Hairstyle Mistakes That Age You (And Products That Can Keep You Looking Younger)

Hair colors, parts, and styles can add years to a woman's look. We talked to a beauty maven about the biggest hairstyle mistakes and how to avoid them.

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We’ve all met the nice lady with the hairstyle that hasn’t changed since 1985. Though perhaps it was cute for its time, it’s not exactly a youthful look. Turns out that dated hairstyles aren’t the only way to add a couple of years to your appearance. Whether you’re trying to cover emerging grays, experimenting with at-home coloring, or testing out a trendy style, read on to see if what you’re doing is keeping you young or adding a decade to your look. To find out the most flattering hair tips for any age, we spoke to Glennis McCarthy, a regular jill-of-all-trades. Seriously, she’s a comedian, voice-over artist, licensed manicurist, and hairstylist, and she is now pursuing an advanced degree in all things hair. Also, she’s really cool and nice. Just an additional fun fact. McCarthy spills all the beans about how to keep your look as young as possible while still being daring with your hair.

Using the Wrong Color for Gray Hair

Grays can happen at almost any age. And if you want to cover them, McCarthy recommends choosing a hair color carefully. For a home coloring session, make sure your product of choice says it’s “formulated for grays.” If it’s not meant for grays, you won’t get the color saturation you’re looking for, says McCarthy. Why does gray hair need special hair color? Well, the hair is typically more coarse than the rest of your hair. Plus it’s much lighter, so the product needs to be extra strong to penetrate the grays and give you the coverage you want, according to Real Simple. The magazine even recommends using two types of hair color—your regular color and one that’s a shade darker. This ensures that the stubborn grays suck up all the color and give you the natural look you’re after. L’Oréal Paris Excellence Creme Hair Color promises 100 percent gray coverage, has received solid reviews, and comes at a sweet low price of just eight bucks.

If you’re looking for more of the luxe at-home experience and are open to spending some extra cash to achieve it, you might go for John Frieda’s Precision Foam Colour, which also offers total gray coverage, and its non-drip foam formula saturates the hair for an easy and thorough color soak. This one received a five-star rating from 78 percent of its reviewers, as opposed to the L’Oréal Paris formula, which received five stars from 72 percent of its reviewers. If you have a lot of grays, you may want to go to a pro for the best results. In a salon, your hair will be pre-treated with a peroxide solution. This softens up the hair and makes it more receptive to the coloring product, according to Real Simple. Then the stylist can use a customized concoction to give you the perfect color.

Not Matching Your Hair Color to Your Skin Tone

Maybe you saw a picture of Christina Hendricks in a magazine and thought, “That’s the exact red I’ve always wanted!” But before you run out to get copper locks, make sure your ideal hair color matches your skin tone. Sure, that red looks lovely on Hendricks, but if you have a different skin tone, it might be a poor fit. Having a hair color that doesn’t match your skin tone can be unflattering and actually make you look a little older. McCarthy says you can figure out your skin tone by looking at the veins in your hands. “If they’re a bluish tint, [your skin tone is] cool. If it’s a greenish tint, that’s warm,” she says. Then pick a hair color that complements your tone. “For warm, try strawberry blonde, red, brown, or black. For cool, try ash blonde, brown, or black with blue or violet undertones.” You can have any hair color you like, just make sure it works with the warmth or coolness of your complexion.

Not Knowing Your Hair Type

If you’re thinking about coloring your hair at home, you need to get familiar with your natural tresses. That means you should learn a little about hair levels and tones before you pull out the coloring kit. Check out the video below for a quick overview. As explained above, knowing your natural level and tone will give you a more realistic idea of the hair colors you can achieve. And when your hair color looks good, you look younger. If you’re interested in getting a closer look at the technical side of levels and tones, check out The Hair Colour Book, a guide to the theory of hair coloring by famed hairstylist Peter Regan. Written for hairdressers in training, the book covers these topics, along with the color wheel, racial differences in hair, controlling warmth, and gray coverage.

Speaking of hair type, if you’re a curly girl, there’s a lot more to learn, down to a number and a letter (literally, there’s a curl spectrum). Curly Girl: The Handbook was created by Lorraine Massey, a curl expert featured in Allure, InStyle, Lucky, Seventeen, and The New York Times. It will help you determine your curl type and the right daily routine to keep them at their bouncy best.

Keeping the Wrong Part

When’s the last time you parted your hair differently? It’s probably been a while. And though the part in your hair is one of the easiest hairstyle changes to make, it’s the one we make the least often. InStyle recommended keeping a side or off-center part for the most flattering look. They find a center part to be harsh, and though celebs like Kim Kardashian can pull it off, it might not look so good on someone who didn’t spend hours perfectly contouring their face. Any style that feels overly strict or harsh tends to be aging. If you love your center part, you probably have a great face for it. But if you haven’t experimented with a new part for a while, it might be time to switch it up.

