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.
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!