Your haircut, style, or color may not be doing you any favors in the youthfulness department. 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 tips, and you will be well on your way to a younger-looking.
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 to protect your ends from heat-styling damage, keep your hair hydrated, and tame frizz.
5. Monotone Hair Color
It does not 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 does not 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.”