Antiaging: It's pounded into our brains that the sooner we begin to address our skin's eventual decline (bring on the SPFs, serums, and creams!), the better off we will be years later. But the harsh truth is that our hair and scalp require the same attention.
"As hair ages, we produce less keratin — the protein that renders it strong and healthy — because our bodies can't absorb essential minerals and vitamins as effectively," explains Christyn Nawrot, a national educator for haircare brand Phyto. And without adequate or high-quality keratin, strands slowly become porous, hyper-prone to breakage, and scary-skinny. Thankfully, high-maintenance hair extensions aren't the only option.
Build strength: According to Nawrot, the biggest culprit of aging and keratin depletion is frequent heat styling — with professional-grade (read: hotter and more powerful) tools women now use at home — because it completely zaps moisture from the hair. "Moisture is key," she says. "It allows minerals to develop more readily and helps to keep free radicals away." Going beyond your standard deep conditioner, new innovations from Pureology, Redken, and Phyto actually aim to mimic the hair's missing keratin — with keravis, Keralink, and botanical keratin, respectively — thereby filling in the proverbial gaps created by age and environment.
Scale back stress: Just as stress can cause a breakout to erupt on your chin, it can also encourage hair to revolt. "The second biggest offender for people with density loss and lifeless-looking hair is stress," adds Nawrot. "Each piece of hair has its own circulatory system, a sweat gland, a sebaceous gland — its own little world. With stress, each follicle becomes tight and rigid." Essentially, stress spikes adrenaline production, which can convert into androgens (male hormones including testosterone) and cause extra hair to fall out. The best Rx: Chill out. But if yoga and meditation aren't on the schedule, ask your doctor about prescription anti-androgen treatments. If you're taking the Pill, switch to a low-androgen one, such as Desogen or Ortho-Cyclen.
Feed your hair: Since hair is a nonessential tissue, that means it's the last one to have access to any of the nutrients you ingest. "The system will take care of what's a priority first, which is cardio and lung function, not the hair," says Liz Cunnane, a Philip Kingsley trichologist. "Hair is always at the bottom of the list, so that's why what and how much you eat are so important." Maintaining a well-balanced diet full of protein, iron, zinc, and antioxidant-rich foods, such as berries and leafy green vegetables, and eating regularly will have an effect on hair. And there are a host of helpful supplements: Vitamin K and cysteine aid in the production of keratin and melanin (to delay the appearance of grays), while iron, zinc, biotin, and silica supplements can combat thinning.
Scalp TLC : "Think of how you treat your face, and approach the scalp in the same way," says Cunnane, pointing out that scalp condition impacts hair health dramatically. Both Philip Kingsley's Scalp Tonic and Nioxin's latest three-part systems (cleanser, scalp therapy, and treatment) are focused specifically on rejuvenating the hair by rebalancing pH and rebuilding the scalp. A host of skincare-grade serums from Dove, Sally Hershberger, Kevin Murphy, and Ojon, formulated with powerful nourishers like argan and bur oil, grape-seed extract, and vitamins C and E, quite literally treat the scalp as an extension of the skin.
Bulk up: "L'Oréal Professionel's Fiberceutic is similar to Restylane or Juvederm in its effect," says the brand's celebrity stylist Eva Scrivo. "Similar to how these fillers help to plump and smooth the lines on the face, the product's star ingredient, Intra-Cylane, fills the hair strand with a flexible soft fiber, increasing the density." Another good option is to turn to your colorist and stylist for plumping assistance — coloring also bulks up the hair shaft. "The key is to keep color soft around the face," says Wella colorist Alexandra Matiz. "You want it to have dimension but not be too contrasty." And as the shape of your face changes as you age, your cut should follow suit. "A side-swept bang and soft layers at the sides and back of the head make a woman look more feminine and help strengthen face shape," says Scrivo. Even better: "The right cut also has movement, which softens fine lines in the skin."
Losing Streak: If an alarming number of hairs are piling up on your pillow and in your shower drain, talk to your doctor. Roughly 30 million women in North America experience hair loss, and unlike male balding, which occurs in localized areas, women's thinning happens all over, so it's harder to detect. "As you age and estrogen and progesterone decline, something called miniaturization can happen," says dermatologist Dr. Francesca Fusco. This severe shrinking of the follicles — better known as female pattern thinning — can be treated in a variety of ways. There is minoxidyl, the drug found in Rogaine, which you would need to apply daily for the rest of your life, or a mild diuretic pill called spironolactone (by Rx only; it also works wonders on adult acne). "The FDA also recently approved the HairMax LaserComb [hairmax.com], which you comb through your hair to stimulate growth and follicle regeneration," Fusco adds.