Our hair defines a major part of our appearance. It frames the face, provides coverage and protection for our head, helps transmit sensory communication, and creates gender identity. It has value to both men and women. It is the only part of our body tissue that replaces itself without leaving scars.
Characteristics of Hair
There is more to the hair than what we see—each amazing strand of hair has a follicle which contains living blood vessels. This is enfolded in two layers of sheath which protect and encourage growth of the hair shaft. A sebaceous gland produces a natural conditioner which affects the strength and resiliency of each hair.
The hair shaft itself is made of hard protein called keratin. It has three distinct layers, with the outside layer known as the cuticle. Cells in the keratin contain color pigment throughout the layers which give our hair its characteristic color.
Normal healthy hair grows at approximately 6 inches per year. Hair growth for humans (unlike other mammals) is random and does not grow and change with the seasons. Some people have difficulty growing their hair past a certain length because they have a short active growth phase. Others can grow it longer because of a long growth phrase. This also explains why the hair on our eyes—lashes and brows, and arms and legs also stays fairly short compared to that on our heads.
What Happens to Aging Hair?
There are four most apparent signs of aging hair.
- Going gray. Hair turns gray as cells that produce the pigment melanin stop producing it. The process may start slowly and gradually usually beginning in the early 30s and 40s. By age 50, approximately 50 percent of people have 50 percent gray hair, regardless of their sex or the original color of their hair. Along with graying, the hair may also become coarse and harder to tame. Graying is determined by genes and will not be stopped by vitamins, nutritional supplements, or any other type of product.
- Hair thickness changes. As we age the once wildly thick and full hair we enjoyed as teens and young adults gradually starts to thin out. Hormonal changes (especially for women) affect both the number of hairs we lose each day as well as hair growth patterns. The normal number of hairs lost each day for any age is between 25 and 100. Menopausal women experience both hair loss and thinning. The hair on the legs may become sparse, but instead it may show up on the chin or upper lip.Because hair follicles at this time of life become smaller, they produce fine hair that is hard to see. This explains male baldness. Men also experience a change in their hairline which is dramatically different than when they were teenagers.
- Dryness. As we get older, the oil glands around the follicles of our hair get smaller and are not as efficient in producing the oil that naturally coats the hair shaft. For this reason, the hair feels drier.
- Brittleness. Hair loses some of its elasticity with age and becomes more brittle. Hair that has been processed with chemicals—bleaches, dyes, and straighteners—has a higher chance of becoming dry, stiff, and more easily broken.
What are the Best Ways to Treat Aging Hair?
Since we are living longer, we want to make the most of our aging bodies and our aging hair. Apply the same health-conscious habits to your hair that you do to your body. Proper nutrition including a diet high in protein, low-fat, and low carb is the very minimum standard for hair maintenance. Add a vitamin B (biotin) of 5000 mcg daily if you feel you are not getting enough from your food sources. Exercise is helpful in controlling conditions that affect hair growth such as PCOS and diabetes. Opt for gradual weight loss rather than sudden drops in weight, as this can also affect hair and cause loss.
Treat your hair with kindness. When you shower, your hair is in its most fragile condition, but is also most receptive to replenishment. Skip the shampoo now and then, but always apply conditioner directly to wet hair. Water is very dulling and very drying to hair. Be careful of professional-grade styling tools and dryers which can fry hair when used on a daily basis. Hold hair dryers at least 24 inches from your head and use on a warm setting rather than hot. Do not use wet-to-dry straightening irons more than a couple times a month, and be sure to use a heat-protectant spray prior to their use.
For female and male pattern hair loss, ask your doctor about Minoxidil. It is a tested vasodilator medication that slows or stops the loss of hair. It may also promote regrowth in some people. It is available over-the-counter as the patent has expired, but it does have side effects and should be thoroughly discussed before you begin treatment. For some women, estrogen replacement after the age of 50 may also help prevent hair loss, but again watch for side effects.
Avoid UV sun rays that can strip hair of shine, pigment, and moisture. There are so many products on the market to save, protect, and caress your locks, you should never feel like you have to subject your hair to any type of condition without a product to protect it. Avoid anything that pulls on your hair such as ponytails, weaves, braids, rollers, et cetera, as they make hair more prone to breakage.