How Does Hair Change With Age?
From Birth to Ten
The amount of hair on your head is decided before you are born, and the size of the circumference of each follicle is fixed irrevocably. The pregnant woman cannot alter the amount of hair her child will be born with or its type or texture, but she can, by taking proper care of herself and eating nutritious food, ensure that her child’s hair has the best possible start.
Fewer follicles than the average don’t necessarily mean that the hair will be thinner, because the diameter of each follicle may be wider in compensation, causing the hair shaft to be thicker. People with thin hair usually have the most hair follicles, those with thick hair the least. Babies are often born with a considerable amount of hair which falls out in the first few weeks and then begins to grow again.
The age at which a baby starts growing hair varies from child to child, but by the time it is three or four you will know what type of hair it will have. Every time a small baby is bathed its scalp should also be washed and this routine can be a very healthy one to carry on throughout life; mothers should be taught to avoid putting any pressure on the soft spot at the crown (the fontanelle) that babies are born with but not to be so frightened that they don’t wash it at all! Lack of routine washing of the scalp can cause a condition known as cradle cap — this is a brownish, scaly patch which can spread all over the baby’s scalp if not checked by treatment. It can also be caused by a fault in feeding. Cradle cap is treated with warm oil (olive, nut or light vegetable); soak cotton wool in the oil and dab it lightly over the scalp, then wash off with baby soap.
When the child’s hair is grown and its type determined, choose a suitable shampoo and conditioner, wash frequently and keep an eye on the scalp and hair for any changes in condition due to climate, environment or age.
Problems: children’s heads, even in this day and age, can become infested with fleas and lice — more prevalent in long hair than short; if this happens, go to a doctor for treatment. Ringworm is another infection that children are susceptible to up to the age of puberty. It looks like a circular scaly patch, about half an inch in diameter, sometimes with a pinkish center; again the child should be taken to the doctor for treatment.
The better balanced a child’s diet, the better chance it has of healthy hair — junk food, sugar, and too many dairy products are all as detrimental to hair as they are too general body health. If a child can be persuaded to like fruit, fruit juices, raw or dried fruits and yogurt instead of sugar-based drinks, sweets, crisps, and ice creams, it will feel enormous benefit for the rest of its life.
The hormonal changes that occur with puberty can have a dramatic effect on hair. The male and female hormones pouring through a child’s bloodstream cause hair to appear on parts of the body other than the head. Boys need to start shaving, girls start thinking about unwanted hair on legs, underarms, and lips. Both sexes develop pubic hair.
It is a time of tremendous activity in the body and at the same time the adolescent is often under pressure and studying for important exams. Stress can be reflected in the health of hair at any time, but it is most likely in the teens.
Hormonal changes often cause oily hair, the glands being stimulated into over-production of oil, which floods the hair shaft, gives an overall effect of lack greasiness and often produces a bad odor. The hair should be washed every day — twice a day, if necessary — with a shampoo formulated for oily hair; if a conditioner is used, only apply it to the ends. To prevent odor, all oily and fatty foods, sugar, salt, spice and dairy products must be avoided; if he or she is a junk-food addict, this habit must be broken. Dandruff is another problem often first encountered at this time and care must be taken that the dandruff treatment does not aggravate the oily condition of the hair. The cause of this dandruff is often tension and (as with oily hair) the treatment is to alter diet and encourage the scrupulous cleansing of the scalp. Extra vitamin B will often help. In mild cases, a shampoo for oily hair will usually control dandruff, but severe cases may need special treatment such as a medicated shampoo containing sulfur or zinc pyrithione.
Problems: split ends are very prevalent amongst teenagers—often caused by the over-enthusiastic use of electrical equipment. In finding hairstyles that suit and in keeping pace with changing moods, teenagers overuse blow dryers, heated rollers, styling brushes and curling tongs. They are impatient and feel they haven’t the time to let their hair dry gently with the dryer on ‘low’ — everything is done at top speed and on the highest setting, which is fine for saving time but disaster for the hair: a too-hot dryer can burn the scalp and dry out the hair shaft; heated rollers taken out in a hurry can tangle the hair really badly and, if used too often, dry out the ends. The answer for split ends is to cut them off — if you catch them soon enough it makes little difference to the overall length of hair — and never allow them to spread right up to the hair shaft. It is better still to prevent them appearing by using electrical aids carefully and making sure the hair is well conditioned and not allowed to dry out. Trichotillomania is the term for the mania for pulling out one’s own hair to the extent of causing bald patches — girls of eleven to fourteen and menopausal women are susceptible. It is thought to have two main causes: an unconscious need for masochistic sexual gratification, a side-effect of sexual fantasies; or an unconscious need for extra attention from someone close. The cure is to find the cause — in the first case, the child will probably soon grow out of the habit; in the second, extra understanding of the teenager’s confused state of mind, tolerance of unpredictable moods and patient kindness will probably do the trick, but in either case a visit to a qualified trichologist will help.
