I cut my hair off last year with reckless abandon, randomly eager for a daily routine that wouldn’t require a brush, scrunchie, or edge gel. I’d big-chopped before but this would be my first time going all the way down to a buzz cut. It was pure bliss. I loved being able to feel my entire scalp every day and not having to unclog the shower drain. Upkeep only went as far as a haircut once every couple of weeks. Beyond that, I got very well-acquainted with scalp scrubs and nailed a no-makeup makeup routine since my face was very much out there. So why am I all of a sudden obsessed with mastering a natural hair growth routine?
For one, going to a barber was off-limits, along with everything else thanks to the pandemic. I also found myself contemplative about literally every part of my life as we were forced to stay home. I reevaluated my closet, my bathroom, whatever New Year’s resolutions I could actually remember, whether aliens actually exist—you name it and I probably had a full-blown conversation with myself about it. Eventually, my hair reached a point it hadn’t in a long time and that’s when it hit me—I actually like having longer hair, but my utter lack of patience (and laziness) kept me from enduring the grow-out phase. In the past, once my hair hit that awkward length somewhere between the ears and chin, I’d get extensions (and damage) or chop it off.
This time, being home nearly 24/7 rekindled my love for my hair; so much so, that I’m eager to let it just do its thing and learn all I can about it through the process. I knew this would challenge me to abandon certain bad habits, but at this point, anything is possible in 2020. Now, just a couple months into my self-love hair growth adventure, here are the lessons I’ve learned when it comes to adding inches the old fashioned way.
Know your why
The rookie mistake a lot of us make when attempting to grow our hair out—besides thinking there’s some magical formula that will make it longer overnight—is going straight for the hair growth products. An utter lack of self-control and frustration will have us ordering hair growth vitamins, oils, and cleansers before getting reacquainted with our hair first. For instance, you may start slathering your hair in minoxidil without realizing its prone to dryness. And because you don’t know, you’ll disguise the problem with another product instead of addressing it head-on. And if you’re using a growth promoter without results, you may not take the time to figure out why your hair isn’t growing.
I learned this the hard way. In a general sense, I know that hair health precedes hair growth. It’s important to know why your hair does all the things that it does. But you need to know your why. My younger sister and I essentially have the same head of hair, but there are products and techniques she uses on her’s that are of no benefit to mine. No one else has your hair so don’t be afraid to start small and observe before investing in a pricey growth treatment.
After a month or so of trying every hair, vitamin and leave-in to address dryness, I realized my hair sucks at retaining water (thanks to a porosity test) and hates protein. Because I rushed the process, I essentially had to start over and do some trade-outs. Protein powder and a minoxidil foam reduced shedding, made my hair thicker, and did wonders for my nails, but I was also plagued by matting, breakage, and buildup because I was overdoing it. Now, I occasionally spike my morning smoothie with vegan collagen powder and focus on keeping my hair moisturized instead. I also peruse YouTube occasionally for helpful advice, being careful to research a recommendation before trying it.
A setback really is a comeback
Part of starting over also meant that I had to do what every person obsessed with hair growth dreads—trim my hair. It was especially hard for me because protein overload really did damage so I had to cut off a lot. And yes, I did it at home on my own. (It’s not as scary as it seems. Consult a tutorial or two and invest in a pair of proper haircutting shears.) But now that my hair isn’t roadblocked by split ends, it’s growing faster.
Water is life
Think of “moisturizing your hair” as “watering your hair.” Oil doesn’t equal moisture. Styling product doesn’t equal moisture. Water equals moisture. This matters for everyone but especially those who have hair that struggles to retain water. (If you’re not sure, observe how long it takes your hair to dry after wetting it. The longer it takes, the more likely your hair is prone to buildup because those cuticles struggle to open up.)
Though lengthening is, again, something that takes time, I’ve noticed my hair is visibly shinier and softer as I focus on keeping it moisturized with water throughout the day using a spray bottle. I’m especially careful to keep my head under the sink 2-3 minutes on wash day so my hair has a chance to drink up plenty of water before I add product. In other words, slow down. Take your time hydrating and for goodness sake, drink lots of water, too.
Temperature also matters. While cold water tends to close off the hair cuticle, warm water opens it up, so adjust the temperature according to your hair’s behavior. (I also swear by a heated conditioning cap on wash day to improve the penetration of my deep conditioner.)
Pictures will give you hope
I know ads and social media will convince you otherwise, but hair naturally grows at a slow rate, even if you’re taking great care of it. So much so, that it’s easy to get discouraged because you’re not necessarily seeing that growth for some period of time. This is why I take pictures of my hair from varying angles once every couple of months. I’m not so concerned with how long it is; I just want to know that I’m headed in the right direction. Plus, having evidence of growth is the ultimate motivation to keep going.
If you’re Type A and like to keep your routine as organized as possible, download an app like Hair Journal that allows you to list your products, upload photos, and keep track of dates. You can also measure your hair length every time you take pictures, though I feel this is a bit redundant.
Read your product labels
My favorite new pastime is going to the beauty supply store, taking pictures of products I’m interested in, going home and Googling every single ingredient on the back of each bottle. Tedious, I know. However, it’s how I’ve not only saved myself tons of money on inevitable experiments gone bad; I’ve also discovered the ingredients my hair loves and hates without having to pay a hairstylist or dermatologist. This is how I discovered my hair is sensitive to protein because nearly every product I was using had it.
Through this process, you may also find that you were using way more product than you needed to. I’m a reformed product junkie who was notorious for hoarding as much as I could and trying all of it. It’s no wonder my hair struggled. Because it struggles to retain moisture, I only made the load heavier by piling on the oils and styles. Now I stick to water and one product so my curls are defined and soft all day.
Patience is unavoidable
Lastly, there’s no avoiding time, people! Unless you’re putting on a wig or extensions, hair growth takes time so settle in and observe as you try things. Something Golde founder Trinity Mouzon Wofford once shared on her Instagram page always sticks with me:
“The best way to learn how to care for it is to listen. Approach your hair with kindness, gratitude, and a lot of patience. In conversation over the months/years you will learn what it needs and how often and which way. Most of the time when ppl ask me for hair tips I can sense they are coming from a place of impatience and frustration—“just tell me what to do to fix this!”—there’s no compassion in it. Approach everything in your life with compassion and before you know it, you will feel the shift.”