Should women over 40 cut their hair? Our beauty editor and top stylists wade in

We investigate the age-old question – should women over 40 cut their hair? (spoiler alert: It's complicated)

Composite image of Naomi Harris and Naomi Watts to answer Should women over 40 cut their hair?
(Image credit: Future/Getty images)

Should women over 40 cut their hair? Let’s begin by saying, no, I don’t think anyone should have their haircut dictated to them for any reason, especially not because of something as arbitrary as age. 

If your long hairstyle is your pride and joy, you keep it in great nick with the best hair dryer and treat it right with regular trims, the best hair masks and biotin for hair then brilliant. Keep on keeping on and don’t even think about chopping it off simply to conform to a laughably old-fashioned, socially-constructed expectation of what's appropriate.

Still, there's no denying the allure of easy, chic short hairstyles for women as we move through our 40s and beyond. Think about your friends and family – how many have flowing ribcage-length locks if several decades have passed since they were last ID'd for alcohol? I doubt all these women are simply being cowed by tradition, so there must be something in it.

Is there another reason grown-up women often decide to embrace shorter styles? And if so, why exactly should women over 40 cut their hair? I caught up with two top stylists to investigate.

Should women over 40 cut their hair? The pros explain

“It’s true, a lot of clients at 40+ prefer their hair to be no longer than shoulder length. The reason varies, but it's mostly due to having brittle-looking or thinning hair," explains Katie Allan, owner and director of Mayfive Hair (opens in new tab). "Taking into consideration that many women above the age of 40 color their hair, this can make it more vulnerable to damage. Often when the hair is longer than shoulder length, the condition of the hair can become compromised and it can start to look unhealthy.”

This theory sounds pretty reasonable (if a smidge gloomy) and it is backed up by A-list anecdotal evidence. In the year she turned 50, supermodel Cindy Crawford cut five inches off her hair, taking her signature flowing mane to mid-length. And guess what? Rather than bowing to age-related pressure, Crawford stated she was simply “trying to be kinder” to her hair. After decades of heat styling, her hair was damaged, so a cut seemed like the simplest and best way to restore health and vitality.

Cindy Crawford and Sarah Jessica Parker

Chic midi like Cindy or flowing length like Sarah? Both look fabulous after 40

(Image credit: Getty images)

Then again, Sarah Jessica Parker has maintained her signature lengths and has never looked better – did you feel any old flames of Carrie Bradshaw hair envy stoking back up while watching Sex and the City reboot And Just Like That? Ditto. 

SJP's tumbling hair weaves her natural gray hair color with sunkissed lights using a technique known as herringbone highlights. In a recent partnership with RoC Skincare, Parker said “Society puts a huge emphasis on youth when it comes to beauty standards, but it’s not productive. There should be no apologies. I am not trying to cover anything up with my approach to skincare, fashion, or beauty,"  – we are so here for this! 

What are the most flattering haircuts for women over 40?

It's not just changing hair texture that drives a desire for a shorter 'do – lifestyle and fashion play important roles, too. “I don’t believe anyone should change their hair just because of their age,” says Allan. “However, I do believe that if your lifestyle has changed, then it can be the right decision. Shorter hair is typically a lot easier to maintain, so many women will come in for a less demanding hairstyle."

“I personally love a blunt midi length with internal shape on my clients of 40+,” she continues. “This is for two reasons. Firstly, it’s an easy wash-and-go, and secondly, it’s classic and stylish. If my clients are feeling a little braver, then I recommend going for a pixie haircut – an asymmetric fringe with soft graduation in the nape. This can be stunning for the profile!”

John Frieda Salons senior stylist Nadia Dean (opens in new tab) agrees that shaping is crucial. “If your hair is fine, or the texture isn’t what it was, then a really good cut would work. It could be a few layers that give you more width and lifting effect or a bangs hairstyle, fringes disguise lines and look really cool; long bobs are a good intro to shorter hair. Be a little warier of very long straight hair, which can look harsh on some face shapes."

Ultimately, both experts and I agree that this is all about the individual. “A great cut should flatter and enhance your best features; there are lots of long styles that are great for older women,” says Dean. "Haircuts should be chosen for the individual client, not for age.”

Amen to that.

Flattering haircuts for women over 40 – at every length

1. Italian Bob

Naomi Watts

Naomi Watts

(Image credit: Getty)

The Oscar-nominated Australian actor frames her features by opting for a short Italian bob that works beautifully with her fine blonde hair. Wondering how often should you cut your hair in a style like this? Every eight weeks or so will keep it looking sharp. 

2. Short Choppy Pixie Cut

Lena Headey

Lena Headey

(Image credit: Getty)

The striking Game Of Thrones star wears any style well, but she particularly rocks this short choppy cut with its tousled top.

3. Slick and Short

Michelle Williams

Michelle Williams

(Image credit: Getty)

Michelle's platinum pixie crop looks great dressed up or down. This short haircut gives fine hair body and draws attention to Michelle's killer cheekbones.

