Length retention. If ever there is something that continues to be a constant personal goal of mine, it would be this. While I am thankful that I’m not the kind of woman who has fallen for the complete and total myth that we are not able to grow long hair—lies, lies, LIES—I am someone who, because I didn’t follow some very important practices, ended up experiencing more split ends and breakage than I ever should have.
These days, I know what to do and not do to get my hair, not only to grow longer but to be as healthy as possible along the way. While the lessons that I’ve learned are hard ones, perhaps the silver lining is, I can prevent some of you from experiencing some of the growing pains that I had. If you’re looking to gain some inches, here are five very important things to keep in mind.
What you put into your body is critical.
Although I’m relatively a healthy eater, I didn’t realize the areas where I needed to do some significant “tweaking” until I became more intentional about growing out my hair. For instance, since our tresses are made up of mostly protein (keratin), it’s critical that our diet has a significant amount of protein in it. Meat and poultry top this list, but if you’re not a (big) meat eater, eggs, lentils, cottage cheese, chickpeas, quinoa, Greek yogurt, fish, spinach, peanut butter and oats are foods that can provide you with plenty of protein too. Also, foods with Vitamin A (like fortified cereals, fish, sweet potatoes, grapefruit and broccoli) help to provide your scalp with the sebum that it needs to keep it healthy. One study revealed that individuals who had hair loss issues noticed an almost 35 percent increase in hair growth by consuming more Vitamin E (some of those foods include almonds, sunflower seeds, mangoes, butternut squash and almond oil). Vitamin C foods (like any fruits or veggies that are orange or green in color) are awesome because they help your body to produce more collagen which will bring more strength and elasticity. And, of course, it’s important to drink plenty of water. Not only does it help your body to support the vitamins and minerals that it’s taking in, but it keeps your system hydrated so that your hair is less dry and brittle as well.
Oil is best in the sealing process.
I don’t knock hair grease. In fact, I wrote an entire article on the site about how it can benefit the hair growth process (check out “The Return of Hair Grease and How it Could be The Secret to Major Hair Growth”). But if you’re using it—or any other kind of oil—while your hair is dry, you’re not really going to get the kind of benefits that you’re looking for. The reason why oil is awesome overall is because it’s a great sealer for your cuticles, especially when it comes to protecting the ends (which is the oldest part) of your hair. But, in order for oil to work properly, you need to apply it while your hair is already wet (moisturized) so that the oil can help to “trap in” the moisture until the next time you wash and condition your hair. That’s not to say that I don’t apply a little shea butter and Jamaican castor oil onto my locks in between wash days. But too much oil—especially grease—when your hair is dry can actually make your hair hard or unmanageable which can lead to breakage which is exactly what you don’t want when you’re trying to gain some inches. So yeah, definitely make sure that you apply oil when it’s wet instead of dry. It will totally help your hair to flourish if you do.
Yes, you can go overboard with protective styling.
I think that my personal favorite protective style are long medium-length box braids. For a while, I adored them so much that I was getting them put in back to back. It was cool in the sense that it was helping me to keep my hands out of my hair. However, the challenge with constant braiding is it can put stress on your hair follicles (especially around your edges). Also, if you’re not super gentle when taking them out, that can cause damage too. One of my favorite quotes is by Aristotle. He once said, “An excess of a virtue is a vice.” What that means is, anything that is done in the extreme can work against you, even if it’s good for you. When trying to gain length, protective styling is great. Just make sure that you take breaks from time to time, that you deep condition your hair whenever you take the style down, and that you’re not so dependent on those looks that you never let your hair, in all of its glory, shine through.
Box hair color is r-i-s-k-y.
I am all about hair color. These days, black is more my thing but back in the day, there was literally no telling what shade I was going to rock from month to month (sometimes even week to week). Back when my hair was super short (and I wasn’t as knowledgeable about how hair dye can be bad for my health), I was doing bottle and box color all of the time. I didn’t really think about—or care—about if it was damaging my hair because it was too short to really notice, one way or the other. Now that I’m trying to grow my hair out though, I’m leaving box hair dye totally alone. I’ve tried it twice in this journey and, no matter how much the labels (which will go unnamed) claim that they won’t damage my hair (even if they are ammonia-free), they did. As a result, I had to cut off some inches because of it which, as you can guess, was totally counterproductive (ugh). These days, I’m more in the lane of using semi-permanent or color wax options. The colors are just as vibrant and far less damaging. Sure, I have to apply them more often (for instance, it’s not good to leave color wax in for more than a week because your hair needs moisture), but it’s better than having to constant cut my hair because some box dye totally damaged it.
If you’re not taking care of you ends, your work is in vain.
If you didn’t get anything else out of this, please make sure to retain this point. All of us experience somewhere between ¼- ½ inches of hair growth each month. This fact has nothing to do with ethnicity, by the way (I felt the need to say that in order to ever dispel the assumption that Black women’s hair doesn’t grow as long as other women’s hair does. You can see this video, this video and this video that prove otherwise). And while the speed of our hair growth does have somewhat to do with genetics, a main reason why a lot of us don’t see the growth that we want is because our ends are breaking off (or we’re cutting them) at about the same speed that our hair is growing, whether we realize it or not. So it’s imperative that you seal your ends, wrap your hair up with a silk or satin scarf at night and tuck them away in a braids or bun, or that you at least keep them off of your shoulders (where your ends could snag on your clothes) as much as possible. If you do all of this, I’d be floored if your hair doesn’t make some real progress; that you don’t end up with the long and beautiful locks that you’ve always wanted!