Caring for long hair:
The best advice I have ever been given about caring for long hair is this:
“Treat your hair like your grandmother’s best antique lace.”
Obviously we don’t want to put it in a drawer and dry it flat, or only use it at Christmas, but there is a lot of wisdom and insight in this quote.
Your hair is, really truly, as delicate as antique lace. It is dead from the moment it leaves your head. Not only that, but it is barely anchored to your scalp, and it’s relatively easy to pull out any individual hairs.
I was told by a friend that (biological) male hair roots are deeper than roots of (biological) female hair. Perhaps that explains why there are so many rock gods still sporting trouser-length hair thirty years after their prime! Women’s hair tends to be finer, too – the individual hair shafts are slightly thinner than in men’s hair.
Ways to care for long hair and help it grow faster:
Massage, gently: I have been told by a hairdressing guru that the reason that men get receding and thinning hair (apart from genetics) is because they stimulate their hair follicles less. Since this guru is now retired, still sporting an amazing mop of hair, I would be inclined to believe him. Women, who statistically are more likely to choose to have longer hair than men, tend to poke and prod at their hair with brushing, straightening, massaging the shampoo and conditioner in; all this activity keeps the hair follicles stimulated. I did an experiment last year, where I massaged my hair twice a day for a month. It grew two inches in thirty days. I didn’t do anything else differently, such as changing my diet, so this really can work. One thing I’ve been warned against is over-stimulation – massaging too roughly or too often can have the opposite effect, as it causes an abrasive action that harms the hairs near the scalp, which will lead to more hair loss, so make sure to only do this in moderation.
Wash weekly (unless you eat oily fish): To keep your hair in its best condition, you should reduce the frequency of washing. Daily hair washing is reserved for owners of a number two buzz cut, and hair shampoo sales reps; it says “suitable for daily use” on your shampoo, not “use daily.” The key word is suitable – it means the product is gentle and won’t cause a product build up as quickly, it doesn’t mean you truly ought to use it daily (unlike moisturizer, which you should definitely use every day). Your hair produces natural oils, and by washing them away too much, you not only strip the hair of its protection (which means you need to use more oils you bought from the beauty store – hey, who’s really cashing in on this “wash your hair daily” rubbish? The hair product companies), but you also cause a negative feedback loop – your scalp detects that it feels too dry (un-oily, not non-wet) and ramps up oil production, which you promptly wash away, and it keeps on going. After a couple of weeks of feeling like your hair is super-greasy, it will settle down to a less aggressive oil production schedule. Also washing less frequently means that when you brush your hair, the oil gets further down the shaft to where it is needed – the ends of your hair. This will make your hair look stronger, shinier and less brittle. But if you eat an oily fish, wash your hair the same day, because that smells nasty!
Brush carefully: Remember the antique lace? Be very gentle, like you’re trying to brush the tail of a baby squirrel. Or something else super-delicate. Start at the ends of your hair; grasp your hair part-way down to support the strands, so all the pull of the brush doesn’t rip any hair out, and gently brush the ends. When the ends are totally tangle free, move up inch by inch, until your hair is detangled carefully. This minimizes hair breakage and loss (think about how a lever works – this is the same, if you put force on a long hair it’s got more chances to break than if you put the same force on a shorter hair) because there is less force being put upon your hair’s shafts.
Choose your brush carefully: I didn’t believe the first ten people who told me this, but the eleventh? I listened. Get thee a Tangle Teezer! Don’t get a cheap knock off, don’t get something with a similar sounding name that looks totally different, the brand is Tangle Teezer and it’s an investment in your hair. Even with a Tangle Teezer, I would still brush as outlined above. I know some people just drag them through from root to tip but obviously if you care about your hair, you need to use brushing techniques and good brushes that will minimize damage – a brush on its own won’t fix your hair, but when you use it properly, it gives less breakage than a plastic vent brush (my previous preferred type). I keep hearing amongst older hair growers that boar bristles are good, but I can’t really recommend them because a) I’ve never tried them and b) they come from a dead animal, and you’re rubbing that through your hair! Ewww! Before I get a plethora of snarky emails about hair products, they have this list on the side of the packet called “ingredients,” and because I used to be a chemistry teacher, I actually know what those long words mean and where they come from, most of them are synthetic by-products of the petroleum fractional distillation process (think Vaseline, mineral oil, and anything ending in “-ane” or “-ene”) if they’re really long words, and the industry is leaning more towards animal-free products these days anyway, so no, I don’t inadvertently put dead animal crap on my hair. If you want to know the real meaning of “all-natural” I’ve got an article here: What Is All Natural?
Take supplements: Obviously before changing your diet and exercise routine, consult a doctor blah blah blah, but seriously, I saw loads of people recommending omega 3 fish oil, so I was all like “can’t I use omega 3 non-fish oil?” The internet didn’t know, so I bought some omega complex linseed oil from the supermarket, nothing fancy, and tried it for 2 months. It accelerated my hair growth by about 50%, so I’m going to be possibly the first person on the internet to say through anecdotal evidence that the vegan sources of omega complex are good for your hair. If I’d bought a more expensive, cold pressed refined whatnot, it probably would have worked better because it would have been more concentrated in the amino acids which are a large part of why this works (amino acids are building blocks of protein, which is what hair is made of – that’s exactly what keratin is, it’s a protein). You need very specific amino acids to achieve faster hair growth, hence my uncertainty as to whether the flaxseed would work or not, but it did so yay.
