healthy hair You're already fighting the lines around your eyes, the softening of your middle, and even the effects of gravity on - of all things - your knees. Then along comes a new adversary: your hair. Once your favorite accessory, lately it's started to look dull and frizzy and seems to be sprouting an endless crop of seemingly irrepressible grays. Even more alarming, you see glimpses of your scalp. "Hair changes are extremely common after 40," says Wilma Fowler Bergfeld, M.D., senior dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Hormonal shifts lead to thinner strands and more silver; reduced oil production means hair is drier; and sun and styling damage make things even worse. Here are tips every woman can use, from simple, year-subtracting cut-and-color moves to proven treatments (including Good Housekeeping Research Institute-tested thickening shampoos).
Related Link: Younger Hair in 7 Steps
6 Hair Mistakes That Age You Most
Even when you're meticulous about your appearance, the wrong cut and color can still add years.
1. Too Short
"If hair is healthy and plentiful, there's no reason to chop it into a conservative crop just to make it more age-appropriate," says Thom Priano, a hairstylist at Garren New York in New York City. Even as they move into their 40s and 50s, plenty of women still look better with long hair.
Instead: If you do go short, keep it slightly shaggy - think Sharon Stone's crop. You'll look more modern, and the maintenance will be easier without blunt lines. "You should soften things up as you get older," says Jason Stanton, a hairstylist in Los Angeles and London. Use a pomade on the ends (more will be too slick) to give your cropped cut shine. Try Nioxin Smoothing Reflectives Defining Pomade ($13, nioxin.com for salons).
2. Too Long
Excessive length can drag hair down, pulling your features along with it - the anti-face-lift. The worst offender: long, parted-down-the-middle, shapeless locks, which also telegraph the "me decade."
Instead: To keep some length, consider a choppy bob that sits just below the collarbone, suggests Paul Labrecque of the eponymous New York City salons. "Asymmetrical or less-than-perfect shapes deflect attention away from wrinkles," he adds. Since longer hair can look dry and frazzled, treat it weekly to a deep conditioner: Garnier Fructis Triple Nutrition 3-Minute Undo Dryness Reversal Treatment ($6, drugstores) contains exfoliating apricot seeds.
3. Too Dark
Holding on to that jet-black shade could be aging you. Extremely dark hair against a light scalp makes thinning more visible. It also casts shadows on your skin so wrinkles look more pronounced, says Gary Howse, creative director of the Gary Manuel salons in Seattle.
Instead: Go two or three shades lighter with either permanent color or highlights around your face, says colorist Sharon Dorram of Sharon Dorram Color at Sally Hershberger in New York City. Or opt for a warmer hue: For example, if you are a cool, dark brown, choose a creamier chocolate instead. Increase coverage of even the most dye-resistant grays with No Gray for Women ($5.75, drugstores), a booster you mix with your regular color to help it adhere better. In an informal test at the Good Housekeeping Research Institute, adding No Gray into the dye mixture provided better gray coverage than at-home permanent hair dye alone.
Related Link: Haircuts that Take Off 10 Years
4. Too Light
"Hair the same tone as your complexion washes you out," says Louis Licari, a celebrity colorist with salons in New York City and Beverly Hills. He points out that even Madonna's blond isn't as blond as it once was - which makes it more skin flattering. You'll also need to put on a lot more makeup to brighten up your features if you go too light.
Instead: A bit of contrast can give your skin a healthier glow. "If you're too light, add in some deeper, caramel lowlights," suggests Priano. For DIY dyeing, Licari recommends you buy several boxes in similar hues and pluck and dye a few hairs to see which color is the most brightening when you hold it up to your cheek.
5. Too Drab
Gray hair doesn't have to add 10 years - as long as you keep the color vibrant. "Yellowing gray hair is as bad as yellowing teeth," says Howse.
Instead: Prevent silver strands from dulling your features with products that contain shine enhancers and UV filters. Try Mizani Gloss Veil Shine Spray ($16, mizani-usa.com for salons) as a finishing mist. On hair that's more than 50 percent gray, use a shampoo with blue or violet undertones to neutralize yellow. Try Joc Anti-Yellow Silver Shampoo with UV filters ($19, oloffbeauty.com for salons). If yellow tones cling tenaciously, as they tend to on 100 percent white hair, Howse recommends coloring hair a light shade of blond to take the aging effect away.Related Link: 10 Common Hair-Care Myths
6. Too Extreme
Sporting a bold cut or color can also ratchet up your age. Hairstylists equate it to wearing too-trendy clothes or overdoing your makeup.
Instead: Keep your style evolving without becoming a slave to trends. "Look for photos of celebrities your age with great hair [say, Halle Berry or Susan Sarandon]," says Howse. "Then show your favorites to your stylist." Bangs are another way to bust out of a hair rut: "They usually make people look younger," says Howse. He suggests road testing them first: Put your hand over your forehead when you look in the mirror, then take your hand away - which look do you prefer? Ask for bangs that are full, not wispy (which can be aging), and that reach the center of your brows. Or opt for a longer, side-swept fringe. But skip both if you've got a stubborn cowlick or tight curls.
What's the smartest thing you've done for your hair? Leave a comment below!
-by Lessa Suzman
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