What’s your beauty tipping point? Personally, I’d rather have a weathered, lived-in face than one plumped full of toxins, and being blasted with a laser or injected with needles is not on the to-do list. But my laissez-faire attitude to being in my late 40s is more fragile when it comes to other aspects of getting older. Or, as writer Nora Ephron nearly put it, I feel bad about my hair.
Post-45, our hair can change beyond recognition as hormones kick in (or rather, out). Declining levels of female hormones can result in hair becoming more dry and brittle, and many of us start to see alarming amounts of strands shed onto our brushes. The fact that more than five million boxes of Viviscal supplements have been sold worldwide prove that I’m not the only person worrying. In fact, “around 60 per cent of women will experience some degree of hair loss and/or thinning at some stage in their lives,” says hair specialist Dr Jan Wadstein.
“At the menopause, falling oestrogen levels mean the growing phase becomes shorter, with the result being that hair cannot grow as long as it used to before falling out,” explains Dr Rosemary Leonard in her book, Menopause – The Answers. Hair is a psychological issue, and can have a marked impact on how we feel about ourselves, as people who lose it through illness can testify. Even if you’re not particularly vain, an onslaught of shedding can bother you more than you’d think. We tend to associate thick, shiny hair with youthfulness and vivacity, and dwindling can be depressing. Hair trends become irrelevant: no amount of luxe shampoo or serum can transport us to the season’s “must-have” looks.
In recent years, trichologists have been identifying a particularly serious type of hair loss called FFA (frontal fibrosing alopecia), primarily affecting women who have been through the menopause. “Ten years ago you might get the odd case – now I’m seeing several people every week and it’s one of the most common problems I see,” says Galway-based trichologist Deborah Whelan. Frequently, a total loss of eyebrows, and body hair loss, accompanies a receding hairline. Whelan, along with many UK-based experts, are classing it as an epidemic, and warns that there is a “significant enough link” to the use of products with sun protection factors, or SPFs. If you have hair loss concerns, it is worth getting checked: though FFA hair loss is irreversible, it can be slowed significantly if caught early.
So what to do when your parting becomes such sweet sorrow? First, rule out other factors. Hair loss can be hereditary, a sign of an underactive thyroid or a side-effect of serious illness. A glance at your female relatives will give you an idea when you’re likely to experience hair thinning. What you eat matters, too: “Growth of hair requires the right nutrients, and crash-dieting can result in quite marked hair loss,” notes Leonard, who highlights the need for iron and zinc.
If you feel you’re starting to see more of your scalp than you once were, consult your GP and, ideally, a trichologist: “An analysis from just one strand of hair can identify emotional, nutritional, hormonal, environmental and genetic factors affecting the health and condition of your hair and scalp,” notes colourist Josh Wood. The newest technology includes platelet-rich plasma scalp injections (ouch). In Japan, scientists are culturing a patient’s hair follicle cells and then re-injecting them back into their scalp, while a US salon is developing products based on growth factor harvested from amniotic fluid and placenta. Hmm. For now, until a magic pill is invented (and there are some in clinical trials), we’ll stick with supplements, lentils and an uplifting blowdry by a gentle stylist. And if all else fails, we’ll head to Anthony Peto for a consoling wardrobe of glamorous hats …
GOOD HAIR FOOD
Nutritional therapist Gabriela Peacock advises: “Zinc plays a key role in healthy hair, skin and nails; in fact, hair loss is one of the most common side-effects of zinc deficiency. Get an optimal amount by including one cup of lentils into your daily diet: they are rich in protein, so also supply essential amino acids, and nearly a day’s worth of folate, which together support strong locks. Whole eggs contain a range of nutrients that support hair: the whites contain all the essential amino acids necessary for building healthy follicles; yolks are a valuable source of biotin, vitamin B12, vitamin A and selenium, all of which encourage hair growth. Vitamin C stimulates the production of collagen; deficiency can cause hair breakage.”
STYLE IT OUT
“Concentrate on roots and ends, leaving out the mid-lengths to retain some fullness to hair,” says Josh Wood. “Don’t overload your hair with product; instead, mist a dry shampoo or volumising spray through the roots to give lift and the illusion of thickness.” Philip Kingsley Body Building Shampoo, €18, Marks & Spencer.
“The way we use colour can make the hair look and feel thicker,” notes Wood. “Not only does the colouring process open the cuticle, plumping the hair from the inside out, but also by tailoring the application we can create the illusion of thicker hair; adding a shade or two lighter to the mid-lengths and ends makes it appear thicker; dropping the colour down a shade or making it a little cooler will make hair look super shiny and groomed. This all adds up to thicker, healthier-looking hair.”
SUPP IT UP
Edel and Andrew at Mane salon recommend Viviscal supplements, based on a marine protein complex. “They take time to work, but you will see a difference after three months or so.” €49.95. www.viviscal.ie. Nourkrin is another safe, drug-free option, helping to prolong the hair growth cycle. www.nourkrin.com.
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