With life expectancies rising to higher heights than ever before, it is reasonable to think that the study of how hair ages—and how we can mitigate signs of aging—will only grow in the coming years. As it is, an understanding of the why behind gray hair, hair loss, and thinning have led to incredible treatments. Today, we’re going to explore the process of how hair ages in-depth, while sharing our best insights and advice on preventive methods. Keep reading for all you need to know about supporting your best strands now and in the (potentially very long) future to come!
The Anatomy of Hair
For starters, we want to quickly outline the anatomy of hair. Without a baseline understanding of this, it is difficult to grasp the concepts of how hair ages.
It all begins with the hair bulb, which you can consider a root similar to a flower bulb. It holds the follicle, which is the space in which a strand of hair grows. Each bulb comprises dermal papilla cells and matrix cells, the latter of which has keratinocytes that produce keratin. If you’ve ever had the straightening treatments made famous by Brazil, you’ll be familiar with that word!
The keratin is what makes up the visible hair fiber and its color. But for the purposes of understanding how hair ages, we should circle back to the bulb. According to an article by Longevity.Technology, “Proliferating (dividing) hair follicle stem cells (HFSCs) migrate down to the hair bulb to grow the hair follicle or migrate to the upper part of the hair follicle to generate sebaceous gland and epidermis. The hair follicle bulb is one of the most integral components of the HF as it regulates the HF cycle and how the HF ages.” Yes, your little flower bulb of a hair grower is responsible for when and how hair ages! That piece goes on to explain that those dermal papilla cells we mentioned early are the “master regulator” cells, essentially serving as the control center for hair cycling.
What is hair cycling, you might have just asked yourself? Well, it’s a process of ongoing revitalization. As we age, some of the steps of this process might weaken or be hindered by changing nutrients, hormones, etc. Voila, this is basically how hair ages! But let’s talk about the cycle more.
The Cycle of Hair Growth
Anagen Phase: During this first phase, the lower part of the follicle undergoes a bit of a renovation before beginning to produce new hair fibers.
Catagen Phase: This is where the old parts of the follicle begin to die off.
Telogen Phase: New beginnings are here—follicular cells and processes prepare for a new follicle.
Exogen Phase: Entering this phase means you’ll see the shedding of old hair.
When we talk about how hair ages, we are examining the factors that contribute to a lessening of the effectiveness of this process. That said, we haven’t quite answered the question of why? What causes hair to age? Answers incoming …
How Hair Ages
First, we must spotlight an important factor to keep in mind: much of how hair ages comes down to genetics. Still, there are plenty of other factors that contribute, and these are the ones we’re focused on.
Because hair follicles go through that cycle we mentioned at such a frequent rate, the cells there are some of the most metabolic in the body. In layman’s terms, they change and grow constantly, which means they are using a ton of energy. It also means that they are influenced greatly by short-term factors—perhaps more than any other part of the body.
When we say short-term factors, we’re talking about nutrition, sleep, and other lifestyle elements. Here are a few that have been proven to impact hair health:
- Hormonal imbalances
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Iron deficiency
- Poor sleep
- Psychological stress
- Microbiome imbalances
- Chronic inflammation
Each of these can contribute to a lack of hair health because of its impact on the metabolic process the structure of the hair goes through during the aforementioned cycle.
How to Manage Aging Hair
The question becomes this: What can you do about it?
To state the obvious, there is nothing you can do to completely prevent all hair aging (at least, as of now!). However, there are many steps you can take to support your hair and its cycle now and in the future. In doing this, you lessen the number of factors that might contribute to hair aging.
Here is a go-to list of things you can do to mitigate how hair ages:
Get plenty of sleep. If this is a struggle for you, consider seeing a somnologist and/or supplementing for sleep aid. Our MindYourMind is a great option for the latter!
Aim for regular exercise, as this is proven to be a critical step in reducing psychological stress of many kinds.
See a therapist if you feel psychological stress is immense and/or uncontrollable. This is a good step to take for so many reasons!
Explore with your doctors any hormonal imbalances you believe you might have.
Ensure you are consuming enough vitamin D and iron, whether through sun exposure/diet or by supplementing. Pro tip: use an app like D Minder to remember to step outside for a little soaking in of the sun (with sunscreen on, of course).
Strive for a balanced microbiome by eating the right foods and supplementing. We recently covered this in detail!
Reduce your exposure to toxins by examining your household and personal care products, as well as the potential contaminants in your living environment.
Alongside the goal of eliminating potential toxins, examining your hair products, specifically, could be a great idea for several reasons. Namely, the ingredients in your hair care products play a larger role in hair health than you might expect. We’d like to humbly suggest you give our DeeplyRooted collection a try.
By following these tips, you can prevent some signs of aging hair over time. That said, we shouldn’t fear or be saddened by aging. As the old saying goes, “It is a privilege to age!” It is more than okay to take steps to support looking and feeling the way you would like for longer. The advice we’ve collected here can help with that! But don’t forget, you and your locks—or perhaps lack thereof—are beautiful no matter what.