15 Ways Women Over 40 Are Hurting Their Hair

Plus: How to fight back against dullness, brittleness, and breakage.

As you get older, your skin isn't the only thing that starts showing signs of aging—your hair does, too. In your twenties, keeping a healthy-looking mane was pretty effortless: It had all the bounce and shine in the world, and you hardly had to do a thing. But once you hit your forties, grays aren't the only problem. There's also dryness—which can cause dullness and breakage—and thinning due to your changing hormones. Luckily, it's still more than possible to get back the health and shine of your youth. And the first step in doing so? Making sure you're not doing anything that's making matters worse. Here are 15 ways you might be hurting your hair. And for more hair mistakes to avoid, check out the 17 Women's Haircuts Making You Look Older.

You're Overdoing It With Your Heat Tools

curling iron

Letting your hair dry naturally and making it look ready for the day without heat can be a true challenge. But if you're noticing your strands looking a little less than stellar, it could be due to those high temps. "The extensive heat from hot styling tools—such as a blow dryer, curling iron, and straightener—can decrease blood supply to hair follicles," says Keith Durante, M.D., hair rejuvenation specialist at The Ash Center. "That can ultimately cause your hair to become weak, extremely brittle, and unhealthy." And for more ways the heat may be damaging you hair, check out the 20 Surprising Reasons Your Hair is Thinning.

You're Not Getting Enough Sleep

woman who wants to go back to bed

Just like the rest of your body regenerates in your sleep, the same goes for your hair. So if you're not getting a lot of it, it can start to show. According to the Alaska Sleep Clinic, that lack of sleep can stress out your body, and high levels of stress can cause hair loss. In fact, if you disrupt your internal clock, you could disrupt your hair growth cycle, too. And if you're still not convinced you need more sleep, This Is What Getting Too Little Sleep Does to Your Brain.

Your Hair Products Contain Toxic Chemicals

best skin

The latest trend in hair care is going the natural, toxin-free route with products. And that's good news, because buying other options could be seriously damaging. "Many hair products contain toxic chemicals, like paraffins, sulfates, and propylene glycol, which can lead to hair issues," Durante says. If you're spending big bucks on products, make sure they meet the health needs of your hair now and in the future. Otherwise, those chemicals could lead to a dry, brittle, and breakage-prone future.

You're Overwashing Your Hair

woman shampooing hair in shower

Ready for the best news ever? You don't have to wash your hair every single day. Washing too often can strip your hair of moisture, making your strands dry and brittle—especially because scalp and hair moisture decrease with age.

Instead, grab a shower cap and only stick to washing your strands a couple times a week to make sure you're not dealing with any flakiness, damage, and hair loss. You'll save your hair and have plenty of extra time in the mornings. And for more hair-washing mistakes to avoid, check out the 15 Ways You're Washing Your Hair Wrong.

Your Hair Dye Is Causing Harm

Olena Yakobchuk / Shutterstock

As you age, more and more gray hairs start to make an appearance, leading you to reach for the dye. Unfortunately, by trying to fix the problem, you could be making matters worse. "Hair dyes—especially permanent—can contain toxins that are harmful to hair follicles and the scalp," Durante says. "The toxins can cause intense inflammatory reactions to the scalp, which can seriously damage the hair follicle, causing hair breakage, hair thinning, and hair loss."

You're Not Protecting Your Hair From the Sun

Everyone knows how important sunscreen is for their skin. But when's the last time you've taken the proper steps to protect your hair? If it becomes damaged by the sun, expect discoloration, dryness, thinning, and frizz. Don't depend on UV protectant sprays, though: Despite all the options you see on store shelves, "there's not a cosmetic product out there that acts like a sunscreen for your hair," says dermatologist Wilma Bergfeld, MD. Instead, hats should become your best friend. Look for something that has built-in UPF (like this one!) that combats UVA and UVB rays.

You're Not Using Hair Oils

woman using hair oil

Because your hair might be a little more dry than it used to be, now's the time to start taking advantage of oils. It only takes a drop or two to get that moisturized, shiny feel once again. And one of the best options? Argan oil, which can be worked into either damp or dry hair. Just be sure to avoid your roots, or you'll look a little greasy.

You're Still Smoking

mature woman smoking

If you're still buying cigarettes despite all the health warnings you've heard over the years, they're not just going to take a toll on your lungs and overall health—they can mess with your hair, too. "Smoking can cause vasoconstriction—a decrease in oxygenation—and deplete the blood supply. This decreases elasticity in the scalp and hair follicles, which can cause hair loss," Durante says.

You're Using Too Much Hairspray

Young woman in towel using hair spray in bathroom - Image

You've probably been using hairspray for years without a problem. Now—with hair that's already getting drier with age—using the product can really start to cause damage. Because most options contain alcohol, spraying it all over day after day to lock in your style could make your hair look dull, as well as make it more prone to breakage and split ends.

You're Wearing Hair Extensions

hair extension in a professional beauty salon.Barbershop - Image

Hair extensions can completely transform your look, but they might come at a cost. "Many women in their 40s who may be experiencing hair thinning use hair extensions as an instant fix," Durante says. "Unfortunately, they can cause traction alopecia, which may lead to hair follicles losing their blood supply, thus thinning and hair loss may occur."

You're Drying Your Hair with a Towel

woman with wet hair after shower

Well, using a blow dryer is damaging—so what's the problem with grabbing a towel? There might not seem like there's too much harm in rubbing your wet hair with a towel, but that can result in breakage and frizz—two things that already occur more often with age. Instead, experts recommend using a much more gentle option: an old t-shirt, which absorbs the bulk of the water so you can let your hair air-dry.

You're Eating an Unhealthy and Acidic Diet

unhealthy snacks

You might not think your diet has a whole lot to do with your hair, but what you're putting—or not putting!—in your body plays a big role. "An unhealthy diet of processed foods and an excess of sugar can create an acidic environment in the body," Durante says. "When the body isn't in an alkaline state, it can contribute to hair thinning, hair loss, and other significant health problems, such as thyroid disease and arteriosclerosis."

Your Ponytails Are Way Too Tight

Woman Wearing Button Down Shirt Surprising Features on Your Clothes

Your ponytail keeps your hair out of your face during the day, but the beloved hairstyle could be wreaking havoc on your strands in the process. Traction alopecia—the same condition that can occur with hair extensions—can also happen simply from wearing too tight of ponytails too often. Instead of sticking with the same hairstyle, loosen things up and find other ways to tame your mane, like bobby pins or headbands.

You're Not Taking Your Vitamins


When you're in perimenopause—which can start in your late 30s to early 40s—your hormones begin fluctuating, which can result in hair loss. To make sure that change doesn't take a toll on your hair, you might want to start grabbing some vitamins. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the best way to improve your hair health is to take a mega-B vitamin, which includes 3 mg of biotin, 30 mg of zinc, 200 mg of vitamin C, and <1 mg of folic acid.

You're Using the Wrong Pillowcase

stack monochrome white gray dark grey bed, linen pillowcases cushion in wooden old retro wardrobe cabinet furniture storage interior closeup country style retro

While cotton materials can suck the moisture out of your hair as you're sleeping, leading to dry hair, switching to a silky option will keep that moisture locked in. (Goodbye frizz and hello shine!) You don't even need real silk, either. You can also use a more inexpensive pillowcase made with bamboo (like this one), which works in the same way but is much more eco-friendly. And for more about your hair, check out the 17 Surprising Signs Your Hair Will Go Gray.

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Tehrene Firman
Tehrene Firman is a freelance health and wellness writer. Read more
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