Some changes are inevitable as the years fly by. Whether it’s a shift in jobs, a different location, or a new and exciting relationship, constant pivots keep us engaged and on our toes. We admit these life cycles can sometimes bring a few unwelcome “side effects” as well: we’re talking about the changes hair undergoes as we reach our milestone 40s.
As our body undergoes physical and chemical changes as we age, so too do our hair follicles, explains Dr. Michele Green, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist based in New York City. “Many people will experience changes in texture and volume in their 40s.” The good news is that there’s no need to let these perfectly normal hair transitions get you down. We asked Dr. Green to outline everything we can expect as we navigate the uncharted territory of our 40s and how to adjust our hair care routine accordingly.
What happens to your hair in your 40s?
Everyone’s aging experience looks a little different, but there are a few general changes to look out for.
“People in their 40s may notice their hair becoming thinner, drier, and more brittle,” says Dr. Green. You will start to see more gray hairs forming, and you may feel that your hair is not as voluminous and prone to breaking. There may be increased shedding in the shower or when brushing.”
Change can sometimes be scary, but knowing exactly why each shift takes place is the first step to understanding and caring for your evolving mane. Dr. Green breaks down each fluctuation in more detail below.
More gray hair.
Before we dive into why hair turns gray, it’s essential to know what gives strands their natural color in the first place: melanin. Like our skin, the amount of melanin in our hair follicles determines whether hair grows a golden strawberry blonde or deep espresso brunette shade.
“As melanin production by our bodies decreases with age, the hair [grows in] gray,” says Dr. Green.
There’s not an average age for gray hair, though. Some people may pluck their errant grays as early as their 20s (but please don’t!), while others may not see a difference until well into their 40s or later.
Melanin changes are not the only factor that sprouts silvery strands around this time in our life. Smoking, diet, genetics, and hydrogen peroxide build-up in the hair shaft (which happens with age) can also affect the rate at which hair turns gray.
Weaker, thinner strands.
If your go-to scrunchie suddenly feels like you could wrap it around your ponytail one more time, you may be experiencing a loss of hair density (thinning). Dr. Green explains that the diameter of individual strands decreases over time, directly impacting hair’s strength and thickness. The larger the diameter of strands, the more strong and elastic they are, whereas a smaller diameter makes for finer, more fragile hair that heightens the risk of premature breakage.
The dermatologist says that hair may also look and feel thinner because some follicles no longer produce new hairs after they shed. According to Cleveland Clinic, the hormones that stimulate hair growth fibers within the follicles diminish over time, making it difficult to regenerate new strands.
Have you ever given yourself a bad haircut and frantically searched, “How long does it take hair to grow?” on the internet before even putting down the scissors? If so, you’re likely familiar with the three stages of hair growth: anagen, catagen, and telogen. In layman’s terms, hair has a growing phase, a resting phase, and a shedding phase.
The growth phase can last anywhere from two to ten years, meaning hair lengthens at a steady pace consistently. Once that phase ends, your follicles will rest briefly (usually around 14 days) before starting a shedding phase that can last several months.
“As we age, the hair spends longer time in the resting phase than it does in the growth phase, causing slowed hair growth in your 40s,” says Dr. Green. This can likely be attributed to hormonal fluctuations and imbalances in the body as it adjusts to physical changes from menopause. “It may seem like your hair is not growing as much as when you were younger, and you may see thinning on the temples, hairline, or the crown. Those with longer hair may also notice a widening part.”
Drier and less shiny.
Glossy, moisturized hair is coveted by nearly everyone regardless of age, hair type, length, and texture. After all, reflective, shiny hair indicates your mane is healthy and thriving. So why do strands lose their luster in our 40s?
It primarily comes down to hormonal changes that cause the scalp’s sebaceous glands to slow their output of fatty acids and oils. The result is a dry scalp and dull, brittle hair. All hair types can experience this, but Dr. Green says that curly, coily, and textured hair are more prone to age-related dryness because the strands cannot retain moisture—this can cause pattern changes, too.
Your locks are also less able to fight off free radical damage to maintain shiny hair’s integrity. “The hair contains cells on the outer layer that acts as a protector from environmental damage,” says Dr. Green. “With age and exposure to oxidative stress over time, these protective cells become more fragile, and keratin protein levels decrease, causing the hair to become weaker.”
How to Care for Hair in Your 40s
We often upgrade our makeup regimen to suit the needs of our evolving skin texture (fine lines and flakes, anyone?), so it only makes sense that our formerly reliable hair products may require some retooling.
“You may need to change your hair care routine as you approach your 40s” to reap the benefits of your products, points out Dr. Green. Here are a few of her tips to get you started, plus Hair.com picks that can get you there.
Minimize hot tools.
Since strands are more fragile, avoiding hot tool use is recommended to reduce the risk of excess breakage. We aren’t total monsters, though; we know relinquishing our stylers is easier said than done.
