The Only Post You’ll Need to Read If You Want To Grow Long Hair

Friday, October 5, 2018

FroBunni | The Only Post You'll Need to Read If You Want to Grow Long Hair header

I wrote this post on growing long, natural hair awhile ago for a Facebook group that I moderate. It's very long, but also very detailed. It's been edited to make it relevant for my blog. 

The Very Basics

We get a lot of questions each day about growing long hair. People are desperate to find the “secret.” Is it Shea butter? Onion juice? Rice water? It’s actually none of these things. It is just a good, solid regimen.

What is a hair care regimen? It is simply the way in which you care for your hair. Just because you have a regimen, doesn’t mean it’s good or comprehensive enough. Many have very poor regimens that do not lead to healthy hair, which is important for growing long hair.

Before I get into the four main components of a regimen, let’s talk about hair growth rate and terminal length. Both hair growth rate and terminal length are determined by genetics. But while the rate is relatively easy to calculate, terminal length is not. Just because you are not retaining length (retaining length means retaining the amount of hair that has grown from the scalp) doesn’t mean you’ve reach terminal length. Often times, when we aren’t retaining length, it’s a sign that the hair is breaking. The question then becomes what is causing the breaking?

Hair grows from the scalp. Hair can break at any point along the hair shaft, but most often towards the ends, the weakest part of the hair. Hair grows, on average, half an inch a month; this means you can grow, on average, 6 inches a year. (The average is calculated by dividing the sum of the values in the set by their number. So remember, the average hair growth rate doesn't mean everyone will attain this many inches in a year.) This will vary from person to person. It could be 4 inches for some, could be 8 inches for others. Because it is genetic, you can not speed growth rate. You will want to aim to retain at least 80% of this growth. It’s possible to have 100% retention, but not likely.

Hair growth rate is genetic, but certain factors can prevent you from achieving the most optimum hair growth for you. This means that to get the best growth for you, you’ll want to eat healthy (get a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients - protein, fat, carbs), drink water, exercise, and reduce stress. While these things are important, honestly, many people can grow long hair without doing these things. My advice, do them to be healthy, not to grow long hair. And a quick note about hair growth vitamins, there is no guarantee that they will help with hair growth. If you want a vitamin, pick a daily vitamin that supports overall health. Not just hair growth.

If you want to determine your growth rate, the best way is to dye a section of hair and then measure the amount of hair that has grown out after three months. This isn’t necessary, but it’s actually the easiest, most measurable way to create a clear start point. Again, it’s not necessary, nor do you have to do it (I also don’t recommend if you don’t want to dye your hair, but I’m being as comprehensive as possible, so I’m giving all the answers in this post).

Putting Together a Good Regimen

A good regimen requires four main components: the wash day, daily maintenance, detangling, and styling. Let’s go over each one addressing potential issues that could prevent you from retaining length.

And before I begin, I will just address basic hair care. There may be some things that I won't address because I think they should be considered after a solid understanding of the basics. For example, I say to use shampoo to wash hair, when there are great non-shampoo alternatives like clay wash. While I don't have anything against clay washes, I think introducing them to someone who may not even understanding moisturizing and sealing is a bit premature.

Wash day

A good wash day will involve using shampoo to clean the scalp, deep conditioning for a few minutes (preferably longer with a heating cap) to moisturize to the hair, detangling with deep conditioner in hair, applying a leave-in-conditioner to help the hair retain moisture, sealing with oil or a butter to keep the moisture sealed within the hair strand, and then styling.

This is a very basic wash day that addresses many common issues. First, shampooing the scalp (and making sure you massage the scalp for 3-5 minutes) helps to lift and remove dirt and dandruff. Second, using a deep conditioner will add moisture back into the hair. Moisturized hair resists breakage due to dry hair. Detangling at the end of deep conditioning should give the hair enough slip so that it’s easier to detangle, which reduces breakage from manipulation; and moisturizing and sealing helps keep the hair moisturized (again, moisturized hair resists breakage due to dryness).

Some tips to make the process easier: wash, condition, detangle, and style in sections. Personally, I like to wash in two sections, conditioner and deep condition in four sections, and detangle in 8 sections. Second, shampoo isn’t necessary, but you want something to clean the scalp and hair. This can include clay washes, Ayurvedic herbs, etc. Third, if you have a lot of tangling during the wash process, put your hair in two strand twists to help minimize this. This also helps to prevent hair from shrinking too much during the wash process. Fourth, I'm sure you noticed I skipped plain, rinse-out conditioner. You can add conditioner in after shampooing, but if you deep condition, it's not necessary. If you're low on time, and you want to just shampoo and condition, and skip deep conditioning, that's also fine. But, remember to deep condition regularly (I would say, at least, once a month, if not more).

