I thought I would write this post because in the past couple of years, I’ve been treating my hair really differently and I’ve been able to really maximise my hair growth because of it. Although I actually prefer my hair shorter, I know that a lot of black girls struggle with getting their hair to grow. I therefore wanted to write this post to share my experience with you.
On the flip side, I also know that there are so many of us who are wearing our hair natural now – which I love. This means that there are thousands of black girls out there showcasing their gorgeous thick, bouncy, shiny, beautiful, head of long, healthy curls. So, I’m not trying to pioneer myself as having the best hair out there because I definitely see girls with hair that is a lot thicker and longer than mine and trust me, I do envy them! But this is what my hair looks like at the moment and I want to share how I got it to this stage.
So, just under a year ago now, in August 2019, I cut my hair short and levelled it all off. That’s the picture you see on the left. I was tired of my hair growing at different lengths, so I levelled it all off at the healthiest part and cut it into this straight across style. Before that, the longest part of my hair was probably a couple of inches longer and the shorter parts were around the length that I cut it to.
My hair naturally grows in a V shape – annoyingly, it doesn’t all grow at the same rate. So if I want my hair to be all one length, which I do, then I have to cut it all to one length myself. But even as it grows, as you can see from my before and after pictures, it still doesn’t really grow to one length! This is because when I was in my second year of university, I got a little scissor happy trimming my hair and I cut the front parts really short. They were probably up to my chin. Since then, the front parts of my hair have never really recovered. They always grow a lot slower than the bottom parts. Which is why you’ll see me wearing my hair half up half down pretty much all the time if I don’t have it tied back or up in a bun. However, less than a year after cutting my hair up to my collarbone, you can see how many inches it has grown. It’s a lot longer and the most important thing is that it’s healthy.
People have always complimented me on the length and thickness of my hair throughout my life. But what they probably didn’t realise is that it wasn’t healthy at all. I used to straighten my hair almost everyday and I remember that my ex-boyfriend once told me that every strand of hair on my head was a split end. I mean, not the nicest of things to tell your girlfriend but in all fairness, he was actually correct. I had an unbelievable amount of split ends. But what could I do? I thought that I had to wear my straight. And so, every week I would spend about 3 hours straightening it all out and touching it up with straighteners throughout the week too. Trust me, there is no amount of heat defence spray that can prevent the damage that straighteners will do to your hair. Unfortunately, straighteners will damage your hair – that’s just the harsh reality.
I realised this about 2 years ago now. Every time I washed my hair and saw the curls, I had this urge to leave it natural. But I was lost. I honestly didn’t know where to begin with styling or treating my natural hair. And so, every time I washed it, I would fall back into that cycle of straightening it. I was even more anxious about wearing my hair natural in front of my boyfriend at the time. Having my hair straight and having my hair natural are two very different styles. He was used to seeing me with my hair straight and even though he told me that there was no issue, it was something that I had to overcome myself. Because, if I didn’t really like seeing my hair natural, then why would I show it to anybody else?
My university housemates can attest to the fact that whenever I washed my hair, I would lock myself in my room for 3 hours while I blow dried and straightened it. This meant that nobody ever saw what my hair looked like natural. Crazy, right? I was so embarrassed and I hated my natural hair so much that I didn’t want anybody to see it. Which in retrospect is crazy!
My point here is that, if you haven’t gone natural yet, then I understand you. I know how difficult it is. My sister, for example, has the most beautiful head of curly hair and has been natural for way longer than me, yet she still won’t wear her natural hair out. We’re all on our own journeys. But the sooner you embrace your natural hair, the better you will feel overall, I promise.
For the purpose of showing the length difference in my hair, I have uploaded pictures with it straight. When my hair is curly, it shrinks up a lot (as you can see in my previous post here), so it makes it difficult for you to see how much its grown. I would say I wear my hair straight once every few months now, simply because I don’t love it straight anymore. I just find it boring and it doesn’t really feel like me. It also takes so long to straighten and I can feel how hot my hair gets after using the straighteners – a feeling that I really don’t like. The only reason I straighten my hair now is either if I want it straight for a particular event or because I’m trimming it. I haven’t yet learnt how to properly trim my hair when it’s curly, so I prefer to straighten it all out and level it off that way instead.
So now that you have my sort of hair history, let’s talk about what I actually do with my hair to keep it as healthy as possible. Since cutting my hair short back in August, I’ve been keeping to some rules to maximise hair health and growth.
