After years of taking care of your skin, you've managed to stave off unsightly fine lines and wrinkles. But are you doing the same for your hair? If haircare companies have their way, every woman in Asia will soon be giving their locks the same kind of care they give their skin. In the past couple of years, the beauty and wellness industries have released many products claiming to turn ageing hair around.
From scalp tonics to leave-in conditioners, the market has seen a flood of products that claim to give users a thicker, healthier head of hair. Which begs the question: can hair even look and feel younger to begin with, or are haircare companies merely playing to our desire to turn back the clock?
Leonica Kei, director and senior trichologist at the Philip Kingsley Trichological Centre in Singapore, says most anti-ageing haircare products work externally, ensuring that the scalp is healthy and that the hair is strong, supple and shiny.
"Many over-the-counter products are limited in this way, because they do not nourish the scalp or hair from within, but have a cosmetic effect. But some scalp tonics do help improve blood circulation and there are products that can help protect the hair from sun damage, which ages hair," says Kei.
Hair might just be dead keratin but, like skin, it does age. After the age of 30, hair tends to become finer and thinner as a result of a natural shrinkage of the hair follicles.
Several pharmacy and salon brands have launched anti-ageing haircare lines for men and women, among them Shiseido, Redken, Matrix and L'Oréal Paris.
These products incorporate some of the ingredients found in anti-ageing skincare products, and are designed to enhance the look and texture of hair. Matrix Biolage Rejuvathérapie Age Rejuvenating Shampoo and Conditioner, for example, helps deliver anti-ageing nutrients to the scalp and hair, from root to tip, protect against environmental damage, and soften and moisturise dry locks.
Redken Time Reset Youth Revitalizer, a rinse-out mask, is loaded with strengthening peptides and ceramides to repair damaged hair, and camellia oil to replenish moisture and leave hair silky and glossy.
Phyto's Phytodensium Anti-aging Serum works to boost the level of melanin in each hair shaft, delaying the appearance of greys, thanks to pro-vitamins B5 and B6 combined with a tyrosine derivative. Let's also not forget the plethora of hair colouring products, hair growth boosters and even hair sunscreens on shop shelves.
And there is more to come. According to a 2009 report by Global Industry Analysts, the global anti-ageing products market is expected to be worth about US$291.9 billion by 2015. This market includes skincare and haircare products, as well as supplements for age-related health conditions.
In Hong Kong, hair salons and spas also offer a selection of services designed to combat age-related hair problems.
Kim Robinson's 60-minute Volume & Stimulate treatment uses special massage techniques and tonics to stimulate hair growth, boost volume and delay thinning, while the J.F. Lazartique Treatment Centre in Central provides a range of scalp and hair treatments to address specific concerns.
Kei says that while many of these products and services may be effective at treating the signs of ageing hair, they are not the complete answer. "It really starts from within," she says. "Factors like stress, hormonal changes and diet all play a part in determining hair health."
If your diet is lacking in protein, iron, vitamins and minerals, for example, or if you have an unhealthy, stressful lifestyle, your hair will look dull and lifeless no matter what products you take to it. "Hair follicles need to be nourished, and this is why a nutrient-rich diet is so important," Kei adds.
Do not underestimate the damage sunlight can do to hair, either. Heat and UV rays have a drying effect on hair, causing discolouration and brittleness. Each hair strand is made up of many layers within which moisture and pigments are stored, says Kei. An outer scale-like layer called the cuticle protects these inner layers.
When heat and UV rays hit the cuticle, they dry it out, and when this dry, exterior layer peels off, it can leave the internal layers exposed and more vulnerable to damage.
Unfortunately, when the damage is excessive, it is usually irreversible. Extremely dry hair breaks easily as it is structurally weak, and the resulting dullness and coarseness can add years to the look of your hair.
The best way to keep your locks in good condition is to stick to a good diet and a balanced lifestyle, keep your hair out of the sun, and use products that maintain colour and vitality.
The time will come when there will be very little you can do. But the more care you give it now, the longer your hair will remain youthful.