Thanks to thinning, dull, damaged hair, women 50-plus are gobbling hair gummies and supplements like popcorn. That's because wanting healthier, lush-looking hair is a main issue for all of us, not just for those with baby-fine locks. The causes of problem hair? Any combination of triggers from health to hormones, heredity to heat-styling, diet to DNA, heat tools to heaps of products — the wrong ones. Getting the va-va-voom back takes strategy, not extensions. Here are 10 ways to plump, lift and glow your own locks for great hair days ahead:
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1. Get the right style
Forcing your hair to look and behave a certain way is like making it wear a push-up bra and girdle! Why do that? Any hairstyle that requires serious manipulation or tension, extreme heat-styling or more than a few minutes each day to achieve is going to end up on the salon floor or down the drain. Keep your goals realistic and make the most of what you have. If you have straight, fine hair, aim for some volume not big bouncy waves. If you have curly hair, aim for smoother, more defined curls not a straight look. If it's flimsy and delicate, don't grow it long; focus on a shorter bob, lob or crop that suits fine hair.
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2. Pay attention to your scalp
This is where it all starts or stops. If you don't have a healthy scalp, you can't have healthy hair. Flaking, excessive oiliness, dryness, itching, sensitivity or irritation at the scalp can lead to hair breakage, fallout and poor regrowth. Remember the hair shaft (the part we fondly call our hair) is basically dead, but the bulb of each shaft in the scalp is not. A gentle pre-shampoo scalp scrub like Pacifica Rosemary Detox Scalp Scrub ($8, target.com), Nexxus Clean & Pure Sulfate-Free Scalp Scrub ($16, target.com) or L'Oréal Paris EverPure Scalp Care+ Detox Scrub, Sulfate Free ($13, cvs.com) can help slough off dead cells and styling product buildup, soothe and hydrate. Follow through with a shampoo (see tip number 3) and DIY scalp massage to help stimulate circulation and increase blood flow at the roots for improved hair growth and quality.
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3. Use a strengthening shampoo
Seriously, any shampoo will cleanse your hair and remove oil and product buildup and that alone does help add some body to your locks. But those labeled “thickening,” “densifying” or “volumizing” or that emphasize the hero ingredients protein, vitamin B5 (also known as panthenol) and/or biotin — like OGX Thick & Full + Biotin & Collagen Shampoo ($14, ulta.com), Viviscal Gorgeous Growth Densifying Shampoo ($9, target.com) or R+Co Dallas Biotin Thickening Shampoo ($29, amazon.com) — make hair really look more abundant. Here's how: Protein coats the outer layer or cuticle of each hair for a fuller look, vitamin B5 attracts moisture to swell the hair shaft from within and biotin helps rebuild keratin, a protein found naturally in the hair. If dandruff is an issue, you might try alternating a strengthening shampoo with one formulated for dandruff. In addition, avoid shampoos with sulfates (the three above are sulfate-free), which can leave hair limp, brittle and stripped of healthy natural oils, and shampoo every other day instead of using dry shampoos that leave residue on your scalp.
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4. Use a leave-in conditioner … too
Just because your hair is skimpy doesn't mean you should avoid conditioner! In fact, using a leave-in conditioner in addition to your rinse-out conditioner can help detangle, increase moisture and shine, prevent further breakage and frizz, keep processed color vibrant and work as a heat protectant. Look for multitasking sprays like the Pantene Miracle Rescue 10 in 1 Multitasking Leave-In Conditioner Spray ($8, cvs.com), It's a 10 Miracle Leave-In Lite Spray ($20, target.com) and SGX NYC Hair IQ 10-in-1 Leave-In Treatment ($8, target.com) for easy application and spot refreshes. You can stop there and blow-dry or air dry for a smooth look, or add a styling product for extra volume (see tip number 8).
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5. Get a volume boost with color
Here's how it works: Hair color coats the shaft so each hair expands visually and texturally; even a single allover color can make fine or thin hair feel thicker. However, for a real boost, nothing creates the illusion of more hair like highlights with contrasting tones that create depth and dimension. But when the hair is weak, fine or thin, it's essential to work with a pro colorist to minimize the stress of chemical processing while getting that color boost. You might want to try strategic highlights just around the face, or very fine low-contrast “baby lights” or balayage — a brush-on highlights technique — for more natural regrowth with fewer touch-ups.
