Is There a Secret to Long Hair or Is it Just Genes?
Guest Post Article By Bess from HairTress
I constantly hear commentaries about how afro-textured hair doesn’t grow or it just stops growing after a certain length. I used to think that way too when my hair decided to stay at neck length for almost a year.
Fact is though, our hair is constantly growing half an inch per month on average except there are internal factors affecting it like sickness or our hormonal levels.
And now that so many Black women are going back to natural hair you have to ask... Is there really a secret to growing our tresses long or is having long waist-length hair exclusively genetically determined?
Is there a secret to long hair or is it just genes?
For a majority of us, our greatest limiting factor to having long hair is poor length retention. Our hair doesn’t stop growing, it is simply breaking off, afro-textured hair has the ability to reach great lengths but you’ll never really know how long your hair can get if you keep letting it break off.
The secret to having a long mane is learning how to care for it to retain its length. It’s not easy. It might take a year or a little more to master what works for you and your coily hair type but once you do, you’ll be happy you started this journey.
Little side story
I’ve had that feeling before, feeling like my hair wasn’t growing at all. When my mane used to be relaxed, I would often get frustrated, “My hair just isn’t growing! It stays the same length all year”. Then I’ll have to put a relaxer on it every 3 months to get rid of “undergrowth”. I thought faithfully using relaxers made my hair grow. It took me a while to realize that the so-called “undergrowth” was actually my curls flourishing and not something to get rid of.
Now that I know some things about hair care and hair health, I now understand that I couldn’t see or profit of my new growth due to the poor care of my ends and brutal detangling methods. Even though all growth rates are not the same, it doesn’t mean that your hair isn’t growing. In my quest of understanding black hair care, I’ve learned that length retention can be one of the hardest goals to achieve in a hair journey.
This post will guide you through understanding why hair growth and length retention work simultaneously and should be given so much attention. In this post, I will talk about the secret to having long natural man: what Length retention is and possible reasons why you may not be retaining length
Is length retention the secret to having a long mane?
Length retention can simply be defined as the process of maintaining hair that is growing from our scalps. The ability for hair to hold on to its ends long enough to keep seeing remarkable changes in length as hair grows.
In order to retain length, you must start with the ends. Preserve your ends by dedicating most of your hair care treatments to it.
Do you baby your ends?
The ends of our hair are the oldest part of our hair strands and hence the most fragile. Being the part furthest away from the scalp and blood supply, they get the driest first. Our ends always end up wearing out faster than the part of our hair closest to our scalp. Therefore it’s imperative that we implement hair care practices that preserve our ends. The condition of the ends of our mane determines the amount of length we retain.
Before diving into tips on how to retain length, let’s look at 4 biggest limiting factors to at length retention.
4 key factors that affect how much hair length you retain
Our hair, be it natural or relaxed always need moisture to stay elastic and hydrated. Obviously, the more elastic our hair strands are, the less likely they will break off when stretched. Hence moisture is great for length retention.
Moisture is key to hair care. Mastering how to maintain moisture levels on our hair is definitely the start of an amazing curl life.
Oil is not moisture
Not even the best oils for hair health and growth can MOISTURIZE.
I guess I should emphasize that there is a difference between oily, greasy hair and moisturized hair. Moisturized hair is soft, flexible, bouncy and strong meanwhile oily hair is the opposite, looks bad even with all the oil in it, it may look shiny but feels terrible, stiff and brittle. The point is, oily hair is essentially still dry and dry hair breaks.
This is one thing I had to learn the hard way, I used to always oil my hair regardless of what state it was in. I didn’t even know how to determine when my mane needed moisture or when it just needed better care. The only way I knew to care for my hair was to oil it because I thought oil solved every hair problem, frizz, flakiness, dullness, dandruff etc. That’s exactly how I ended up with a neck length hair all through the year. (ps: and it wasn’t very good looking either).
Dry hair is inelastic, and it has a greater tendency to snap when stretched during styling or in the detangling process.
The real source of moisture for hair
Water is the only source of moisture for our hair. I had to learn to always use water or a water-based product to moisturize my curls then use an oil and a cream to seal in the moisture and also drink lots of water. Check more about that in my post about understanding moisture for hair growth.
Also beware of too much hair moisture
Too much moisture on hair can cause hygral fatigue (very weak strands of low elasticity that eventually break off) leading to damaged cuticle, somehow like a “spaghetti in water effect”. Leaving your spaghetti in just enough water will make it elastic, strong and flexible. But after it reaches that point, leaving it in a little more actually destroys the effect, more water gets absorbed making the spaghetti mushy instead.
Proper moisturization is definitely one of the key secrets to having long hair. Understanding moisturization is the key to hair growth and can make your hair flourish while improper moisturization might be reason why your hair is stuck at the same length.
2. Protein Treatments:
Hair is made up of a hard protein called Keratin and protein helps to strengthen our strands. Protein is what gives hair it’s strength and our hair structure is made up of about 70% protein.