Common issues during wash day. First and foremost, people try to go as long as possible without washing. The longer you go without washing your hair, the more dirt and dandruff you’ll have to contend with when you finally wash your hair. This will vary from person to person, but expect dandruff, which is a build up of dead skin that flakes, to start around one to two weeks after washing the hair properly. Also, I can’t stress this enough, but you need to massage the scalp when you wash. This will help remove any dandruff on the scalp. Another issue, people don’t condition after shampooing. Stop doing this; you should always shampoo with a rinse-out or deep conditioner.You will want to make sure you use a protein deep conditioner once a month. This helps prevent breakage due to weak hair. You shouldn’t do this all the time, once or maybe twice a month will do.

Daily Maintenance

Daily maintenance is how you take care of your hair day to day. It doesn’t need to involve much, just keep your hair moisturized and reduce breakage. To do this, moisturize with water or a water-based leave-in-conditioner (read the ingredients on the bottle, water will be the first ingredient), and immediately follow up with a butter or oil. Water moisturizes and sealing seals that moisture in the hair. This helps prevent breakage due to dryness. I recommend doing this every day, but you can do it every other day or every third day. If your hair is particularly dry, you can even do it twice a day. Just make sure your hair isn’t always wet or damp, which can cause hygral fatigue. You want hair dry (physically to the touch) in between moisturizing and sealing. If you have braids, twists, or any other similar protective style; add water, leave-in conditioner, and oil in a spray bottle, and spray hair.

Common issues during moisturizing and sealing. There really aren't that many issues with moisturizing and sealing. If you are worried about your hair shrinking because of the water, put hair in two-strand twists, braids, bantu knots, perm rods, etc. until dry. I moisturize and seal at night to give my hair  time to dry in those styles. Also, while a leave-in-conditioner isn't necessary, if your hair is particularly dry, it helps to use one. If you are low-porosity, moisturize and seal, and then use a heating cap to help the moisture penetrate the hair shaft.

Detangling

Detangling is a common place people experience breakage. I explained above that detangling can be done during the wash day process, but it doesn’t have to be done during the deep conditioning process. It can also be done before shampooing, using a pre-poo conditioner to help soften and add slip to hair, as well as after moisturizing and sealing. It can also be done at other points, but keep these basic tenants. Detangle on damp hair, but not wet or dry hair, which can cause excessive breakage due to manipulation. Use a product with slip like a conditioner, leave in conditioner, or water and oil. In sections (always detangle in sections), start detangling from the ends and slowly work up to the roots. Detangle with a wide tooth comb (do not use a fine tooth comb) or your fingers.

Common issues during detangling. Detangling can be difficult for many people, and there are many different ways to detangle. I recommend going to youtube and watching how other naturals detangle their hair. Try different techniques to find the right one for you. Also, do not rush. If you rush, you’re more likely to be too rough and cause breakage due to manipulation. You shouldn’t be combing every day either. I realize many people do this; it’s not necessary and is way too much manipulation on natural hair. Keep hair stretched (in simple two-strand twists, braids, buns, etc.) if your hair gets tangled easily.

I want to talk about shedding and I’m placing it in the detangling section for a reason. Shedding is a normal, biological process. Shedding is a hair strand reaching the end of its cycle. It is identifiable by a white bulb on the end of a strand. Excessive shedding is something to be concerned about, but outside of a medical issue or malnutrition, excessive shedding isn’t that common. You should expect to lose around 100 hairs a day. If you have a protective style in for a long period of time, when you finally loosen the style and detangle the hair, you will see a lot of shed hair. This is normal, it’s just because you weren’t removing the hair when it shed. It’s important to learn the difference between breakage and shedding so that you can identify if your detangling technique is causing breakage or you’re just remove shed hair (which is one of the goals of detangling). Until you get to a point where you’re comfortable with detangling and knowing that it’s not causing breakage, inspect the hair after you detangle. If you see a lot of hair, but not that many white bulbs, you’re causing breakage.

Styling

Styling is how you style your hair (duh). There’s a few basic tenants, but we’re mostly going to talk about protective styles, low manipulation styles, and traction alopecia. Hair styles should never pull the scalp or hurt, so be mindful putting in twists, braids, and weaves, and do not pull hair too tight when putting it in a ponytail or bun. Also be careful not to pull or rip the hair when styling.

A protective style protects and covers the ends (braids and twists with extensions, crochet braids, bun, french rolls), while a low manipulation style is a style where you don’t have to redo or restyle the hair daily (can be any style, including those where the ends are out). A hairstyle can be both protective and low manipulation. There’s no time limit for how long you should keep a protective style in. It could be a day, a few days, a week, a month, etc. You don’t want to keep one in for more than six weeks. The longer the protective style is in for, the more likely damage and breakage occurs due to dryness and build up. To take a protective style out, go slow, take your time, and work in sections. Apply a deep conditioner, let it sit on the hair, finger detangle to remove any tangled hair and knots, then do a normal wash day. Again, you will have a lot of shed hair during this time. It’s normal.

A quick note about temporary locs. Don’t. Yesterday, someone made a post about having a lot of breakage after loosening her temporary locs. We - the admins, mods, and a few others - have said that this is not a protective style; the takedown process causes a lot of breakage due to manipulation and damage (more than any other style), and you will retain very little, if any hair at all. It’s one thing if you’ve been loced for years and years and years, and you want to have loose, natural hair without having to big chop. It’s another entirely to do it temporarily. If a stylist says it’s possible, she’s misinformed.

