Your Best Hair Length After 40

The best long hair and short hair length for women over 40.

by More Beauty Department

Over 40 Hair: The Long and the Short

The conventional wisdom for hair after 40 is that a well-mannered middle length works for everyone. We beg to differ. Your sexiest hair length may be a lot longer — or shorter — than you thought.

No matter how great you look, if you’re over 40, your hair isn’t what it used to be. Hormonal changes (especially at menopause), years of chemical processing and heat styling, even dieting and smoking, can contribute to skimpier volume, a receding hairline, broken wisps around the face, and a widening part. The gradual decline of estrogen slows hair growth; it also reduces production of collagen, so hair becomes drier and more brittle and loses shine. Gray hair — whether you color it or not — has a coarser texture.

You can fake healthier-looking hair in the short term — and boost hair health in the long term — with the right products and care. What you need now, no matter what your hair’s length: low-sudsing, detergent-free shampoos that are loaded with humectants; rich, nourishing conditioners; protein-based masques; concentrated silicone or botanical serums to reduce frizz and add shine; non-drying mousses and styling sprays; creams to create a body-building base for blow-drying; light, leave-in conditioners for smoothness, silkiness, and manageability.

Short Hair Pros and Cons

Lena Kaptein, 42, cropped her bob in 1994 at the suggestion of a hairdresser friend who said she needed a more modern look. She instantly landed an Aveda campaign and has kept her short hair since. "My bob was too much work — and all that teasing and hairspray are so not sexy. My son, my husband, and I have the same haircut — we all wake up looking like Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Two minutes later, with a little molding paste, I look amazing."

Short Hair Suits You If…

Short hair can work for you if you have very delicate or very large features and a fairly firm jaw, a well-shaped head, and an elegant neck. The key is proportion. The secret, according to hair guru John Frieda, is the jawline: If the bottom tip of your chin is more than 2 1/2 inches lower than the bottom of your earlobe, short hair won’t look good unless you increase the length at the nape.

Short Hair Pros

You never have to worry about your hair looking messy, rain wrecking your blow-out, or (if it’s really short) hat-hair. It’s easy to disguise regrowth by eliminating a part or running your hands through for a choppy, tousled effect. Because it’s cut frequently, short hair tends to be very healthy, even with extreme color changes.

Short Hair Traps

A cut that’s too shaved at the nape looks masculine. Highlights can look spotty if cut comes after color, and skinny, discreet ones don’t work as well as chunky, bold streaks do. Virgin color on a super-edgy cut can be boring — unless it’s gray. But a vibrant hair hue can act as a permanent accessory on short hair, according to color pro Brad Johns. (If you go for a bright hair color, tone down your makeup for day.)

Short Haircuts

Nicky Kunz, 53, has always had short hair; it’s been gray since she stopped coloring it at 32. "I have a small face, and my features would just get lost in long hair. Every two weeks I buzz it myself, since no one else gets it right. My hair is dry, so I use leave-in moisturizers."

The Best Short Haircuts

The Cap: Shortest of all, and cropped like an adolescent boy or a Marine, this works best for very textured, tight curls and very coarse, wiry hair. Well-defined brows help, as do strong bone structure and a big dose of charisma.

Choppy: On everyone’s most edgy list of "things to try someday," the ultra-short shag has a kind of rock-band/French gamine appeal. It’s not for the shy. But it is perfect for those with wispy, fine hair that just goes limp when bluntly bobbed; it also suits wavy hair that has built-in body. What’s key is to vary the length of some sections for an irregular look. Piece-y cuts of about 2 to 3 inches all over can be tucked behind your ear, tousled for more texture, or combed flat for a more classic look.

First Published April 6, 2009

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