without wishing to get all doom-and-gloom, the hair that remains may not be up to your usual standards, either. Azizova rattles off a laundry-list of aging-hair symptoms, which includes dryness, lack of body and movement, wiry texture, dullness, and general depigmentation (a nice way of saying—gray).
Fortunately, there’s been a sea-change in the beauty industry, with a wave of new technology designed to maximize mature hair. The latest products go beyond the scope of covering gray and acknowledge the benefits of turning back the clock on how hair behaves, looks, and feels.
Here, a roadmap to help you understand some of the twists and turns hair goes through as you age and some of the most targeted miracle-worker products on the market.
Coarse and wiry strands
The situation: It’s rattling enough when you spot your first grays nestled amongst the rest of your hair strands, but the texture of these babies—often thick, “bendy,” and pointed to the heavens—are what prompt many to pull out their tweezers and pluck them out. By the way, don’t bother: While tweezing a stray gray won’t cause three to grow back, it does mean you’ll have less hair … and at a time when hair loss is already on the horizon, you want to maximize, not minimize. Changing hormones are frequently the culprit.
The solution: While you can’t magically transform these strands to match the rest of your hair, consider changing up your style to camouflage the texture—adding volume-boosting layers, for example. Softening strands with a targeted styling product before blow-drying can help them blend in as well.
To try: Alterna’s Caviar Anti-Aging Smoothing Anti-Frizz Blowout Butter: a cream-to-oil formula that melts into unruly strands, taming and softening the frizz for up to 72 hours with omega-3 fatty acids, Camellia, and avocado oils. ($34; ulta.com)
Thinning strands and hair loss
The situation: Whether we like it or not, hair loss happens. How much—and how fast—is different for everyone, explains Azizova. “It varies based on genetics, lifestyle, and hormonal changes.” (A dip in estrogen causes some hair follicles to become dormant and those that are still working to do a half-assed job.) But that’s reasonably good news, because it means that as long as heredity and menopause don’t sink you, you can give hair a fighting chance by getting enough sleep, eating nutritiously, and avoiding the damaging assault of daily heat-styling with your blow dryer and curling/flat iron.
The solution: Start by getting a blunt, all-one-length, shorter haircut to maximize fullness; wispy layers thin out hair. You might also consider one of the FDA-approved home laser hair-growing tools, which cost an arm and a leg, but really do make a difference. Some years ago, I tried the $300 Laser Comb from HairMax.com and was stunned at how well it worked after a few months of treatment. But it required diligent, ongoing use three times a week—five minutes of combing each time—and I eventually got lazy. They now have a Hair Band for $549 and a baseball-like cap for $899. Lazy gets expensive.
To try: Keranique Deluxe Regrowth Treatment & Deep Hydration Kit. This four-product treatment contains minoxidil—the only FDA-approved ingredient for hair loss. ($49; walmart.com)
White, gray, or “silver” hair
The situation: Contrary to popular belief, hair doesn’t actually turn gray; it simply loses its natural pigment or melanin, says Joico International Guest Artist Cherry Petenbrink, who explains that your natural color dictates whether strands will appear white, gray, or silver. “Blondes often don’t think they have gray hair until there’s a major amount because it blends so much better,” she explains. (Okay, fine … my hairdresser was right.)
The solution: You can camouflage the demarcation of gray root growth by choosing a style that has volume at the crown of the head, as opposed to, say, a flat, straight hairstyle that shines a spotlight on the grow-out. But if you decide to put the grays under cover, make sure you—or your colorist—choose a “permanent” formula, which provides excellent coverage and rich color and prevents the fading associated with the more translucent, demi-permanent pigments. To show off a full halo of silvery hair to best advantage, try to avoid the culprits that can give gray hair a yellow cast—namely, sun, chlorine, and mineral deposits in your water. Some solutions: apply a barrier product before taking a dip (like Sun Bum 3 Leave In Spray; $12.79, amazon.com), attach a water-purifying filter to your showerhead, and use Joico’s Color Balance Purple Shampoo a few times a week (about $17, ulta.com).
To try: LumiShine YouthLock, an innovative collagen-infused permanent creme hair color that not only covers “resistant” gray but helps mature hair spring back to life with renewed bounce, body, shine, and softness. (Available in select salons only; check joico.com for details)
Dry, dull, brittle hair
The situation: As we age, there’s a significant decrease in hair’s internal and external lipids (moisture) as well as amino-acid content—all of which is crucial to hair health and keeping the hallmark gleam of youthful-looking hair, says Azizova. Here’s a good test to see how you’re doing: A healthy, resilient strand of hair has strength (you can pull on it and note some elasticity and movement); an older strand is rigid, breaks when tugged, and frequently has no bend to it.
The solution: Look for “bond-building” products designed to maintain the integrity of your hair (that is, strengthen the bonds of its elements) before color treatments/chemical processing and to protect it from the rigors of heat styling (which only exacerbates the problem).
To try: Defy Damage Protective Masque—it repairs and strengthens bonds; deeply moisturizes hair without weighing it down; builds resistance to UV, thermal, and environmental harm; and restores some of that coveted shine and softness. ($21.50; ulta.com)