Long Hair: How to Maximize Your Growth Potential

Whether you hate your new short cut, or just like the look of a luxurious mane, there are various reasons to want longer hair. Unfortunately, hair grows at a pretty solid rate of about a half an inch per month, and there isn’t much that can be done to speed its growth. Before you go trying any “miracle formulas” or investing in any “magic hair care pills”, try these simple and easy steps to maximizing your hair growth. With a little patience, you’re sure to be on your way to longer, luscious hair in no time.

Start With A Clean Slate
Before you embark on your quest for Rapunzel-like locks, you’re going to have to do something that seems a bit counter-productive: you have to cut your hair. A trim will ensure that any split ends or damage are removed at the outset, so that the damage doesn’t have a chance to travel up the hair shaft and spoil your efforts. It may seem like you’re making more work for yourself by getting a trim, but in all actuality, you’re saving yourself from losing even more length in the future.

Once the split ends are off, you’ll want to keep them off. It’s best to get a trim (about a half inch or less) every four months or so. If you are visiting a beauty parlor to have this done professionally, be sure to talk with your stylist and tell him or her EXACTLY what you are looking to have done. Otherwise, you could end up with a haircut instead of just a trim. A helpful phrase to help you describe what you need is “dusting”- in the hairstyling world, this means a very very minute trim (about 1/8 of an inch) that simply eliminates damage at the ends without removing any length.

If you’re truly distrustful of a well-meaning stylist spoiling your hard work, you could always take care of split ends yourself. The key is to invest in a good, sharp pair of hair cutting scissors that won’t damage the hair as you’re cutting (using blunt scissors could do this). If you don’t trust yourself to actually cut the hair without messing it up, a time-consuming but worthwhile option is to sit in bright light and individually snip the damaged end from each strand of hair. The damaged or split part will appear white or broken, and by removing only this part, you will ensure that you lose as little length as is possible without sacrificing the health of your hair.

Minimize Damage
To minimize loss of length, you should make sure that the hair stays in perfect condition as you are growing it. Otherwise, you’ll wind up with hair that’s long- but also riddled with split ends, frizz, and breakage.

To minimize damage, reduce heat styling (or eliminate it altogether, if possible). This means staying away from blow dryers, curling irons, and straighteners- all three destroy the hair follicle when overused. Try braiding (for waves), pin curls (for curls), a high bun (for volume), or a low ponytail secured at the very end with a heavy scrunchy (for straightening). By styling hair in any of these ways, and letting it air dry, you can achieve the style you are looking for without using hair-frying stylers. If you absolutely MUST use a heat styler, be sure to protect your hair first with a leave in conditioner and a heat protection spray (Redken, Thermasilk, John Frieda, and VO5 all offer excellent options).

Brushing is another thing that can cause harm to hair. Don’t over brush your hair, and NEVER brush or comb when your hair is wet. Since hair is more flexible when it is soaked in water, it is more likely to snag, stretch, and break if you brush right after a shower. Instead, use fingers or a wide tooth comb to gently detangle hair. Buy a boar-bristle or nylon bristle brush for regular styling. Both of these are much gentler then hard plastic brushes, and will be more kind to your growing locks.

Growing hair long also means sacrificing another aspect of hair care: Dyeing, bleaching and perming. The harsh chemicals involved in these processes absolutely destroy the hair shaft. Not only does your hair become more prone to splits and breakage, but the growth rate can actually be slowed by these treatments. If you absolutely MUST color your hair, try henna or a gentle deposit only color. Manic Panic (a vegetable based dye) is a great option that’s chemical free, and it comes in some pretty wild colors. Henna comes in two varieties: the traditional powder kind, which must be mixed with liquid, and can be quite messy, or a liquid extract that dispenses just like regular dye. As an added bonus, henna can actually improve the condition of the hair shaft, and may even plump up the hair with extra volume.

Pamper Your Hair
To keep your hair long and strong, you should use a fortifying/strengthening conditioner that has proteins and moisturizers. Look on the back label of the product for ingredients like keratin, collagen, soy protein, wheat protein, or keratin amino acids. Shampoos should be as gentle as possible (some people use baby shampoo, since it is arguably the most mild formula on the market). If possible, try to find a shampoo formula that is free of Sodium Lauryl Suflate and Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate. These two ingredients, used to create a sudsing effect, can dry out the hair if overused. Look in your local health food store for some great SLS-free options.

Every two weeks, you should give your hair a deep conditioning or hot oil treatment- both will strengthen and deeply moisturize your hair, keeping it strong and less prone to damage. You will also find that your hair will stay in better condition for longer if you use a leave-in conditioner daily. If you don’t want to shell out more cash for these products, you can make your own leave-in by combining, in a spray bottle, 2/3 water with 1/3 of the daily conditioner you already use, and shaking well. This concoction will protect and moisturize strands just as well as any store bought product. To make your own deep conditioner, you can look to your kitchen: a mashed up avocado, mayonnaise, honey, egg yolks, and coconut milk are all great options for deep conditioning. Olive or any other oil rubbed through the hair and blasted with heat (use a hair dryer with hair wrapped in a plastic or shower cap) is a low cost option for those who will be doing hot oil treatments often.

Proponents of the scalp massage say it increases circulation to the scalp, helping thinning or slow growing hair by bringing nutrients and added blood flow to the scalp. You can duplicate the results by massaging your scalp in the shower as you shampoo (just like at the salon) or by kneading warm oil or scalp treatment into a dry, clean scalp. If you don’t want to buy a scalp treatment at the salon, you can try diluting a few drops of peppermint or cinnamon oil in a cup of conditioner or regular oil. Massage this tingling, stimulating formula into scalp with fingers, moving from the front of the scalp to the back, and shampoo out when you are done (unless you don’t care about the greasy feeling: oil can actually be quite good to leave on the scalp, unless you have somewhere important to go!).

Healthy Body = Healthy Hair
If your body isn’t in optimum condition, then your hair growth is going to suffer. Unlike you, your body doesn’t put gorgeous hair on its list of priorities. Thus, when the body isn’t being properly nourished, the steady growth of hair and nails is often the first thing to go. Aside from eating healthily, you should also avoid excesses of fat, caffeine, smoking, and sugar. These things can all impede the growth rate of hair.

Since hair is comprised of 98% protein, you may want to up your intake. Good sources of dietary protein include fish, eggs, meat, soy (like soy milk or tofu) and nuts (try almonds for a less fatty option). The B vitamins- especially biotin- are super important for healthy hair. You can find them in leafy greens (like baby spinach-which has an added antioxidant boost), brewer’s yeast, wheat germ, nuts, and beans.

However, if you tend to diet or neglect good nutrition, you might want to try supplements. Supplements can give your hair just the boost it needs to intensify growth. Flax Seed Oil, Biotin, Silica, Lecithin, Vitamin B Complex, and a Daily Mineral Complex are all great supplements that will help your growing hair (particularly the Biotin). You might also want to try a daily protein shake, made with soy milk: it could assist in supplying you with the protein you might not be getting now, and could greatly benefit your hair.

There actually *is* a way to instantly get long, luscious hair: Wigs, Clip-ons, or extensions! Other then that, follow the above tips, and be patient until you reach your goal. If long hair is your definition of beautiful, then it will definitely be worth the time and effort.

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