How Not to Act Old With Your Hair

Beware the Evil Young Hairdressers who think you can’t be sexy after 40

By Pamela Redmond Satran • Guest Writer
Photograph: iStockPhoto

The most advanced piece of mathematical and scientific knowledge I carry around in my head these days is that your hair is 50 percent of your looks. And when you’ve gained 10 pounds or are worrying over a new wrinkle, that could jump to 75 percent.

The good news is that your hair is totally — okay 97.8 percent — in your control. Here’s how not to act old in terms of what you do with your hair.

DON’T GO GRAY.  I know some of want to stone me for saying this, but as a crusader for not acting older than you need to, I feel bound to tell you that letting your hair go gray makes nearly every woman look instantly years older. True, gray hair can be lovely, and undoubtedly easier and less expensive to maintain. And perhaps you just want to cultivate an up-yours attitude by wearing your hair in a gray crewcut while dressing in an orange thong bikini to which I say, Bravo.

But if you’re looking for simple ways to act and look more youthful, coloring the gray may be Number 1.

DON’T CHOP IT OFF.  If you love short hair, fab, but too often Evil Young Hairdressers — and even Evil Not-So-Young Ones — try to make every woman over 40 cut off all her hair.  It’s like they’re telling us we can no longer dare try to look sexy and feminine.  Short hair does not make you look younger all by itself and in fact often does the opposite. Let it grow past your shoulders or curl wildly, sweep it up in an elegant chignon or wear it in a girlish braid down your back. The point: Let style and not age be your hair guide.

DON’T FEAR THE PRODUCT.  When we came of hair grooming age, conditioner was considered an advanced hair product.  But now there are smoothers, shiners, defrizzers, thickeners, many of which actually work.  Expensive?  Definitely.  But also worth spending on.  If you find the selection dizzying, let your daughter, niece, or twentysomething colleague take you product shopping.

DON’T CLING TO THE STYLE THAT WORKED FOR YOU 20 YEARS AGO.  Here’s the mistake: Deciding how to wear your hair based on that amazing picture taken of you 20 years ago. Clinging to an outmoded hairstyle, no matter how perfect it looked back then, can date you now. Plus, hate to break it to you, but it really won’t make you look the way you did back in the first Bush administration.

DON’T BE AFRAID OF HAIR ADVENTURES.  My friend Benilde Little, who not coincidentally wrote the bestseller Good Hair, always looks fabulous, not least because she’s not afraid to do crazy things with her hair. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her hair fixed the same way twice: One day it’s in huge fluffy curls and the next smoothed down straight, it might be tied back with a scarf or in a poof on top of her head. She has the confidence to try new things and to believe she looks great even if her hair is not in the same studied arrangement, and that’s about as not-old as you can act.

Want more How Not to Act Old? Click below! . . .

How Not to Act Old at Work

How Not to Phone Old 

How Not to Weekend Old

How Not to Act Old in Bed

How Not to Act Old On a Diet

How Not to Act Old at the Beach

How Not to Act Old With Celebrities

How Not to Act Old On Facebook

How Not to Act Old On Twitter

First Published August 1, 2009

Share Your Thoughts!


LadyJulie 07.10.2012

I agree that grey hair makes one look old, every person I see that has grey hair looks 20+ years older than they really are, and their face can be very nice, no wrinkles, nice features, I 'm never going grey when there are so many nice hair color products out there that can be my anti-aging solution. A little makeup and will feel like myself without feeling like I've aged.

d Cambridge05.01.2012 are only as old as you feel. I am 55...and at 55 with silver hair...I have a guyfriend who is 25 years younger...was attracted by my silver hair and calls me his silver fox. I have nothing against those that color as not all hair grays the same. I find more men find it attractive than women. Recently a man was staring at me on the subway and I was sort of he stepped off he said, I am sorry I didn't mean to stare but I think your hair is beautiful I wish my wife could see it.