Depending on how you wear your mane, you will often need to do a protein treatment once in a while. Except you can confirm to always having your mane in protective styles 24/7 throughout the year. Our hair’s protein constantly needs to be enhanced over time due to unavoidable wear and tear, reasons why you need protein treatments. When hair looks brittle and frizzes easily, chances are it’s lacking protein. Hair lacking in protein can’t retain as much length because it snaps easily when stretched.
Why you need a protein treatment
How much protein your hair needs is based on your hair care practices like how often you manipulate your mane, excessive combing, styling, heat usage, or hair coloring your hair.
Protein treatments are used to temporally strengthen weak hair. Dyed hair, texturized, relaxed hair, heat damaged or hair experiencing lots of breakage all need protein treatments to thrive.
How do protein treatments work
Proteins bind to the hair cuticle and help to temporarily rebuild weakened areas making the hair strand remain strong enough to fight breakage. Protein treatments strengthen areas of the hair that are weakened by the chemicals we put on our hair or by our normal daily styling.
How often should you do a protein treatment to have long hair
Most often, it is advisable to do protein treatments every 4 – 6 weeks. Nevertheless, it is better to always listen to your hair, self examine your hair to be able to know what treatment it needs at a given time rather than just doing treatments for the sake of keeping a routine.
You have to remember to always balance protein with moisture. Too much protein will eventually dry out your mane, make it brittle and still cause breakage. It’s good to keep a hair journal as well to help you keep track of what you do to your hair, enable you to balance out your hair treatments and easily know what your hair needs.
Remember: protein comes in various strengths, and there are a wide variety of protein treatments that serve different roles in hair care. Some are designed for more serious issues than others. What type of protein treatment you should do will depend on the state of your hair at the time.
See post on Protein treatments to determine when to do a protein treatment.
3. Over-manipulation vs Long hair
Contrary to popular belief that Afro-textured hair is strong, tough and unbreakable, our hair is actually very fragile and frequent manipulation increases the risk of easy mechanical damage.
The way our Afro-textured hair is made up, extra care has to be taken when handling our strands. I find that frequent manipulation does more harm to our mane than we often realize. Activities as basic as combing, brushing or even just touching our mane can be very detrimental. Of course, we can’t do without doing some of these things. Like we definitely need to comb our hair for detangling purposes especially when trying to do a new hairstyle. But if you can seize every opportunity you get to cut down on these practices that cause us to frequently come in contact with our hair, we’ll definitely be maximizing our chances towards attaining the long hair of our dreams.
Protective styles could save your life
Our hair does best when left alone and protective styles definitely help to keep our hair out of the way. Protective styles like simple buns, mini twists , braids etc keep our hair strands protected and help our hair retain moisture a little longer which is just great for retaining length.
Though not all protective styles are great for length retention. I find that the best protective styles that work great for length retention are low manipulation and long term protective styles. If a style requires you to brush, detangle, or flat iron every morning then it still classifies as over-manipulation of some sort.
Protective styling vs Wearing your hair out
Personally, When I first started out my hair journey I protective styled a lot, I still had my relaxed ends and 90% of the time my hair was in braids or twists. It really worked for me, I could really see the difference as my hair grew out. Then I transitioned for 13 months and on doing my big-chop, I decided to wear my fro out a lot more.
I didn’t want to go the hair salon for fear of “they wouldn’t know how to handle my voluminous tightly curled hair”. During the time, I did notice that I was experiencing so much single strand knots that were causing tangles. I didn’t trim my hair often but I wasn’t retaining as much length because I had my hair out a lot and I kept getting so much more tangles than usual.
Usually when we leave our hair out, our strands have the natural tendency to curl and as a result they curl around each other causing tangles.
Must you do protective styles
Protective styles are not mandatory as in you mustn’t protective style all the time, but they are very practical for providing your hair the break it needs from manipulation. You may not be a protective style fan like I am but know, that may be the reason you are not retaining length.
4. Split ends, Tangles and Knots
This one should be a little obvious. Split ends easily form knots on our strands. The more knots we get, the more our mane gets prone to tangling which will then require more detangling. Frequent detangling is just over-manipulation. This is definitely something we should avoid as over manipulation is not very length friendly.
Having knots damages your ends and the only long term fix for damaged ends is to cut them. All these split end repair treatments only work temporarily.
If your goal is to achieve long natural hair or just healthy hair, then you definitely should avoid split ends, knots and tangles.
To conclude …
In conclusion, having long hair is not a one day’s job and definitely not something that happens by luck. It’s a collection of hard work, several years of dedication to treating your hair right. Waist length afro-textured hair is totally achievable if that’s what you are aiming for. The secret to having long hair is beyond any doubt finding a perfect balance for the key factors that affect length retention listed above.
Definitely check out my post on my latest tips for how I retain length.