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6. Find gentle styling tools
First, know the difference between thin and fine hair. You're born with fine hair. It's silky (whether straight, wavy or curly) and “fine” refers to the diameter of each hair strand (think of it like a spool of silk thread versus sturdier cotton thread). Thin hair refers to how many hairs there are on your head. Thinning is a condition that can happen to any hair type or texture from coarse to fine. To get healthier hair — whether thin or fine — detangle wet hair with a wide-tooth comb like the Hair Edit Tame & Condition Comb ($5, ulta.com) instead of a detangling brush, keep your multiple-heat-setting blow dryer, like the Conair Style & Shine Natural Crystal Dryer ($20, target.com), on a low setting rather than high (excess heat strips the cuticle and reduces much-needed moisture) and choose a round wooden boar bristle brush like the Bestool Boar Bristle Round Hairbrush ($16, amazon.com) instead of a metal barrel and bristle brush, in a diameter in sync with your hair length (the longer your hair the wider the brush you select). While metal is lighter, it heats up the way a flat iron does when exposed to the heat of your dryer. Skip it!
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7. Trim your ends
Holding on to what you have sometimes means letting go a little, in hair terms. Even when growing your hair or trying to salvage what you have, splits can work their way up the hair shaft. This makes your hair look unhealthy and leads to breakage no matter how carefully you style it. A snip every six to eight weeks is enough to keep the shape of short- to mid-length styles like bobs, lobs or shaggy layers or even shoulder-length hair. Thin or fine hair, and certainly damaged hair, is more susceptible to damage from hot tools, too. Just “dusting the ends” (a salon term for a mini end trim) can freshen bangs, layers and the bottom line without sacrificing length.
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PHOTO BY: Ulta Beauty (2); Target
8. Use the right styling product
Layering on volume and body products doesn't always lead to fuller, thicker-looking hair. In fact, piling on a volumizing cream, texturizing spray and root lifter in addition to your essential leave-in conditioner can make things worse. The more products you add, the flatter and thinner your hair will look. Limit yourself to one volume booster (not including your heat-protectant or leave-in). Call it what you want but an airy foam, whip or mousse like the TGIN Honey Whip Hydrating Mousse ($12, ulta.com), John Frieda Volume Lift Air-Whipped Foam ($9, target.com) or Nexxus Mousse Plus Volumizing Foam ($17, ulta.com) works for everyone and will give you bounce, height, body and lift without having to layer multiple products. Skip thick creams, balms, pomades and gels that tend to drag hair down and attract dirt and oils.
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9. Eat better and de-stress
Any hairstylist, dermatologist or nutritionist will tell you that not getting enough nutrients, or even not getting the right ones, can contribute to flimsy, limp hair that lacks shine and refuses to replenish. Take a look at your skin and nails along with your hair — if one of these is not in great shape, chances are the other two won't be either. Colorful hair gummies are irresistible and seem like an easy fix especially with all the pumped-up reviews on social media. However, don't kid yourself: A healthy balanced diet that includes lean protein, healthy fats, fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds is the real game-changer for mature hair.
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10. Try a proven hair regrowth formula
If you have serious hair loss or thinning at 50-plus be sure to see your doctor or dermatologist; hair issues can be caused by medical conditions like thyroid disease and medications, hormonal issues, diet, nutritional deficiencies, stress and genetics. Hair growth supplements and topical products are turning up everywhere. FDA-approved minoxidil formulas like Women's Rogaine 5% Minoxidil Foam ($27, walmart.com), Nioxin Minoxidil Hair Regrowth Treatment for Women ($62, ulta.com) and Keranique 2% Minoxidil Hair Regrowth Treatment for Women ($25, ulta.com) are still the gold standard for reversing hair loss and jump-starting improved hair. They do take months (not weeks) for results to really show, and while these drugs are available over the counter it's a good idea to consult your doctor before starting.
Lois Joy Johnson is a beauty and style editor who focuses on women 50 and older. She was the beauty and style editor at Ladies’ Home Journal and a founding editor of More magazine. She has written three books: The Makeup Wakeup, The Wardrobe Wakeup and The Woman's Wakeup.