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11 Things Older Women Should Know About Hair

Must you cut your hair short, gray hair tips & much more


11 Things Older Women Should Know About Hair

Helen Mirren dyes her hair pink. Good for her!

Ian Gavan for Getty Images
Andie MacDowell embraces her naturally thick, wavy hair

Andie MacDowell embraces her naturally thick, wavy hair

Slaven Vlasic for Getty
Diane Sawyer blonde hair

Diane Sawyer lightens her naturally dark, graying hair blonde

Mike Coppola for Getty

So you are a Woman of a Certain Age and you have landed on this page because you want to know what hairstyling rules you should abide by. Rules such as the Hair Length Rule for Older Women (never below the chin!) and the Hair Color Rule for Older Women (begone grays!) and the Hairspraying Rule for Older Women (hair should always move in the wind!).

Well, I don't really believe in rules. I think there are far too many people in the world to place in a little box. You can't place Helen Mirren, pictured here in PINK HAIR, in a little box not because she's Helen Mirren, but because she's a woman who carries herself with such confidence she looks great in pink hair, which most beauty experts would tell you belongs only on women under age 25 and maybe not even then on their entire head of hair.

I believe the secret to looking good at any age is to feel comfortable in your own skin and to find styles that flatter your best bits and play down your worst ones. In this article, I'll share the rules you should be breaking, trends worth watching and how to look fabulous at your age.

Embrace Your Natural Hair Texture

Women these days spend an extraordinary amount of money trying to change their hair texture to something it's not. They straighten their naturally curly hair with potentially dangerous chemicals, they add volume to their flat, fine hair with extensions that can damage the flat, fine hair they were born with and they curl and flat-iron and get perms all in the name of, well, changing themselves.

One of the greatest lessons in life that many women don't learn until they have a few years behind them, is that to be truly happy, you must accept yourself for who you are.

Now this does not mean going completely gray like Linda Fargo, pictured here, if you hate the idea of being gray. Go ahead, color your hair if it makes you feel better, I do! (More on hair color in a bit). Gray hair is not for everyone. But curly hair, wavy hair, straight hair, fine hair: every hair texture out there can look good with the right haircut. So maybe it's time to stop fighting your hair's texture and embrace it. Just get the right cut.

See 10 Things Every Woman Should Know About Hair Texture.

Yes, You Can Color Your Own Hair

I get my hair colored by a professional because I get highlights and I love the way I look after I leave the salon. I don't want to mess with something that works very well. That said, I have complimented many a friend on their hair color only to hear them give credit not to their fabulous stylist Lorianne but to L'Oreal.

Many women -- and beauty editors -- do their own hair color at home. Even trendier these days are women who go to the salon a couple times a year and do their own touch-ups at home in between.

There are times when you should get professional help: if you have complicated hair, if you want to go from gray to auburn or if you want highlights. If you are simply trying to cover up a few grays or you want to dye your hair a couple shades lighter or darker than it is now, you can do that via a good drugstore hair dye.

See Should you do it yourself? 15 tips for at-home hair coloring.

Highlights are Flattering

If you look closely at a child's hair that's never been colored, you'll notice many different shades blended together. Colorists will tell you hair that's all one shade is boring, and they are kind of right. Hair with a bit of dimension to it is much more interesting. If you have a good blonde base, you might go lighter with foil highlights or with the balayage technique, which is what I've used for years on my own hair (read about it here). Brunettes can also get copper highlights added via balayage.

There's no need to go overboard with all-over highlighting. A few face-framing highlights can do wonders to your complexion and will make your eyes pop.

See The 5 Hottest Hair Color Trends.

Why More Older Women Go Blonde

You may notice older women cover their gray with blonde. This is because blonde hair blends better with gray as it grows in than dark hair does. It's also because dark hair can emphasize the lines on your face, according to stylist Brad Johns in Charla Krupp's book, "How Not to Look Old." If you have gone all gray, consider becoming a blonde rather than a brunette. You'll have to update your roots less often.

One thing to keep in mind with blonde hair is that it can get too light. You always want a bit of contrast between your skin and your hair, otherwise you can look washed out. Because wet hair is a couple shades darker wet than it is dry, you can try this test mentioned by stylist Eva Scrivo in her book "Eva Scrivo on Beauty": Wash your hair and apply a full face of makeup. Comb hair so that it falls like a curtain on either side of the face. If your complexion looks better darker, you may need to go darker.

See Blonde Hair Color: How to Tell if You'd Make a Great Blonde.

The Great Gray Hair Debate

More and more women are deciding to let their gray hair go for many reasons: they have gorgeous gray coloring, they don't want the hassle and expense of covering up gray or they want to embrace life as it develops, wrinkles, gray hair and all.

But many, many more women opt to cover up their gray for fear that the gray makes them look their age (or older). And we are all out to look our best for our age. If a bottle of $11 hair dye can take years off our look, why not?

