Why does our hair become less shiny as we get older

POSTED: 11 March 2020

Dr Asim Shahmalak is Britain’s leading hair transplant surgeon. Dr Shahmalak, who practices in Harley Street and at his Crown Clinic in Manchester, and is one of the few surgeons in the country who can also perform eyebrow and eyelash transplants. He was a general surgeon in the NHS for more than 20 years before specialising in hair loss ands its treatment. He is also one of Britain’s leading experts in female hair loss and the treatment of it.

His celebrity patients include Coronation Street star Jack P Shepherd, model Calum Best, Homes Under The Hammer star Martin Roberts and former footballer Didi Hamann, who all had FUE (follicular unit extraction) procedures with Dr Shahmalak at Crown Clinic. The TV doctor Christian Jessen has had two FUT (follicular unit transplantation) procedures at Crown Clinic.

How does the structure of a woman’s hair tend to change as she ages?

A woman's hair naturally thins as she ages because of falling levels of estrogen in the body – sometimes dramatically so post-menopause.

The female sex hormone gives the hair density, and helps with lustre and texture, although scientists still aren’t exactly sure how the relationship works.

Ironically, low levels of estrogen causing thinning, can also cause unwanted hair in other areas because of an imbalance with testosterone.

Although the menopause is a factor in hair thinning, up to 13 per cent of women have some degree of hair thinning and loss before they go through it. After the menopause, that figure rises to 75 per cent.

The structure weakens and hair becomes less durable, with a greater tendency to snap and split at the ends, making it more important to have it regularly cut and use scalp-nourishing shampoos.

What changes happen within the hair bulb/root to enact these changes?

The bulb or root shrinks because it is not being nourished properly, leaving the hair weaker and more prone to breakages. Excessive sebum production, known as seborrhea and sometimes as a result of stress, can exacerbate the problem if it is allowed to stagnate under the scalp. Because it blocks the follicle where the hair’s re-production cells are based, it generates toxins that collect around the root and prevent proper blood circulation. This shrinks the roots because they become asphyxiated and compressed. So it’s important to treat excessively greasy hair before it builds up.

How else does a woman's hair tend to change - and why?

It’s widely believed now that it is genes rather than environmental factors like stress that cause greying in hair. A Danish study three years ago using identical and non-identical twins found little difference between greyness of hair among twins with identical genes. Otherwise, there is little scientific knowledge as to why some people go grey earlier.

The process of greying is fairly well understood though, and quite complicated. Every hair follicle contains pigment cells called melanocytes. The melanocytes produce eumelanin, which is black or dark brown, and pheomelanin, which is reddish-yellow.

They pass these melanins to the cells that produce the main hair protein keratin, thus deciding colour. When the keratin-producing cells die as the hair grows, they retain the coloring from the melanin.

When you first start to go grey, the melanocytes are still present, but becoming less active so hair appears lighter. As greying progresses, the melanocytes die off until there aren't any cells left to produce the colour. This is exacerbated by ageing, but factors such as excessive UV light from strong sunshine can also damage hair over a long period by breaking down the melanin.

Why does hair tend to get less shiny as we age?

The decrease in melanin that affects colour also affects the sheen of our hair. This can be exacerbated by too much sunshine because ultra violet light can oxidize the melanin, which as well as giving sheen, also helps prevent a build up of chemicals that stunt growth and damage follicles. Combined with lower estrogen levels, losing melanin in this way simply means the hair is drier, more tired looking and has less bounce and bulk. There are shampoos and nutrients that will help however.

Why else might it become more frizzy/dry?

Changes to hormones make can hair more frizzy and drier. Other external factors include changes in hair texture and colour, as the sebaceous glands that produce thick, vibrant hair work less efficiently as you age. You need just the right amount of sebum to give your hair body and keep it healthy. Too much damages the roots, just as too little will make it dry and frizzy. Additionally, hair growth cycles affect density and frizziness. Usually they alternate between a growth phase (called anagen and lasting about three years) and a resting phase (telogen - which lasts three months). During telogen, the hair remains in the follicle until it is pushed out by the growth of a new hair in the anagen phase. At any one time, up to about 15 per cent of hairs are in telogen or resting. A sudden stress on the body, like menopause, pregnancy or illness, can trigger large numbers of hairs to enter the telogen phase at the same time – leaving hair looking dry and frizzy and having less body generally. After about three months, a large number of hairs will be shed. As the new hairs start to grow out, so the density of hair will hopefully thicken again.

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