I’ve never had a head of thick, lustrous hair. In fact, one of my classmates called my hair “stringy” in second grade, which was both cruel and accurate.
Years later, I’ve had a couple more episodes of severe hair loss in my thirties and forties. The first was when I was in my early thirties and suffered from telogen effluvium, a disorder that causes significant hair loss as a result of stress or a traumatic event. (I’d just broken up with a long-term boyfriend and hadn’t worked full-time since being laid off a few months before.) The hair finally grew back, but losing hair due to stress is a stressful thing in and of itself – trust me.
When my son was around three months old and I was 42, the second time happened. Clumps would fall out every time I washed my hair. This continued for over a year. I couldn’t understand how I could be losing so much hair and yet have hair to lose. It’s slowly growing back now, but I have some wisps around my hairline that are clearly shorter than the rest of my hair in the meantime.
Both of these occurrences have made me question if there are any efforts I can take to keep the hair I do have as healthy as possible — and to avoid as much hair loss as possible. Here are five things any woman in her 40s should do to maintain her hair healthy, as well as some suggestions on what to do if you’ve already started thinning hair.
1. Keep yourself hydrated.
We hear a lot about hydration when it comes to our skin, but it’s also crucial for our hair’s health. “Drinking plenty of water helps with everything,” says Monae Everett, a famous hair stylist, author, and educator. “Moisturize your hair to promote hair growth and retention.”
A decent rule of thumb is to drink half an ounce to an ounce of water for every pound you weigh each day (so someone weighing 140 pounds would drink between 70 and 140 ounces per day).
2. Don’t Wash Your Hair Too Much
“Be careful not to over-wash your hair,” advises Ashley Streicher, hairstylist to Mandy Moore and Anne Hathaway and co-owner of Beverly Hills beauty salon STRIIIKE. “It’s definitely something I see frequently.”
Dr. Gary Linkov, a hair restoration and face plastic surgeon, explains that determining what constitutes over-washing for oneself may take some trial and error. “You want to wash it enough to get rid of the oily filth that closes pores, so not bathing for a week at a time isn’t ideal — but showering too frequently will dry up the hair, scalp, and skin, which can be a problem.” Start by washing your hair every other day and see how your hair responds.
Everett advises Black women to shampoo once a week “even when you’re dressed in a protective manner You can shampoo braids and weaves, but scalp health is extremely vital.”
3. Pay Attention to How You Style Your Hair
Everett advises, “Be delicate with your hair.” “All of these trends that yank and tear at your hair – your hair isn’t as forgiving as it used to be!”
Linkov also suggests avoiding high-heat blow dryers and “harsh chemicals used in salon hair treatments.”
4. Take into account a hair supplement
“As we age, we produce less oil and collagen, which affects not only our skin but also our hair,” adds Streicher. “A collagen supplement or a hair and skin supplement are two of my favourites.”
Linkov recommends biotin-based supplements like Nutrafol and Viviscal, whose efficacy has been demonstrated through research and studies, but also notes that biotin (also known as Vitamin B7) can be found in a variety of foods, including egg yolks, legumes, nuts and seeds, liver, sweet potatoes, bananas, and mushrooms.
5. Consult a doctor if you detect hair loss.
Hair loss in women can be caused by a variety of factors, including shifting oestrogen levels, low Vitamin D levels, thyroid and autoimmune diseases, as well as transient conditions like telogen effluvium, according to Linkov.
Minoxidil (also known as Rogaine), Propecia (though not for women of childbearing age), and spironolactone, which is usually recommended for acne but “has been found to have quite excellent effects on hair regrowth,” according to Linkov. “From a hair perspective, women in particular fare fairly well.”