In a quest to stay on top of multiplying grays, one can become overzealous with permanent color, layering it on, root to tip, every four to five weeks. The result? Hair that is monochromatic, potentially inky-dark and, as celebrity colorist Rita Hazan likes to say, wiggy. “Very deep color may have looked good in your twenties or thirties, but skin [of all tones] starts to lose pigment after 40, and the contrast between hair and skin becomes stark,” Hazan explains. Women with very dark complexions may be able to pull off deep color longer than the fair of face, but eventually everyone benefits from lightening a little. Umberto Savone, a stylist in Los Angeles, points out that even Mother Nature is on board with a bit of brightening. “Gray hair grew in for a reason: to give your face a softer frame,” he says. Bottom line? Even if you choose to cover your gray, maintaining the same deep hue you had at 25 is probably not flattering.
Hazan suggests everyone lighten her hair’s base color a shade or two—or, at the very least, add some highlights. Not sure if your color falls into the too-dark zone yet? Hazan says to evaluate your makeup. If it doesn’t perk up your complexion as well as it once did, then the problem, she asserts, most likely lies with your hair color—not your cosmetics.
What ages you: Clinging to a once-favorite cut or color
Pros agree that indulging in the cut of the month is best left to 16-year-olds, but balking at updates is no good either. Harry Josh, international creative consultant for John Frieda, says keeping a viselike grip on a time-warped cut or color (frosted hair, anyone?) is “the biggest mistake” he sees women make. “It’s cute to see retro hairstyles on shows like Mad Men, but this is 2012,” he says. Even classic cuts change a bit year to year. The bob, for instance, is freshest today with long, sideswept bangs and light layers.
Looking current is different from looking trendy, says Trey Gillen, a stylist and the owner of Tre Spa in Houston. You can keep pace, he says, with subtle annual changes, such as losing an inch in length or just switching from a stiff-hold hairspray to a lightweight formula. And even if you’re positively allergic to trendiness, that doesn’t mean you can’t experiment. “The number-one thing I hear women say is, ‘I can’t do that because I’m too old,’” says Amy Huson, a colorist at the Marie Robinson Salon in New York. “They don’t realize you can modify trends to suit your age.” Hazan agrees and offers this example: If you want to try the ombré effect (darker color on top, lighter on the ends and underneath) but are afraid it’s too young for you, keep the contrast between hues fairly subtle—more Jessica Biel or Drew Barrymore than 19-year-old surfer girl.
Colorists concur that it’s usually flattering to lighten your hair a bit as you age—and going blonder makes it easier to conceal gray regrowth. However, not every skin tone can handle a white-blonde Kim Novak look. “If you’ve been brunette your whole life, adding a few blonde pieces to camouflage gray is a good idea,” Huson says. But going too light can be as unflattering as going too dark. It will subtract all the warmth from your skin.
What turns back time: Keeping the color multidimensional
Having your colorist weave in warmer lowlights will fight that washed-out look. When choosing the base color, think buttery or honey tones—not too platinum or beige. “Richer, warmer tones will look fresher,” Huson says. “Cooler, ashy tones can be aging.” Also, if your hair and skin are fairly dark, ease into blondeness with a light-brown base, possibly sprinkled with highlights. (Want a mental picture? Think of Jennifer Lopez or Beyoncé.) That takes the edge off gray and allows you to test going golden. Then, if you like the results, you can go lighter later.
“Nothing looks more vital than healthy, shiny hair,” says Julien Farel, eponymous owner of two salons in Manhattan and one in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. But as you age, your hair loses moisture and pigment, making this trait tougher to maintain. Alas, that’s not all. “Hair also becomes more porous,” says celebrity stylist Frédéric Fekkai, which means it won’t lie flat and is harder to keep shiny. The kicker? Porousness makes hair more susceptible to damage from the hot tools we rely on to keep aging hair smooth.
What turns back time: Replacing moisture at every turn
“Just as you have an anti-aging skin-care routine, you need something similar for your hair,” says Josh, who suggests choosing formulas that both hydrate (look for ingredients like ceramides and silk) and strengthen (look for protein, aka keratin). You should also boost your regular in-shower conditioning with leave-in formulas and a once-a-week deep-conditioning treatment. Try John Frieda Full Repair Full Body Shampoo and Conditioner ($7 each; drugstores), L’Oréal EverCrème Nourishing Leave-In Spray ($9; drugstores) and Garnier Fructis Sleek & Shine Frizz Defeat Deep Treatment ($6; drugstores). You might consider tweaking your shampoo routine, too. The water in your shower has a neutral pH, which opens the hair’s cuticle, stripping moisture, says Fekkai. To combat this effect, he says, shampoo less often (every other day, if possible) and finish your shower with a cold-water rinse to reseal the cuticle. Finally, to minimize damage from hot tools, use a styler that has heat-shielding properties. We like Living Proof Prime Style Extender ($20; sephora.com), which protects from heat—and repels oil and dirt, making infrequent shampooing more realistic.
Weights may improve your shape in the gym, but anything heavy on hair has the opposite effect. Straightening creams, flatirons and relaxers do flatten frizzy hair—but they can also make an aging face look drawn. “Most women focus more on fighting frizz than building body, but if you must choose, it’s really more flattering to see some body with a little frizz,” says Nunzio Saviano, a stylist for Sharon Dorram Color at the Sally Hershberger salon in Manhattan. Fekkai concurs: “As you age, you should strive for hair that is shiny but, more important, bouncy.” In fact, every stylist we talked to agreed that full-bodied hair is like a sip from the fountain of oomph—er, youth. And there’s a distinction between “big” hair and full-bodied hair. The latter has movement; it’s not heavily teased up to the heavens, says Gillen.
“If you remove some weight from the bottom half of your cut, the hair will be light enough to swing,” Savone says. You might also want to skip heavy products such as creams. Fekkai likes mousse, applied to the scalp and followed by an upside-down blow-dry. Then, if you need a quick midday boost, spray dry shampoo just at your roots and finger-tousle. For easier touch-ups, travel with a purse-size bottle such as Oribe Travel Dry Texturizing Spray ($20; neimanmarcus.com).
Even if you’ve been blessed with thick, healthy hair, letting it grow to your rear end isn’t flattering. “Hair that’s very long and all one length appears heavy—not to mention dated—and drags down your whole look,” explains Savone
What turns back time: Giving long locks some shape
Start by consulting a trusted stylist to determine whatlongish cut will work for your height and silhouette. For some, that means a shoulder blade–grazing style with layers around the face. For others, it’s a long, layered, shoulder-skimming bob. For still others, it’s Demi Moore–like locks with sideswept bangs. (Notice no stylist endorses the ’do favored by Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. We loved her, too, but don’t go there.) Then, once you’ve got the right cut, it’s imperative to maintain it. Farel says you can go three months (as opposed to six weeks for shorter styles) between salon visits—but don’t wait longer than that. “Your stylist is the cheapest surgeon you’ll find,” he says, because the right cut instantly changes your face, giving you a fresher, lifted appearance.