Being Scared of Bangs

If you’re worried about lines on your forehead, the easiest way to instantly erase a few years is to get bangs! Bangs always look youthful, and although they can be a little annoying to maintain, they’ll hide lots of wrinkles. Feel free to leave your forehead lines out for the world to see (we all have them!), but if you’re insecure about your brow lines, bangs are a super easy solution. There are lots of bang options out there, so for the most flattering look, pick bangs that best fit the shape of your face. InStyle recommends thick, gently arched bangs for round faces and side-swept bangs for a heart-shaped face. If you’ve got an oval face, the magazine said to get whatever bangs you want—all styles work for the oval shape. Feeling bold? Into the DIY haircut? Make sure you get the right tools, like this full hairdressing set. Your bangs won’t know what cut them—but you will! One-hundred percent 440C Japanese stainless steel.

Keeping a Hairstyle That Hasn’t Changed

Remember the lady with the 1985 hairstyle? Well, nothing ages you more than keeping your hairstyle the same for years on end. It automatically makes you look like you’ve lived through a bygone decade, and people will start doing the math on your actual age. Now, if you’re into any kind of retro look and you want that Farrah Fawcett style, go for it! But if your hair hasn’t changed in the time that four presidents have come and gone, then it’s time to try something new. A new look doesn’t have to be drastic. Even just a trim, parting your hair differently, or wearing it curly instead of straight will freshen up your overall appearance. Plus, it’s exciting to try something new. And remember, if you don’t like the change, you can return to your classic style whenever you want. Speaking of classic styles, don’t let us talk you out of mixing it up, so long as you can pull it off (and, of course, you can!). Want to try out a vintage look? Go ahead and bring it back, but put your own spin on it. Something like this 1940s Hairstyles book, complete with hundreds of vintage illustrations, photographs, and diagrams with instructions on how to replicate the styles, should offer you plenty to work with.

Trying to Look Too Young

Desperately trying to look super young is a surefire way to look older. That doesn’t mean you can’t try youthful looks, but you don’t need to go overboard. Basically, if you’re over 30, don’t feel obligated to make yourself look like an 18-year-old Instagram star. Remember butterfly hair clips?

For those of you who don’t remember that trend, butterfly clips were popular with middle school and high school students for about six months in the late 1990s. I vividly remember watching a soap opera during that time and seeing an over 40-year-old woman wearing a full head of butterfly clips. The woman was gorgeous, but by trying to look 15, she looked like a desperate 50. McCarthy insists that this doesn’t mean you have to go with “mom appropriate” hairstyles as soon as you turn 25. Just make sure that you choose a hairstyle because you love it, not because you think it’s what the kids are into these days. That said, some women who are bold and rocking it give a big hair flip to the notion that age should dictate anything about their fashion choices, as the photographer Ari Seth Cohen illustrates beautifully in the Advanced Style blog, a project dedicated “to capturing the sartorial savvy of the senior set.” For some truly inspiring content, check out the photographs in Cohen’s books, Advanced Style (2012) and Advanced Style: Older & Wiser (2016).

If you haven’t seen it yet, the documentary based on the blog is also a treat.

Lacking Confidence

This is really the biggest mistake of all, because you can do whatever you want with your hair so long as you have the courage to rock it out, as the darlings of Advanced Style have shown us. “Confidence and joy go a long way in making you appear more youthful than any hair color or style ever will,” says McCarthy. So if you’re 80 and you want hot pink hair—do it! We definitely don’t want anyone to think that there are rules once you become a “woman of a certain age.” If you want to break all the rules laid out in this article—go right ahead! Confidence makes any hairstyle look amazing. Unfortunately, confidence isn’t exactly a switch that you can turn on and off. It also can’t be entirely dependent on external factors, like whether the people around you admire you. (Many people will not approve of you throughout your life, for whatever reason.) True confidence has to come from within, and it must be cultivated. Nathaniel Branden, PhD, a psychotherapist and writer who made the study of self-esteem his life’s work, put it like this: “Self-esteem has two interrelated aspects: It entails a sense of personal efficacy and a sense of personal worth. It is the integrated sum of self-confidence and self-respect. It is the conviction that one is competent to live and worthy of living.” According to psychiatrist, philosopher, and writer Neel Burton, MD, low self-esteem is linked to mental disorder and distress and may have its origins in trauma (often stretching back to childhood), poor health, and the general sense of not being in control. There are a number of things you can do to nurture a strong sense of self that will empower you with a sense of competence and help you work through issues that may be blocking your ability to feel worthy. Glenn R. Schiraldi, PhD, has written some workbooks that might be helpful, depending on what you’re dealing with. His books have been translated into 16 languages, and he has trained clinicians worldwide on various aspects of resilience and trauma.

In the end, there is only one hairstyling rule that matters: Enjoy yourself. Just as we’ve all met the lady whose hair hasn’t changed since ’85, we’ve also met the grandma rocking a platinum bob who looks better than anyone 40 years younger. Have fun! You’ll look beautiful.

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