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Aging changes in hair and nails

Hair color change is probably one of the most obvious signs of aging. Hair color is caused by a pigment (melanin) produced by hair follicles. With aging, the follicle produces less melanin.

Graying often begins in the 30s, although this varies widely. Graying usually begins at the temples and extends to the top of the scalp. Hair becomes progressively lighter, eventually turning white.

Many people have some gray scalp hair by the time they are in their 40s. Body and facial hair also turn gray, but usually later than scalp hair. The hair in the armpit, chest, and pubic area may gray less or not at all.

Graying is genetically determined. Gray hair tends to occur earlier in Caucasians and later in Asian races. Nutritional supplements, vitamins, and other products will not stop or decrease the rate of graying.


Hair is a protein strand that grows through an opening (follicle) in the skin. A single hair has a normal life of about 4 or 5 years. That hair then falls out and is replaced with a new hair.

How much hair you have on your body and head is determined by your genes. However, almost everyone experiences some hair loss with aging. The rate of hair growth slows.

The hair strands become smaller and have less pigment, so the thick, coarse hair of a young adult eventually becomes thin, fine, light-colored hair. Many hair follicles stop producing new hairs altogether.

About a quarter of men begin to show signs of baldness by the time they are 30 years old, and about two-thirds of men have significant baldness by age 60. Men develop a typical pattern of baldness associated with the male hormone testosterone (male-pattern baldness). Hair may be lost at the temples or at the top of the head.

Women may also develop a typical pattern of hair loss as they age (female-pattern baldness). The hair becomes less dense all over and the scalp may become visible.

Body and facial hair are also lost, but the hairs that remain may become coarser. Some women may notice a loss of body hair, but may find that they have coarse facial hair, especially on the chin and around the lips.

Men may find the hair of their eyebrows, ears, and nose becoming longer and coarser.


The nails also change with aging. They grow slower and may become dull and brittle. They may become yellowed and opaque.

Nails, especially toenails, may become hard and thick. Ingrown toenails may be more common. The tips of the fingernails may fragment.

Sometimes, lengthwise ridges will develop in the fingernails and toenails. This can be a normal aging change. However, some nail changes can be caused by infections, nutritional deficiencies, trauma, and other problems.

Check with your health care provider if your nails develop pits, ridges, lines, changed shape, or other changes. These can be related to iron deficiency, kidney disease, and nutritional deficiencies.


Update Date: 12/13/2010

Updated by: Michael Langan, M.D. Department of Geriatrics, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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