There's an axiom in the beauty industry that hair-care trends follow skin-care trends. So it was probably only a matter of time before words like antiaging and renewal started turning up on shampoos, conditioners, and stylers. Beyond being trendy, however, there happens to be a real reason that hair-care companies are choosing to bring age-proofing products to market. Put simply: We're living longer, and we're torturing our hair like never before. Combine that with increased environmental insult and basic chronological aging, and you've got an epidemic of parched, brittle, and frayed "old lady" hair. The good news is that you don't have to take extreme measures to score instantly younger-looking strands. What must you do? Read on.
HOLD ON TO YOUR HAIR LONGER
"Anyone older than 30 will eventually have finer, thinner hair," says Michael Lorin Reed, M.D., a New York City dermatologist. That said, 50 percent of women at some point in their post-puberty lives will suffer female-pattern hair loss, a genetic and hormonal condition causing sparseness around the crown. The most common treatment: topical Minoxidil products. Estrogen-dominant birth-control pills also often help slow shedding, as does estrogen-replacement therapy (for post-menopausal women). If you don't suffer from female-pattern hair loss, telogen effluvium (dramatic shedding triggered by a stressful event such as pregnancy, surgery, significant weight loss, or an illness with a high fever), or alopecia areata (patchy thinning caused by an immune-system imbalance) — which are treatable in the hands of a dermatologist — the best way to retain your locks is to treat them with love. Chemically process as infrequently as possible, and avoid anything that pulls on hair, such as tight rollers, ponytails, weaves, and braids. "Not only can they cause breakage, but they can destroy your roots permanently, rendering them unable to produce hair," says Dr. Reed. In addition, don't underestimate the power of proper nutrition. "If you want to keep your hair, control your weight by exercising, not dieting," says Dr. Reed. He recommends consuming high-protein, low-fat, low-carb foods (think South Beach diet) for hair health, as well as popping 5,000 micrograms of biotin (a B vitamin) daily. Last, use protein-laced styling products. As your hair thins, it gets weaker and less able to support its own weight, leading to breakage and loss. "Protein fortifies the hair shaft. It can actually stick itself into hair and pull splitting sections together," says Gary Travis, an Atlanta-based stylist. (Try Nexxus Y Serum Younger Looking Hair shampoo and conditioner and Nature's Gate Stayin' Alive Anti-aging shampoo and conditioner.)
GET THE RIGHT CUT
The right haircut — work with your stylist to find a lightly layered look that falls well around your face and is an appropriate length for your proportions and lifestyle — can do perhaps more than anything to keep you looking your age (or younger). "Take the Rolling Stones, for instance. Their faces have seen better days, but their look is still there thanks to their long hair. If you cut it, you'd age them," says Edward Tricomi, co-owner of the Warren-Tricomi salon in New York City. In other words, if your look works for you, don't mess with it, no matter what society deems appropriate. Of course, the wrong style — for example, hair that is too stiff, puffy, or frumpy — can make you look older. In most cases, you want a neutral, adaptable haircut that gives you options, so steer clear of short, blunt bangs or bobs.
KICK UP THE CONTRAST IN YOUR COLOR
Your hair color can make you look older or younger too, according to Tippi Shorter, a member of the Pantene Relaxed and Natural Academy of Science and Style and also a celebrity stylist whose clients include Sanaa Lathan and Jada Pinkett Smith. "As we age, we lose definition in our face, and hair color can add that back in," says Shorter. If you've gone too blonde in an attempt to cover gray (a common mistake), add in some deeper, caramel lowlights. Conversely, if you're still holding on to that jet-black hue, give it up — a few lighter highlights can be good. The bottom line is contrast.
BOOST YOUR HAIR'S HEALTH
"Healthy hair connotes a healthy [read: young] woman," says Cheri McMaster, principal scientist for Pantene. In fact, Pantene conducted "back of head tests," in which the same woman appeared, photographed from behind, in two pictures. In one shot, the woman's hair was roughed up and frayed, while in the other, it was smooth, silky, and shiny. Panelists had five seconds to assess the woman's head; predictably, the woman with the disheveled 'do was repeatedly deemed older. Fortunately, restoring your hair's health is fairly easy. "You can take off about two years' worth of damage in a month," says McMaster. Start in the shower, when your hair is fragile and most receptive to aid. To replenish luster, look for shampoos and conditioners with dimethicone (a shine enhancer) and cetyl alcohol (a moisturizing ingredient). And even if you don't shampoo every time you shower, coat your hair with conditioner whenever it's exposed to any kind of water. Water is highly dulling and drying to hair. (Try Pantene Pro-V Restoratives Time Renewal shampoo and conditioner.) Furthermore, beware of professional-grade heat-styling tools (now readily available to the masses thanks to beauty-supply stores and the Internet). "A pro holds a high-wattage dryer a good 24 inches from your head, while we just blow the things into our eardrums, cooking our hair in the process," says Dara Lynn, director of consumer education at Philosophy. Wet-to-dry-hair straightening irons also wreak havoc. Limit use of these tools to no more than three times a week, and make sure that when you use them, you shield your strands with a heat-protectant spray — and supplement with weekly deep-conditioning treatments. Last, avoid UV rays. They strip hair of moisture, shine, and pigment. (Try Philosophy Shear Splendor Anti-Aging Bio-Peptide Conditioner mask, Matrix Sleek.Look Iron Smoother Hair Straightening Formula, and Frederic Fekkai Sun Protectant Spray for Hair with Shea Butter.)