Looking after your hair in old age

Your crowning glory can cut off the years

Looking after your hair in old age

WE primp, shape, adorn and colour our hair throughout our lives, vainly acknowledging it is one of our outstanding features. What most of tend to ignore — or forget — is that our crowning glory is actually ‘dead’ by the time those cosseted strands of hair emerge from our scalp; all the good work or damage, is done from the inside out.

But just as a healthy lifestyle and a generous dash of moisturiser can improve the look of our ageing skin, so too can our ageing hair get a boost from the right products and from how we look after our general health.

However, there are some realities we must first confront about how our hair ages, according to consultant dermatologist Dr Gillian Gibson are:

By age 49 about 50% of the population has 50% grey hair. You will notice the onset of grey earlier in dark hair than light hair. However, you’re more likely to go totally grey earlier if you have a light hair colour.

Hair loss: It is normal to lose an average of 100 strands of hair a day and 40% of women experience additional hair loss around the menopause. “There can be other causes for hair loss too, such as iron deficiency, stress, rapid weight loss, thyroid problems and use of medications and anyone concerned about excessive hair loss should be checked by their GP,” she says.

Hair thinning: The diameter of the hair shaft diminishes as we age and although you can have the same number of hair follicles, the thinner individual strands will make it look like there’s less volume. The hairs are also more prone to break — due to the smaller diameter and increasing curvature — and since hair growth slows as we age the damage becomes more obvious.

In the context that our hair is ‘dead’, dyeing, blow-drying and styling all contribute to further damage, which can’t be reversed, says Dr Gibson.

However, she acknowledges that hair products can help boost the appearance of volume and a good conditioner minimises hair breakage.

Cork-based hair stylist Jo Cronin, of Jo’s Edge salon, agrees we should use quality in-salon hair products and limit the use of heat tools as heat wipes out the moisture from our hair and scalp.

“Keep stress levels low and eat a good balanced diet. I can immediately tell if one of my older clients has started on an extreme weight loss diet — the lack of nutrients is obvious almost immediately in her hair; it becomes dull, limp, dried out and more prone to breakage and hair loss,” she says.

“Grey hair can be youthful if it’s cut and styled well, but if not, even the most stunning colour will age you. I don’t follow the rule of thumb that as you get older, your hair should get shorter. The cut and style are more important than the length, but if you keep it long it’s important to get it trimmed every six to eight weeks to keep split ends at bay, which age how hair looks.”

Over her three decades in the business Jo has noticed how hairstyles, along with fashion, have become more individualistic: “Years ago the more mature woman was limited with her clothes and everyone got sets and buns in their hair. These days older women are more edgy and are more inclined to have their own unique style. For instance, British actress Judi Dench, who is now 79, has lead the way over the years in how she always looks sophisticated, radiant and so comfortably confident in her hair style — grey and beautifully cut.”

A growing trend is for older women to opt for semi-permanent flashes of vibrant colour, which adds tone to the hair, as one solid colour lacks definition and is ageing, says Jo. “Adding tones and lights gives more dimension. It softens your face.”

It may sound superficial but lasting first impressions are often made by our face and hair, says US psychologist Vivian Diller.

“It’s common sense — our eyes settle on the features that are in direct line with our gaze. People tend to describe others by their eye and hair colour but while most of our other features can’t be altered easily, our hair can.”

Jo Cronin agrees: “You can pile on all the anti-ageing products you want, but when it comes to looking the best for your age, your hair is one of the first things people notice when they meet you.”

Mind matters

Older people’s concentration flagged in the afternoon but at the beginning of the day it was as good as a young adult’s, according to a study by researchers at University of Toronto. Eighteen adults aged 60 to 87 took the tests between 8:30am and 10:30am.Between 1pm and 5pm, another 16 adults in the same age range took the tests, as did 16 younger adults (ages 19 to 30).

Researchers scanned participants’ brains with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) while performing a series of tasks with pictures and words on a computer. They found significant differences between older and younger people’s scans in the area involving concentration when older people took the tests in the afternoon but not when they took the tests in the morning.The results of the study are published in the journal Psychology and Aging.

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