Skimpy hair is a real confidence slammer for women 50+. We blame bad genes or menopause, stock up on volumizing products, do the flip-over blow-dry and get on with it.
But the true culprit may be hiding in plain sight: your shampoo and conditioner. New York City hair specialist and restoration surgeon Dr. Robert Dorin has identified a number of ingredients that may be at the root of the problem. Here are some to avoid:
Foamers and thickeners. Dr. Dorin says that sodium laurel sulfate, or SLS — the chemical that produces all that nice, bubbly lather — “strips hair of essential oils, breaks down protein essential for hair health, and halts growth. Sodium chloride (better known as table salt) is used as a thickener in products containing SLS, but it can cause dry, itchy scalp and encourage hair loss. Polyethylene glycol (also known as PEG, polyethylene or polyoxyethelyne) is another thickener that strips hair of moisture. If you’re undergoing salon keratin treatments, these ingredients undo the benefits.”
Preservatives: Johnson & Johnson’s “No More Tears” baby shampoo (don’t laugh — a lot of older babes with sensitive eyes still love it) recently removed Quaternium-15 (a formaldehyde-releasing preservative) from its ingredients without diminishing the product’s appeal. According to Dr. Dorin, “Formaldehyde and parabens such as methylparaben and propylparaben are often included to prolong shelf life. The latter can affect hormonal balance and encourage hair loss.”
Irritants. Ingredients that cause scalp inflammation and allergic reactions can exacerbate hair loss and make thin hair dry, brittle and lifeless. Dr. Dorin says, “Products containing diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA) destroy hair’s keratin and cause scalp irritation. Fragrances and artificial colors (they appear on the label as FD&C or D&C, followed by a color or number) are used for aesthetic reasons, but they may be irritants. And propylene glycol, most commonly used as antifreeze in cars (!!), is often added to keep shampoos and conditioners from freezing during shipping and storage.” Who knew?
Alcohol. Almost all hair-care products contain some form of alcohol. Used in high concentrations, it dehydrates your hair. Dr. Dorin’s advice: “Avoid products listing alcohol as one of the first four ingredients. The closer to the top of the ingredient list, the higher the percentage in the product.”
Greasers. Steer clear of “lanolin, petroleum and mineral oil,” counsels Dr. Dorin. “They weigh down thin hair, preventing natural oils from being absorbed.”
The bottom line? If you have thinning hair, choose shampoos and conditioners labeled “healthy choice.” It’s unlikely you’ll find products that eliminate every undesirable ingredient, so target the additives that concern you the most. Try Nature’s Gate Biotin Strengthening Shampoo and Conditioner (drugstore.com), Living Proof Restore Shampoo and Conditioner (sephora.com) or Alterna Caviar Anti-Aging Replenishing Moisture Shampoo and Conditioner (sephora.com).
For more beauty & style tips for women 50-plus, check out Lois Joy Johnson’s The Wardrobe Wakeup: Your Guide to Looking Fabulous at Any Age.
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