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Your crowning glory

Don't ignore hair health

Created date

April 26th, 2011

Your hair changes as you age, but that doesn t mean that you need to stop caring for it. Hair color is caused by a pigment (melanin) produced by hair follicles. With aging, less melanin is produced, and graying occurs. Hair eventually turns white. When your hair will turn gray is, for the most part, genetically determined. You cannot stop or decrease graying of your hair with nutritional supplements, vitamins, or other products. Almost everyone has some hair loss as they age mainly because the rate of hair growth slows, and some follicles stop producing hair. The hair strands themselves may become thinner. Male-pattern baldness occurs because of genetics and testosterone changes. Women can also develop female-pattern baldness a typical pattern in which the hair becomes less dense and the scalp may be visible, says Roland Lascari, M.D. In both types, the growth phase of the normal hair cycle shortens, making hair more fragile. Hair loss can be a side effect of certain medications like retinoids [a class of drugs related to vitamin A], blood pressure medicines, antidepressants, or anti-inflammatories, Lascari adds. There haven t been any recent breakthrough medications for hair loss. Men can take finasteride (Propecia, Proscar), and both men and women can use minoxidil (Rogaine), a topical treatment. If women use minoxidil, however, they need to use a lower dose using higher doses may cause you to lose any benefits you have gained, says Pamela Jakubowicz, M.D., attending dermatologist at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, NY.

Changes in texture

Hair is not necessarily more fragile or prone to breakage just because it s gray, says Kimberly Michel, a professional stylist in Bel Air, Md. Your hair tends to stay similar to how it was in your younger years whether curly, straight, fine, or wiry. Don t assume that thin, brittle hair or a dry scalp is simply due to the normal aging process, Jakubowicz says. Thyroid problems, in particular, can contribute to brittle hair. So can anemia. What you are is what you eat is very true when it comes to your hair, Lascari says. People s diets may change as they get older, and a lack of protein, vitamins, or minerals can affect your hair s texture. A biotin deficiency can make your hair brittle, Jakubowicz says. Also known as vitamin B7, biotin is found in very small amounts in food, so an over-the-counter supplement is usually needed. These supplements have been shown to be effective for brittle nails, and there is some scientific evidence that it may help hair be less brittle too. According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, there is no effective laboratory test to detect biotin deficiency; such a diagnosis is usually made by evaluating symptoms such as hair loss; a red scaly rash around the eyes, nose, and mouth; depression; fatigue; or tingling in the arms or legs. Your ferritin level may also affect your hair s texture. Ferritin is a protein found inside cells that store iron, and although it may be at a normal level for your body s needs, it may not be at an optimal level for healthy hair, Jakubowicz explains.

Hair care

Less is better when it comes to coloring your hair. Many of my older clients use too much dye, Michel says. The coloring process and the associated chemicals can be harsh and stress the hair shaft. Talk to your stylist about how to color your hair to minimize damage. Cigarette smoke, styling products, tap water, and environmental pollutants can all cause yellowing of gray hair. The sun is also at fault, Michel says. Using a shampoo especially formulated for gray hair can help. When outside, wearing a hat and using sunscreen on bald areas is important because skin cancers can occur on the scalp, Lascari says. Some people don t care as much about their hair as they age, Michel says, but with proper care, your hair can be truly a work of art.