We’ve all seen those girls with the long natural hair. You know, the ones with the big long fluffy lion’s manes, and you’ve either thought “Wow, if only” or “It must have taken her ages to grow her hair that long” or the infamous “She must have some really good genes“. Now, while genetics do have a part to play in the fundamental characteristics of our hair growth rate, we certainly have the power to control how much of our hair is actually retained. One word ladies – HABITS.
Most (if not all) naturals – myself included – have at one point or the other, bought into this myth that a particular product/range of products could be the solution to our long term hair struggles. Sorry girls, they lied – but hey, that’s consumerism for you. The truth is, no matter how great a product does what it claims to do, what it cannot do is instantly make up for weeks, months or even years of malpractice that resulted in damaged hair. No matter how religiously I apply ‘MagikGro Ointment’ to my scalp, my hair will neither appear any healthier or longer if my ends are breaking off quicker/ being trimmed more often than the hair shooting out of my scalp.
This is the point where I usually remind budding naturalistas that when it comes to growing healthy, long natural hair, the trick has always been and will always be ‘Practices over Products’ i.e. the haircare practices that you do will always be more crucial to hair health/growth than the haircare products that you use.
Here are a few haircare practices that I have noticed healthy long haired natural girls have in common and that have also helped me to retain up to 20 inches of hair in the 3 years that I’ve been natural. Have a look!
1. Protective Styling & Minimal Manipulation
A great way to protect our hair and retain as much length as we can is through protective styling. These are hairstyles that require very low daily manipulation and involve your ends being tucked away (as they are far older and more jaded than the hair fresh out of our scalp, meaning they need more care and protection from natural daily weathering). These styles range from buns to twists and braids, are usually kept in for a minimum of 3-4 weeks but no longer than 5-6 weeks at a stretch, and worn frequently all year round.
It should also be noted that while synthetic extensions may work well for some, most long haired naturals tend to do without them and prefer to protective style using their hair alone. The reason being that they wish to minimize the potential of creating more knots and causing breakage in the take down process – a risk which is already present but significantly increased when more hair is introduced into the mix – and so it could end up defeating the point of protective styling in the first place.
2. Minimal/Smart Heat Styling
I do not buy into the natural hair taboo that heat styling automatically equates to hair breakage, and my aim here is not to protest against the use of direct heat. I know naturals who heat style frequently with minimal effect on their hair and I know others who are still suffering from heat damage after their first heat styling experience.
The truth is, it all depends on the thickness of your individual hair strands, their ability to withstand constant heat and the use of a good heat protectant. This being said, you will notice that most naturals with healthy long hair tend to stay away from frequent direct heat because no matter how resilient your individual hair strands are, with every time you apply heat you are increasing the risk of permanently altering the natural make up of your hair that kept it so resilient and healthy to begin with. This will in turn affect the hair’s ability to withstand the weight of common daily manipulation – causing the hair to break more easily. Getting into the habit of using heat only when necessary will greatly contribute to long term length retention.
3. Trimming – Only When necessary
Growing up, I remember the dreaded monthly/6-weekly trim at the salon where about (what felt like) 1/3 of my hair would be chopped up by scissor -happy hairdressers in the name of “keeping my hair healthy” or “making my hair grow faster“. But then it dawned on me…If hair grows an average of 1/2 an inch per month, surely it would be sheer madness to trim 1/2 an inch off my ends every month, no?
Yes, split ends cause more knots and breakage but no matter how healthy my ends are from consistent trimming, if they’re being chopped off at the same rate my hair is growing, I would only be circling the same mountain and setting myself up for frustration. This is why I decided to adopt a ‘search and destroy’ or ‘only when necessary’ habit when it comes to trimming to make sure I’m not just blindly trimming to make myself feel better. But bear in mind, this method comes at a price. In order to be able to do without a frequent trim, it means I must take extra care to protect my ends from damage so they do not need to be trimmed – something that I do by using the other methods mentioned in this article.
This is probably the most important of all. Natural hair requires a lot of TLC (Tender, Loving Care) and can only give back to you what you put in. As black hair is extremely fragile, you will need to form a habit of patience when washing, treating, detangling and styling in order to prevent breakage and encourage hair retention. Similarly, you cannot expect to put in one week’s worth of good haircare practices and see one year’s worth of results – like with all things worth waiting for, it will take time, and a whole lot of patience.
Just because you cannot see it straight away, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Focus on keeping those strands protected and that hair healthy, and trust me, the length will creep up on you before you know what’s going on.
So girls, remember that practice makes perfect. Making a habit stick does not happen overnight, it always takes time and dedication, this is why consistency is key. You will have to be disciplined for the first few weeks/months but eventually these practices will become habits and we all know what they say about old habits…they die hard. Like with all other habits, once you get the hang of it, it becomes hard to stop, so why not make your good habits ‘die hard’.
Start today! Every great achievement begins with a decision.
Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Hongqi Zhang (aka Michael Zhang)