Every organ in our body ages. It is a normal and inevitable fact of life. Hair is no exception to this rule — either you can accept it, or you can try to fight it. However, there are ways to help slow down the aging process, improve the appearance of aging hair, and keep it looking good for as long as possible.
Hair is a long strand of the protein keratin, which is produced by keratinocytes in the skin and serves medical and aesthetic purposes.
As hair ages, it becomes gray, dull, brittle, thinner, and finer.
Hair aging is caused by internal and external factors.
Proper hair care practices, nutraceuticals, a good diet, medications, and professional treatments can help restore hair to a healthy status.
See your doctor right away if you notice changes in your hair because the changes can be caused by medical problems or medications.
Hair composition & function
Hair is composed mostly of the protein keratin, which is synthesized by keratinocyte cells in the top layer of the skin (epidermis). It grows from hair follicles, which are connected to openings in the skin (pores). Oil glands are attached to these follicles, and they secrete oil (sebum) through the pores to the top of the skin. Most of the body is covered in hairs of varying sizes and diameters depending on location.
Hair serves several important purposes for the human body. Most are aware of the social and sexual aspects of hair. However, the hair also performs the following functions:
- Protects the skin;
- Keeps skin moisturized with sebum (oil);
- Regulates body temperature;
- Aids in sensory perception.
Signs of aging hair
As with all aspects of our body, hair experiences changes as we age. The signs of aging hair are explained in the table below.
|Grey color||Melanocytes, which produce the pigment melanin, produce less melanin or none at all. This causes our hair to go gray.|
|Different hair structure||As we age, less oil is produced, so hair becomes dry, dull, and brittle.|
|Reduced hair growth||The growth phase of hair (anagen stage) is shortened or stops altogether, making hair thinner and resulting in bald spots. Hair follicles shrink in size, producing finer hairs.|
|Hair growth in other places||Humans also begin to grow hair in other places, such as the chin in women and ears in men.|
Why does hair age?
There are internal and external causes of hair aging. Internal causes include hormones, medical problems, and genetics. As women age, less estrogen is produced, which directly affects hair growth and texture.
Men will produce fewer androgens as they age, leading to hair loss and aging. Certain medical conditions cause hair to age, such as hypothyroidism. Finally, genetics controls how the hair will change with age, like getting thinner and finer or falling out and leaving bald areas.
External factors can mostly be controlled and avoided to prevent premature hair aging. UV radiation from the sun will age hair more quickly. Free radicals from UV rays destroy the hair like they do the skin. Many hair care practices, such as dyeing, straightening, or perms, will damage hair and make it appear older.
A poor diet, such as those lacking in protein and antioxidants, with excess alcohol intake, damages the hair and prevents it from growing properly and looking healthy. Smoking, like UV radiation, destroys the hair. Stress causes the hormone cortisol to be released, which thins the hair.
Finally, certain medications, which may not be able to be avoided, will cause hair to fall out, such as blood thinners and blood pressure meds. Unfortunately, these are necessary, life-saving meds, and many times must be taken despite hair loss.
Tips to help aging hair
Even though the hair is preprogrammed to age, there are things we can do to prevent premature aging or even counteract it somewhat. As soon as you notice changes in your hair, such as thinning or becoming dull and dry, see your doctor immediately.
The sooner you take action, the sooner you can treat it. If you have medical problems causing changes in your hair, your doctor can diagnose and treat them to help restore your hair to a healthier status.
Undiagnosed and untreated medical issues may cause permanent damage to your hair. Also, if your medications are causing problems with your hair, your doctor may be able to swap them out for others that do not.
Maintain proper hair care
Hair care plays an important role in how your hair looks as it ages. Many of us partake in damaging practices. In order to prevent premature aging, follow these best practices:
- Avoid dyeing your hair. Hair dye is damaging to the hair, making it dry, brittle, and prone to breaking and frizzing.
- Sparingly use hair treatments. Like dyeing, straightening and perms do a lot of damage to your hair.
- Avoid using heat. Air drying your hair is best.
- Do not brush your hair while wet. When your hair is wet, it is weakest and easy to damage. If you must brush it when it is wet, use a special brush or wide tooth comb.
- Be gentle when you wash your hair. Do not scrub at your scalp.
- Pat your hair dry. Do not rub it with a towel, which causes frizz and breakage.
- Do not wash with hot water. Only use cold or lukewarm water to wash your hair.
- Avoid products with alcohol. Sparingly use hair spray, which contains alcohol. Alcohol dries out hair and causes it to break.
- Use gentle hairstyles. Tight buns and ponytails pull at your hair and cause breakage.
- Get frequent haircuts. Haircuts keep your hair healthy by removing dead ends to help it grow.
- Wear a hat. Hats protect your hair from sun damage.
Certain shampoos can help restore volume to the hair and may even prevent it from falling out. Shampoos with minoxidil can help regrow hair. Zinc shampoos can calm and soothe the scalp. Gentle scalp massage may increase blood flow to keep hair nourished.
Sustain a healthy diet
Diet has a considerable impact on hair. Protein and antioxidant-rich diets nourish and protect the hair. Protein will help hair grow. Antioxidants will protect the hair from destruction by free radicals released by the sun. Vitamins, such as omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, B, C, D, and iron, may help hair grow and stay healthy. Avoid smoking and excess alcohol intake. There are worthwhile nutraceuticals, like Nutrafol, which can help grow and maintain healthy hair.
Try medications for hair health
Your doctor may suggest certain topical or oral medications to help aging hair grow. Always check with your doctor before starting any of these. Rogaine (minoxidil) is an FDA-approved, over-the-counter topical solution or foam to help grow hair in men and women who experience patterned hair loss. Propecia (finasteride) is an FDA-approved prescription pill to treat patterned hair loss in men. Both of these medications have side effects, so it is best to discuss them with your doctor.
Do professional hair treatments
Other professional treatments can help improve the appearance of hair and help it grow. Laser therapy increases blood flow to help grow hair and keep it healthy. PRP/PRF injections deliver growth factors from your blood to the hair to help it grow. It can be combined with micro-needling or used by itself. Finally, if you are losing hair, a hair transplant can remove hair from one area of your scalp and implant it into the area you are losing it.
Hair serves important medical and aesthetic purposes. As with all our organs, hair is subject to the aging process. However, there are ways to help slow it down or prevent premature aging. See your doctor right away if you notice changes in your hair. While these changes could be normal, they may be caused by medical issues or medications that need to be addressed.
- Skinmed. Hair and Aging.
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