Is the voice in your head telling you that you’re now officially over the hill? 40 is just a number, true, but it’s an important milestone for many people, and there are important physiological changes that are taking place. Similar to our article on entering the 30s, it can be helpful to understand what’s happening to your body and how you can best take care of yourself.
1. Hormonal Changes
Significant changes are occurring around this time. Hormones are powerful and can play an essential role in regulating everything from energy stores to skin tone, muscle, and even your emotions. As estrogen, the female hormone begins to decline in women, and less collagen is produced. As a result, this impacts your appearance in several ways:
- Skin can become thinner
- Skin can sag or wrinkle
- Loss of elasticity
- Dry skin
Men don’t get a free-rider either. Men’s testosterone levels decline (though much more gradually), causing various problems, so women are certainly not alone in feeling the changes around their 40s. Skin hydration is a common complaint at this age – you may want to experiment with your moisturizers to find a product that can provide the extra hydration that your skin needs.
2. Hair Problems
While we all hope to be graceful in accepting change, hair problems have a way of negatively affecting people’s psychological and social well-being.1 The most common hair-related changes are hair loss, graying hair, and excess facial hair.
Graying hair is probably the most common concern. Graying occurs when there isn’t enough melanin being produced in the hair follicle. There are ethnic differences in the timing of graying hair; Caucasians start to gray in their 30s, Asians in their late 30s, and African Americans in their mid-40s.2 The timing of the “silvers” is mostly genetic, and there isn’t too much we can do except to conceal it, at least at this time.3 Thankfully, there are many practical solutions to color problems. Permanent or semi-permanent coloring or highlights are flexible options that allow you to blend and manipulate your hair color in the way that you prefer. Your hairstylist can be a great person to consult with about your color concerns.
Hair loss is the other big one. There are many possible causes for hair loss and different types of hair loss – some of which have little or nothing to do with aging. As a general rule, if hair loss occurs in a short period, you should consult a dermatologist.4 The merits of specific treatments are beyond the scope of this article. Still, there are many treatment options, such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT), finasteride, or minoxidil, that can address hair loss.
Unwanted hair can also emerge around the chins, which can be an issue, particularly for women. Both female hormones (estrogen) and male hormones (androgens) decline with age but at different rates. The balance and ratio of the hormones, therefore, change with more male hormones running through the body as women reach menopause. These changes can have the effect of producing unwanted hairs or thickening of facial hair. Facial hair can be managed with standby tools – tweezing, waxing, shaving. There are other treatment options as well, which you may want to consult a dermatologist about.
3. Metabolic Changes
The metabolic slowdown is a process that has started at least a decade before you hit your 40th birthday. You may have noticed more fat or less muscle in your body. These effects are cumulative, and by 40, these changes may be getting more noticeable, especially if you’ve been living a sedentary lifestyle. What’s worse, your resting metabolic rate declines sharply after age 405, meaning that now is the time to take action.
The good news is that this is something that you can counteract. You know what that means – a change in (…I know…groan) lifestyle. These have far-reaching consequences beyond just having beautiful skin.
Diet: Eat quality foods – or as the kids say these days, eat clean. Both diet and exercise are important – but in terms of efficiency, as we’ve mentioned in the past, diet is king. You can’t outwork a bad diet. Framing it this way may not be helpful to you. Another way to think of it is to view it as a package deal because, truthfully, it is. When you eat better, you can move better, which motivates you to eat better again. In practice, neglecting one side of the equation often leads to neglecting the other.
Exercise: There’s a reason that the treadmill display showing how many calories you burned seems disappointing; working out is hard relative to the calorie burn. Does that mean that you shouldn’t focus on exercise? No. Exercise is widely recognized as a keystone habit – one that triggers a chain reaction of reinforcing other good habits, making them beneficial far beyond the direct benefits.6 Exercise also has numerous benefits both for your skin, skeletomuscular and cardiovascular system. It’s no wonder that exercise is always on the top of the list for any self-help advice.
4. Dry Skin
The moisture level in your skin changes with age. Beginning in your 30s, we all veer off towards dry skin. This process accelerates in your 40s and, unfortunately, doesn’t stop there. On the bright side, hormonal or adult acne, which can be incredibly frustrating for women, tends to dissipate as well. Your skincare routine may need to adapt as your skin changes. Generally, opt for stronger moisturizers (or any moisturizer if you haven’t been using them) to balance out the drier skin.
If all this seems like doom and gloom, it’s sagging, not aging. It’s not only your biology that’s changing but also your life situation and your priorities and perspectives. While many of the biological changes can be unwelcome, to say the least, most of them can be managed effectively with an appropriate adjustment in lifestyle, skincare routine, and perspective.
3Very occasionally, there may be an underlying medical condition or nutritional deficiency that causes graying hair, but this is quite rare. Still, it may be worth consulting a dermatologist for options.
4Hair is quite sensitive to minor changes in your body – and hormonal changes can trigger hair loss, change in weight, nutritional deficiencies, illness, or even stress.