Change Your Mindset: Focus On Retaining Length Rather Than Speeding Up Growth

Two questions I am frequently asked are: “what products have you used to get your hair to the length it is today? What did you use to make your hair grow?” The products you see listed as my staples or that I blog about regularly on wash days have only helped me maintain the health of my hair and as a result, they’ve helped me retain the hair I grow. Before I started my hair journey I had the mindset that all that matters is making my hair grow. I never once thought about how important it is to care for my ends. It never once crossed my mind that when pursuing long hair, what really matters is figuring out how best to retain my length. After all, what’s the point in increasing our growth rate if our hair simply breaks before we can see any progress?

Whenever I get asked the questions above, I always stare at my computer screen trying to figure out how to best to explain the first step is to change your mindset. In my opinion, it’s better to start of by focusing on improving the health of hair, rather than increase growth, because with health comes length. Trust me, you will avoid many a frustrated sigh once you realize this (it’s one of the things I wish knew when I first started my HHJ!).

And I know you’re probably thinking “well okay Jen, you make it sound so easy” but really, sometimes it’s not. A healthy hair journey all about trial and error, trying out new products, new healthy hair practices and figuring out what works best for YOU. Here are a few things that have helped me retain length:

1. Figuring out my hair’s protein/moisture balance.
This is by far the trickiest thing I’ve ever had to figure out (but I promise once your hair is balanced, it becomes worlds easier to keep it balanced… kind of like once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget how to do it). Once I learned how to balance keeping my hair strong and how to keep it moisturized, and learned that a combo of protein and moisture equals hair that can withstand manipulation and retains its elasticity… the clouds parted and the angels rejoiced. Okay, maybe all that didn’t happened but slowly but surely, my breakage decreased, overall health improved, and the length followed.

When hair is balanced, you have a strong, yet soft dynamic going on. You’re able to manipulate your hair without a multitude of broken strands, and your hair retains moisture. When your balance is tipped too far in protein’s favor, your hair may be dry, hard and break more easily. Increase your moisture. For more on protein overload, check out this post, this post, and this post.

When your balance is tipped too far in moisture’s favor, your hair may be feel mushy, your strands may stretch quite a bit (beyond a normal, reasonable amount) before breaking. Increase your protein usage. For more on moisture overload, check out this post and this post.
 
2. Protective styling.
As you’ve noticed, I keep it simple comes to protective styling my hair. Buns and faux bobs are my main go-tos. Protective styling has really helped me protect my ends, especially when I was shoulder length. I hadn’t realized how much my ends rubbed against my clothes before protective styling. When our ends constantly rub against our clothes, they are much more likely to break from the friction and become dry. For more on protective styling, check out this post and this post.

3. Trimming to remove split and thin ends.
I used to loathe, absolutely loathe cutting my hair. I avoided trims like the plague until I started doing them myself and realized that removing split and thin ends helped my hair in the long run. To put it plainly, there is strength in numbers… as the stick figures below demonstrate haha. When my ends are nice and even, my strands are able to withstand manipulation because the force of the manipulation is distributed amongst the strands. Trims also help remove split ends that would have otherwise traveled up the hair shaft and caused more damage. For more on split ends, check out this post.

4. Decreasing direct heat.
Prior to starting my HHJ I used to flat iron my hair every week (and I used to have bangs that I straightened or curled every morning). There is nothing wrong with using direct heat but only if it’s done in moderation. Direct heat — meaning heat from blow dryers, curling irons, flat irons, pressing combs — saps the moisture from our hair and weakens it, making it more susceptible to breakage. To avoid using direct heat I hid my flat iron and started roller setting my hair and eventually started air drying my hair, cutting out heat for long spans of time (sometimes a whole relaxer stretch). I have fine strands that do not do well when subjected to frequent use of direct heat.

5. Leaving my hair alone.
I will literally rock the same part for the entire week and work my buns, ponytails, faux bobs around that for the whole week. I don’t fuss with my hair. If it’s in a bun for the day, that’s it, it’ll be in that bun for hours until I get home, moisturize and seal for the night. Some thing goes for any other style. Whatever protective style it’s in for the day, it’s in for hours. I just leave it alone. The only exception is when I have my hair down, the exception being at some point during the day I will eventually pull my hair into a buns. Hair-down-days are really hair-down-maybe-half-maybe-three-fourths-of-the-day-days.

6. Finger-combing.
Prior to my hair journey I used to run a comb through my hair every single day, multiple times during a day since I carried a comb with me every where I went. Now, I only use a comb on wash days and all other days I finger comb. You’re probably wondering well how does my hair not amass a ton of tangles during the week?! When I moisturize and seal I remove shed hairs by finger combing and that gets the job done for me. I don’t manipulate my hair all that much during the week so I don’t create a bunch of tangles that need to be worked out. Finger combing is enough.

Welp, that’s all. I changed my mindset, realized that retaining my length is more important then focusing on speeding up my growth and it really helped. I hope the points above help!

What has helped you retain the most length?

16 Comments

  1. Hi jen, I just started my hhj a month ago and I was a little lost and confuse about what should or shouldn't do.whike I was doing research online I discovered your blog and I found it very helpful. I will definitely follow your advice.thank you again for sharing your experience with us.

