Aging changes in hair and nails

Information

HAIR COLOR CHANGES
Hair color change is probably one of the most obvious signs of aging. Hair color is caused by a pigment (melanin) that is produced by the hair follicle. With aging, the follicle produces less melanin.

Graying often begins in the 30s, although this varies widely. Graying usually begins at the temples and extends to the top of the scalp. Hair becomes progressively lighter, eventually turning white.

By the time they are in their 40s, about 40% of all people have some gray scalp hair. Body and facial hair also turn gray, but usually later than scalp hair. The hair in the armpit, chest, and pubic area may gray less or not at all.

Graying is genetically determined. Gray hair tends to occur earlier in Caucasians and later in Asian races. Nutritional supplements, vitamins, and other products will not stop or decrease the rate of graying.

HAIR THICKNESS CHANGES
Hair is a protein strand that grows through an opening (follicle) in the skin. A single hair has a normal life cycle of about 4 or 5 years. That hair then falls out and is replaced with a new hair.

How much hair you have on your body and head is determined by your genetic make up. However, almost everyone experiences some hair loss with aging. The rate of hair growth slows.

The hair strands become smaller (and have less pigment), so the thick coarse hair of a young adult eventually becomes thin, fine, light-colored hair.

Many of the hair follicles stop producing new hairs. Both men and women lose hair as they age. About 25% of men begin to show some signs of baldness by the time they are 30 years old, and about two-thirds are either bald or have a balding pattern by age 60.

Men develop a typical pattern of baldness associated with the male hormone testosterone (male-pattern baldness). Hair is lost first from the front and top of the scalp.

Women also show a typical pattern of hair loss as they age (female-pattern baldness). The hair becomes less dense all over and the scalp may become visible.

Body and facial hair are also lost. Although the number of hairs is less, individual hairs may become coarser. Women may notice a loss of body hair but may find that they have coarse facial hair, especially on the chin and around the lips.

Men may find the hair of their eyebrows, ears, and nose becoming longer and coarser.

NAIL CHANGES
The nails also change with aging. They grow slower, and become dull and brittle. The color may change from translucent to yellowed and opaque.

Nails, especially toenails, may become hard and thick and ingrown toenails may be more common. The tips of the fingernails may fragment.

Sometimes, longitudinal (lengthwise) ridges will develop in the fingernails and toenails. This can be a normal aging change. However, some nail changes can be caused by infections, nutritional problems, trauma, and other problems.

It is a good idea to check with your health care provider if your nails develop pits, ridges, lines, changed shape, or other changes.

 

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 3, 2012
by Levon Ter-Markosyan, D.M.D.

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