“If you do use styling tools, make sure it’s on the lowest heat setting and use a heat protectant prior to styling,” says Dr. Green.
We recommend looking for one made specifically to strengthen fragile hair, like Kérastase
Genesis Defense Thermique Fortifying Blow-Dry Fluid for Weakened Hair. The formula is ideal for weakened hair prone to breakage and fallout from brushing.
Switch out heavy stylers.
There’s a time and place for heavy waxes, pomades, and thick gels, like locking down a style for a special occasion. However, if you’re battling dry, dull hair in your 40s, Dr. Green recommends using them sparingly as their build-up can exacerbate hair dullness.
We suggest swapping in daily lightweight stylers with moisturizing and hydrating benefits to combat dryness and dullness. A great airy styling pick for all hair types is Mizani’s 25 Miracle Milk Leave-In Conditioner. The multitasking mix penetrates deep within the hair follicle to help restore moisture and repair past damage and also provides a protective shield around the cuticle to help detangle, smooth, calm frizz, and lock in moisture. After just a few spritzes, hair is left frizz-free with enhanced manageability, shine, and softness.
Have super curly hair that needs a moisture boost? We think your tresses will love Matrix’s A Curl Can Dream Light-Hold Gel for Curly and Coily Hair. Made with humectant manuka honey extract, the gel adds definition, curl control, and enhancement without flaking or crunchiness.
If you’re wondering how often should you wash your hair in your 40s, given the excess dryness, you may be onto something.
“With age, our skin produces less oil, so you may need to decrease the frequency of washing your hair in your 40s,” says Dr. Green. “If your hair has become dry, don’t wash your hair every day as this will strip the natural oils on the scalp that provides hydration, [leading to] a dull and lifeless appearance of hair.”
An upside of less oil production is that your hair won’t become greasy as quickly as it used to; therefore, you won’t be too hard-pressed to skip wash days.
Hydrate your hair.
When you do suds up, Dr. Green recommends gentle hydrating shampoos to avoid stripping moisture from your hair. And, of course, following up with conditioner after shampooing is vital in ensuring locks retain moisture.
She advises opting for products that include fatty acids in their formulas, such as avocado oil, argan oil, and olive oil, to name a few. “Incorporating them into your hair products will help replace the decreased oil production by the scalp and maintain hydration,” she shares.
We love Redken’s All Soft Argan Shampoo + Conditioner Duo. Infused with argan oil and the brand’s RCT protein complex, this system gently cleanses hair and leaves it feeling soft and shiny. Plus, the formula is light enough that it won’t weigh finer hair down. If hair needs an additional moisture boost post-washing, a few spritzes of Mizani’s 25 Miracle Nourishing Oil can turn things around. It contains a 99% biodegradable formula with natural coconut, olive, sunflower, and jojoba oils, banishing preconceived notions that oils weigh hair down.
Glycerin is another super hydrator to keep on your radar. “Glycerin is an emollient and humectant, which means it pulls water from the environment and holds it to create a layer of protective barrier on the hair,” says the New York-based doctor. You can find this ingredient in a line like Matrix Total Results Moisture Me Rich Shampoo and Conditioner.
Pro tip: “Massage the scalp when you shampoo to promote circulation to the scalp and hair follicles,” says Dr. Green.
Care for your scalp.
You wouldn’t hit the beach without applying SPF to your face and body, yet we often forget that our scalp also needs shielding from the sun.
“The scalp is at risk for sun exposure because it is facing in the direction of the sun,” says Dr. Green. “Protecting your scalp from the sun should be started at a young age, but it is also important to incorporate it in your 40s. Be sure to apply sunscreen [on your scalp] 15 minutes before going outside, and don’t forget your hat!”
And if you’re not already exfoliating your scalp, your 40s may be a good time to start.
“Researchers believe clogged hair follicles and dead skin cell build-up can contribute to thinning hair, so it is worth looking into incorporating exfoliating ingredients like salicylic acid,” says Dr. Green. “Salicylic acid is a chemical exfoliant that sloughs away dead skin cells, oil, and dandruff from the scalp.” Consider picking up Kérastase’s Scrub Energisant Deep Cleaning Fusio Dose Scrub, a deeply purifying and energizing scalp scrub formulated with salicylic acid, sea salt, and vitamin B6.
Dr. Green adds: “Maintain a healthy diet high in protein, greens, and healthy fats to promote overall wellness and strong hair growth.”
Visit your doctor.
Aging is never one-size-fits-all, so your doctor will be your best resource to help you determine whether other factors or conditions are causing hair changes in your 40s. They may suggest customized treatment plans or prescriptions to help restore the look and feel of your hair. Dr. Green says treatments like FDA-approved minoxidil can help slow down thinning and extend the hair growth cycle, while certain oral medications can block the conversion of hair loss hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT) within the body.
While aging can be full of unknowns, we hope this expert advice empowers and informs your hair care routine throughout life’s various stages.
Looking for more professional tips and hair products? Hair.com has everything you need.