Age & hair loss

Losing your hair can happen at any age, but the older we get the more likely we are to experience hair loss.

As you get older, it's not only your body that changes but your hair, too. A little thinning of the hair or actual hair loss is entirely natural as the follicles that produce these hairs become less productive than they once were.

Why do we lose more hair as we grow older?

During the normal growth cycle, hair goes through three stages:

  • The growing stage (called the 'anagen' phase)
  • The transition stage (the 'catagen' phase)
  • The resting or shedding stage (the 'telogen' phase)

It's usual to shed between 50 and 100 hairs a day. These grow back over a period of months. However, as you age, your hair spends more time in the telogen phase of its growth cycle which means you shed hair more quickly than it grows back.

Over time, follicles can lose their ability to function, resulting in thin hair and eventually no hair at all.

Both men and women suffer from hair loss due to ageing. Male hair loss usually starts as a receding hairline and thinning crown. In women, it commonly thins all over the scalp.

This type of overall thinning isn't always easy to spot. You may notice you're losing more hair in the shower or while brushing, and you might wake up with more hair left on the pillow than normal. Over time, more of the scalp will become visible.

Is hair loss genetic?

For some people, the tendency to lose hair as they grow older is down to genes, as hair loss is often inherited. This type of genetic hair loss is by far the commonest and can be inherited from either your mother or father’s side of the family.

What happens to hair as we age?

Another telltale sign of hair changing as we grow older is that it turns grey. This is because the production of melanin (the pigment created by hair follicles that gives hair its colour) starts to slow down with age.

First greying frequently appears around the temples and gradually extends to the top of the scalp, with hair colour fading and eventually turning white.

While there are other factors that can cause you to go grey (such as everyday stress, prolonged lack of sleep and illness), the most common reasons that people lose their hair colour are genetics and natural ageing.

It's possible to colour your hair to disguise this greying, but it's important to remember that grey hair takes hair dye differently to pigmented hair. Your hairdresser will be able to advise you on which are the best products to use and what the likely colour outcome will be.

How can I treat thinning hair?

There are two treatments available for hair loss caused by pattern baldness or pattern hair loss.

Minoxidil comes as a liquid or foam that's applied topically to the scalp. It's available from pharmacies without a prescription. It works by relaxing the muscle walls of the blood vessels, resulting in an increased blood flow to the hair follicles. Minoxidil can also stimulate the movement of follicles from the resting phase to the growth phase, as well as extend the growth phase of the follicle. This form of treatment helps prevent further hair loss and helps with hair re-growth.

Finasteride – available by private prescription – is used in the treatment of male pattern baldness in men aged 18 and over. It blocks the action of dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Hair follicles can become oversensitive to this hormone, which is converted by the body from the male hormone testosterone, causing them to shrink and weaken. They then produce thinner and shorter hairs until, eventually, the hair can stop growing altogether.

Taking finasteride has been found to have an adverse effect on male foetuses, so isn't suitable for women.

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist for advice about the treatment options available to you.

Take care of your hair

As your hair starts to thin and possibly turn grey, it's helpful to use appropriate shampoos and conditioners that can help to keep the hair as healthy and nourished as possible.

As thinning hair is a common concern, there's an array of products designed to help improve texture and appearance. Look for hair-thickening ranges that help boost the appearance of hair.

Important hair strengthening and conditioning nutrients include the protein keratin, the vitamin B biotin, caffeine and peptides. If you're unsure which products are suitable for you, speak to your pharmacist for advice.

Styling tips

Avoid roughly towel-drying your hair or over-brushing it – especially when it's wet, as your hair is at its weakest then.

Use a wide-toothed comb to gently comb through a thickening styling spray and then follow up with a blow dry to lift the hair at the roots and add volume.

Keep your diet hair-friendly

On its own, sound nutrition won't stop a receding hairline, but hair health will benefit from a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals. Important nutrients for maintaining healthy hair include:

  • Zinc – from meat, dairy foods, shellfish, eggs and cereals
  • Biotin – from eggs, nuts, sweet potatoes and liver
  • Selenium – from Brazil nuts, fish, eggs and soy products

There are also supplements available that can help to maintain the health of your remaining hair. Your pharmacist can advise which ones might be suitable for you.

Next steps

  • Remember that hair loss is a normal part of ageing
  • Support your overall health by eating a healthy, balanced and varied diet
  • If you're feeling upset about losing your hair, you can visit your Doctor for help. They may be able to recommend treatment options, counselling or support groups that are suitable for you