Everything seems to move a little more slowly as the years go on. We walk and talk more slowly, we heal more slowly and it can seem like we replenish those follicles after a haircut more slowly. Hell, even our facial hair changes.
And we’re not just talking about gray hair, fellas. As we age, our hair ages with us. And our hair health might suffer.
For many people, the passing of time also means the slow decline of hair volume, as male pattern baldness and female pattern hair loss can set in. Other hair loss causes might also play a role.
But for the hair strands that continue to grow, is slow growth an additional cause for concern?
The answer is complicated, and it requires some background on how aging generally affects your hair. Let’s start from the beginning.
Healthy hair growth rate starts to wane as you get older. The typical example that we think of — aside from gray hair, of course — is the formation of bald spots.
For the most part, bald spots are caused by a condition called androgenic alopecia, which is the most common hair loss type for men. It’s the primary cause of thinning around the hairline and balding around the crown.
The easiest way to explain androgenic alopecia is that it is an imbalance of the hormone DHT, which, in excess supply, makes each individual hair follicle stop growing.
Balding men can start to show symptoms as early as their 20s, but you might see its onset much later, as well.
There are other types of hair loss to look out for, but most are less common, and typically result from stress to the body, physical damage to the hair or from certain autoimmune conditions like alopecia areata.
Many of these types of hair loss can be prevented or paused, but never cured.
But beyond hair loss, there’s also the slow-down of hair growth to worry about. To understand this, we need to discuss how hair grows.
Some hair loss, as you might suspect, is actually perfectly normal. Children and adults lose hair every day — as evidenced by hair strands on your pillow in the morning, or at the bottom of your shower after you rinse off.
On most days, you’ll actually shed about 100 hairs, all without falling outside normal hair shedding parameters.
The average human head actually has about 100,000 hairs in total, and so when you consider the ratio, 100 is just a small fraction compared to what’s up there.
A hair follicle grows at different phases. In fact, every one of your follicles is in a slightly different part of the hair growth cycle, categorized by three phases — the anagen phase, catagen phase and telogen phase.
The three phases of the hair cycle are simple to understand.
The anagen phase is the growth phase, the catagen phase is when it stops growing and the telogen phase is when the hair falls out and the follicle rests before eventually starting over from the top with the anagen phase.
Rinse, wash, repeat.
Proportions are important, however. Ninety percent of your hair should be in the anagen phase, and up to 10 percent of your hair is typically in the telogen phase at a given time. The catagen phase is very brief, and occupies about one percent of your hair growth at any given time.
What’s important to understand here is that when people say “hair loss,” they actually mean “excessive hair loss” — when more falls out than normal, it becomes a problem.
Hair might end up stuck in the telogen phase for a variety of reasons, including illnesses or autoimmune diseases, not to mention periods of stress or recent trauma to the scalp or body.
Hair loss may also happen due to genetics or hormones.
Healthy hair growth is just like healing injuries or fighting illness. It’s a process that your body becomes less efficient with over time.
As we age, our bodies take longer to do the same things they used to do in half the time (to confirm this, ask any adult if their hangovers are worse than they used to be).
As you age, your hair may continue to grow, but the growth will become slower, and the follicles that were once coarse and thick will often become finer, thinner and lighter in color. Because of the reduced thickness, your finer hair may also become more prone to breakage, which can make growing a full, thick head of hair even more difficult.
Every time a follicle repeats a cycle of growth, the hair that returns could be a little weaker, a little thinner and a little more vulnerable.
Pair that with the likes of male pattern baldness, and it’s clear that your hair becomes substantially more vulnerable as you age.
Related read: Causes of White Hair
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Whether the cause of your hair loss and slower hair growth is determined to be due to age, androgenic alopecia or from any of the other conditions discussed above, there are several medications that can reduce or reverse the appearance of those fallow follicle fields.
Finasteride is an FDA-approved treatment with numerous studies proving its effectiveness at reducing hair loss due to androgenic alopecia. It does this by blocking your body’s conversion of the hormone DHT, which in excess quantities can cause hair loss.
A 48-week study of minoxidil use showed up to an 18 percent increase in hair growth for men.
There are also lifestyle and dietary treatments to consider; a healthcare provider might recommend you switch to a healthy diet or focus on weight loss as part of a holistic treatment. A healthy diet is great for your whole body, anyway.
Nutritional deficiencies may also increase your risk for hair loss, so, increasing key hair healthy vitamins (particularly if you’re deficient in any of them) may also help. Biotin, Vitamin A and vitamin D (as in hims’ Biotin Gummy Multivitamins) can help with hair growth.
Generic for Rogaine®, this FDA-approved over-the-counter version of topical minoxidil is used for regrowth on the crown of the head.
This is the FDA-approved dynamic duo. When used together, men saw better results in clinical trials compared to using either alone.
If you’re looking for something effective but don’t want too many steps in your routine, this once-a-day pill could be right for you.
Clinically proven to regrow hair in 3-6 months, no pills required.
Do you think your hair is growing back slower? Do you think you’re noticing less hair thickness? If so, it may be time to speak with a healthcare professional about what you’re seeing.
Thinner hairs do happen naturally as we age, but treatment is possible, and requires attention.
A healthcare professional will be able to give you more information about what to expect from your hair type as you age, and how to combat unwanted results of aging. They can also screen you for medical conditions (like thyroid disorders, for instance) that may contribute to hair thinning or hair loss.
If your hair changes are sudden, you might consider reading our guide to sudden hair loss. Our selection of hair care products might also give you some bigger gloves for the multi-round fight ahead of you — if you’re not sure where to start, you can also purchase them together in our Hair Power Pack.
Dr. Vicky Davis is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over 20 years of experience in clinical practice, leadership and education.
Dr. Davis' expertise include direct patient care and many years working in clinical research to bring evidence-based care to patients and their families.
She is also an active member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.