In Praise of Longer Hair
Reaching a certain age doesn’t necessarily mean reaching for the scissors. Here, our top tips to care for longer hair.
Years ago, as my 40s loomed, I thought I should dress more like an adult. Out went the jeans, boots, love-worn biker jacket of my 20s. I began trawling the Eileen Fisher racks for suitably respectable clothing. It was a sad, dark time.
But when I hit 50, the opposite happened. Perhaps I’d had my fill of trying to look age-appropriate but now I dug in my heels.
And rather than cut my hair to a sensible bob or crop, I grew it longer. And, apparently, I’m not the only one.
Crack open a magazine, and you’ll see Jacky O’Shaughnessy, 63, posing in lace underwear for American Apparel while staring directly into the camera, all red lips, impossibly long legs and chest-length silver hair.
Model Cindy Joseph, 64, has a successful career fronting blue-chip brands like Nivea and Garnier.
And Meryl Streep still wears her honey blond hair down to her shoulders. It’s an image of women that Harvard professor and evolutionary psychologist Nancy Etcoff sees as slowly insinuating its way into the culture.
“We aren’t there yet but we are moving in that direction, slowly and steadily,” she says in an interview. “There is greater diversity in beauty imagery than there was 10 years ago – more ethnic diversity and the beginnings of size and age diversity.”
Which raises the burning question: what about “the chop.” The chop?
It’s what Times of London columnist India Knight calls Pointlessly Short Hair, that “inescapably dowdy” scissoring chosen by many women after certain big birthdays. Pointlessly Short Hair can de-sexualize a woman faster than a pair of high-waisted mom jeans and is, according to Knight, in her new book, In Your Prime: Older, Wiser, Happier, nearly impossible to pull off, only suiting women with “an impeccably firm jawline, great skin and good bone structure.”
Still, one can understand the comfort in surrendering to the chop.
Hair care has always been a way of keeping women in harness. The ’50s salon look required a strict regimen of curlers, backcombing and cans of Aqua Net aerosol. No wonder Vidal Sassoon’s wash-and-go cuts of the ’60s were as freeing to women as the death of the corset. And longer hair can be a challenge to maintain, especially when menopause may slow hair growth and thin the already existing ones, a one-two punch that requires us to develop new coping and styling techniques.
Hair is a potent sexual symbol, inextricably linked to our sense of selves as viable sexual beings. Hair grows fastest in females 16 to 24 and, as cultural anthropologist Grant Mc-Cracken observes in Big Hair, “Long hair as a sign of youth, vitality and sexuality is everywhere in Western tradition.” So no wonder that when we cut it off, we can feel a Samson-like loss of power, a loss of self.
Perhaps instead, the best thing to do with our hair, whatever the length we choose, is to flee the strictures of always being impeccably coifed and instead adopt a looser style.
According to hair stylist Sally Hershberger, best known for creating Meg Ryan’s iconic blond shag, “Once you get older, you have to get messier or you look like a newscaster or a real estate lady,” she tells Zoomer. “Conservative hairdos are aging. Hair needs movement.”
And maybe a leather jacket to go along with it.
Care for longer hair. Hair that’s past your collarbone is more than a year old. A little TLC will keep it in the peak of health.
Skip the suds
Unless you play elite level soccer, you probably don’t need to scrub your scalp and hair every day. Wash hair when it needs it, avoiding shampoos with harsh surfactants that can strip natural oils. Sulfate-free shampoos have gotten a bad rap for their often desultorily heavy and low-foaming formulas, but Aveeno Pure Renewal Shampoo, $8, lathers and rinses like regular shampoo. Or try “co-washing,” the term for skipping shampoo and rinsing hair with specially formulated conditioner.
Try: WEN Cleansing Conditioner, $30.
Healthy hair from the inside
“Stress and a poor diet can weaken hair,” says Toronto dermatologist Dr. Charles Lynde. Ensure your diet is high enough in protein, while “biotin and elemental zinc supplements are the most beneficial,” adds Lynde.
Viviscal Maximum Strength, $60, an oral supplement containing organic silica and marine-based protein, promotes hair growth and protects against thinning.
For a topical approach, Pant-ene Pro-V Full & Strong Flexible Conditioner, $6, contains the amino acid histidine that penetrates the hair’s outer layers to protect and strengthen the hair’s cortex.
Turn up the volume
At menopause, fluctuating estrogen levels can cause our hair’s anangen (growth) cycle to shorten, so hairs shed before they reach a certain length. Shampoos like F.A.S.T., $20, work to lengthen the anagen phase, while thickeners like Nioxin Diamax Advanced, $60, coat hair for protection from breakage and a visible (but temporary) thickening effect.
To create lift, “add layers at strong points of the face, like the cheekbones or jawline,” suggests hair stylist Mandy MacFadden. “Straight hair that’s one length can pull everything downwards.”
For added volume, try a volume-booster like Sally Hershberger Major Body 3-in-1 Volumizing Spray, $13.
Minimize drying time
If the heat from blow-drying is too much for your delicate hair, air-dry speedily using a microfibre hair towel (Up-per Canada Soap Studio Dry Hair Towel, $14) that absorbs more moisture than cotton. But for thin hair that needs the oomph that only blow-drying can deliver, try a “brushless motor” hairdryer (Conair Infiniti PRO 3Q, $130), which produces more air pressure at lower temperatures for shorter drying time with less damage.
Seek out styling products that protect hair against heat damage and shorten drying time by helping hair expel excess water more quickly, like Kérastase Discipline Spray Fluidissime, $54, and ones that simultaneously protect against heat damage and frizz while nourishing hair like L’Oréal Professionnel Absolut Repair Lipidium Reconstructing and Protecting Blow-Dry Cream, $21.
Protect your colour
Colouring hair or adding highlights has the added bonus of boosting hair volume as dye molecules swell the hair shaft. Consider lighter shades for less visible roots as they grow in and choose hair colour designed for more delicate mature hair with a higher percentage of grey.
Try: L’Oréal Excellence Age Perfect hair colour, $13. To avoid watching your careful dye job swirl down the drain, shampoo hair less frequently and use dry shampoo on roots between washes. Try: Batiste Dry Shampoo, $9.
Boost shine, minimize frizz
“The natural moisturizing lipids produced by the scalp that form a protective layer on hair and transfer through the hair go down over time,” explains Procter & Gamble scientist Emily Overton, making hair frizzy and more fragile. Look for moisturizing products containing jojoba oil (it most closely resembles our natural sebum) and gently smooth over hair from mid-length to the ends to tame frizz.
Try: Live Clean Exotic Silk Keratin Oil, $12, or John Frieda Frizz Ease Miraculous Recovery Repairing Creme Serum, $16.
Note: all prices were accurate at time of publication