Walk down the hair care aisle and you're sure to spot products labeled "anti-aging." While it's a relatively new category, it's meant to address an age-old problem: hair that seems to lose its luster, color, and smoothness over time. It's not the hair itself that's old, explains Liz Cunnane Phillips, a trichologist at Kingsley Clinic in New York. "Your hair is only as old as its length." But the aging process that occurs within our bodies and skin can affect the way hair looks and feels. Here are some age-related strand issues and what you can do about them.
At some point, the pigment cells in our hair follicles stop pumping out melanin, the stuff that gives hair its color. When this will occur is largely determined by genetics, but there's no denying that a head of silver strands (or even just a few) can make you appear older than you actually are. Gray hair also tends to feel more wiry and coarse, says Jenny Balding, grooming expert for Redken/Cutler salons in New York City. That's most likely because your scalp is also producing less sebum as you age.
Your Youthful Strand Solution: Ammonia-free hair color. It's no secret that hair dye can restore your hair to its original hue, at least temporarily. But new ammonia-free, oil-based hair color is especially good for graying strands, Balding says. "These oil-based formulas moisturize as they color," she says. Two to try: L'Oreal Professionnel Inoa Supreme (lorealprofessionnel-us.com for salons), and Redken Chromatics Beyond Color (redken.com for salons) -- both specifically formulated for gray hair.
As you age, the hair follicle shrinks a bit -- a process called miniaturization -- producing thinner strands, Cunnane Phillips says. "These finer strands take up less space and so hair looks and feels limp," she says.
Your Youthful Strand Solution: Protein. While you can't do anything about the size of your follicles, you can turn to ingredients that temporarily plump up the diameter of each hair strand, creating the feeling of extra fullness. Styling products that contain proteins (wheat, oat proteins, amino acids, etc.) bind to the hair shaft and temporarily bulk it up. Try: Nexxus Youth Renewal Blow Dry Spray ($16; walmart.com).
Your strands were once smooth, but now they always look a bit fuzzy. What gives? As we mentioned, an age-related slowdown in sebum production at the scalp can lead to dry, frizzier strands that look dull.
Your Youthful Strand Solution: Moisture. When you're frizz prone, it seems like you'd want to avoid moisture at all costs, but frizzy strands are dry strands that are craving hydration. Switch to a more moisturizing shampoo and add a weekly deep conditioning treatment to your regimen. Look for formulas that include nourishing botanicals such as coconut, almond, or soybean oils, which will help smooth strands back into submission, says Francesca Fusco, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. Try Clear Scalp & Hair Ultra Shea Treatment Mask ($5; walgreens.com).