The twenties should be a time of maximum health in every respect. Hormones have settled down, adolescent problems are over, the body should be in peak condition, worries about aging a long way off and all the excitement of the future ahead. But, on the negative side, this is when many women start to abuse their hair by over-coloring, perming, straightening — anything to be fashionable! — and when sun and wind damage begin to be noticeable after a few years of regular holidays in the sun, on the sea or skiing. Many women become pregnant in their twenties and may suffer from hair loss either during pregnancy or shortly after the birth — or this may happen to a second or third child for the first time. The prime concern of the body is to nourish the unborn child and, if the woman’s diet is low in essential nutrients, like iron, calcium, and protein, there may be insufficient blood, oxygen, and food nutrient supplies to satisfy the unborn child, its mother, and her hair. Pregnancy hair loss cannot be prevented, but proper care and diet will reduce the quantity and ensure healthy regrowth.
Sun damage — either by summer or winter sun — demands instant re-conditioning. A good treatment is warm olive oil (or a light vegetable oil) applied to the hair, massaged in and covered in plastic film. Wrap the head in a warm towel and leave for as long as possible — overnight is ideal — before shampooing out. Then try to prevent the damage recurring by taking preventative steps: cover your hair with a scarf in wet or windy weather; rinse out the salt or chlorine-filled water immediately, then shampoo and condition; use protective lotions on your hair before going out in the sun.
Oily hair occurring at this age is normally due to a bad washing routine, incorrect shampoo or a persistently poor diet. Don’t wash in hot water, but use warm: rinse in cooler water, finishing with a cold rinse; try a less rich shampoo and make sure it is designed for oily hair; check diet for a high intake of fatty, sugary or spicy foods and cut them out.
Coarse hair can be a problem in the twenties, when the extra oils produced in adolescence have subsided, leaving the coarse hair in a drier, bushier condition. Wash with a shampoo for dry hair, condition with a cream rinse, combine it with a wide-toothed comb and comb the hair into place while it’s still wet and pliable.
Hair may start to dry out as the oil-producing glands begin to slow down; regular, richer hair-conditioning treatments will improve its health. Dryness may also be the result of years of bleaching, coloring, and permanent waving; after many of these processes, it is essential to recondition the hair, as the harsh chemicals will have stripped it of most of its natural oil and moisture, leaving the hair shafts lack-luster and brittle.
Hair loss is often a by-product of stress in the thirties. Career or marriage problems, responsibilities of parenthood, all begin to pile up; one of the first signs of this sort of tension is hair loss. If the stress is reduced, hair will regrow, because the papilla is only waiting for the right conditions to start manufacturing again. But if the stress continues and becomes worse the hair loss will become more serious and treatment for both conditions is essential. Poor health can also cause hair loss, for while the body is using all its resources to recover from illness it cannot nourish the hair.
Grey hairs can appear at any age, but by thirty most people have a few and are wondering why. Each strand of hair contains melanin or color granules, and those which have no melanin at all are white. Some people are born with white strands, some teenagers acquire them at puberty, but mostly they begin to appear as the hair ages. As with all other forms of aging, certain processes slow down, and in this case, it is the formation of color pigment in the cortex of the hair shaft. As the color pigment fails to form, it is replaced with airspace, making the hair strand appear white or gray. The gray effect comes from the mixture of white and colored hairs. Heredity plays a part in deciding when you will start going gray; it is thought that stress and worry and lack of vitamins such as vitamin B, which is essential to healthy hair, do too.
Another, fairly unusual, problem of the thirties is a particularly severe type of dandruff, which is actually a form of psoriasis. The flakes appear larger than normal dandruff, worse after shampooing and the scalp may suffer from irritable red patches. A shampoo containing coal extract should control the condition, but if it persists, consult an expert.
During the forties, the problems of aging, which may have started to show in the thirties, become more prevalent — dry hair, dandruff, gray hair and hair that has lost its color and life.
The dryness is caused by a further slowing down in the production of oil by the sebaceous glands and will usually be a problem in the skin all over the body too. Use a rich shampoo for dry hair, leave hair conditioner on a little longer and give hair a deep conditioning treatment at least once a week. Dry hair naturally if possible or with a low heat to avoid loss of natural moisture.
Dandruff is usually the dry-scalp variety and dandruff shampoos are not necessarily the answer. Try a shampoo for dry hair, massaging the scalp as you lather; rinse thoroughly to cleanse the scalp of all loose flakes and, if this doesn’t solve the problem, try alternating with a dandruff shampoo.
Gray hair can be disguised with products specially formulated to cover gray hair. Choose a color near your natural color for the best effect; better still, go to a professional colorist.
Dull hair means that the light is reflected evenly or not reflected at all and the hair looks drab and lifeless. A color conditioning rinse, tint or sometimes henna will restore the luster and gloss.
Fifty and Over
At this age most women have reached the menopause and, along with the other problems associated with this time, hair and scalp suffer from the change in hormonal balance that is occurring and the stress that is often present. The hair follicles are not receiving the support from hormones that they are used to and this may result in hair loss. Facial hair may coarsen or darken. Women receiving hormone treatment during menopause will probably find the hair fall less severe, but there is no reason why any woman should suffer distressing hair loss during menopause, providing she looks after her hair and scalp, cares for her body with proper diet and exercise and generally maintains her health.
Excessive hair fall, at any age, is something to take seriously, and professional advice should be sought. Dandruff at this time could be due to lack of circulation — massage, while the hair is being shampooed, will help, loosening scalp cells and stimulating blood flow. A soft hairstyle that doesn’t need spraying into place, allows the hair to be brushed through and the scalp massaged between shampoos will also help this type of dandruff.
Graying hair will also become drier, needing a good rich shampoo and conditioner, and the scalp must be kept clean.