7 Hair Mistakes That Age You

Your haircut, style, or color may not be doing you any favors in the youthfulness department. Follow these tips to take years off your look.

By Dawn Wilder

You can pile on all the anti-aging skin care products you want, but when it comes to looking 10 years older—or younger—than your actual age, it's your hair that makes all the difference. "Your hair is one of the first things people notice when they meet you," says Brad Johns, Color Director of the Salon and Spa at Saks Fifth Avenue. Your crow's feet? Not so much.

And we're not just talking about grays. In fact, gray hair can be youthful when cut and styled the right way. Meanwhile, even if you have really pretty brown, blonde, or red color, a bad haircut will age you.

Here, we're highlighting the biggest mistakes women make with their hair—from monotone color to severe styles. Follow our expert tips, and you'll be well on your way to a younger-looking 'do—and you.

1. The Wrong Haircut

If your haircut is too straight, too severe, or doesn't flatter your face, it's probably adding years to your look. "I don't follow the rule of thumb that as you get older your hair should get shorter," says Nick Penna, owner and lead stylist at SalonCapri in Boston. "The cut and style are more important than the length."

Whether your hair is long or short, Penna recommends a layered haircut that's cut off the face—one that doesn't fall in your face. "Your hair should frame your face in a soft way," he says. If you're stuck on the idea of bangs, he suggests long, sweeping pieces. "It's a very youthful look," he says. "And it can even cover some forehead lines."

2. A Too-Tight 'Do

Pulling your hair back into a tight ponytail or bun might make you look younger momentarily (think: instant facelift), but these styles also draw attention to every line and spot on your face. You can still wear your hair back, but keep it soft, suggests Penna. "Let some pieces of hair fall around the face."

For an even more forgiving style, try putting only some of your hair up. "Half up, half down works well," says Penna. "Simply pull pieces off the side of the face and pin them back."

3. A Dated Look

If you've been sporting the same haircut for 20 years, it may be time for a change. The Farrah Fawcett and the Rachel were great cuts at the time, but now they're stale and old-fashioned—the key word being old. "The styles that are dated are the styles that women shouldn't hold onto," says Penna. 

However, if your look is classic, you can wear it forever. "I think of someone like Carolina Herrera or Anna Wintour," says Penna. "Their haircuts are their signatures. When it's classic and timeless, and you carry it well, it works." Ask your stylist for his or her honest opinion, and consider an update. 

4. Split Ends

The quality of your hair is just as important as the cut and style, says Penna. Frizzy, frazzled, damaged ends will make your hair—and you—look older. To keep split ends at bay, get a regular trim every six to eight weeks. 

Between cuts, use a split end serum like Organix Coconut Milk Anti-Breakage Serum, $5.75, to protect your ends from heat-styling damage, keep your hair hydrated, and tame frizz.

5. Monotone Hair Color

I doesn't matter what color your hair is—blonde, brown, red, or even gray—if it's one solid color, it's going to make you look older. "Monotone doesn't work on anyone," says Johns. "It looks like a wig or a helmet, and that's aging." 

If you have your hair colored in a salon, Johns suggests bringing three pictures of hair color you like and three pictures of hair color you don't like to your next appointment. "Colorists are visual," he explains. "You have to treat them like you would an interior designer." And if you color your hair at home, he recommends picking a shade that's one shade lighter than the color you really want. "Different sections of your hair will pick up different amounts of color, giving it dimension," he says.

6. The Wrong Color Around Your Face

Even if your hair has highlights and lowlights, they need to be strategically placed. "Hair color should be brightest around your face and on top, and darker underneath," says Johns. The brightness makes your skin look warm and youthful, and the color mimics the variations that happen naturally. "It's like the hair of a little kid who's been at the beach for a month," says Johns.

7. Cool-Toned Shades

Now that you know you need highlights, you'll want to choose the right shade. "The warmer the shade, the younger the look," says Johns. "If you're blonde, white hair can be fun, but it's not youthful—golden hair is youthful." Similarly, he suggests brunettes opt for caramel tones instead of ashy ones, and redheads choose copper instead of burgundy. 'Think of warm, spicy colors," he says. "Cool is not youthful."


The #1 hair feature that I think takes years off is SHINEY hair. I may have missed it in the article (maybe hydration was making that point), but adding a gloss or cellophane after my sylist colors my hair really makes a world of difference and adds youthful bounce as well.

lwillner@sbcglobal.net on 2013-08-19 01:40:43

I, too, would have liked to have seen pictures. Right now, I have my hair quite short and closely tapered in back, but long enough to cover my ears, or pull back if need be, on the sides. I also have very short bangs (they called them asymetrical). I get compliments from everyone except my husband. He thinks my hair should look like my mother's did when she had just come out of the beauty shop after a perm and stay that way all week. Talk about old-fashioned! She was 80 and it looked good on her, but it isn't for me!

hellesos@charter.net on 2013-08-11 15:47:39

This article was great; however what about grandma of color with natural hair styles. (braids, short hair cuts and or afros. Thanks

msbee1711@aol.com on 2013-08-07 15:30:57

Great tips, in my opinion! And I look forward to seeing the pics! But after years of trying different lengths and/or going with "the latest style," I finally found a hairstylist who gave me the hairdo that I feel looks best on me! That was some years ago, but I'm sticking with her till she retires, if ever. Nor am I changing the style, any time soon!

Just about the same with color. After staying with natural, as a young woman (hey, it was the "natural" era!), I tired a few colors, only to find that I don't do it well by myself and, again, to eventually discover a colorist and a color (close to my original but not exactly) that were right for me.

My heart aches for the poster who is so unhappy with how she looks! In that case, I'm wondering if changing the hair color would help, at all, but you've probably already tried that.

Meanwhile, I see that many of you here have your email addy and or first and last names in your username. For greater privacy, you may want to change that. If so, just click on your username at the top-right of this page and change it where shown. (You'll have to log out and log in again to see the change.)

rosered135 on 2013-08-07 02:01:15

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