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Do I Have to Cut My Hair Now That I'm 40?

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 8 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Long Hair Older Women Mature Women

It seems to be an unspoken law that women should cut their hair short as they get older. In fact, the thought of a middle-aged woman with long flowing locks will often bring gasps of shock and frowns of disapproval from many circles. But is this an outdated notion? If you have always enjoyed having long hair, do you have to cut it now that you’re heading into middle age?

Traditional disapproval of long hair on older women

Perhaps it’s what your mother used to tell you or an aunt or other older relative – but you’ve frequently heard disparaging remarks made about mature women who keep their hair long. Some remarks declare that long hair is not “age appropriate” for those past their 30’s, that it looks silly and frivolous on older women, especially if worn in a ponytail. Others claim that long hair makes an older woman’s face look long and horse-like. In fact, many believe that long hair is ageing on mature women because it “drags the features down”.

In contrast, they argue that short crops and bobs suit the mature woman better because they convey more confidence and character, and even intelligence! A woman with short hair is believed to be a “go-getter” – to know what she wants and be able to make the most of life’s opportunities. It is also supposed to be more stylish and to show a more mature, serious side as appropriate for a woman approaching or in middle-age.

The truth about “age-appropriate” hair

In actual fact, all the above generalisations are untrue. Certainly, long hair can be very unflattering on older women – especially if worn in the wrong styles, colours or textures – but this does not mean that every woman over the age of 40 must wear her hair short – or even necessarily looks better with her hair short!

The term “age-appropriate” has a very different meaning now to what it did even a few decades ago. Women now are looking younger and remaining sexy and stylish well into middle age. There are no longer any hard and fast rules for how a woman should look at a certain age. In modern times, age really is just a number, with nothing to do with a woman’s sense of style. What length you wear your hair at is unimportant to how you look – what really matters is the style you choose.

Hairstyles for older women

It is certainly true that as we grow older, our facial features often start to sag and our skin starts showing signs of ageing, such as wrinkles and grooves. Therefore, an unflattering hairstyle can highlight all these worst changes and really “age” you and make you look much older than you actually are.

The right haircut, therefore, can make all the difference to how you look but this does not mean, as many women assume, that it must be a SHORT hair cut. In fact, if your jaw line is sagging due to ageing, having longer hairstyles can actually help to camouflage this. Some older women just do not suit short crops or bobs, just as some young women do not suit flowing, long hair, despite their youth. For example, Jamie Lee Curtis is often held up as an example of an attractive older women with a short hair cut. However, her extreme crop is only really suitable for women with faces like hers – with somewhat rectangular-shaped faces and slim, athletic builds. It would not be suitable for a woman with a round face or a very square face or if they had very prominent features such as a large nose or mouth. It would also not be suitable for those with curly or sparse hair.

Thus, the length and cut of your hair that suits you best really depends on the shape of your face and the texture of your hair – and remember also that “short” is relative. Perhaps hair that falls down to your waist is not particularly suitable now that you are older but that doesn’t mean that you have to go for a pixie cut either. There are lengths in between that are not too short or long but are still very flattering.

Taking care of long hair in older age

If you do decide to keep wearing your hair long as you grow older, there are certain things you should do to make sure that it is looking its best. Due to hormonal changes, hair will begin to grow differently and become drier and less manageable as we grow older. This means that it is a good idea to invest in a gentle shampoo with high levels of humectants and to use a good moisturising conditioner to make sure that your hair remains moisturised and retains its glossy shine. If you use a lot of heated styling tools (e.g., hair dryer, hot irons), then you should also invest in styling products that protect your hair from heat damage and prevent frizz.

If you decide to colour your hair, avoid going for a single block colour all over – this can make hair look very flat and be ageing. Instead, opt for highlight and low lights which give hair a more natural look with more softness and texture, and therefore looks more youthful.

Even if you decide to keep your length, consider having some layers added to your hair. This will again soften the look as well as make it more modern. Layers at different lengths in different areas around the face can help to hide or draw attention away from ‘problem areas’.

Don’t forget that hair reflects your internal health – so to keep a head of beautiful, glossy hair, it is vital that you maintain a healthy, nutritious diet, keep well hydrated with plenty of water and stimulate cell renewal and circulation with adequate exercise.

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