Beauty and the older Woman. Hair

Beauty and the older Woman.

Aging is a privilege denied to many.



Hair literally grows all over our bodies but for the most part we tend to associate it with the hair on our head. Today I am mainly discussing the effects of aging to our crowning glory. Dr Steven Shiel, works for L’Oreal, specialising in hair care. I attended a talk he gave at Cheltenham Science Festival and many of the details, in the first few paragraphs, come from this talk. All opinions are my own. L’Oréal’s interest in this subject is a commercial one as without doubt the amount of money we are willing to spend on our hair makes the development of products to assist us very lucrative. Scientists are employed  to achieve a better understanding of our needs and create effective, safe products to meet them.

Brunettes, like me, have an average of 100,000 hair follicles on their head, blondes have 120,000 whilst red-heads have 80,000. The difference is due to blonde fair being finer than dark whilst red is thicker than brunette. Hair’s growing cycle is between 2 to 8 years, diminishing as we age. Its structure is quite complex. Each strand consists of three layers. Its innermost core is soft and spongy medulla. Covering this is the cortex which consists of long, thin cells that give the hair its elastic resilience and also contains the pigment for its colouring. The outer layer, known as the cuticle, is made up of overlapping scales to protect the hair. If you have ever pulled a hair out you may have seen a white bit at its end, this is not the root which remains under the skin ready to grow another hair. The ‘root’ is contained with a sac which, at its base, has a tiny nodule, called a papilla, this stores the nourishment to grow the hair. It is supplied by blood which carries nourishment throughout our bodies and this is why our diet, and our health, effects our hair. It is also why hair is used for drug-testing. Our hair can reveal a history of ourselves to a scientist beyond just DNA. A side note here; if a hair splits it will split all the way like a jumper unravelling, it needs to be cut above the split, this comes from a scientist who develops haircare products.

Hair colour is related to ethnic origin. For example, Scotland was predominantly red haired. Even now 13 percent of Scottish people are red-heads and 11% of Irish. Whilst ‘ginger’ has been traditionally mocked  in Britain in the states it is viewed as really attractive and sexy, by both women and men. It is also a difficult colour to create artificially. Blonde hair is basically achieved by removing the colour from the strands with controlled bleaching. Dark colours, by coating strands with colour and fixing them to it. Chemicals nowadays have been developed to create all shades of colour but your own hair colour can still influence the outcome. I used to obtain a decent red with a certain strength of peroxide, but regulation changes meant it was unavailable for home use and I ended up blonde. For the most part our hair is extremely forgiving of the treatment we inflict upon it. But a good diet, letting it dry naturally and indulging it with some conditioning treats occasionally should pay dividends in the future. One thing to avoid is the overuse of strong, chemical shampoos, especially anti-dandruff ones (no matter what they say on the bottle). I can not prove this but warned by my hairdresser I tried to persuade my husband not to use a popular brand of anti-dandruff shampoo when he didn’t have dandruff! He continued with the product arguing he needed it, nowadays, whilst he still has hair covering his head, if you look closer you can see scalp, its coverage is not as dense as his father’s at a similar age.

Why hair on your head has colour whilst often body hair doesn’t? Is not yet known. Or even why hair seems to grow to different lengths depending on its location again isn’t known. We do know that hormone changes, in our bodies, affect how (and where) our bodies grows hair. The reason why hair regrowth after cancer treatment differs from the person’s original hair is also not known. We are aware that the negative aging process for our hair starts at about 35 for both men and women. This means its density begins to decrease, regression of hairline begins and hair loss occurs, particularly for men. Our hair can also start to loss pigment. Grey hair is actually hair without any pigment. Grey hair is texturally different to the original hair.

Most woman can cope with these gradual early changes, it is the hormonal changes of the menopause which shifts things up a gear. Whilst I hoped for hair like Daphne Self (mature model featured on heading) as I grow older I am actually finding it has a greater resemblance to traditional depictions of Macbeth’s three witches. It is courser, drier, tends to fizz easily. I am luckier than others whose hair is thinner, lank but still manages to fizz! Around me people are chorusing to cut. However, my late ex-mother-in-law advised me that as you age you appear younger if your hair is longer, at the time of telling me I guessed her age to be over 10 years younger than it was. To be honest this perception has more to do with society’s expectations than your hair suddenly becoming shining, glossy tresses if left to grow. Long hair is just associated with younger, and often sexy, women. Whilst I did grow shoulder-length hair in my teens, mainly as a revolt of never being allowed to grow it as a child. Over the next few decades I had all sorts of short styles but never grew it long till I entered my fifties and missed a few hair appointments. I now prefer it slightly longer than shoulder-length. I will admit to ‘bad hair days’ when it’s too fizzy, it also needs more care, but most of the time I feel more confident with it being longer. It’s a personal choice but the belief that over fifties must have short hair is changing. Take care when tying back though. Being careful to use covered bands or better still combs, to avoid split hairs and breaking as hair growth is slower.

Medically, HRT helps with maintaining the condition of our hair due to our bodies still receiving those, naturally, decreasing hormones. If you are worried about hair loss please go to the doctor. At the best oestrogen tests will show if your body needs supplements to help it. At worst it can be a sign of other problems in your body like thyroid or kidney problems. Don’t just put alopecia down to aging,

Cosmetically there are so many products to treat our hair it can be confusing. Do you want shine or anti-fizz? Do you need the ‘mature woman’ shampoo or a conditioning for dry hair? It is too easy to be taken in by the hype and end up with a cupboard full of useless products. I have! Do speak to your hairdresser, they should have noticed the change and can advise. If you’ve never bothered before you will probably find the occasional deep-conditioning treatment beneficial, however you can do these at home. Just as you put face cream on daily you may find you need a hair cream product to just rehydrate your hair.

To dye or not to dye? Blondes can often blend the grey/silver hairs in subtly for many years before anyone notices they are grey. For many women skin colour changes will prompt a change of colour to a warmer blonde/brunette, whilst masking the grey is a bonus. Over the years I have dyed my hair but a few years ago stress caused my scalp to feel permanently itchy. I decided to stop dying in case problem was a chemical reaction. Happily everything is now okay but despite the visible grey hairs I have not returned to dying it at the moment. Again, this is a personal decision and I’m may change my mind. Colours are more varied now and with lowlights, and other techniques, less noticeably than in the past. However, my hair is less forgiving and is still aging. I suspect chemical enhancement is no longer for me.

Joan Collins is known to use hairpieces to enhance her glamourous look. For the recent ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ movie the lovely Joanna Lumley admitted Patsy’s famous beehive required a little ‘help’ to achieve. Several ladies I know in their nineties don a wig for special occasion. Others don stylish scarves or headgear. Hopefully, with a bit of TLC, we can keep our hair throughout our lives but at least it’s reassuring to know acceptable alternatives exist.

 This article relates to a previous article  I wrote on Aging Beauty. Many details are taken from a talk given by Dr Steven Shiel at Cheltenham Science Festival 2016. These are related in 2nd, 3rd and 4th paragraphs. Where ‘I’ is used the opinions are my own. In particularly Dr Sheil did not mention using anti-dandruff shampoos.

 Daphne Selfe. The 87-year-old model has written a book The Way We Wore about her ‘life in clothes’ (a memoir based on her diaries) and it’s out now. Daphne started modelling in the 1950s. A fashion editor she works for wrote;  ‘I can vouch for her wonderful, enthusiastic attitude  – and brilliant posture, achieved by doing her own version of yoga, every day.’  Daphne has said ‘I creak a bit but I do look after my health.’


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