FOR THOSE WOMEN WHO DESIRE TO REVERSE THE APPEARANCE OF AGING, THERE ARE COSMETIC TREATMENTS THAT EFFECTIVELY HIDE THINNING HAIR AND HAIR LOSS.
Is there such a thing as positive aging when you’re a woman? “Most gerontologists support the notion of positive aging when it refers to efforts to prolong a happy, healthy life,” states Kathryn Bayer in her 2005 article “Cosmetic Surgery and Cosmetics: Redefining the Appearance of Age,” appearing in Generations, a publication of the American Society of Aging. She goes on to explain that most physicians also readily admit there is no actual proven way to halt the aging process but there are ways to slow, stop and reverse the appearance of aging. Dermatologists and plastic surgeons are leading the way in changing what aging looks like in the United States. Bayer explores the issue even further: “If aging is a natural process to be experienced by all, why are visible signs of aging met with such increasing cultural disdain?”
Baby boomers’ favorable attitude toward changing the appearance of aging
Baby boomers have shifted the demographics in the United States to later in life, and even the classic bible of women’s health written by women for women — Our Bodies, Ourselves (New England Free Press, 1971) — expanded recently to focus on the issues women face in the second half of life. In the original edition of the book written by the Boston Women’s Health Collective, no pages were devoted to concerns of later life, so two new chapters were added in 2005, including 56 pages about aging issues.
In fact, people aged 35-50 had the most plastic surgery procedures, almost 44 percent of the total population, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery’s 2009 statistics on cosmetic surgery. These statistics showed that since 1997 there has been an increase of over 147 percent in the total number of cosmetic procedures. Women account for more than 9 million cosmetic procedures and over 90 percent of the total. Their favorable attitude toward cosmetic surgery has grown by 22 percent, and men’s has increased 17 percent, as compared with five years ago, which bears out Americans’ disdain for the appearance of aging. Dr. Sara Wasserbauer, a Walnut Creek, California-based hair transplant surgeon, says, “An understanding of the changes in your hair as you age can help you approach it positively.”
How hair ages normally in a woman
Age may not be the most reliable indicator of when gray hair and thinning will appear, but the aging process is the number-one suspect, says Diana Jewell in her book Going Gray, Looking Great! (Simon & Schuster, 2004), in which she gives a detailed explanation of how the aging process affects a woman’s hair:
40s: Jewell explains that graying begins as hair follicles lose their ability to create melanin, which is not in infinite supply. Hair doesn’t “turn gray”; instead, new hairs grow in without their pigment-producing cells. These hairs without their color generally have a thicker cuticle that appears rougher and drier. “Thinning can begin, depending on your genetic predisposition, and hair doesn’t take styling direction as well — hair is finer, more flyaway, starting in a woman’s 40s,” adds Dr. Wasserbauer.
50s: “The average age for menopause is 51, [and] a lot of changes occur in your body that affect your hair follicles,” says Wasserbauer. “During your 50s, thinning, hair fall-out at the part line and graying become more evident. As metabolism slows, hair and nail growth slow too and skin looks a little duller and not as elastic, which is all part of normal aging,” she adds. Jewell explains that anything hindering normal body rhythms and processes (menopause, for example) can disrupt what cells are supposed to do and interfere with proper metabolic activity, such as the normal hair growth cycle. One day at a time the body ages a bit.
60s: “The hormonal factors of aging generally take over at this time,” Wasserbauer notes. As female hormones decrease production, normally existing male hormones (androgens) such as testosterone can come into play. This androgen converts to the substance DHT (dihydrotestosterone), which combines with the naturally occurring enzyme 5-alpha-reductase type 2; this combination shrinks the hair follicles until they cannot produce any hair. As hair falls out as a normal part of the growth cycle, new hair cannot grow in and thinning occurs. Women experiencing hair thinning have a higher level of this enzyme and are usually genetically predisposed. Hair follicles in specific areas around the frontal hairline, temples and part line may be more susceptible to DHT. Wasserbauer concludes, “Hair continues to thin and gray during this decade. Any hairs that had resisted this activity will succumb, contributing to an all-over diffuse thinning and the androgenetic alopecia known as female pattern baldness.”
Hair replacement to the rescue!
“Half of all women will experience age-related thinning or hair loss after the age of 40. Because this shows up at about the same time many women go noticeably gray, it’s often part and parcel of the gray hair experience … If you see no signs of thinning hair or retreating hairlines … relax!” says Jewell. Hair thinning is a normal part of how a woman ages, but if you notice anything more dramatic than that, such as patchy clumps of hair loss or other symptoms that go along with the hair loss, definitely contact a doctor, suggests Dr. Wasserbauer.
“Luckily there is so much a woman can do about her hair color at the salon and hair loss in general,” says Wasserbauer. She explains that once you’ve determined the cause of your hair loss by checking with your doctor, you can consider hair transplant surgery around the hairline or widening part, or you can look into a non-surgical hair replacement treatment, the best being perfectly natural-looking hair systems, some that even integrate with your own hair and move and act just like your real hair. And she advises, “Women in the earlier stages of hair thinning can consider using minoxidil and laser hair therapy, both of which are FDA-approved ways to help halt hair loss and keep the hair you do have growing strong.”