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How Your Hair and Nails Change as You Age

Linda has written content for national fashion and beauty websites. She enjoys sharing style trends and tips with her readers.

Time marches on. Nowhere is this more evident than the changes we see in our aging skin. However, aging also takes its toll on hair and fingernails. Virtually no one is immune to graying and thinning hair. Similarly, aging affects fingernails and toenails, causing them to become weak and brittle.

You may not be able to reverse these signs of aging, but there are ways to help keep your hair and nails as healthy and beautiful as possible.

Here Comes the Gray

Hair color is created by the pigment melanin. Melanin exists in hair follicles and decreases as we age. Reduced levels of melanin affect color intensity. It also causes hair to gray when the follicles cease to produce it.

In rare cases, this happens as early as teen years or early 20s. Conversely, there are people in their 60s and 70s with little in the way of gray hair. For most of us, gray hairs begin to make their appearance in people in their 40s.

So, what can you do to stop or reverse graying hair? Absolutely nothing. There are some schools of thought among alternative medicine practitioners that you can eat certain foods and take supplements to keep gray hair at bay. Unfortunately, there are no scientific studies to support these claims. If you are the curious type you can do a quick web search that will produce millions of gray hair prevention remedies with a single mouse click.

Conventional wisdom points to either living with the inevitable or covering up the offending gray hairs with permanent or semi-permanent dyes, which are designed to recreate the original color of your hair. Just be advised that gray hairs are a stubborn lot. Over time they become increasingly resistant to dyes and temporary hair coloring products.

Fragile, Dull and Thinning Hair

As if gray hair wasn’t enough of a challenge you may also notice your hair becoming thinner and more fragile. In the past, much of the press about thinning hair was aimed directly at men. It has only been recently that we now know that we women suffer from pattern baldness like our male counterparts.

This type of natural hair loss is due to genetics, changing hormones and normal aging. Men typically have receding hairlines and baldness on top. Women tend to thin on the top and crown, while the front hairline remains. Women first notice hair loss beginning near the area where their hair is parted. Women rarely lose all of their hair although any noticeable hair loss can be a psychologically debilitating experience.

Anti-Aging Hair Care Tips

Prescription Hair Loss Solutions

Minoxidil is the only FDA approved medication to treat female pattern baldness. It is a topical medication that applied directly to the scalp. Research shows that it will regrow hair in 1 out of 4 or 5 women and significantly slows or stops hair loss in most women. It is also prescribed for men to treat male pattern baldness.

Finasteride is an oral medication that can be more effective than minoxidil. Finasteride interferes with a particular male hormone linked to hair loss. That's why it is only prescribed to men to treat male pattern baldness. Both minoxidil and finasteride require continued use to be effective. If these medications are stopped hair loss will revert to pretreatment levels.

Surgical and Non-Surgical Hair Replacement

In the case of both men and women, hair grafting can be a beneficial solution to thinning hair. Individual hair follicles are harvested from the back hairline and surgically transplanted to areas suffering from hair loss. Hair transplants are generally safe and have a 95%+ success rate according to Mayo Clinic. Just be advised this procedure is extremely expensive and not covered by insurance.

If you don’t want to deal with medication or surgery you can consider a non-surgical hair replacement. This involves matching real hair to your hair color. A mold is made of your scalp and a custom hairpiece is created to fit your head. The hairpiece is attached with a surgical-grade adhesive. You simply come back in for regular haircuts and maintenance. You can shower and swim in these custom hairpieces.

New Hairstyle

Consider your haircut and style as well. The perfect haircut and products can give the illusion of thicker hair. Do your research and find a stylist that specializes in fine, thinning hair.

Look for one that's been in the business for years that deals with female pattern baldness. Not every hairdresser is competent, compassionate or vaguely concerned with women's hair loss issues. When you find someone who is knowledgeable and understands your situation stick with that person.

Wigs are an inexpensive alternative to hair replacement procedures.