Here's the deal about gray hair if you are a woman who has it (and studies show the majority of us will have some gray hair by age 50): Quit listening to others and go with your gut. If you have gray hair and you like it and you don't want to bother with coloring it every 4 weeks then by all means keep it. I have a photo gallery that shows just how gorgeous gray hair can be.

See 20 Photos of Gorgeous Gray Hairstyles.

That Hairstyle You Had at 30 May Not Be Flattering at 50

So many of us still have the hairstyles we wore 20 years ago because once we find something that works for us, we like to stick with it. Unfortunately, that hairstyle you had at 30 may not be working as well for you at age 50. Some styles are ageless and timeless -- a shoulder-length haircut with light layers for example, or a classic bob like this one -- but many women can get stuck in a style rut wearing a cut that was fine in 1990, but just doesn't work as well in 2013.

So how to suss out if you are stuck in a style rut? Here are some suggestions:

  • Is your haircut trendy or classic? If it's trendy, you need to be someone who keeps up with trends, otherwise the world will carry on to new ones and you will be stuck in a time warp.
  • Do you give much thought at all to your hair? If you are casual and don't like to bother with hairstyling, you may be hiding your hair in ponytails and avoiding salon visits. Chances are, you're stuck in a style rut.
  • If you haven't tried a new look in a few years, you might be stuck in a style rut.
To find out what looks work best on you, consider these articles:

You Don't Have to Go Short After Age 50

It is a myth that the moment you turn a certain age (some "experts" say 40, some say 50, some say 55 just to be different) that you have to lop your hair off. There are plenty of women over age 60 who look gorgeous with hair that's to their shoulders or longer.

No matter your age, your hairstyle should flatter your face and your figure. If you have a round or square face, you may look better with hair that's longer (see The Most Flattering Styles By Face Shape for more on this). Women with long face generally look better with shorter hairstyles, but shorter can mean hair that's to the shoulders, a gorgeous long bob like these.

You also have to consider your hair texture. It's true that many women with fine, thin hair look better with hair that's above their shoulders with a few layers cut in. But women with thick, curly hair may actually look better with longer hair, because longer hair will weigh down the curl.

For short hair inspiration, see The Best Bob Hairstyles for Older Women.

Long Hair Over 60 Does Not Necessarily Make You Look Like an Aging Hippie

Long hair on older women can look amazing. The secret to long hair is proper upkeep and a good haircut. Split, frizzy ends on anyone of any age looks bad. Long hair looks best when it's not too heavy on the bottom, creating a "Christmas tree" shape from behind. A few layers will lighten up your hair and make it appear more modern and healthy.

See Long Hair 2013: My Favorite Long Hairstyle Photos.

Bangs are a Great Way to Shave Off Years From Your Appearance

If you don't have bangs, consider getting them. Long, side-swept bangs such as these can visually take years off your look. They bring attention to your eyes and keep attention off your neckline, which tends to get saggy and wrinkly even on women with the best plastic surgery.

See What Bangs Work Best for Your Face Shape?

The Most Flattering Hairstyle Length is (Drumroll Please)...

There is a hair length that looks good on everyone no matter their face shape or hair texture and that is shoulder-length hair. Get the full scoop in my article, The Perfect Haircut.

Play Up Your Good Bits, Play Down Your Bad Ones

If you think it's time for a new or updated hairstyle, consider playing up your good features while camouflaging your not-so-good ones. For example, if you get compliments on your eyes, you can play them up with side-sweeping bangs, fringe bangs or layers that start at the eye.

You can hide a large forehead or one with lots of wrinkles with bangs as well. Play down a wrinkly neck with shoulder-length hair. Show off an angled chin with a bob like these. Camouflage a weak chin with a long bob.

Oh the Woes of Thinning Hair

One of the surprising things about getting older is that hair stops growing in some places (your legs) and starts growing in other places (your chin). One other big surprise women tell me about is thinning hair. Who knew this happens to women? Apparently it does to 40 percent of women post-menopause.

If you suffer from excessive thinning hair, see your doctor about a blood test. It could be a simple matter of anemia. It could be something else. But a doctor can help you figure out a plan of action.

Hair Rules are Really Just Trends

In all my years writing about beauty, I've seen so many beauty rules made only to be broken. For example, several years ago Allure Magazine put out a great beauty book that I considered my beauty bible. It was full of all sorts of rules, such as "long hair that grows below the breasts looks bad on everyone." I took that rule to heart and wrote about it all over this site. And then a funny little thing happened about 6 years later: all the girls under age 30 seemed to be wearing long hair below their breasts, and Allure is even touting long hair as a big trend. So much for that rule.

Hair rules are really just a reflection of trends. What's not popular at the moment (long hair grown past the breasts) becomes a rule (don't grow hair below the breasts) that gets broken a few years later when it becomes a trend for young women to have long, Woodstock-era hair.

So keep that in mind when you read that you should cover your gray or wear your hair short or grow that pinstripe of gray in your hair out.

Don't believe anyone who tells you only women under 25 can get away with dying their hair pink. Helen Mirren, after all, looks fabulous in pink.

Loved this? Don't miss my other beauty tips for older women including:

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