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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Special Topics > Aging Changes in Hair and Nails
      Category : Health Centers > Senior Health

Aging Changes in Hair and Nails

Alternate Names : Hair and Nail Changes Associated with Age, Age-Related Changes in Hair and Nails

Normal changes occur in the hair and nails as people age.

What is the information for this topic?

Aging can affect the hair and nails in different ways. One of the most obvious changes that occurs with age is gray hair. Hair color comes from a pigment or color produced by the skin. The skin makes less pigment as a person gets older. Often, the genes determine when the hair starts to turn gray. Rarely, gray hair can begin as early as the late teen years. Many people begin to have gray hair in their 30s. Other people are in their 50s or older before they lose hair color.

Usually, hair begins turning gray around the temples, then at the top of the scalp. The hair becomes lighter over time, eventually turning white. As a person gets older, body and facial hair will also turn gray. This usually happens later than scalp hair. Often, hair in the armpit, chest, and pubic areas does not turn gray.

Another age-related change is hair loss. Normally, when a hair falls out, a new one grows in to replace it. As a person ages, however, hairs do not grow back in as quickly. Hair strands become finer as well. These factors combine to give the appearance of much less hair.

Both men and women lose their hair as they age. About 25% of men show some signs of baldness by the age of 30. About 2/3 of men are bald or partially bald at the age of 60. Usually men will notice that they lose hair from the top and the front of the scalp. This pattern of hair loss is called male pattern baldness. It is associated with decreased levels of the male hormone, testosterone. Women will also show a typical pattern of hair loss. As they age, hair becomes less dense all over, and the scalp may become visible. This is called female pattern baldness.

Finally, individuals may lose body and facial hair. Although the number of hairs is fewer, each hair may become coarser. Women may lose body hair but develop coarse facial hair. This tends to appear on the chin and around the lips. Men may find that eyebrow, ear, and nose hair becomes longer and coarser.

Fingernails and toenails also change with age. Since nails and hair both contain protein, the nails and hair undergo similar changes. Nails grow more slowly and may lose some of their color. This may cause them to be dull and brittle. They may also appear yellow. Nails often become very hard, thick, and curved. This is most noticeable in the toenails. Nails may also break or split from time to time. Sometimes, long straight ridges occur in the fingernails. This is another normal change associated with aging.

Hair or nail changes may also occur as the result of infections, illness, nutrition problems, or injury. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.

Author: James Broomfield, MD
Reviewer: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
Date Reviewed: 07/27/01

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