The first, is to wash your hair as much as it needs it. When we wear our hair straight, we are so used to trying to maximise the length of time that we can do this for. So, usually we will try not to wash our hair for as long as possible. Back in university days, I used to wash my hair once every two weeks. I know, I’m honestly disgusted thinking about it now. It was full of excess oils and dirt and I would keep straightening on top of that to try and stretch the period of time my hair was straight for. Now, I wash my hair every 3 days maximum. This is what my hair needs. After 3 days, it needs to have the product washed out of it and it needs to be re-conditioned. I use an extra moisture shampoo – either from Shea Moisture, OGX or Pantene. This is what works for me. You will have to figure out how long your hair can go without being washed and find a routine for yourself around that. I have been known to wash my hair everyday, but only on holiday. Washing your hair everyday is actually quite bad and should be avoided as much as possible.
Co-washes are also a great option. Often my hair isn’t dirty, it just needs to be conditioned. So, if I feel like it needs a freshen up, but I also feel that it’s quite close to when I just washed it, I’ll do a conditioner only wash. This is a really good way of replenishing the moisture and curls in your hair without stripping it of its natural oils too often. Just make sure that the next time you shampoo your hair, you shampoo it properly to remove any excess product build-up.
Another thing that I do, is deep condition my hair. I can’t lie, this is not one of my favourite things to do. It makes my wash time take forever! I’ve only recently managed to cut my wash times down drastically. I can wash my hair in 20 minutes and leave for work and be there on time (sort of) now! Whereas before, if somebody told me I’d have to wash my hair before going to work, I’d say that was impossible and that they’re crazy. This is another thing I love about natural hair – it’s so versatile! If you need to wash it and be out of the door, then you can absolutely do so without worrying about having to spend 3 hours blow drying and straightening it before you do. It’s such a freeing feeling. Anyway, the deep conditioner that I use is from Cantu – I’ve linked it here. I’ll part my hair into sections and brush the conditioner through. Then, I either plait it into one plait on each side or twist it up into a bun, put a plastic cap on and leave it there for 30 minutes or more before rinsing out. My hair loves me for it afterwards.
I have a couple of favourite detangles and leave-in conditioners that I use to style my hair throughout the week. These also help massively to keep my hair moisturised instead of dry. Immediately after washing my hair, I use the Cantu curl activator. This one is great for moisturising and curl definition. It has a thick consistency. If you want something a little looser, then I would try this ORS leave-in conditioner. Both products smell amazing and have shea butter in them. I love using shea butter on my hair, it just works so well to keep it moisturised and to keep my curls nice and defined. I also use the Pantene detangling milk – which I think does exactly what it says on the bottle and completely detangles my hair in seconds.
The next tip I can give you, which I always say, is to trim your hair regularly. Please! I trim my hair every 6 weeks and I do it myself. Yes, I have run into a fair few disasters doing this, but I’ve also seen my hair grow and thicken out from doing this. All you need to cut is a quarter of an inch minimum every time you trim it to get rid of those dead and damaged ends. It’s so important and is one of the biggest tips that I can give you.
Following on from your trim, you now need to maintain your healthy hair. Figure out what conditions your hair breaks under and try to prevent them. For example, I know that my hair can get very brittle in warm weather. The sun really dries out my hair so it’s better that I wear it up in buns with my ends tucked away as much as possible during the Summer. I also need to make sure that I’m moisturising my ends. So applying oils to the ends of my hair is a really important step in my hair routine. I like to use olive or jojoba oil. ORS do a good olive oil and Patene have a nice hydrating oil that I use daily – particularly when wearing my hair straight.
Protective styling is key for maximising growth. It’s not really my favourite thing to do but it does work. My favourite protective style is wearing my hair in twists and pulling the twists back into a bun with a scrunchie and some gold clips. Other good protective styles are braids – just one on either side. Or a really simply ballerina bun with all of my ends tucked away. I’m all about the simple styles that take 10 minutes max. Believe it or not, styling my hair is not something I enjoy so I like it to be done as quickly as possible!
Finally, the way that you manipulate your hair is really important. As I said earlier, heat is bad for your hair. For those of you that don’t like to hear that, I’m not sorry to tell you this. Every time I straighten my hair I know that I’m doing something bad to it. It’s unrealistic for me to say that I will never straighten my hair, as I will. Sometimes I just want to wear it straight and other times I want to trim it. But it’s the same as trying to keep a healthy diet. You don’t have to cut out chocolate completely, for example, you just have to limit yourself. And I now limit wearing my hair straight to once every few months.
Manipulation to me isn’t just about heat, however. Things like not brushing your hair too often and being gentle when you do is important. I only brush my hair when I deep condition it. Otherwise, my hair does not really see a brush. I finger detangle conditioner through my hair when I wash it. When I style it, all I use is a spray bottle and my fingers to rake the product through. Having said that, you still need to be gentle when you’re manipulating your hair. Don’t force and tug your fingers or a brush through. Start detangling the ends until your fingers or your brush can glide easily through the hair strands. I’ve really noticed how much less hair I find at the end of wash days because of this.