Exercise: See above about doctors. Exercise increases your metabolism, meaning that if you eat right and exercise, those building blocks will get to where they need to be faster, which will mean you’re ready for more of them sooner. Don’t overdo it though – over-exercise, particularly coupled with under-eating (or INAPPROPRIATE eating) can cause hair loss, eek!
Minimise stress: So easy to say, so hard to do. Most of us wouldn’t ever be stressed if we had a choice about it; don’t get me wrong, I know it’s unrealistic to say “remove all stressors from your life.” What you can do, though, is change the way you manage that stress. For example, meditation, kundalini yoga, mindfulness, exercise, inspiring and calming music, and of course, making time for things you enjoy. I have a big list of planned articles, and stress management is on the list.
Consider whether your contra^ptive pill is causing hair loss: I won’t start on all the things that the pill can cause that most people aren’t warned about, because obviously it has some amazing benefits – regulating your cycle, clearing up acne, boob growth, oh and I guess stopping you from getting pregnant! If you’ve got one that works for you for mood swings, PMS, PMDD or any other life improving reason, keep it, it can take forever to end up on the right pill, and that process can be stressful. I do not advocate stopping medication if it’s doing the job and helping you in some way. However, if you’re just using it for pregnancy worries, and you haven’t really looked around, it might be worth considering an alternative method because the pill sometimes causes hair loss which stops long hair from looking as long as it really is, and thinner hair is more prone to breakage because there are less individual strands to disperse the forces from everyday life.
Use coconut oil: I’ve seen a lot of different sites touting a plethora of different oils, but if you like your hair to stay icy-pale, use coconut oil; I have tried two brands of argan oil (one courtesy of a gift, the other a freebie) and I’ve used extra virgin olive oil (it was The Last Big Thing, based on the anecdotes of a woman who lived to be 117 years old, who attributed this to lack of stress and lots of olives and olive oil, so it obviously became a health fad but it’s gone out of fashion now, probably because they can make more money selling you some other oil that isn’t as readily available in the supermarket); while they both do the job well enough, the problem is that they are coloured oils, and while the inherent colour might not be the thing doing it, something in these oils definitely makes my hair yellow/orange after I use them. I have tracked this over time and it’s definitely the oils that do it – argan oil is the worst for this. I think it’s something to do with the antioxidant properties, which, if you are a bleach blonde, you will probably know are what makes hair orange, e.g. if it’s gone green (from being oxidised in the sun by UV light) you use tomatoes or tomato ketchup to fix it (antioxidants), but if it’s not green, the antioxidants in tomatoes/ketchup make hair orange. So instead of them, use coconut oil, it’s colourless and doesn’t react with the hair colour molecules, which is my kind of protective oil. I buy mine from Sainsbury’s, the Lucy Bee brand, I’ve had it for a year and I’m only halfway through a jar. You can also get it from Amazon or Holland and Barrett. Make sure it’s got all the right labels that float your boat – pure, cold pressed, extra-virgin, and whatnot, so you’re satisfied with it. Someone recently raised a concern about whether it was watered down if it doesn’t specifically say “pure” on it. Nope, it’ll all be coconut if that’s what the ingredients say (do check them). Also, look up the coconut oil bleaching method (just type that into youtube) if you want to try it – I can’t recommend because I haven’t done it myself, but it certainly looks interesting.
Plaiting your hair/using protective styles: I got this from Afro-Caribbean hairstyling sites, basically a protective style is one you can put your hair into that protects it from traction and friction in everyday life, so a plait (or a set of plaits) would be a protective style, a ponytail would not because it leaves the individual strands vulnerable to the entire world. This is particularly sound advice at bedtime. Do be careful with how you tie off your plait though – a very tight hairband can cause traction alopecia, which nobody wants!
Silk Pillow/night cap: I bought a couple of scarves for outside, a silk pillow for at home, and a night cap for if I am away. I found silk to be helpful; it reduces friction compared to cotton so your hair doesn’t get stuck on the pillow, and it’s also got bizarre chemical properties (chemical as in, the fundamental chemistry of silk, I’m not saying it’s got “bad chemicals” in it) that cause it to interact with anything that touches it, mean it can help with healing your skin and protecting your hair.
Snag Free Bobbles: Hairbands that don’t have metal clasps have reduced hair damage and split ends when I tie off a plait. They’re more expensive than regular ones; get a good feel of the connecting glue before you buy, as some of the cheaper ones have thick, sharp glue splodges where they connect, which is almost as bad as the metal bits on regular bobbles. I like Scunci brand.
And finally, the things that didn’t work:
1. Biotin: This was my biggest disappointment, and an expensive mistake. I found it to be not only useless for my hair, but also caused my skin to break out, left me irritable and moody, and basically had a caffeine effect on me – super energized an hour afterwards, then in tears twelve hours later from exhaustion and over-blowing some silly problem. This one was definitely not for me, which I was really disappointed about because I heard such good things. My biotin was only 500 micrograms per tablet, I tried various different doses (800 should be optimal according to one study, 5000 according to another study) and just had to write it off as a bad job. I decided any hair growth effects from the supplements were probably being reversed by the stress they were causing me by unseating my emotions, resulting in a net gain of zero. I even tried them alongside other B vitamins, as suggested by a handful of reviewers on Amazon, and that didn’t make any difference either. I guess my biotin levels are naturally as high as they’re going to get.
2. Nope, it was actually just the biotin. Every other piece of info I’ve ever read on hair growth and caring for long hair has been pretty helpful.