Worried you could be falling into the trap of one of the hair mistakes every woman over 40 should avoid? You’ve come to the right place.
Now, let’s start by being clear that when we say 'mistakes', we mean it in a very loose sense. We’re not here to tell you off or shame you for the way you wear or care for your hair. But, there are small tweaks and changes that you can make to your everyday routine, as well as your cut and colour, to ensure you’re making the most of your strands.
It could be as simple as turning down the temperature on your best hair dryer (one of the easiest answers to the question of how to get healthier hair). Or, it could be having the confidence not to feel pressured to cut your long lengths into this season’s blunt bob – just because a big chop feels like the ‘done thing’ now you’ve reached a particular milestone. Ultimately, it’s your hair, and it’s completely up to you what you do with it. However, if you do feel like you’ve come off course and your strands are suffering, this list will certainly put you back on track…
32 hair mistakes every woman over 40 should avoid
1. Not embracing their natural hair type
Styling your hair is considerably easier when you’re working with your hair type rather than against it. If you have naturally curly hair that you normally tame with straighteners, make like Kerry Washington and embrace your spirals instead. It’ll save you loads of time in the morning and your hair will thank you for it too.
Our beauty team's 2024 haircare must-haves...
Ful All Rounder Shampoo
Investing in a good sulphate-free shampoo is worthwhile regardless of what age you are, but becomes especially important when you're over 40 (more on that later). This one from Ful uses ingredients including hyaluronic acid, glycerin and castor oil to lock moisture into the hair and banish frizz.
Color Wow Dream Coat Supernatural Spray
Heat protection is important at all ages - and that doesn't start (or end) at 40! We always return to this one from Colour Wow. This heat-activated spray offers protection against humidity and moisture, to minimise the look of flyaway and works to smooth your hair and boost shine.
The Steam Bar The Scalp Serum
One of the biggest hair mistakes? Neglecting your scalp. A healthy scalp means healthy hair and some best scalp treatments can be worth their weight in gold when it comes to maintaining healthy locks. Designed to be massaged into the scalp twice a week, this serum helps to relieve irritation and strengthen its barrier function.
2. Wearing your hair too tight
There are lots of pros to protective hairstyles like braids – they look great, minimise damage to your lengths and are relatively low maintenance once you’ve got through the initial hours of plaiting. The problem is though that they are very tight, which can lead to a type of hair loss called traction alopecia. Follow in Tracee Ellis Ross’ footsteps and make sure you’re giving your hair a break in between rather than going back to back.
3. Feeling like you have to go for the big chop
No law decrees that you have to get a bob as soon as you turn 40, but so many of us still feel pressured to opt for a shorter hairstyle as we get older. Michelle Yeoh has stayed loyal to her longer locks, and they’re certainly not having an ageing effect on her. So should women over 40 cut their hair short? Absolutely not, unless you truly want to.
4. Bowing to pressure to go grey
If you want to embrace the salt and pepper strands cropping up around your roots and hairline then good for you – and Andie MacDowell is the poster girl to copy if you want to transition to grey. Equally, though, you shouldn’t go grey just because you think it’s the done thing – choose the hair colour that makes you feel most confident.
5. Over colouring
Colouring your hair too much with permanent dye can lead to an unnatural finish that makes it look a bit like you might be wearing a wig – not really what we’re aiming for. A good hairdresser will be able to use semi-permanent colour and toner to achieve a more convincing, multi-dimensional finish to rival Rose Byrne.
6. Sticking with a block colour
Hair that’s all one shade is easier to pull off when you’re younger but can look quite dense and quite dated the older you get. Follow Penelope Cruz’s lead and break up a blocky brunette with lighter pieces through the lengths.
7. Following trends to the letter
Don't get us wrong, we love following the latest hair trends but that doesn't mean every one of them will work for you.
We’ve all done it – seen a picture of a celebrity online or in a magazine and asked our hairdresser for ‘that’ cut or colour. It’s not quite so straightforward though, as what suits their hair type and face shape might not flatter yours. Naomi Campbell is the perfect example of someone who doesn’t bend to trends, sticking to her signature sleek, super-straight locks year after year.
8. Neglecting your scalp
A healthy scalp equals healthy hair, so for strands as long and glossy as Julianne Moore, it’s important to create an environment that promotes growth instead of hindering it. That means making scalp scrubs a regular part of your routine to dislodge any product build-up, dead skin cells or excess sebum that could be clogging your follicles, and adding in a soothing mask too if you’re suffering from itchiness or flakes.
9. Overdoing it with the heat tools
If you count your best straighteners or best curling irons among your desert island essentials, then you want to make sure you’re not going overboard with the heat. Exposing your strands to scorching temperatures will lead to hair that’s broken, dry and splitting at the ends – essentially the complete opposite of Jennifer Lopez’s. Turn the settings down as low as possible and try to limit using tools to just a few times a week.
10. Using too many protein-based products
Keratin, a protein and the key ingredient in our hair, is used in lots of hair products to help repair our strands and make them stronger. Be wary of using too much though, as it can cause the hair to harden and become brittle. For healthy hair like Lucy Liu, alternate with nourishing masks.
11. Shampooing with sulphates
Sulphates are added to shampoos (as well as products like toothpaste and shower gel) to give them that satisfying lather. They can be stripping though, removing important natural oils from the hair and leaving it thirsty. Swapping to a sulphate-free formula is a smart move for everyone, but especially if you have curly hair like Nicole Kidman which is naturally more prone to dryness and damage.
12. Thinking you’re too old to try something new
It’s never too late to mix up your look and have a little fun with it. Plus, the style you’ve had since you were 25 might no longer be serving you quite as well as it once did. We love that Emma Thompson isn’t afraid to mix it up, showcased perfectly by her pink-tinged curly crop.
13. Washing your hair every day
How often should we wash our hair? It's an age-old question with one clear answer: not every day.
As we age, our scalp becomes naturally drier, so there’s no need to wash your hair quite so often to keep greasy roots at bay. Aim for three times a week instead. If you have coily hair like Viola Davis, once a week is more than enough.
14. Wearing your hair all one length
The idea of a nice simple, all-one-length cut is lovely on paper, but in practice can make hair look thinner. For enviable volume and oomph to rival Liz Hurley, ask your hairdresser to add layers through the lengths.
15. Neglecting your diet
When our body is dishing out good stuff like nutrients and minerals, our vital organs take priority, leaving our hair right at the back of the queue. To ensure there’s more left than just scraps by the time it gets to the front it’s important to eat a healthy, balanced diet like Jennifer Aniston does. If you’re finding it hard to get enough goodness on your plate, supplements can help too.
16. Thinking that a fringe won’t suit you
Don’t let the unflattering fringe you had at primary school put you off giving it a second chance as an adult. There’s a fringe to suit everyone, it’s just about finding the right style for your face shape and hair type. Laura Dern’s curtain fringe is lower maintenance and less commitment than a shorter style.
17. Going to bed with wet hair
It’s not just the old wives' tale about catching a cold that you need to worry about when climbing into bed with sopping strands. Our hair is at its most fragile when it’s wet, and friction between our strands and the pillow can lead to breakage as well as frizz. For curls like Jane Fonda's, it’s always best to air dry them during the day or use a diffuser tool to speed up the process.
18. Not considering heat-free styling options
There are lots of ways to style your hair that don’t involve picking up your tools. Amy Adam’s soft waves can be recreated by plaiting your hair when it’s wet or with the help of a silk rod woven through your hair. The finish will be more natural than if you used a tool, plus there’s no risk of heat damage if you opt for heatless curls – win-win.
19. Letting your hairdresser thin out your hair
If you have very thick hair, your hairdresser might advise taking out some of the weight using thinning shears. It will do the trick initially but isn’t great for the long-term health of your hair. Plus, it can grow out in an uneven, raggedy way. Instead, take notes from Eva Longoria and ask them to use clever, narrow strips of colour and good layers to make the shape look less blocky.
20. Forgetting to use heat protection
You wouldn’t head out into the summer sun without applying your best facial sunscreen first, so why are so many of us happy to subject our hair to scorching temperatures without proper protection? For hair as healthy as Isla Fisher’s, make sure you’re using one of the best heat protection sprays every time you style it.
21. Washing your hair with hard water
Ever noticed that your hair feels considerably softer when you wash it on holiday versus when you’re at home? It could be down to hard water in your area. It contains high concentrations of minerals that can build up on the hair and scalp, making it feel drier and dulling your colour so it doesn’t shine like Sienna Miller’s. Moving is an extreme solution, so instead consider investing in a shower head attachment designed to soften the water.
22. Sleeping on a cotton pillowcase
Waking up with hair like a bird’s nest rather than sleek strands like Rachel Weisz? The answer could be your bedding. Cotton pillowcases can rough up the hair cuticle, while a silk or satin one will smooth and flatten it. Make the switch to a silk pillowcase and see what a difference it makes.
23. Applying conditioner to your roots
The hair by our roots is the youngest on our head and therefore the healthiest, as it hasn’t been subjected to the same amount of styling, colouring or sunshine as our lengths. It makes sense then that it doesn’t need much in the way of conditioning, and slathering it in product will only read to lank roots rather than lifted ones like Gillian Anderson.
24. Not being patient when changing shade
Transitioning from brunette to blonde like Olivia Coleman takes time and patience, and taking a gung-ho approach to bleach is a surefire way to cause irreversible damage to your hair. Take your hairdresser's advice on the best approach and how long it will realistically take to shade shift without wrecking your strands.
25. Letting your emotions fuel a big change
Hands up if you’ve ever got what we like to refer to as a ‘break-up fringe’? It’s tempting to go for a dramatic hair revamp when you’re going through a period of change in your personal life, but our advice is always to take a breath and think about whether it’s something you might regret later. If you still feel compelled to go for the fringe, follow Julia Roberts’ lead with a longer style.
26. Washing with super-hot water
A hot shower might feel like a treat on a cold morning, but it won’t do your hair any favours. Too high temperatures can dehydrate your strands, leading to dullness. To maintain Kate Moss' levels of shine, switch the taps to tepid and finish with a shot of cold water to flatten and seal the hair cuticle.
27. Brushing curls when they’re dry
Dragging a brush through your hair when it’s dry is pretty much the worst thing you can do to curly hair. Not only will it pull out the pattern and merge your previously defined spirals into one big mass, but it’s also very likely to snag and snap your strands. For curls as gorgeous as Thandiwe Newton’s, only brush when hair is wet from the shower, using a wide-tooth comb or brush with bendy bristles that will flex as they move through the hair rather than catching.
28. Drying with a normal towel
Normal towels can rough up the hair cuticle, leading to a frizzy finish. We’re willing to bet good money on the fact that Salma Hayek has invested in a microfibre option to gently draw out moisture without driving fluffiness.
29. Not getting regular trims
It might sound counterintuitive but even if you want to grow your hair out it’s still best to get it cut regularly. Bi-monthly trims will preserve the health of your hair, prevent split ends from travelling further up your strands and maintain a nice blunt finish like Sigourney Weaver’s bob.
30. Tying hair up with thin bands
Like Sandra Oh, we all want to get our hair up and out of our way sometimes – but doing this with bands that are too narrow will create breakage. Swap thin, hard hairbands for stretchy scrunchies and be wary of hard claw clips too.
31. Applying products in the wrong order
For hair like Priyanka Chopra’s, it’s not just about the products you use but how you use them. Similarly to skincare, your haircare needs to be applied in the right order to work at its best. Layer from lightest to heaviest – if you apply oil before water-based hydrating products then these are never going to have a chance to penetrate the hair.
32. Playing hairdresser
A little at-home root touch-up never hurt nobody, but being your own hairdresser isn't a long-term substitute for the real deal. Let the memories of your at-home dye jobs and YouTube-guided trims during the pandemic, plus the image of Gemma Chan’s salon-fresh locks, be a reminder to you.