After more than a decade in hairdressing, fussing over all types of strands, and several years heading up sustainable salon, Enough Studio, in Adelaide, one thing has become clear: many of us underestimate the impact of ageing on our hair and scalp.
We slather our faces with all sorts of creams, masks, and serums, hoping to ward off the signs of skin ageing, forgetting that the scalp is also skin, vulnerable to the same types of damage over time.
In fact, the scalp has been said to age up to six times faster than facial skin!
When we think of hair damage, we often think of obvious stressors, like bleaching and hot styling tools, but ageing impacts physical processes below the surface which, in turn, do a number on the hair’s condition.
This info is not intended to stress you out or scare you into dropping hundreds on ‘age defence’ haircare products. I’m sharing because hair and scalp ageing is something you can take simple steps to slow – and the earlier you start, the better!
Since entering my thirties, I have a newfound appreciation for my hair.
With age comes greater self-acceptance and freedom to be myself, but upon noticing those first signs of ageing, I’ve realised that this one body is mine for the rest of my life and I need to care for it.
Just like the cheap, effective measure of wearing sun protection, to guard against wrinkles, prevention is better than cure in caring for your hair and scalp. It will save you a lot of time and money down the road, scavenging to reverse the damage.
Read on for a rundown of how age impacts hair and scalp condition, and the top haircare tips I wish I’d been given in my younger years, which can have a huge impact on the look and feel of your hair over time.
How the hair & scalp age
The body produces less collagen and elastin as we age, which isn’t amazing news for the scalp.
Slowly becoming thinner and less elastic, the scalp is less able to hold onto moisture and dehydrates easily. At the same time, the oil glands gradually produce less natural moisture.
A dry scalp can lead to irritating itching and flaking, but it also means the hair follicles are less well nourished.
Dehydration impacts healthy circulation and can prevent adequate iron, zinc, copper, calcium and water-soluble C and B-group vitamins from reaching the scalp and playing their starring roles in healthy hair growth.
With age, the scalp will have fewer active hair follicles, too, leading to visibly thinning hair. Other visible changes include the appearance of grey hairs, coarser texture, brittleness, and loss of volume and shine.
The hair growth cycle also slows. A healthy scalp produces hair at a rate of 1.25cm per month, on average, but ageing can reduce this rate by up to 80%, with hair growing only .25cm each month.
What factors impact scalp ageing?
The above hallmarks of declining hair and scalp health are brought about by chronological ageing. But genetics, environmental damage and lifestyle factors can impact the speed at which these signs appear and worsen.
Air pollution, sun damage, frequent chemical processing, smoking, stress, regular heat styling and poor diet can accelerate scalp ageing and the deterioration of hair quality.
How to keep your hair glowing & healthy for as long as possible…
I’m a firm believer in the grace and wisdom that comes with age, but I’m sure that most people would agree that they’d like to look and feel their best for as long as they can.
Some will choose to pursue this through bottles, dyes, pills, and injections, but there is much to be said for looking after your health and your hair’s health, so you don’t feel tempted to go down the cosmetic route as early or as often. Or blow your hard-earned coin on an endless stream of so-called magic fixes.
A full head of healthy, shining hair is about more than appearances. It can make you feel confident, vibrant, and youthful, and that feeling is worth protecting. Here’s how to safeguard your crowning glory …
1. Extend sun protection from your skin to your hair & scalp
Sun damage accelerates hair and scalp ageing like nothing else.
When the UV rating is at 3 or higher, sun protection is essential for your hair and skin. A good heat protectant cream or spray is an important step if you’ll be heat styling your hair, and the best kinds feature UV protection, as well as guarding against extreme temperatures.
Look for a natural variety that won’t deliver a nasty side of synthetics, which can serve up their own set of problems for your hair and scalp health.
Get acquainted with a style of hat that suits you and hat up whenever you’ll be outdoors for more than half an hour. Heat protectant is great, but it doesn’t absorb into the scalp like sunscreen and the scalp is extremely vulnerable to sunburn. No one enjoys flaky scalp for days. Yuck!
2. Don’t fall for the supplement hype
Many supplements on the market are just plain hooey!
Some contain nutrients in a form that makes them difficult for the body to absorb and use, while others contain ‘magic’ ingredients that will never even make it to your scalp, let alone improve your hair health.
A varied, whole food diet is the best way to give your body all the goodies it needs, but if you’ve been diagnosed with a nutrient deficiency, a good functional medicine doctor, integrative GP or naturopath will be able to point you in the direction of a worthwhile supplement. Hint: it won’t be from a haircare brand.
It’s important to note that nutrient deficiencies can be a sign of impaired gut health, making it difficult for the body to absorb vitamins and minerals from food. Consider working with a practitioner who is knowledgeable about gut healing, as the gut has huge flow-on effects for your overall health.
3. Opt for low-tox
Why expose your hair and scalp to harsh soaps and synthetic chemicals when there are so many fantastic low-tox alternatives now available?
There are also gentler products available in the realm of hair dye and hair-lightening agents, so you can colour without compromise.
Many synthetic agents are extremely drying and aggravating to your hair and scalp, messing with natural moisture production, causing scalp itching, redness and flaking, and dry, frizzy hair.
We know that moisture loss is a big factor in scalp ageing, so keeping dehydrating synthetics and silicones well away from the hair is a no-brainer.
Find a hairdresser who’s experienced with low-tox products and processes, then never let them go.
4. Step away from the shampoo bottle!
Over-shampooing, even with natural soaping agents, can rob the scalp of natural moisture and produce hair that’s dry and frizzy one day, oily and itchy the next.
Washing more frequently usually means more regular heat styling, too, which is equally taxing to the hair.
Excessively oily hair is often a sign that your scalp is aggravated or dehydrated and is overcompensating.
Relaxing on the shampoo and switching to synthetic and silicone-free products can help to calm scalp freak-outs and balance oil production, allowing you to go longer between washes with time.
A little dry shampoo can go a long way to freshen up your do, mid-wash, and is much gentler on the scalp.
5. Shy away from the trends
Unicorn hair, metallic hues, rainbow brights …
All of these are fun to rock and can look striking (if done well), but they aren’t doing your hair and scalp any favours.
Trend-based looks are best reserved for makeup and clothing, which are easily removed, but the hair and scalp cop it every time we follow a fashion whim.
They need a whole lot more love and respect if we hope for our hair to be shiny and voluminous, long into the future – and healthy locks never go out of style!
Work with a hairdresser who isn’t trend-led and will take the time to co-create a style and colour that not only suit your face shape and colouring, but also your lifestyle and the amount of time you can dedicate to upkeep.
The premier focus of a good stylist will be on keeping your hair healthy with regular trims and low-impact haircare and colouring agents.
6. Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise!
We moisturise our faces, day and night, but the best our scalp gets is a bit of rinse-off hydration once or twice a week?
It’s not enough moisture, and this begins to show as we age.
As well as making sure we drink enough water, so we’re hydrated from within, investing in a good quality hair mask (like Better Hair Days, wink wink!) can guard against moisture loss and keep the hair and scalp happy.
Treat your hair weekly, taking care to work the hair mask though the entire lengths of your hair, from roots to tips. Leave in for at least half an hour, giving the concentrated natural nutrients and moisture time to get to work, before rinsing thoroughly.
It really is as simple as that …
With a little extra TLC, less frequent washing, and taking care to seek out gentler hair processes and products, you’ll put your hair and scalp in good stead for years of shine, volume, and softness. No expensive products or magic pills necessary.