Wigs are an inexpensive alternative to hair replacement procedures.

Wigs

Wigs or hairpieces offer a great alternative if your hair is too thin for styling. You can choose from human hair or synthetic versions depending on your budget. Human hair is much more expensive and requires regular washing and styling just like your own hair. Synthetics are much more forgiving. You can wash them and the shape bounces back without the need for styling. Synthetic wigs come in a wider variety of styles and the hair fibers last much longer than wigs made from human hair.

Care for Aging Hair

Here are a couple of low-cost ways to treat aging hair from the inside out. Make sure you are getting a well-balanced diet and regular exercise. Consuming the proper nutrients can help strengthen fragile hair and improve shine. Exercise improves blood flow, which in turn, improves skin and scalp health.

You can also look for haircare products formulated to plump up fine, thin hair shafts. If your hair is damaged due to overprocessing or simply brittle due to hormonal changes look for deep conditioning products that tame split ends and nourish your hair from the outside in.

Proper haircare is important to fight the signs of aging.

Proper haircare is important to fight the signs of aging.

Weak and Brittle Fingernails

Just like your hair, fingernails are made up of keratin. As you age, they are affected by hormonal changes and are prone to thinning and breakage. Fingernails are typically tough as nails. But as you age moisture levels and natural oils in the nail bed go into decline, which leads to weak, dry, brittle nails. On top of that, aging can result in slower-growing nails.

As our fingernails age, they become weaker and require special care.

As our fingernails age, they become weaker and require special care.

Help for Aging Fingernails

There are some easy preventative measures to take to keep your aging fingernails as healthy as possible:

  • Once a week, moisturize and push back your cuticles and keep your fingernails neatly trimmed or filed. Don’t let them get too long. That's just asking for splits and breakage.
  • Avoid nail polish if at all possible. Even if you use a “fortifying” formula, nail polish and removers are extremely drying. If you get regular manicures tell your technician you would rather have your nails buffed much like a man’s manicure. Buffing will create a shine similar to wearing clear nail polish. Buffing also stimulates blood flow in the area making your nail beds happy and healthy.
  • Soak your nails once a week in extra virgin olive oil or liquid vitamin E. This home remedy is cheap and will help moisturize your cuticles and fingernails.
  • Purchase a natural cuticle cream or oil and massage into your fingernails and cuticles each night before bed.
  • Wear gloves when performing cleaning and gardening chores. Harsh detergents and household cleansers will do a serious number on your fingernails.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet.
  • Don’t use your fingernails as tools.
  • Drink plenty of water during the day. Water hydrates your entire body--fingernails included.
Mix the nail polish! It can cause unnecessary damage to your aging nails.

Mix the nail polish! It can cause unnecessary damage to your aging nails.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Linda Chechar

Start a Conversation!

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on September 26, 2015:

Thank you, brakel2. I'm envious of your thick hair! So glad you enjoyed the Hub. It was fun to write and research.

Audrey Selig from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on September 26, 2015:

Thank you for this informative hub. I am fortunate to have thick hair that does not show much thinning and gray hair that blends with my natural brown. I do need help with my fingernails and skin to reduce signs of aging. Your tips show excellent research, Linda. Pinning, Blessings, Audrey

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on February 03, 2013:

laidbacklady, my nails have definitely become thinner with age. I will try biotin at a reduced dosage as you suggest--my skin has a tendency to break out normally, so I don't want to aggravate the situation.

Yes, to save my hair from further breakage, I am opting for the growing gray gracefully route. So far so good. Right now the gray just looks like highlights (at least I think so). We'll see what I think when more gray grows in! ;)

Thanks for the tip on olive oil for the skin. It stands to reason that if it good for your nails and hair, it would be wonderful as a skin treatment as well. I'll definitely do a search!

Thanks so much for your insightful comment. It is so nice to share information with others! Have a great day! :)

Linda from Plumsted Township, NJ on February 03, 2013:

Nice job with this hub Linda!

