While you may have once enjoyed a never-ending streak of good hair days, for many people, turning 40 signals the end of lustrous locks and the beginning of suddenly limp, lifeless hair that refuses to behave. Whether it’s the sudden onset of grays or a change in texture, the days when you could simply wash and go are a thing of the past.
“For certain people, their hair will dry out and get lifeless as they get older,” says Marc Zelno, a stylist at Delilah Salon in Brooklyn. “You lose elasticity in your hair just like you lose elasticity in the skin. It also tends to get a bit ashier and it doesn’t have the body it did in your 20s.”
But there’s no need to panic yet. Just because your hair has changed doesn’t mean you’re doomed to an endless procession of bad hair days. By following these simple tips for getting your best hair no matter your age—whether you’re 40, 50, or even 60—you’ll look like you just stepped out of the salon, seven days a week.
Stop with the daily wash.
While you may have been able to get away with washing your hair on a daily basis when you were younger, as you age, your scalp and hair tend to get drier, meaning daily shampooing can make your mane look dull and lifeless. “The most a person should shampoo their hair is twice a week,” says Zelno. “Something that’s sulfate-free would be a good choice versus something that’s harsher.”
Keep your hair well-moisturized.
Think skipping the conditioner will keep your hair from looking oily? Think again. In fact, as hair ages—especially if you’re dealing with grays—it tends to get coarser and needs a little more TLC in the shower. “Older people should condition their hair every time they shampoo it,” says Zelno.
Don’t assume you have to go short.
While many people assume that they have virtually no choice but to cut their hair short when they hit 40, Zelno says that that advice is woefully outdated. “It works for some people, but every ‘rule’ is not for everyone,” says Zelno. “There’s no reason older women can’t have hair past their shoulders. A lot of women go by that rule—cut your hair short because you’re older—but it’s very foolish. It’s just not true. In fact, there are some older women who look much better with long hair than they do with short hair—as long as it’s treated well. It all depends on the thickness, the curl, and the color. There are no set rules in hair anymore.”
Embrace your natural texture.
Instead of trying to get your hair to become something it’s not, when you’re over 40, there’s no better time to start embracing your natural texture. As your hair becomes drier, it also becomes more prone to breakage, meaning the less time you spend trying to straighten waves or set your hair in rollers, the healthier it will be in the long run.
If you’re noticing some unwanted lines and wrinkles as you age, the answer isn’t Botox: it’s bangs. Bangs can not only disguise some of your forehead wrinkles, the right bangs can also flatter your face and highlight your bone structure.
Embrace your grays.
Who says that grays are something to be ashamed of? Gray is one of the hottest colors in the hair industry right now, so if you happen to be lucky enough to come by yours naturally, embrace it—there are plenty of people willing to pay hundreds or thousands to get the same look.
Keep your flat-ironing impulses to a minimum.
While you may love the look of sleek, flat-ironed hair, try ignoring the voice that tells you to straighten your hair on a daily basis whenever possible. As your hair ages, it may be drier or more prone to breakage than when you were younger, and flat-ironing it will only exacerbate those issues.
Don’t be afraid of hair oils.
Though it might seem like hair oils would make your hair oily, they’re generally a great tool for anyone who wants to smooth age-related frizz without making their hair limp and lifeless. Zelno recommends oil-based products for aging hair as a means of keeping it soft, shiny, and manageable.
Add some face-flattering layers.
While the shape of your face may look different at 40, 50, or 60 than it did at 20, there are plenty of ways to flatter your face, no matter what shape you’re working with. One of the easiest: Adding some face-framing layers that hit at your cheekbone and jaw to highlight your bone structure.
Attend to that flaky scalp.
For many people, aging means dealing with an unexpected—and unwanted—hair issue: dandruff. And for many people, the dandruff shampoos that fixed the problem when they were younger barely touch it as they get older. If your shoulders look like you’ve been standing outside in a snowstorm after you brush, it’s time to head to the dermatologist to get a prescription-strength product that will put an end to those flakes for good. Or, just consult our expert-backed guide on How to Get Rid of Dandruff Once and For All.
Try out a new part.
If you’re feeling like your hair has looked the same forever, you don’t necessarily need a new cut to shake things up. Parting your hair in a new way, whether you opt for a deep side part or suddenly part it down the middle, can completely change the look of your hair, and is a great choice for anyone who’s not ready to take on a major chop just yet.