Dawn Venturi03.29.2012

Oh dear Pamela, evidently your statement about gray hair doesn't pertain to everyone. For some, gray hair can be very sexy if worn very stylish and with polish. Just like some fashion doesn't work for everyone, coloring your hair to make you look 30 when you're actually in your 50's doesn't work for everyone either. The key here is to keep it modern and keep things in perspective. This is not only an opinion, it is a fact - especially in these modern times.

lynne wolf01.10.2012

I disagree about the gray....depends on color. Mine is platinum and extremely complimentary to my skin tone. Uber short shows my bone structure and I get compliments all the time from 20 somethings. I'm fit, slim, wear current clothes and have an ultra cool haircut. It works WAY better than dying it a color you used to have....THAT ages you more! It's about being stylish and confident!

Lenora Forbes12.16.2011

I am a 69 year old black women who started graying at age 18. I colored my hair for most of my life and allowed it to go natural about 5 years ago. My hair has developed into a lovely shade of platinum. When I go out, I get many complements a day from women and men and young and old. I adjusted my makeup and clothing color to blend with my hair color. I take special care to keep my hair in good condition and get a monthly cellophane gloss. I also dress youthful remaining age appropriate.
I do agree that if I colored my hair people would think I was younger at first contact. However, the way we walk, talk, dress, hair style and most of all confidence has a greater factor to determining age than hair color.
What does age have to do with it. What is wrong with getting older. Why are we giving up our importance and power because we are growing older. I am proud and thankful to God to have made it to 69 even with my white hair.

dk 10.04.2011

I understand what the writer is saying. I am glad that women no longer have to chop off their long hair if it still looks good on them. Also, she is not saying that there is anything wrong with going white or grey, only that you will undoubtedly look older. I think that as we age we have to continue to view ourselves with a discerning eye and do what feels right.


It is sad that the writer of this article thinks that the worst thing that can happen to you is to be old. I am 65, recently let my hair go to it's natural white because coloring my hair was betraying who I was inside. I have earned wisdom, patience and kindness as I have aged and I am very proud of this transition. To suggest that gray/white hair is bad shows how insensitive and immature the writer is. You too will grow old. I hope you have the maturity to celebrate your life's journey even if it involves white hair.

40teen 09.15.2011

My rebuttal on some of these points:
--You can ALWAYS tell a major-gray-coverer. I was at a swanky hair salon in Manhattan where they charged $250 a cut 5 years ago (not for me). Their colorist customers looked little different than any of the women you see anywhere with years-dyed hair. To me their hair looks pretty but fake, with colors, patina, and texture of antique furniture against a white wall.
--Some women with long hair --including myself-- look like hippies! And I have a Not-So-Evil-Young Hairdresser in a well-rated salon in my metro area.
--If a self-confident, mature woman chooses to spend her money on youth-preserving activites OTHER than color overhaul, why knock her? How about moisturizing her face, drinking lots of water, ensuring a balanced, fresh diet, taking yoga or other exercise, managing well sun, attitude and stress, wearing flattering clothes and getting a smart hair cut? How about, for fun, a few hair highlights that complement grays that don't get covered in the process? The inner glow from a balanced approach will out-youth any quick-fix attempt from a bottle. No orange thongs required!

40teen 09.14.2011

You can ALWAYS tell the major-gray-coverers, no matter how much they've spent for each touch-up or how renowned their color person is.
I just don't agree that you look youthful and insured against orange thongs when you have white roots and/or years-dyed hair with the patina and stiff texture of antique furniture against older skin.
So, if people can tell no matter what, and you're going to look like you poured shoe polish on your head, why not spend money on real youth-ifying activities, like moisturizing your face, taking yoga classes, eating a fresh and balanced diet, visiting your doctor regularly, and flattering clothes, and charitable works? Then your inner glow and a smart hair cut --short or non-hippie-- will anti-age you in harmony!!

Barb Best08.23.2011

Hilarious! There's something that will always make you feel and look young, and that is... a sense of humor.

Kathe Smith06.30.2011

Although some of Pamela's suggestions are worth giving thought to or might even be funny, her piece on How Not To Act Old With Your Hair is not funny and is even insenitive to those of us over 60. Many women have thinning hair after 60. I would love to have my long, wavey hair back but it is thinning and I am losing hair. My "young" hairdresser found a short style for me that helps minimize the issue. Do I think it makes me look older...sometimes? But, hey, I am older! At 63 it is better to accept who I am then to have someone tell me how I can "appear" to be something I am not! Your magazine seems to be falling into the tired old trap of "appearance is everything". Too bad.

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