woman with long, naturally wavy hair
Photo Courtesy of Milan Stojanovic -- Getty Images
Hair breakage is a stressful problem that most women will face at least once in their lifetime. Breakage can occur for several reasons such as
  • stress
  • medications
  • hormones
  • hairstyles
  • diet
Tired of hearing what can cause breakage and want to hear more about how to prevent it? We have six excellent ways to stop breakage and retain longer hair, but first let’s set the record straight on what you really want.

What you need to know about growth

Hair grows in four cycles. Anagen or growing phases last two to seven years and determine the length of one’s hair. Catagen or regression phase is next and lasts about ten days. This is where the hair follicle shrinks and detaches from the dermal papilla. The third phase is the telogen or resting phases. This phase lasts around three months, and while this hair is resting, a new strand is beginning the growing phase. The last phase is the shedding phase and the hair finally detaches.

As we age the anagen phases decrease, but these phases are happening on their own time clock, so wanting your hair to grow is not what most people mean when they say that. What they really mean is they want to retain length.

What is length retention?

Retaining length means holding onto your strands longer without damaging breakage. This is how one obtains longer hair because all too often, our habits are causing breakage and in turn makes one think their hair is no longer growing. The object is to stop the bad habits so that hair is retained longer and you achieve the length you desire. Here are six helpful ways to obtain the length you are striving.

6 steps to stop breakage for longer hair

1. Damp detangling

Detangling comes with the territory if you have wavy, coily, or curly hair. Our hair coils around itself and can cause knots or tangles and often lead to breakage when trying to remove them. Some dry detangle and others wet detangle but for the most successful and effective detangling sessions, hair needs to be damp. Hair is weakest when it is wet so detangling saturated hair is allowing for more breakage despite hair being easier to work with. Dry detangling is an option many prefer, but you run the risk of snapping strands or even chipping away at the hair’s cuticle. I also hate feeling like I am ripping at my hair when trying to dry detangle.

How to damp detangle

Damp detangling is detangling dry hair that has been spritzed with water and applying a detangling conditioner or a butter to help soften the hair and add slip. This is the most ideal setting for hair as it is pliable enough to work in and remove the tangles but not too wet to make hair weak and susceptible to breakage. This allows for strands to retain their length and you will see a big difference if you feel you’ve hit a plateau.

2. Protective styling / low manipulation

The more we handle our curly strands, the more we can actually cause breakage. Even the routines we have in place to keep our hair healthy like shampooing or cleansing our hair is damaging. Curly hair needs less manipulation and the biggest reason many opt for protective styles or low manipulated styles. Those styles include updos, buns, braids and any style that tucks aways the ends of your hair, which are the oldest strands and often weakest strands on our head. Most styles that keep your strands tucked away from the elements, clothing, and you is a protective style, but never neglect your hair just because it is tucked away. It still needs to be washed, conditioned, and moisturized.

3. Regular trims

This point cannot be stressed enough. Holding onto raggedy, split ends is very damaging to the health of your hair. Regular trims keep your strands healthy and prevent split ends from spreading upward along the hair shaft. Allowing the split to get this point means that even more hair will need to be cut due to damage later down the line. I go twice a year for a trim, and I can always tell when it is time when my fairy knots are more present. As an added bonus, hair with clean ends always looks better and can hold styles better.

4. Stop heat styling

Heat styling is a dangerous way to handle curly, coily, and wavy hair. Even one application of direct heat can cause irreversible damage to the hair shaft. The protein bonds in the hair have been permanently damaged and you are left with weak, limp hair that cannot retain moisture. There is no cure for this and one can only cut off heat-damaged hair. Even with the application of a heat protectant, heat damage can occur, as heat protectants only reduce the chances of damage.

Flat irons, blow-dryers, curling wands and curls are all examples of direct heat and when set too high they can not only cause heat damage, but also dry out the hair leaving it vulnerable to breakage too. Curly girls should leave direct heat alone or use it sparingly, like a few times a year. While that may sound extreme, any style you want that you feel requires heat can be created with non-heat methods like roller wrapping, threading, or banding. It's all about finding alternatives.

5. Keep hair moisturized

Moisturized hair is less prone to breakage. Dry, brittle strands are easier to break and have less elasticity, whereas moisturized strands are more pliable and less prone to breakage. You can keep hair moisturized by using moisturizing water-based products. I prefer good old-fashioned water for my moisturizing holy grail, but the balance between moisture and protein is vital for holding onto your strands longer and gaining length.

6. Regular protein treatments

There must be a proper balance of moisture and protein for length retention. From light protein-based products to heavy duty protein treatments, finding one that works for you is vital. If you manipulate the hair a lot, have high porosity hair, use heat, or use chemical treatments like color or straighteners, you will need to rebuild the hair’s cuticle with protein treatments. That can be monthly or every few months dependent on your hair’s health or hair care routine. I have high porosity hair but steer clear of heat and chemicals, so I have been using monthly protein treatments. Too much protein can lead to dry, brittle strands but too little can lead to mushy, limp strands too. Strong hair that has the proper moisture and protein leads to retaining your strands longer and gets you the length you desire.