Add a clarifying shampoo to your routine.
For those dealing with hair-dulling product buildup, a clarifying shampoo can help refresh your hair in a hurry. Just make sure not to use it more than once a week: clarifying shampoos tend to be more drying than their regular-use counterparts and can strip your hair if you don’t use them judiciously.
Get a pixie cut.
While you shouldn’t assume that you have to opt for a short cut just because you’re over 40, that doesn’t mean these styles are off-limits, either. Now’s the perfect time for that pixie cut you’ve always flirted with trying—as your face loses its babyish attributes, a well-cut pixie can help bring out your eyes and show off chiseled cheekbones.
Ditch heavy products.
Though your hair may be drier as you age, that doesn’t mean you should opt for heavy styling products to make it softer. Dry hair should be treated with a light hand, meaning that those heavy waxes, pomades, and gels will likely make it look lifeless instead of simply taming it.
Protect your hair from sun damage.
It’s good practice to leave the house with a healthy coating of sunscreen on your skin every day. It’s also good practice to do the same for your hair. Since older hair tends to be dry and often gets lighter over time, it’s important to avoid exacerbating those issues by applying sun protectants first. The right sun-protection products can keep your hair healthy and reduce the frizz that often accompanies sun-damaged hair.
Heat style carefully.
If you simply can’t break up with your daily heat styling routine, make sure you’re at least using an appropriate product to protect your hair first. “Never dry your hair without something in it,” says Zelno. “You have to coat it. You can’t just put heat on it directly. Your hair will last a lot longer if you put something on it to protect it from the heat.”
Use dyes specifically formulated for your hair type.
While it may seem as though all dyes are created equal, there are definitely formulas that work better than others, depending on your hair’s texture and natural color. If you’re dealing with dryness, opt for an ammonia-free formula—preferably one infused with vitamin E or other emollients—which can keep dye-related breakage to a minimum.
Feel like those highlights you used to favor no longer suit you, but want to change up your look? Opt for balyage instead. This technique, which creates a subtle gradation of color in your hair, is flattering on a wide variety of hair textures and skin tones and feels like less of a commitment than a drastic dye job.
Master some protective styles.
If you have coarse or kinky hair that’s getting drier as you age, there’s no time like the present to master some protective styles. Whether you’re doing braids, twists, or dreadlocks, the right protective style can help keep your hair from breaking.
Get a grown-up bob.
There’s a wide range of bob styles between a little girl’s bob and the harsh angles of Anna Wintour’s iconic cut. A long bob—or “lob”—can help you keep this chic cut face-flattering without adding tons of time to your daily routine.
Skip the sticky hairspray.
It may help you set your look, but sticky firm-hold hairspray could be making your dry hair worse. Most hairsprays have high alcohol content, which can dry out hair, so opt for alcohol-free sprays instead whenever possible.
Get trims even when you’re growing out a short cut.
While frequent trims won’t have any effect on how quickly your hair grows, they may make your hair look longer. When you ditch those split ends that end to plague heat-styled short cuts, your hair will sit flatter, making it look longer, even if you’re taking off the occasional half-inch. And, better yet, over time, you’ll avoid having to take off huge chunks of split ends that can seriously set you back when you’re trying to grow out that pixie.
Pump up the volume.
If you want your cut to shave a few years off your face, try adding some volume to it. A root volumizer can give your hair the youthful lift you want while keeping your hair looking healthy, too. Just make sure you’re not using a volumizing shampoo, though: “Shampoos that advertise that they give you body are not very good for the hair. The alkaline level is very high, but it’s an illusion—you’re actually drying it out at the same time,” says Zelno.
Make sure you’re using the correct amount of product.
As a general rule, most people only need between about a two-quarter-sized dollop of shampoo or conditioner, and serums and oils are best doled out in small doses, too. For styling creams, serums, pomades, and waxes, use no more than would cover the surface of a dime or quarter, depending on your hair’s length, and for mousse, use just enough to cover a silver dollar.
Stop rubbing your hair to dry it.
While rubbing your hair with a towel to dry it may seem like a good way to remove excess moisture, it’s also increasing your risk of breakage, frizz, and fly-aways—all of which people with older hair are more predisposed to in the first place. Instead, squeeze excess moisture from your hair and, if you need something to dry it on, blot it with an old t-shirt instead of a towel.
