What actually works to keep your hair young and beautiful?

Curly gray hair

We've slathered on anti-aging skin potions for centuries, but did you know that hair can age just like skin? While grays are often referenced as a giveaway of getting older, locks can also age by becoming thin, fragile and limp with time.

A glance at the hair care aisle shows brands are increasingly using terms like “anti-aging” and “age-defying” to market products that claim to restore hair to its younger, stronger, more smooth and lustrous self.

But do these formulas really make a difference?

Good Housekeeping Research Institute delves into that question in their Second Annual Anti-Aging Awards, which puts over 100 hair care products with ageless claims to the test with both science lab studies and nearly 600 female testers age 35 or older.

"Anti-aging hair products are a growing segment of the beauty market, and there are a lot of brands out there making claims. Our readers want to know where to spend their money, and we're unique in that we have the tools to scientifically evaluate the effectiveness of products in the Good Housekeeping Research Institute," explains Rosemary Ellis, editor-in-chief of Good Housekeeping.

The Science Behind the Testing

For the panel testing, product labels were blackened with electrical tape to guard against brand name bias. Testers used cleansing and styling products multiple times over one week to judge consistency on claims of softer, shinier and smoother hair. For hair color, results were evaluated at the three to four week mark, in accordance with claims printed on the box.

In the lab, a team of scientists divided nine pounds of human hair to create 736 swatches. Brown hair swatches used for product testing were bleached to induce aging damage, while 100% gray hair was used for permanent haircolor testing, and gray blends for demi-permanent color testing.

To judge how well the anti-aging hair products performed, the lab created unique equipment to test hair swatches. The Instron, which methodically combs through hair, measures the amount of friction while moving through wet and dry hair – the less resistance, the healthier and more protected hair is against breakage.

Read More: Healthy Hair Quiz

A shine cylinder calculated the amount of surface reflection under exactly the same environment, and a washing station provided controlled temperature and water pressure speed so that all swatches experienced the same cleansing conditions. For hair color testing, the Accelerated Weathering Tester bathed swatches in UV light to see how quickly hair color would fade with daily wear.

Anti-aging tips for your hair

Fortunately for those of us without a team of engineers devising complex product tests, there are some general rules to live by for healthier, younger-looking hair.

“On average, we naturally shed about 100 hairs per day that are replaced by new hairs. As we age, this process shortens, so hair becomes thinner…and can look frayed or wiry,” says Zahir Ziani, National Creative Director of Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa. Lipid production also slows, causing hair to texture to change to a drier, duller finish.

Read More: Hair Loss Discussion