Two years ago, this coming July, I made the decision to grow my hair out. Chile, when I tell you that NOTHING will teach you more about patience and how to be at peace with the process of things like your hair will, sometimes I think that I'm gaining more character than actual hair length.
Anyway, since I've always been able to cut and style my own hair (even when I was rockin' a fade), it's been a form of self-torture to try and keep my hands out of it. And to not color it. And to not want to dust my ends on a weekly basis. Because I've been in detox in these areas, while my hair should be getting close to shoulder-length at this point, it's actually around my ears. It's not that my hair isn't growing. It's that it's taken me a while to do what is necessary in order to retain lasting length.
In the pursuit of gaining more self-control when it comes to leaving my hair totally alone, it's currently in a set of long box braids. But for about six months before I decided to do that, I must admit that my natural hair was making more progress than ever. Through research, trial and error and even random days of cussing and crying, I have finally figured out what I need to do in order to keep my hair healthy and in order to keep it on the road to gaining more inches.
If you're currently natural and wondering why your hair ain't growin', I'm thinking it's because you're probably not doing some of the following things. Whatcha think?
1. You Don’t Know Your Hair’s Texture or Porosity
If I had known more about this point alone, perhaps my hair would be down my back without the help of braids (sigh). Anyway, know better, do better, right?
You probably know what your hair texture is about. It's how tightly or loosely your hair curls/coils. For most of us, we tend to have more than one kind of texture (I'm mostly 4a with some 3c and 4c in areas). As far as hair porosity goes, the long short of it is how well your hair is able to hold and retain moisture. Porosity breaks down into three categories—high, normal and low.
This point could be its own book series, but if you want to learn more about your hair texture, check out this article. To figure out more about your hair's porosity, check out this video, this video and this video. It's well worth the research.
2. You Have a Love/Hate Relationship with Shampooing
Figuring out how often you should shampoo your hair is not a one-size-fits-all type of situation. The amount of product you do or don't use, how much you workout and even if your scalp flakes a lot, all play a factor. Whatever the case may be, one thing you can be sure of is if you use a shampoo that contains sulfates, you're doing your hair more harm than good.
Something that natural hair is always gonna need is moisture. That's why it's important to not use any product that will strip your hair of it. Personally, I shampoo with a non-sulfate brand and then follow that up with a deep conditioner (more on that in just a sec). I used to do the whole co-wash thing (that's basically when you wash your hair with conditioner), but it actually made my hair too soft to the point that it was losing elasticity.
What I do know is that our hair goes through a lot on wash days, so it's important to find the kind of products that work best for you rather than picking what's popular. And how can you know if your shampoo isn't being all that beneficial? If after using it, your hair feels dry or dull, your color fades fast, it's difficult to style, it's lacking volume, your scalp is irritated or you simply see far too many chemicals on the label—that's a cue to look for something else. Or (even better) to make your own shampoo.
3. You Don’t Deep Condition Often Enough
There's conditioning. Then there's deep conditioning. When you're trying to keep natural hair healthy, it's a good idea to deep condition your tresses every time you shampoo your hair (if you do that every other week or so). Not only does deep conditioning penetrate your strands and protect them, it also reduces the amount of damage your hair experiences from styling it. Deep conditioning also helps to promote your hair's elasticity and keep it extra moisturized in between washes. It's also a good move if you color treat your hair since doing that has a tendency to make hair dry and brittle.
That's not to say that your hair can't get too much of a good thing. If you deep condition your hair more than four times a month, it can make your hair look flat and feel mushy. The way to bring balance back is to do a protein treatment (which basically fills in the holes along your hair shaft), but if you do that too much, it can make your hair hard. So yeah, deep conditioning no more than once a week (and following the instructions on the label) is gonna be your best bet.
Bonus Tip: Rice water as a form of a conditioning rinse is pretty dope too. Learn more about why here.
4. You Rarely Pamper Your Scalp
Does it matter how beautiful a house is if its foundation is all jacked up? That's how we need to look at our scalp when it comes to growing out our hair. Just how can you know if your scalp needs some TLC? If it's extra dry; if you've got dandruff (which is basically like a mild yeast infection on your head because dandruff comes from a yeast-like fungus called malassezia globose); if it's irritated; if you have lots of product build-up; if your hair is breaking (pieces of it are snapping off) or shedding (full strands of hair with the bulb attached are coming out more than usual) or if you notice any sores, bumps or it's burning.
In most cases, you can heal your scalp yourself by exfoliating it with some brown sugar and olive oil, massaging it with a blend of peppermint oil, lavender oil and avocado oil and keeping your dirty nails or sharp styling tools off of it. Bottom line, your scalp needs just as much attention as your hair does. Love on it consistently. Your hair will thank you.
5. Your Hands Stay All Up in It
This. One. Right. Here. Sometimes my hands are in my hair and I don't even notice it, like when I'm driving or chillin' and reading a blog. That's not good because hair is a lot like silk in the sense that it's as fragile as it is strong. If you're always messing with it, between the pressure of your fingers and the dirt on your hands, it can start to make your hair weak over time.
