1--In order to have long healthy hair, you must begin with healthy hair, even if that means cutting it short. Damage begins at the ends but will travel up the hair shaft, so leaving even a little damage will affect more and more hair no matter how good your subsequent care routines are. For years I trimmed a little here and a little there. I went on 'search and destroy' missions, going through my hair little bit by little bit and carefully trimming individual split ends. It still looked frizzy and damaged--because it was. I had been treating my hair well for nearly a year with little effect, so finally, in early 2006, I had my sister cut of 2/3 off my length. That was when my hair really took a turn for the better.
By the way, after a major cut like that, it grows much faster.
2--Hair is delicate. If you want it to be healthy, and be able to grow long (or just to look good whatever length), you must handle it with care. Remember that it grows from the top, so the at ends of your hair are 1, 2, 10 or even more years old, and once broken they cannot repair themselves, they can only be cut off. Some longhairs speak of treating their hair like 'fine antique lace.' I found it helpful to understand the physical structure of hair. Here is an article about the biology of hair, and here is a closeup photo ------------>
As you can see, each hair has small overlapping scales, and when brushed/smoothed one direction (away from the scalp) they are fine, but if you brush/tease/rub your hair the other way, the layers peel apart, literally splitting the hair and causing irreparable damage.
Here are a few specific tips on handling hair with care:
- Never ever brush it when wet. Use a wide-toothed comb. Some choose to never brush at all, and use combs exclusively. (Combs-only has made a huge difference for me)
- If you ever take an accessory out of your hair, and find it has pulled out hair with it, then don't ever put it back in your hair. Throw it away! I recommend investing in a few hair-friendly accessories, such as hair sticks, ficcare clips, or classic hair pins. I will talk more about those in a future post!
- If your hair is long, wear it back or up to protect it from being caught and broken in doors, seatbelts, jewelry, and other things.
- Protect it from chemicals such as chlorine--fully saturate it with clean water before swimming, and consider putting it in a braid, bun, or under a cap for further protection.
- Braid it (or wear a cap) for sleeping, and avoid static-causing pillowcases. Don't laugh! We can do a lot of damage to our hair while rolling around at night, especially if you share a bed with someone!
- Avoid products such as sprays, gels, or dyes, and DO NOT USE HEAT (blow driers, curling irons, etc). Many longhairs refer to blow driers as 'blow fryers'!
4--To stimulate growth, stimulate your scalp. Gently massage it with the finger pads (not nails) while shampooing and any other time you feel like it. After washing your hair, rinse it with cold water--as cold as you can stand. This stimulates growth by rejuvenating the scalp, and also protects existing hairs by helping tighten up the scales on the shaft.
5--Don't wash it so often. Washing strips the natural oils (sebum) from your hair, causing it to dry out. Ironically that dryness also causes the head to produce extra sebum, so your hair will be dry but look oily. Sebum protects hair better than any conditioner can--it's what it was made for! If you are not using products in your hair, you will not need to wash them out, so all that's left is a little dust/dirt/dead scalp skin and you can get that once a week or so (don't be grossed out, we get dead skin everywhere silly, and that doesn't mean it's dandruff!) Start by going one day longer than normal between washings. After a few cycles your scalp and hair will adjust, and then you can go a day longer than that. Not everyone's hair will prefer the same timing as mine, but for healthy long hair you should definitely not be washing more than twice a week. I do recommend an occasional deep conditioning--that will also be covered in another post.
For your additional education, here are a few links:
Long Locks--this site primarily sells hair sticks (really fancy expensive ones), but she does have some nice pages on braiding and "the ultimate guide to growing long hair."
Long Hair Community--if you are serious about hair health or length, these forums are a wealth of information, support, and inspiration. If you care to join, I am 'brightonwoman' there. Come look me up!
Long Hair Loom--information and discussion forums with styling tips, growing helps, and more--includes a section specifically for teens and pre-teens!