  2. hi, I am African American, I have never had a perm before, my hair is damaged, I was not taking good care of it, I am starting to take care of it now, where should I start? what kind of products should I use?

  3. Hi I am now starti g my hair journey, I discovered your site about a month ago and started instantly. I wanted long hair since I coiuld remember. Thanks a million for just grow already, I am on this site everyday, its like a can't get enough. Its hard sometimes when I'm tired but I'm sticking to it. Thanks

  4. Great Post! I completely agree with everything, and you're right it's hard to explain to some one who just wants to grow their hair that there are other things they need to focus on. After they do that, the length will come. But I can understand their unwillingness to accept this because it took time (and progress pics) for me to believe it.

  5. I've been protective styling more as my aim this summer is to thicken my ends. I also plan on testing a number of growth aids one at a time while I'm at it. reading this made me think, when testing or using growth aids, it's best to do this while your hair is retaining its normal length. because if your hair is getting more breakage than usual, you might not be seeing the full effects. thank you for the insightful post!

    http://pocahontas-secrets.blogspot.com/

  6. hi jeni i need your help my hair is driving crazy..first i was natural 2010-2011 and decided to relax my hair again because my 4c was always breaking never saw growth retention. since i started relaxing my hair my grown area never take relaxer no matter what..i have uneven texture in my whole head. Any advice on how to handle this because i avoid breakage with all this mixed textures.

    1. Author

      Hi Anon, I avoid breakage between all my textures by focusing on keeping my moisture/protein balance in check. I primarily focus on moisture. Deep conditioning with a moisturizing conditioner and spraying my new growth with moisturizer helps my hair retain elasticity. I do protein treatments from time to time to strengthen it and prevent major moisture overload. Below are a few posts on managing my different textures and breakage. Hope this helps.

      http://www.justgrowalready.com/2011/10/decreasing-breakage-at-line-of.html
      http://www.justgrowalready.com/2012/03/breakage-and-texlaxing.html

  7. You have learned a lot during you hair journey. Thanks for sharing. It is very good to have the opurtunity to learn from others mistakes.

    Ive learned two important things. 1. Skip the flat iron. I live in scandinavia and as most people have Scandinavian hair i see that it is damaging all kind of hair types. Not only Does the heat dry out and burn away the substances the strand is made of, it also seems like it filés down the shaft. I see it very clear on My friends with Scandinavian hair types. The hair might be thick (and Scandinavian hair IS thick) up around the head but kind of thins out along the strands until it fades out. 2. Remember hair is dead. What has already grown out wont change with your health or change of diet. You can only impact your future hair. By Talking extra care of your roots and new growth, you have a bigger chance of it looking nice even after several years. Because, how you treat your roots today is how your hair Will look in 2 years. It is all about looks, not health. If you have long hair, the hair is not reflecting your current Heath, it is reflecting your health the time before that hair Came out of your scalp. The term healthy hair is s bit misleading, it should be fresh looking hair as you can, with products make it look good.

  8. That picture demonstration is great, this and having plenty patience are two things I always try to remember to help me on this journey.

  9. Thank you for this post. I'm really getting the hang of the "health over length" saying.It's absolutely true and it's what I'm sticking by from now on. In the beginning of my journey I was desperately wanting that length, now I just want healthy hair from roots to ends=) Thanks for the tips love the picture demonstration.

  10. Hi Jen. I just started my HHJ a few months ago and I feel like I have a lot of good habits down like, maintaining moisture/protein balance, protective styling, finger combing, stretching. However, I'm not sure how to go about reducing the amount of direct heat. I flat iron my hair every wash day which is about every week and a half. I don't have a hooded dryer or rollers to do a roller set and I'm moving out for college soon and I'm afraid roller setting might be a bit of a hassle in my small dorm room anyway. Also, my hair just looks like a poofy mess when i air dry, not nice and smooth. Do you have any suggestions or tips?

    1. Author

      Hi Aliyah, roller sets and air drying are usually my go-tos for reducing direct heat but maybe you could try doing braid outs. As for achieving smoother air dried results, have you tried wrapping your hair with a cotton t-shirt for a bit and then tying your hair down with a scarf while it dries… this helps me achieve smoother air dried results. Hope that helps!

  11. Loved the graphic and point you made on tip #3. My stylist told me this years ago when explaining the benefits of a good trim and keeping split ends at bay. It makes detangling so much easier and breakage really is reduced.

    wwwlovingmyhair.blogspot.com/

  12. I read an article on how the focus of natural hair care has changed from health to length. Length is now the only thing ladies want to achieve so every challenge is about "measuring your hair". I know this is also applicable to relaxed ladies. As someone who's had relatively long but damaged hair, I know the essence of healthy hair. I had the length but damaged hair is not a pleasant thing.

  13. Hi Jen, I'm a newbie in HHJ. Actually, your blog inspired me to start this journey. Your tips seem like they were for me. Although I have been practicing TLC on my hair, I still use a comb often and have an issue with trimming. I will try to finger comb and also trim on relaxer touch up days.

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