How to avoid a midlife hair crisis
We all expect the changes to our youthful facade that come with the passing years, but 'hair ageing'? Maria Lally reveals how to hold back the hair years
Many things have niggled me about my appearance as I've moved through my 30s. My skin has become a little duller, my eyes a little crinklier and my metabolism is steadily slowing down to a snail's pace. Yet while unwelcome, all these changes were entirely expected. One thing I didn't bank on, however, was what experts are calling 'hair ageing'.
It started after the birth of my second daughter in 2013. My hair became wispy at the temples and thinner and frizzier all over. But while post-baby hair loss is nothing new (hormonal changes cause the hair to become thinner, especially around the hairline, in the months after birth, before returning to normal), this change in my hair has remained.
My previously thick, shiny, swishy hair seems to have become another casualty of the ageing process.
And I'm not the only one having a midlife hair crisis. "As we get older, our hair mimics what our skin does: it ages," says trichologist Anabel Kingsley.
"Just as we don't have the same skin at 50 as we had at 25, the condition of our hair changes too." And in the same way skin ageing is about much more than just wrinkles, hair ageing is about much more than just greys.
"As they get to their 40s, clients often report volume loss, duller, drier hair, thinning, or a coarser texture," says Anabel, who also confirms that the first change in women's hair tends to be after having children.
"Post-partum hair loss, which occurs in around 50pc of women, happens in the six to 12 weeks following birth and is due to hormonal changes taking place," she says.
"Hair should grow back as usual and often it does - but in some cases post-partum hair loss can trigger the hair-ageing process. It doesn't help that around the time women have children, they often start getting less sleep and, if they're very busy or tired, start drinking more coffee, eating more sugar and skipping meals.
"If we're not eating properly, it will show in our hair. It's our second-fastest growing tissue, but it isn't an essential tissue. Our body can survive without hair, so if your diet is poor, your hair is the last place to receive any goodness and will suffer."
This is why sometimes, even if you think you are following a healthy diet, hair can suffer. "At the moment, I'm also seeing a lot of female clients in their 40s who have decided to 'eat clean' and are cutting calories, carbs or dairy, or have become vegan. Unless they do it sensibly and supplement adequately, they often experience hair thinning or loss, and a reduction in volume."
Anabel says a good anti-ageing hair diet includes a palm-sized amount of protein at every meal, plenty of fruit and vegetables, omega-3s (found in oily fish, nuts and seeds, and dark green leafy vegetables), complex carbs like wholegrain breads, beans and oats, and starchy vegetables like potatoes and parsnips.
"Supplements can also help," she says, "especially ones containing iron, vitamin C, vitamins B12 and B6."
As well as a good cut, colour is also a crucial anti-ager. "When you're in your 30s and 40s, it's more flattering to go lighter," says Mark Doherty, the owner of SitStil salon on Dublin's Drury Street. "Because the pigment of the skin tends to fade as well as the hair, going a lighter colour of brunette is more complementary than harsher shades, and it also means less obvious regrowth and maintenance.
"What I would say to clients who are greying is to blend the greys instead of trying to completely cover them, which can often look like a colour from a supermarket home dye.
"At this time of year, you can touch up your roots and then let the sun fade your hair naturally. People are concerned that they'll have to keep coming back to a salon every six weeks, but hair colouring is now very advanced, so this doesn't have to be the case; modern techniques like ombre and balayage are very flattering."
Red heads, he points out, tend to get away with having grey hair for much longer, as do blondes.
Lastly, Anabel notes that two other things speed up hair ageing: hormonal changes and stress.
"Hair follicles are very sensitive to hormonal changes, so as women approach the menopause their follicles begin to shrink and they'll notice hair getting finer. It can also feel coarser because its oil glands become less active.
"Stress also ages hair, and very quickly, because it affects the digestive system and the absorption of nutrients, leaving hair looking lacklustre and/or thinner.
"I tell clients that stress management - whether that's through yoga, mindfulness or similar - will slow down how it ages. Consider relaxation a face cream for the hair."