Try a soft updo.
If you’re short on time but don’t want your hair to look worse for wear, opt for a messy bun. This casual look is chic enough for a night out but easy enough for everyday use and doesn’t require the heat styling needed to achieve other more formal looks.
Invest in a silk pillowcase.
If you want every day to be a good hair day, where you sleep is just as important as to where you get styled. A silk pillowcase can reduce breakage and frizz while keeping hair looking lustrous and soft, not matted.
Let your hair air dry whenever possible.
Many people become so dependent on their heat styling products that they haven’t actually seen their natural hair texture in years. If this sounds like you, take a day to let your hair air dry naturally. Once you’ve seen your hair in its natural state, you’ll be better able to assess your hair needs—something particularly important for people over 40, as hormonal fluctuations related to perimenopause or menopause can cause significant hair texture changes.
Load up on (the right) supplements.
In addition to your usual multivitamin, the right supplements can help improve the health of your hair. Vitamins A and E are particularly good for fighting breakage, while biotin is popular among those struggling with inadequate hair growth.
Learn to love your curling wand.
While daily heat styling with a blow dryer and flat iron may be too harsh for your hair, the occasional pass with a curling wand can make all the difference in your look. Just a few strategically-placed curls can turn your hair from limp to voluminous in only a couple of minutes without the damage of whole-head heat styling.
Get a brush with natural bristles.
Those soft brushes are doing no favors for your hair. When you want to make your hair look healthier, softer, and shinier, it’s time to choose a natural bristle brush instead. These stiff bristles can trigger oil production from your scalp, which you can then brush through your hair to create an especially glossy—but not oily-looking—effect.
Do a regular deep-conditioning treatment.
If you want your hair to have healthy youthful shine over 40, it’s time to invest in a good deep conditioner. “Get a good deep conditioner and get a shower cap with elastic and sleep in it. Just rinse it out in the morning. The longer you leave a conditioner in, the more benefit it’s going to give you,” says Zelno.
Ditch uncovered elastics for good.
Plain, unwrapped elastics may be inexpensive, but they’re wreaking havoc on your hair. If you want to minimize breakage, opt for fabric-wrapped elastic bands instead, which can help you achieve the looks you want without causing damage to your locks.
Maximize shine with a gloss treatment.
If you’re seeking shiny hair, it’s time to talk to your stylist about a gloss treatment. “If you feel your hair has no luster, I would highly recommend a glazing or a gloss, whether it be natural, meaning no color change, or something that’s closer to your own hair color,” says Zelno. “Something like a glaze or a gloss should be done at least once a month if you feel like your hair isn’t as shiny as it was in your 20s. It will give it some shine and a bit of body to it, too.”
Invest in a great dry shampoo.
Want to extend the amount of time you can go between shampoos? Opt for a dry shampoo. Just make sure to avoid ones free of alcohol and sulfates, both of which can dry out your hair and make it look limp and lifeless.
Get the right cut for your face.
The cut that looked amazing on you in your 20s may not be as face-flattering when you’re 55. If you’re over 40, have your haircut reevaluated every few years to take into account changes in your face, like fat loss or a loss of elasticity in your skin, that could be unnecessarily highlighted by your old cut.
Condition at your roots and work your way up.
If you want to make your look shiny but not greasy, it’s time to start conditioning your hair the right way. That means working from the tips upward and avoiding putting conditioner on your scalp, where it can lead to build-up and cause your hair to look greasy and lifeless.
Go in for a trim every six weeks.
Because hair tends to get more brittle as you age, split ends are a practical inevitability over 40. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to start actually adhering to those suggestions about just how often you should be getting your hair trimmed—and fortunately, since most people hit their financial peak in their 40s, it might finally be doable to see your stylist every six to eight weeks.
Men, don’t assume dye is off-limits.
If you’re one of the countless men whose beards and hair aren’t turning gray at the same rate, don’t be afraid of adopting some dye. Dyeing either your beard or the hair on your head can make your look more cohesive and make you look youthful.
There’s no age limit on having fun, especially when it comes to your hair. Instead of sticking to the same staid look over and over, make your over-40s hair more fun by opting for a daring dye job or striking cut. After all, you only have this one head of hair—you might as well enjoy it.