No curl is created equal.
That is why it is so challenging to find your exact texture, pattern, product, etc. match when talking to your curlfriends about hair! Even though all of us know this, we still talk to each other about our favorite leave-in conditioners and curl creams and moisturizing shampoos and brand new miracle hair oils because we are missing one key piece of knowledge amongst our curl spheres: Understanding our curly hair growth cycle.
Truth be told, all hair types, including the straightest and textureless, generally operate on the same exact hair growth cycle. This is because, well, we are only human. This is a great thing to know! Why? Because once you understand that all of us are in this "Are these curls going to grow long(er) or not" phase of our hair journeys, you will be halfway across the finish line of your end goal of healthy, gorgeous curls.
Understanding the hair growth cycle is the key to developing patience with your curls and texture.
To fully embrace how your hair will respond to nature, products, and styling tools, you must first understand the root of the matter where growth is concerned. The breakdown of hair growth cycle is in phase, each other working independently of each other, to give you the healthiest hair your body can produce. Here are the 3 phases you need to know about:
Anagen - Growth Phase
This is the phase we all love because it is when the hair is receiving nutrients from the blood supply. The good news for us curlies is that more than three quarters of our hair is actually in this phase simultaneously. Yes, that means that the other remaining quarter or so is in a non-growth phase (catagen and/or telogen - read more below). And get this: this phase can take between 2 to 6 years to complete. That is why your hair may have grown significantly in comparison to your bestie who seems to have difficulty achieving length, but is gaining a more defined pattern or increased density in the same amount of time. During this growth cycle, the hair follicle can grow to the upwards of 10 centimeters, or roughly 4 inches! Sounds promising, right? Well, it is!
Now, we will move on to the lesser known phases that impact how you need to care for your curls throughout the entire hair growth cycle.
Catagen - Transitional Phase
When you think of transitioning, you may think of a naturally curly woman growing out her chemically straightened strands to reveal teeny, weeny curls. In this case, the catagen or transitional phase indicates that your hair follicles are shrinking and this is a good thing. Why? Well, this 2-week long phase gives way to new growth once it reaches the telogen phase (read more below)! As stated by curly hair expert Allison Cooper, "The lower part of the follicle becomes destroyed and the dermal papilla, what nourishes the hair follicle, will break away." This science talk simply means that the hair strand will fall away to give way to new, healthy hair. Keep in mind that this is a normal non-growth phase and your hair needs to cycle through this brief period.
Telogen - Resting Phase
Need a break from all that curl manipulation, styling, and prepping? Well, so does your hair. When your hair strands reach the telogen phase in the hair growth cycle, they are literally at rest. Get this: this is a 5 1/2 to 6 weeks long phase when your hair does not grow (and that is perfectly normal; do not freak out). A small percentage of your curls are resting during this time. This means that you still need to continue gentle scalp massages to keep those follicles healthy even though your hair is resting.
NOTE: Your hair strands are NOT going through these hair growth phases simultaneously. According to Susan J. Huang, MD, "The reason that you don't temporarily go bald is that, at any given moment, some hairs are in the anagen phase, some hairs are in the catagen phase, and some hairs are in the telogen phase." Each phase serves to help your hair grow in a healthy manner! Sounds a bit chaotic, but that is why your hair does not 'fall out' or shed all at once like Dr. Huang stated. If it is, you need to get in touch with a reliable trichologist or your physician because there may be an underlying problem you need to address with a medical professional.
Overall, the curly hair growth cycle is just as intricate as you could imagine.
Fortunately for all of us, knowing these phases will lead us to make better maintenance and styling decisions in the future such as:
- Regular trimming of curls, split ends, and broken strands by cosmetological professionals
- Weekly scalp massages with stimulating oils such as peppermint, eucalyptus, and tea tree oil
- Nutritional and dietary upkeep for healthy hair growth
- Decreased curl manipulation via over-styling, product build-up, and unnecessary touching of the hair strands
- Recognizing the differences between hair fall and baldness, shedding, breakage, and other issues
Want more healthy hair information and tips? Get your research on with these CURLS 101 articles:
As ever, stay curly!
Psssst.... you know I can't leave you without a BONUS video! Take a moment to learn even more about the hair growth cycle from my trusted source of hair care information via YouTube with @ScienceofBlackHair! She explains the growth cycle process very easily and also talks about the Exogen Phase of the hair growth cycle.
I highly recommend bookmarking this article and her video for those moments when you need to determine what is happening during your hair's growth cycle: