You’ve watched all the YouTube tutorials, read all the articles and solicited all your curly and kinky girlfriends for advice, but your natural hair is still struggling to retain length. Maybe you’ve been natural for three years or more, but your strands are still stuck at the same shoulder length. Meanwhile, it seems like every influencer’s natural hair is growing like a weed all over the gram. Does this sound familiar? Has this made you ask yourself if something is wrong with you? Of course the answer is no, but something may be wrong with the way you’re caring for your strands.
The simple truth is many of us share a lot of small, everyday habits that are actually inhibiting our hair’s ability to thrive. But we all know when we know better, we do better, so keep reading to learn nine questions you should be asking yourself if your natural hair is breaking off and fighting to retain length.
AM I OVERDUE FOR A TRIM?
Contrary to popular belief, long hair does not equal healthy hair, so if you’re stuck at a certain length and want to see your hair grow, it might actually be beneficial to cut your hair. Yes, that’s right. I’m not talking a full big-chop level cut, but a simple dusting or trim will get rid of dry, split, and mangled ends that are causing your hair to continuously break off. Think about it, your ends are the oldest part of your hair, which means they’ve been through it all—exposure to heat, the fabrics of your clothes, and environmental elements. You could be doing everything right to grow healthy hair, but if your ends are in bad shape the strands will continue to snap off. It’s generally accepted that you should get a good trim at least every three months to stay on top of things, but you can give yourself a dusting with a nice pair of hair shears whenever you spot excessive split ends or single-strand knots.
AM I DETANGLING MY HAIR SAFELY?
One of the number one culprits of breakage is poor detangling methods, especially for those of us who started with relaxed hair and transitioned to natura. It can take a while to get the hang of how to properly detangle curly and coily hair, but this is a good formula.
- Always start at the ends and work your way up to the roots. It may seem counterintuitive, but if you take a comb or brush to matted roots, all you’re doing is pushing the knots further down the length of your hair. Think of trying to unravel a ball of yarn from the middle rather than slowing down, and finding the loose end.
- Next, it’s almost always best to detangle your hair when wet and soaked in a conditioner with lots of slip. When your hair is wet it’s more pliable, making it easy to manipulate without snapping off your strands. Conditioner makes the detangling process much more manageable by creating extra lubrication that allows your fingers or tools to slip and maneuver more easily in between tangles.
- Finally, I’m a huge advocate for finger detangling before going in with any standard detangling tools. Because your fingers are yours, they allow you to feel the most tangled areas of your hair that a comb might rip right through. Use your fingers to gently tease apart your knots and then go in with a comb or brush if necessary to strain out the rest of the shed hair. For a great detangling tool, try a wide tooth comb or the Tangle Teezer ($12.00, sephora.com).
AM I HYDRATING MY HAIR THOROUGHLY OR OFTEN ENOUGH?
What’s the leading cause of breakage? Dry hair. If your hair is dry your ends are much more prone to breaking off, inhibiting your ability retain length. It’s important to note that the only thing that moisturizes your hair is water. Not oils, not products, but water. Those other things help to lock the water into your hair shaft, thereby preserving your hydration, but water itself is the only thing that can add moisture to your hair. In fact, if you are excessive with your use of heavy oils, you may be clogging up your hair shaft and preventing your hair from soaking in moisture even when you wet it. You should be thoroughly hydrating your hair on wash day, but it’s critical to continue to add hydration—or water—to your hair throughout the week. You can simply spray your hair with a spray bottle or a water and conditioner mixture to rehydrate and seal your hair in between styling days. Also, be advised that any product that claims to add moisture should have water as the primary ingredient.
AM I PROTECTING MY HAIR PROPERLY AT NIGHT?
Your nighttime regimen is very important because we lose a lot of our moisture at night. You moisturize your face and body before you go to sleep, right? You should be doing the same for your hair. After you re-moisturize and seal, make sure you are going to sleep on a satin or silk surface. Regular cotton pillowcases are very absorbent and will soak up a lot of the moisture you just worked hard to infuse into your strands. Instead, opt for a satin scarf or bonnet. Not only will this material not absorb the moisture from your hair, it will also keep your style in place. If headgear isn’t your think, invest in a satin pillowcase so that your hair will be protected even as you toss and turn.
ARE MY PROTECTIVE STYLES TOO TIGHT OR POORLY MAINTAINED?
So many of us are guilty of this one. We grow frustrated with our natural hair and throw it into twists or braids, so we don’t have to deal with it. We think it’s a win-win because we don’t have to do our hair and our ends are protected within the style, but this idea only works in theory. Protective styles can be a great way to retain length by eliminating daily manipulation, however, they’re only effective if they are installed correctly. If you get braids that are too tight, they are likely to pull out your edges and leave your hairline a patchy mess. You might even end up with a bald spot where the hair won’t grow back if you rock the same overly tight style over an extended period of time. Also, even though your hair is tucked away it’s still crucial to maintain its care while in the protective style. That means continuing to treat your scalp to eliminate product buildup and moisturize your braids or twists. Try the Uncle Funky’s Daughter Defunk Hair Refresher Tonic ($15.59, target.com) to soothe an itchy scalp and stimulate growth while wearing braids or twists. This spray will also help to neutralize potential odors from long-term protective styling and remove buildup on the scalp.
AM I ABUSING HEAT STYLING TOOLS?
An obvious cause of breakage is an obsession with heat styling. Flat irons and curling wands are a direct one-way ticket to dry hair and damaged ends if you abuse them. You want to be wary of using heat too often, but if you can’t resist, be sure to at least protect your hair with a great heat-protectant spray. Try the Tresemme Thermal Creations Heat Tamer Spray ($5.49, ulta.com).
AM I EXPERIENCING COLOR DAMAGE?
Excessive coloring is right up there with heat styling on the hair damage scale. Permanent hair color is amazing for switching up your look, but it should be handled with caution. Hair dye literally pulls the natural pigment out of your hair, leaving the shaft stripped, open and vulnerable to breakage. If you’re the girl to switch your hair color every month, or even if you’ve been consistently dying your hair one color for years, your hair might be begging for a break. Trimming off your color-damaged ends bit by bit will go a long way towards helping you retain more length.
AM I MANIPULATING MY HAIR TOO MUCH?
As a natural, it’s tempting to try a new style every other week. There’s so much fun inspo circulating the gram that the possibilities are endless. However, constantly twisting, braiding and pinning our hair into different contrived styles can cause breakage from over-manipulation. All the pulling and tugging can put too much tension on your hairline, and the excessive combing and brushing causes us to shed more hair than is really necessary. Even if you think you daily bun is harmless, hair can break off around your scrunchie if it’s too tight. I have personal experience with that one. Have fun with your curls and kinks but remember that your hair thrives best when it is simply left alone.
DO I WEAR MY HAIR OUT TOO OFTEN?
On the flip side, wearing your hair out too often can also lead to damaged ends. I’m 100% guilty of this. When you wear your hair in a natural wash and go state or even in a twist out or braid out, it’s free from manipulation. However, if your hair is shoulder length or longer your ends will constantly rub up against your clothing. If the fabric you wear is too rough it may snag and pull at your ends, causing all kinds of damage. This is a huge threat particularly in the colder months when our shoulders are draped in heavy wool coats and sweaters, or when our necks are covered with huge scarves. These kinds of clothing aren’t the kindest on our hair and so it’s good to find a balance between wearing your hair free and keeping it up and out of the way.