If you know that you have a nasty habit of always being up in your head, make sure to wrap it up at night (more on that towards the end of this) and wear something to cover up your head a few times a week. Maybe a (non-wool) hat or a silk, satin or organic cotton scarf. Anything that will keep your hands away.
6. You Trim Too Little (or Too Much)
Figuring out how often you should trim your hair poses quite the dilemma. Although a lot of stylists say that it should unequivocally be every 6-8 weeks, it really depends on the rate your hair grows (on average, it's half an inch a month but that varies) and how well you should take care of it.
As far as me and my hair shears go, because I'm a little OCD when it comes to how my hair looks, I used to have a habit of dusting (which is when you take off tiny pieces of the ends of your hair to prevent splitting), at least a couple of times a week. There's no way my hair was gonna grow if I kept going at that rate.
So, how do you know when it's time to dust or get a professional trim? You notice that you have split ends, your hair is super frizzy or you continue to have a difficult time holding a style or shape. If that's what's happening, it's definitely time to pull out your shears. Better yet, to schedule a trim appointment.
(By the way, a good stylist is like a good editor—they will correct what's "wrong" but you'll barely know they were there after they are done. If you are losing a couple of inches every time you go, somebody's stylist is showing signs of being a hater. Real talk.)
7. Your Diet’s All WrongVegan Healthy Food GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY Giphy
You can put all of the stuff on your hair that you want, but if your diet is crazy, your hair is gonna tell on you. Remember that the hair that's actually showing on your head is dead (that's why it doesn't hurt whenever you cut it). What you need to be focused on is what you're feeding your hair's follicles.
Foods that you should try and consume on a daily basis include proteins (because your hair is made up of protein) like almond butter, lentils and broccoli; foods with iron in them like dark leafy greens, cashews and baked potatoes; omega-3 fatty acids foods like salmon, walnuts and chia seeds and also foods that are loaded with antioxidants including citrus fruits and berries. Foods you should be avoiding? Basically everything white (white sugar, white bread, white rice unless it's jasmine rice). There aren't many nutrients in them so, they aren't doing your hair—or the rest of your body—much good.
Oh, and drink water. Since you're made up of mostly H2O, your scalp and hair definitely need plenty of that!
8. You Aren’t Properly Using Your Styling Tools
While I personally feel that the best styling tools you can use on natural hair are your fingers, there are a few other things that you should have in your hair care collection. A wide-toothed comb. A Denman Brush. A water bottle. A hair diffuser (you can control how much or little curl you want with those). A hair steamer. Some ouchless hair bands and bobby pins. A tourmaline (it retains the moisture of your hair without drying it) hair dryer or ionic (it removes water from your hair without causing heat damage) hair dryer.
But even with all of these types of tools in tow, manipulation is manipulation. If you're drastically changing your hairstyle a couple of times a day—or even every couple of days—the constant wear and tear can start to wear your hair totally out.
Think of your hair like a rose. If you're constantly touching it, even with the "right" things, the petals are still gonna eventually weaken and fall. The same thing applies to your hair and the styling tools that you use. First, use the right ones. Second, use them properly while applying the motto of "less is more".
9. Your Protective Styles Stay in Too Long
Whether it's a wig (y'all some of these wigs these days have been absolutely blowing my mind as far as how natural they look), a weave or something along the lines of twists or braids, protective styles are great because it gives your hair an opportunity to take a break from some of the styling tools we just talked about; it also keeps your hands out of it. Plus, protective styles can protect your tresses from environmental damage as well.
However, I'd be irresponsible if I also didn't say that protective styling is supposed to be a temporary hair growth alternative, not a permanent solution. When it comes to all protective styles, your scalp needs to breathe, your edges need relief from stress and tension and your hair needs a thorough washing and conditioning from time to time.
How can you know when it's time for your protective style to go? If it's been more than six weeks (on average) is a good start. Some other signs is if your hair is dry and brittle; your scalp is itchy and irritated; you notice some thinning in certain areas; your roots appear tangled, matted or full of build-up or you've worn a protective style for so long that you've totally forgotten what your natural hair even looks like.
Remember, protective styling isn't supposed to replace your natural hair. It's supposed to assist it as you strive for healthy long locks. BIG DIFFERENCE.
10. Your Bedtime Routine Sucks
If your hair bedtime routine consists of nothing more than tying a scarf around your head and calling it a night, you're definitely working against the kind of length retention you're looking for. Keep in mind that you are (hopefully) spending 6-8 hours in bed, each and every night. The tossing and turning alone is enough to send your tresses through it! That's why it's a good idea to do the scalp massage thing that I mentioned, that you apply a little bit of hair oil to your ends and then that you braid it up or put it into a pineapple. Also, make sure you've got a satin pillowcase on your pillows for additional hair support (in case your scarf falls off).
If you do this consistently, your hair will not dry out due to your bedding and it will require less manipulation in the morning. Less manipulation equals more length retention. At the end of the day, that's what we all want. Definitely.
Featured image by H&M