About your edges. The edges are generally the weakest part of the hair at the root. They tend to be finer, more susceptible to damage, and easier to pull from the root. This is why it’s so important to leave the edges alone and not try to pull in every single strand of hair in a protective style. Unfortunately, many have been doing these protective styles for years, and, in some cases, decades. Pulling hair out from the root can cause damage. This continued damage can permanently damage the hair follicle to the point that it will not grow hair again. If this happens, there’s nothing you can do, outside of medical intervention, to regrow the hair. If the hair is not permanently damage, but severely or moderately damaged, it may take awhile for the hair to regrow, upwards of a year, and be significantly thinner and sparser than it was before.

The Details

Okay, so we’ve gone over the basics of a hair care regimen. I’m going to go over a few more things, but I always recommend that people go to YouTube and see this in practice. It’s easy to read through this post, but it also helps to see real world application. You'll see what this looks like in real life. You’ll see many different processes and techniques, and it’s important to note that these things work for those people. You’ll need to figure out what works for you. Try different things (not all at once), see how your hair responds, keep what works, and get rid of what doesn’t.

Porosity

Porosity is how fast your hair absorbs water. Low porosity is when the hair cuticle tightly overlaps making it difficult for hair to fully absorb water. High porosity is when the hair cuticle is more open and/ or chipped and absorbs water very quickly, but also becomes dry very quickly. High porosity can be normal, but can also be damaged hair. To determine porosity, place clean shed hair in a class of water. After a 30 seconds to a minute, if the hair stays at the top, it’s low porosity; if it floats to the bottom, it’s high porosity. If it floats in the middle, it’s medium porosity. Porosity is neither good nor bad, but a simple characteristic of hair.

I have blog posts on tips to properly care for low porosity and high porosity hair. Medium porosity hair can adopt any of these tips.

Trimming

You should expect to trim your hair. Trimming hair helps to get rid of split and frayed ends that make the hair look raggedy, but can also cause knots and tangles. Personally, I trim when my hair tangles more than usual, but it may differ for you. If you feel you don’t need to trim or don’t know when, a good baseline is once every 3 months. If you’ve been following a good regimen, you shouldn’t have too much damage to trim off. Maybe half an inch.

Genetics

Every time I make one of these posts, someone chimes in with “its genetics.” I’ve already explained how terminal length is hard to determine. I thought I’ve reached terminal length three times only to figure out a weak part of my regimen, and once addressing that, was able to retain length again. Often people cite their mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin, etc. as a reason that they can’t grow long hair and it’s genetic. But I often ask where did they learn how to care for their hair. Mom? Grandmother? Aunt? Our hair care practices, good or bad, are passed down from our whoever took care of our hair growing up. So, if you realized that you learned the wrong thing, or even aren't fully sure, try the techniques I explained in this post for a few months, and see if you see a difference.

How to Go Natural

This really isn’t the post for this, but I’ll answer it quickly regardless. You need to cut your hair to go natural. You can cut all the hair off at once, which is called a big chop, or let the natural hair grow as you gradually cut off the relaxed hair, which is called transitioning. Neither option is better, it’s a personal decision you have to make for yourself. Regardless of the decision you make, you still need to care for your hair immediately. Some people will say “I big chopped a month ago, when should I start a regimen?” You should’ve started when you big chopped. Same for transitioning.

Also, some people say the relaxed hair turns to natural if you give it time. It doesn’t. What’s happening is the relaxed hair is breaking off. I don’t recommend you aim for this because it can split and fray the ends, which can travel up the hair shaft damaging the natural hair. Some people also say you can revert the hair using beer or soda, this is also false. When people do this, their hair will feel rough, but it doesn’t mean your hair reverted to natural.

Lastly, your natural hair date is the date of your last relaxer. It’s not when you officially decided you were going natural or when you started caring for your hair. People get confused by this, especially if they had a long transition. It is the date of your last relaxer. So, for example, if your last relaxer was September 2017 and you big chopped June 2018. You’ve been natural for 10 months, NOT ONE MONTH.

Patience and Consistency

This is the last thing I will leave you with. All this hard work will pay off, but only if you’re consistent and patient. A regimen is a lifetime. It needs to be integrated into your day to day life. You don't do it once and stop. You don’t do it ten times and stop. It’s forever. So decide now if you really want to put in the work. If you don’t want to take the time to learn all of this and do it, then get a wig and call it a day because this won’t happen without you adopting it as a lifestyle. And also be patient. Yesterday, I deleted 4 posts asking to grow long hair over a very short amount of time. I explained above, but you should only expect 4-6 inches of hair growth a year. This isn’t really that much, but it adds up over time. Be patient. Don’t stress yourself out over that. Just focus on the care and the length will come.

Got a question or just want to say hi? You can connect with me on my social networks!

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