As the anti-aging trend extends beyond skin care, it ventures into hair care with the introduction of products like Pantene Expert Collection Age Defy Kits
). It popped out to me, in particular, because the idea of “aging” hair is an interesting and complex one.
[Read More: Five Things that Make You Look Older and What to Do about Them
As it were, hair does age, but what exactly is aging in hair is a matter of opinion. Is it the silver strands of grayness that makes someone’s hair seem “old”? Or is it the quality of those strands that really counts? After all, writer Sarah Harris is a silver fox and no one would accuse her of looking “old.” But, then again, plenty of young women go overboard on hair dye and their straw-like strands don’t necessarily make them look “old.”
So, what kind of aging, exactly, are these shampoos combating and do they do an adequate job of keeping your hair youthful?
How Hair “Ages” and Why that Matters
There are a lot of contributing factors — aside from grays — that can make hair seem "old."
The truth is that “aging” hair is either grays or dryness, with both being a hallmark. But it’s worse if hair is damaged than if it’s gray. If we use the idea of attractiveness, which is really synonymous with health, fertility, and, in that respect, youth, then it’s clear the color matters less than hair health. In surveying men looking at women, researchers found that hair color was less of an important predictor of attractiveness than how healthy their hair was (Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
But gray hair tends to look older because of the way it becomes gray and how that affects dryness.
[Read More: Why Does Hair Turn Gray?
Gray hair is caused by the same thing that can make you a beach blonde: hydrogen peroxide. All the color in your skin, hair, and eyes is caused by the same thing: melanin. And as melanocytes produce melanin, they also make small amounts of hydrogen peroxide as a byproduct. Ordinarily this is broken up by the enzyme catalase. But low levels of this cause the hydrogen peroxide to clog healthy melanocytes, which are still capable of functioning, and essentially bleach hair from the inside out (New York Times
). While it’s still a mystery why this happens, precisely, we know that genetics play a pretty big role.
This transition in hair reduces it’s protection from external stressors, in particular, UV-rays. That’s because the pigment in hair works to absorb radiation and protect the protein found in hair. When you get rid of the pigment, you also lose the line of defense that keeps the sun from breaking your hairs protein down, causing dry, dull hair (International Journal of Trichology
So What Makes Hair Products “Anti-Aging”?
Pantene attributes their anti-aging technology to a tri-polymer blend. Polymers are a great addition to a hair product because they coat the hair and offer a watertight seal. But with new polymer technologies, they’re also able to thicken hair, add moisture, and overall improve hair health. But in reality it’s not just polymers that Pantene is hyping, it a combination of ingredients, including: panthenol, niacinamide, caffeine, dimethicone, and acrylate polymer.
There’s a study that looked at Pantene’s ingredient blend in particular, but it’s important to note that it was funded and performed by Procter & Gamble, Pantene’s parent company. Nonetheless, researchers looked at cross sections of hair treated with these ingredients and saw a 10% increase in diameter (British Journal of Dermatology
). However, they’re careful to say that this is not a cure for thinning hair, but rather something to mitigate the effects.
But it’s not just polymers that work. Procter & Gamble has another study on the amino acids in their product and how they help hair feel younger. Hair loses essential amino acids with all the weather and external factors it’s exposed to. This industry study has found that a blend of these lost amino acids can be reintroduced into hair with products containing them (PG Beauty Grooming Science
In addition to these, Pantene’s products are full of silicones and quaternary ammonium compounds, which form a protective layer on hair. Though they wash out with each use, they significantly reduce combing force and make hair softer and shinier (Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists
[Read More: Are Silicones in Hair Products Good or Bad?
Why You Should Keep Your Expectations Realistic
You can treat some of the symptoms of aging hair, but science hasn’t figured out what causes the graying and subsequent drying of hair enough to be able to stop it altogether. That said, the ingredients in these particular anti-aging products, as well as some others will definitely help some of the signs of aging that affect many people. It would be nice to see non-industry studies that go more in-depth, but their studies are helpful in giving an idea of what results to expect.
But there are other things you can do too.
Since sun damage is so problematic, it’s important to supplement any anti-aging hair routine with hair sunscreen. Something like Aveda Sun Care Protective Hair Veil
) will help to protect hair from the UV-damage that causes hair to become more dry and brittle.
If you’re looking for the all-over treatment on anti-aging, it’s definitely important to keep hair in mind, particularly because it’s such an important sign of health. Pantene has a formula that includes some important ingredients for hair health, including a blend that their studies show to actually increase the diameter of hair, helping to combat the thinning that affects so many. Just remember that preventing further damage is just as important as trying to fix some of the damage that’s been done, so be sure to use sunscreen and antioxidants in addition.