Printer Friendly Version Email A Friend Add This Increase Text Size Decrease Text Size

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.


Related Taxonomy

Review Date: 10/27/2008
Reviewed 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.
A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission ( URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2009 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Home Page
Why Choose Us
Website Terms of Use

Visitor & Patient Info
Patient Portal
We Speak Your Language
Patient Privacy
Contact Us

Find a Physician
Medical Services
Maimonides In the News
Directions & Parking

Medical Education
Career Opportunities
Nurses & Physicians
Staff Intranet Access
Maimonides Medical Center    |    4802 Tenth Avenue    |    Brooklyn, NY 11219    |    718.283.6000    |