Often I will look at my thinning hair and consider my weak and peeling nails (which have always been that way!) and just get disgusted and turn away. Your hub has put these issues in the forefront of my mind right now. I like the tip about extra virgin olive oil. Currently I have acrylic nails because when I don't, my nails tear down to the quick and bleed and hurt like hell. That can be a bitch when 75% of your life is spent on one keyboard or another.

I was taking Biotin, but I found out that too much of it made my skin break out. So I only use about half as much as before. I was using 5000 mcg, and now is use 2500 mcg.

As far as the gray hair, I got my first grays at 15. I have been coloring my hair ever since. I have had every hair color under the sun, but dark brown suits me best. Maintaining is a pain, due to the frequency of root growth. I have asked my mother-in-law, who does my color and cutting, to just color my whole head gray. Not some ugly steel gray like I have coming in at the roots, but that pretty white-silver that some older women are lucky enough to get naturally. She tells me no, in no uncertain terms. Granted I am only 47 this year, but sometimes I just think it would be easier to go gray or white and be done with it.

In my family, at least on my mother's side, all the women have extreme thinning. (also all have developed Alzheimer, but that is another story) The biotin does not help with the thinning. It help with growth as far as length of hair and nails, but it is not an overnight miracle or anything.

By the way, olive oil is also good for the skin in general. It has a closely matched pH to the human body. Search the web for different ways to use olive oil on the skin. Just food for thought.

Voted up, useful and interesting!

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on January 19, 2013:

Me too. I'm also lucky not to have too much gray hair...yet. My light color hair helps conceal the gray I do have! I haven't used polish on my fingernails in years, but I still paint my toenails. I'm glad you stopped by to read my Hub today! Thank you. :)

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on January 19, 2013:

Great job. I am one of the senior group. I do not have much gray ...my Momma and Daddy really did not have much until into their eighties so I may keep my brown hair with a dusting of gray.

I read with interest your info on nails. I polish my nails often so maybe I will rethink that.

thanks for sharing.

Sending Angels your way :) ps

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on November 30, 2012:

You're welcome vespawoolf! Yes, young people can have thin hair as well (I have had thin hair all my life), but it does get even thinner with age. I've found that a shoulder-length blunt cut is the best for my thin/fine/straight hair. I'm going to research Resveratrol -- maybe that will help my fingernails! Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on November 30, 2012:

I have friends who have thin hair, and they're young, so I try to remember than thin hair isn't just a plague of the aging. I think a new haircut is just what the doctor ordered. My grandmother claims that when she started taking Resveratrol (an antioxidant) after a shoulder injury, that her nails became thick and strong for the first time in her life! I agree that a balanced diet and exercise is the most important of all. Thank you!

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on November 29, 2012:

Well, leahlefler, we can't stop the advance of time, but we can at least use a few tricks to make some of the changes less noticeable! ;) Thanks for reading and commenting!

Leah Lefler from Western New York on November 28, 2012:

My nails are still thick and strong, thank goodness, but the gray hair is creeping in. Thank goodness for the invention of hair dye!

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on November 23, 2012:

RTalloni, yes gray hair is a mark of accomplishment! Oooh, thanks for the tip on biotin. Your advice is greatly appreciated! :)

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on November 23, 2012:

Thanks teaches! I have finally come to grips with the gray. It's just too much trouble to cover it up. I need to get some vitamin E for a couple of fingernails that have weakened as of late. Thanks for the vote and the visit! :)

RTalloni on November 22, 2012:

Viva gray hair! :)

BTW, biotin can be a huge help for aging hair, skin, and nails.

Dianna Mendez on November 22, 2012:

Interesting read, Linda. I have found vitamin E to help my nails to become stronger. I love your statement that accepting the gray can be fetching. I am almost to that point. Your advice to eat right and exercise is a good one and I am glad that I do this regularly. Voted up.

