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Aging changes in hair and nails

Information

Your hair and nails function to protect your body. They also keep the temperature of your body steady. Another important function of the hair and nails is to help you (sense) feel things.

As you age, your hair and nails begin to change.

Hair Changes and Their Effects

Hair color change. This is one of the clearest signs of aging. Hair color is due to a pigment called melanin , which is produced by hair follicles. These are structures in the skin that make and grow hair. With aging, the follicle makes less melanin. Graying often begins in the 30s.

Scalp hair often starts graying usually at the temples and extends to the top of the scalp. Hair color becomes lighter, eventually turning white.

Body and facial hair also turn gray, but usually later than scalp hair. Hair in the armpit, chest, and pubic area may gray less or not at all.

Graying is determined by your genes. Gray hair tends to occur earlier in Caucasians and later in Asians. Nutritional supplements, vitamins, and other products will not stop or decrease the rate of graying.

Hair thickness change. Hair is made of many protein strands. A single hair has a normal life between 2 and 6 years. That hair then falls out and is replaced with a new hair. How much hair you have on your body and head is also determined by your genes.

With aging nearly everyone has some hair loss with aging. The rate of hair growth also slows.

Hair strands become smaller and have less pigment. So the thick, coarse hair of a young adult eventually becomes thin, fine, light-colored hair. Many hair follicles stop producing new hairs.

Men may start showing signs of baldness by the time they are 30 years old. Many men are nearly bald by age 60. A type of baldness related to the male hormone testosterone is called male-pattern baldness . Hair may be lost at the temples or at the top of the head.

Women can develop a similar type of baldness as they age. This is called female-pattern baldness . Hair becomes less dense and the scalp may become visible.

As you age, your body and facial hair are also lost. But hairs that remain may become coarser. Women may lose body hair. Facial hair may get coarser, especially on the chin and around the lips. Men may grow longer and coarser eyebrow, ear, and nose hair.

Contact your health care provider if you have sudden loss of hair. This can be a symptom of a health problem.

Nail Changes and Their Effects

Your nails also change with aging. They grow more slowly and may become dull and brittle. They may become yellowed and opaque.

Nails, especially toenails, may become hard and thick. Ingrown toenails may be more common. The tips of the fingernails may fragment.

Lengthwise ridges may develop in the fingernails and toenails.

Check with your health care provider if your nails develop pits, ridges, lines, changed shape, or other changes. These can be related to iron deficiency, kidney disease, and nutritional deficiencies.

As You Grow Older, You Will Have Other Changes, Including:

References

Habif TP, ed. Hair diseases. Clinical Dermatology. 5th ed.St. Louis, Mo: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 24.

Habif TP, ed. Nail diseases. Clinical Dermatology. 5th ed.St. Louis, Mo: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 25.

Minaker KL. Common clinical sequelae of aging. In: Goldman L,Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 24.

Tosti A. Diseases of hair and nails. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed.Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 450.

Updated: 11/5/2012

David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.


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