4. Short and Shaggy with Curtain Bangs

Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama 

(Image credit: Getty)

Follow in Michelle Obama's footsteps with curtain bangs, which are a great way to soften a shaggy short haircut, drawing attention to the facial features. You can personalize this look by altering the length and fullness of your bangs.

5. Wavy Bob

Holly Willoughby

Holly Willoughby 

(Image credit: Getty)

Presenter Holly Willoughby elegantly styles the wavy bob, with her hair cropped just below the ears to give the look structure. Recreate this look using a curling iron on the ends of the hair only. Pre-treat with a hair mask or DIY rice water for hair rinse to ensure a shiny finish. 

6. Short with a side parting

Julie Andrews

Julie Andrews

(Image credit: Getty)

Legendary actress, Julie Andrews, is living proof that age is just a number and should not dictate how your hair must be worn. Short and stylish, this cut is a hassle-free way to draw attention to your facial features. The side parting ensures your hair delicately frames your face. 

7. Mid-length Curls

Retta

Retta

(Image credit: Getty)

Here, Good Girls and Parks And Recreation star Retta sports a lob with soft tousled curls for a distinctly feminine look. Opt for sporadic highlights in hair to lighten your look. 

8. Mid-length Waves

Kate Winslet

Kate Winslet

(Image credit: Getty)

Oscar winner Kate wears her hair just below the shoulders in a flattering mid-length style and honeyed tones that complement her skin.

9. Mid-length Wavy Lob

Kerry Washington

Kerry Washington

(Image credit: Getty)

Kerry's oval-shaped face allows her to wear her hair at all lengths, but this sophisticated,  wavy lob adds a touch of contemporary cool.

10. Sleek and Straight Mid-Length

Gwyneth Paltrow

 Gwyneth Paltrow 

(Image credit: Getty)

Follow Gwyneth Paltrow's lead by asking your stylist to add graduation to some face-framing pieces. This adds some contrast to the sleek and straight medium haircut and draws attention to your facial features. 

11. Tousled Mid-Length Curls

Kelly Rowland

Kelly Rowland

(Image credit: Getty)

Singer, Kelly Rowland, styles her hair in voluminous waves, accentuating her layers. Recreate this look at home by curling each strand of hair with your best curling iron and then using some hairspray to hold the look, scrunching each piece of hair to maintain its volume. 

12. Rounded Lob

Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling

(Image credit: Getty)

Mindy Kaling boasts the rounded 'lob' (AKA long bob) as an accessible, adaptable cut for any occasion. This look can be created by running a curling wand through at the ends to add a slight wave if you're looking for some extra dimension. We recommend using heat protection if using heated appliances on your hair. 

13. Long, straight and sleek

Sofia Vergara

Sofia Vergara 

(Image credit: Getty)

Sofia is known for her signature long, flowing style. She shows no sign of stopping – and why should she? She looks stunning with long straight locks with caramel balayage that complements her skin tone.

14. Long Layers

Jennifer Garner

Jennifer Garner

(Image credit: Getty)

Proof that long is luscious, Jennifer's loose waves are layered to frame her face and help create volume, while ultra-fine highlights at the front of the face work to lift the overall look.

15. Long shag with Layered Fringe

Halle Berry

Halle Berry

(Image credit: Getty)

Halle's style is supremely flattering. While her hair comes past her shoulders, it's lifted by layers, including a layered fringe and mid-blonde highlights that frame her face to perfection. We love this combination of color and a block fringe plus the cool, shaggy layers.

16. Long Locs

Naomi Harris

Naomi Harris

(Image credit: Getty)

Naomi Harris looks stunning with long locs, the perfect look to protect and accentuate natural hair, whilst adding some variation. We recommend leaving locs in for four to six weeks and, when washing, concentrate on cleaning the scalp to protect the locs. 

17. Free-Flowing Long Waves

Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez

(Image credit: Getty)

Jennifer Lopez proves time and time again that over 40s can choose, and most importantly absolutely rock, long hair. We love these effortless waves, which can be recreated using a wave spray, or if you're naturally straight-haired tonged in and set with hairspray. A perfect look for the summer months. 

18. Long Waves

Shakira

 Shakira 

(Image credit: Getty)

The auburn tint in Shakira's hair elevates long waves, with fine highlights concentrated on the face-framing pieces to lift the overall look. Incorporating long layers into your cut is a great way to reduce some of the weight of long hair, without jeopardizing the length. 

Fiona McKim
Beauty Editor, womanandhome.com

 As woman&home's Beauty Channel Editor, Fiona Mckim has tried more products than she’s had hot dinners and nothing makes her happier than raving about brilliant finds on womanandhome.com or her instagram grid (@fionamckim if you like hair experiments and cute shih-tzus). Fiona joined woman&home as Assistant Beauty Editor in 2013 under industry legend Jo GB, who taught her everything she needed to know (learn about ingredients and employ extreme cynicism). She has since covered every corner of the industry, from interviewing dermatologists and celebrities to reporting backstage at Fashion Week and judging the w&h Beauty Awards.

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