Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Us What Would Happen To Our Aging Hair?!

by Susie b Cross
Originally Published: 

My paternal grandmother had hair that was black as pitch until the day she died. She didn’t use boxed hair dye or sneak my grandfather’s Grecian Formula. (He was bald, anyway.) She was a true anomaly.

The Real Deal

The truth is that most of us are going to go grey. And we probably already know that. What few of us suspect, though, is that as we age, plenty is going to change about our hair — not just the color. The specific changes might vary depending on genetics and race, of course, but here are some of the changes some of us (white folks, in particular) might experience.

Around 25, we might first start to notice a difference in the texture of our hair. Over time, your hair can become coarse, curly, thin, straight, thin, or wavy—which is code for “anything goes.”

Whether or not we have an obvious texture change, there is a good chance our hair will become brittle. You know the expression “not fragile like a flower, fragile like a bomb”? Well, our hair’s more realistically heading in the direction of a fragile flower—or, more aptly, a splintered toothpick.

We will most likely lose volume (individual strands actually thin) and shine, but to me, the least palatable reality is that many of us will experience female pattern hair loss, which can begin as early as age 12. That’s right: hair loss doesn’t only happen to men, and it evidently doesn’t even have to wait until middle age to start the process.

What’s Going On

A number of “outside forces” take their toll on our hair. There are the ones I consider our own damn fault: a crappy diet, years of over-processing and chronically exposing hair to heat (think flat-irons and blow dryers), product buildup, and smoking.

There are the ones you can’t easily avoid, like medication, pollution, and hard water.

There are the ones that are out of our control, like illness, pregnancy, and chemotherapy.

And then there are the inescapables, givens that are just a fact of life: stress (physical or emotional), fluctuating hormones, family history, and age.

Squarely Placing The Blame

I don’t have a problem with the transitions my follicles naturally undergo; I have a problem that no one intimated—or, better yet, shouted—that these transitions were imminent.

Our mothers slipped us pamphlets to explain the shifts in our adolescent bodies (and unpredictability of our moods); they warned us not to baby oil our faces and broast them in the sun; they may have alluded to chin hairs and bunions. But nobody, NOBODY, gave us the heads up about the funk that was going to happen to our hair.

We were prepared for the grey—after all, we have eyes. Over time, our wavy beach hair may have been downgraded to limp seaweed, and that’s not pleasant. But our hair looking like we gave our crotch a perm and slapped it on our head? Nope—didn’t expect that.

And, if that’s not enough, how about our hair breaking off? Gone are the days of the beehive and the Rachel—any back-hoe-ing of our tresses would end in a sink full of hair hay or something resembling crimped twisty ties. I would’ve appreciated a heads up there. At least so I could buy a tiny dustpan.

We diagnose our dull hair as needing a mayonnaise vinegar treatment with a Bud Light rinse. We want to blame cheap shampoo for our matte wax build up. The fact is, however, our hair can take it upon itself to simply sprout out of our heads sad and lackluster. Had someone told us this, Pert could have been off the hook.

Once upon a time, we might have had hair that was too thick for a single braid; now-upon-a-time, we might have the kind of hair that’s just right for a single-strand twist. Nobody ever told us we’d look back at our snarls with nostalgia. Now, I miss my rat’s nest.

We thought thinning hair was a guy problem (which would have been fair since our bodies have had to deal with things like hot flashes, bloating, and insomnia—while men get crow’s feet that make them look spritely and charming). By the time we’re 50, about 40% of us will experience hair loss, especially at the crown of our heads.

I remember seeing women in church with white scalps peeking through sparse strands. I put them in the it’s-your-own-damn-fault category and imagined Aqua-Net and bonnet-hood heat dryers were the culprit. Not so. Had I seen their aunts or grandmas, I would not have been so quick to assume. My fault for jumping to conclusions? Nope. Somebody else’s for not telling me that sometimes heredity is a bitch.

In Closing: Thoughts on Grey

All of us women have bodies that are morphing throughout our lives, some changes magnificent—and some not so much. Muscle loss and weak bones aren’t something we’d choose; receding gums and wonky vision aren’t welcome either. We’d lump frazzled, wiry, thinning hair in that category, too.

But grey hair? A lot of us are comfortable with it, or even want it. We’re okay with the 50-50-50 rule, which suggests “50% of the population has about 50% gray hair at the age of 50 years.”

Maybe we’re not willing to take on the onus of fighting it; there is a tedium to disguising those less-pigmented strands. Maybe, in the entire world, there aren’t enough scarves, turbans, and hats to keep the grey underwraps.

On the other hand, we are surrounded, virtually and in the flesh, by confident grey-haired divas who are absolutely rockin’ it. I love the woman at my pool who stopped coloring her hair and went a lovely, natural grey at 34. Even teens have jumped in and made their mark on the grey-tinged hair scene. As early as 2015, the grey hair trend among younger people popped up on social media with the “chic hashtag (#GrannyHair), complete with how-to guides….”

It may have once been a harbinger of wizened decline, but look at Helen Mirren and Lady Gaga and you’ll see just how sexy a head of grey hair can be.

I’m not sure any of us will ever embrace the thinning, coarse, and dull hair that might be heading our way. But what if the world came to celebrate it as a sign of wisdom and experience, evidence of a life well-lived? Probably not going to happen.

Still, we can at least warn the future’s aging women: your hair’s going to undergo some undesirable changes, and it’s never too early to google some prophylactic remedies.

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