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on November 21, 2012:

Thanks watergeek! It does seem the way in which we live our lives does play a part in how our nails and hair change as we age. I had never thought about hair coloring. I used to get highlights, but I have done nothing to cover my gray. My hair is also lighter in color and my gray hair doesn't stand out (at least so far!) We'll see how that progresses!

Susette Horspool from Pasadena CA on November 21, 2012:

Angela, that happened to my mother too. My nails, on the other hand, have always been weak. They're a little stronger now. I'm 62 and my hair is blond with just a touch of gray. My younger sister's went steel gray a long time ago. The difference? I've never colored my hair. She has. I've long been interested in health, so have kept myself low stress, eating healthy, drinking water, and occasionally inverting myself. She's high stress and has been eating healthily only in the last about 5 years. I think scalp massage helps too. A provocative hub, lindacee.

Angela Blair from Central Texas on November 20, 2012:

Thanks for researching my query -- and back at 'cha on the Thanksgiving -- hope yours is great! Best/Sis

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on November 20, 2012:

Wow, Angela, I'll have to research that phenomenon. I guess it just proves that we each age differently. I did a quick search on Google that came up with nothing conclusive. Glad you enjoyed this Hub. Thanks for reading! Have a great Thanksgiving! :)

Angela Blair from Central Texas on November 20, 2012:

Loved this Hub and the great info -- must note, however, that I've got something definitely working backwards. As a young woman my nails were terrible -- thin, weak, breaking, etc. As I've aged apparently they have too and now they're like horses hooves. I think my thumbnail, if I let it grow long, would probably cut glass! I know this sounds rather humorous but it's not -- it's very strange to me as it certainly isn't happening that way for any of my lady friends! If you have info I'd appreciate it -- again, great read! Best/Sis

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on November 20, 2012:

Carol, I'm so glad you found this Hub useful. I've found that over the past year or so my hair has definitely thinned -- although I've always had thin hair. Unfortunately, another by-product of getting older. Luckily, there are things we can do to minimize those effects. Thanks for the vote and share! :)

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on November 20, 2012:

thumbi7, water is definitely a cure-all for any number of health issues! You're correct, it doesn't matter whether you live in an arid climate (like me) or in the tropics (like you), we all must drink at least 2.2 to 3 liters each day. Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on November 20, 2012:

GoodLady, I'm sorry to hear about the problems you are having with your hair and nails. Hair loss and weak nails are very disturbing conditions that can be caused by a number of medical conditions as well as the aging process. Hopefully your doctor will be able to diagnose the exact cause and prescribe a treatment that helps. I'm glad you found my Hub to be of use. Take care and let me know how things progress.

carol stanley from Arizona on November 20, 2012:

One more thing about getting older..However, there are solutions for these aging signs. So far the hair is okay and the nails okay...But obviously not like many years ago. I really like this hub and found the information useful..bookmarking, voting up and sharing on facebook.

JR Krishna from India on November 20, 2012:

Good informative hub.

As you said, drinking lot of water can minimise a number of problems.

We live in tropics and actually we need to take at least 3 to 4 litres of water a day

Thanks for sharing

Penelope Hart from Rome, Italy on November 20, 2012:

Pleased I read your Hub this morning. It's depressing but I'm losing my hair and my nails are very weak. I'll try your extra virgin olive oil treatment for nails. I'm putting a product the dermatologist suggested on my scalp. BioClin. It doesn't seem to be working - and the way it's applied is very complicated. I'm washing my hair with a Bio Clin shampoo and taking their vitamins. Hopefully things will improve. You have many suggestions though that I will read again and take to heart and take you up on them. Many thanks.

Voting and sharing.

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on November 19, 2012:

I love buffer blocks and I am a firm believer of shorter nails and no polish. Happy you liked this Hub, Jackie! :)

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on November 19, 2012:

I am aware of all this from my mom. I finally convinced her to go with the short manicured nail that was manageable and really make the hands look much more attractive. Sure wish I had known about the buffer blocks then, those are great to take away the bumps and ridges in nails.

Great info. ^

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