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Ultimate Guide to Growing Long Hair: Steps 1 - 10

[Lucky Magazine honored this tutorial as the best of their Top Five Hair Websites!]
Growing long, beautiful and healthy hair is not an extremely difficult process. It does not require a multitude of salon products, handfuls of expensive vitamins, nor any sort of sacrifice to the long hair gods. What it does take to grow, and keep, long hair in excellent condition is common sense, dedication, and a bit of patience. Indeed, growing long hair is actually more a question of what you shouldn't do rather than what you should! If you make the commitment to closely adhere to the twenty steps that follow, not only will you grow long hair easily and as fast as humanly possible, it will also be beautiful throughout the entire growing process and stay that way, even at extreme lengths.
This indepth guide was written specifically for those who want to grow extremely long hair--waist, hip, knee-length or even longer, but it will benefit anyone who is seeking longer locks. Keeping hair in excellent condition when it's extremely long takes more caution and conscious effort than necessary if you intend to keep it shorter--at mid-back length, for example. If your goal is to encourage healthy hair growth but not to the extreme, some modifications may be made to the steps below while still achieving success. If you use common sense and don't allow damage to occur, you're doing the right thing to keep your hair healthy at any length. That being said, if you are looking for something more concise or don't think you are ready to make the commitment to give up what it takes to have a head of extremely long, and more importantly, healthy hair, you may want to check out our Top 10 Tips for Healthy Hair at Any Length.
Keep in mind that everyone has a "terminal length," the length to which your hair is capable of growing as a result of the genetically predetermined active growth period of your own hair follicles (hair grows in cycles and the length it is capable of growing is determined by the amount of time that passes during the cycle of each individual follicle turning on and off... the longer your growth cycle, the longer healthy hair can grow before being shed naturally). Unfortunately nothing here, nor anywhere else, can help you alter your terminal length based on your genetics. That being said, you'd be surprised how incredibly often what was thought to be terminal length turns out to be nothing more than hair too damaged to continue to grow... an easily resolved issue, and one that is very, very common (and is exactly what happened to me!)
Chair Hair
Bed head's first cousin... me with chair hair.
Excessive or sudden hair loss, extreme dryness or any sudden or unexplained change in your hair's condition may be due to a medical problem, often thyroid issues. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is imperative that you seek prompt advice from a qualified medical practitioner rather than hoping to find a resolution from this guide. That being said, you might want to check out our disclaimer. Please don't ignore these tell-tale signs if they happen to you, more than just the health of your hair may be at risk. If you find yourself suffering from excessive hair shedding and have determined that it is not caused by an underlying medical condition, I suggest you give Biosil a try... I do not have personal experience with it, but women with shedding problems are apparently going downright bonkers over this stuff.
I make several hair product suggestions in these guidelines and fortunately most are readily available at AmazonAmazon. I have listed only products I have tried and loved or that come very highly recommended from other long hair lovers. This is by no means an all-inclusive selection but it's important that you pay attention to how your hair reacts to the products you use, and to find those that will work best for you and your hair type. The products recommended here should get you off to an excellent start but please don't just take my word for it, what is right for me may not be right for you. I strongly suggest you read the reviews of each product or tool you are considering, which should prove very helpful in aiding you with your decision-making process. You may also want to give a try to the fabulous products from JustNatural (especially their Frizz Hair Shea Butter, which has become a personal must-have hair care addiction of my own... beautiful smoothing without a drop of silicone!)

Fortunately, as time goes on and the condition of your hair improves because you're doing fewer things to it that result in damage, you'll benefit by finding you'll need to use fewer products to protect it during the growing process, or to help improve it after the fact. So, not only will following these steps be great for your hair, but they'll be great for your wallet too (or give you some leeway to try out yummy new products or hair toys)!
For the sake of comparison with your own, at the time of the writing of the first edition of this guide my hair was 33" long, very straight, fine (pertaining to the thickness of each hair), reasonably thick (pertaining to the amount of hair on my head as a whole) and had no gray (that's changed... I'm hoping for a streak!). Please feel free to experiment and tweak the below steps to best suit your own hair type and growth goals but remember that sticking to them as stridently as possible will result in the healthiest and longest hair possible.

1. The first step to growing long, beautiful hair is by far the most important. It is absolutely non negotiable for anyone who wants healthy hair at any length, but it is also by far the hardest step you will have to follow on the path to long, gorgeous locks.

Because there is absolutely no way to permanently repair damaged hair no matter what product manufacturers try to sell tell you, you must start out with healthy hair for it to be healthy when it's long, there's just no way around it. Take a deep breath, bite the bullet and remove every inch that is considerably damaged, reminding yourself that it's the most important step to take towards your goal and that this is the last time you will ever have to do something so unpleasant for anyone who loves and desires long hair. This was the single most hair-changing (life-changing?) step I took in my entire struggle with the growing process (closely followed by determining that girls with long hair have infinitely more fun than girls with damaged, unnaturally blonde hair).
If you are going for extreme hair length, from this point on you will literally have to treat your locks like antique lace at all times. The finer your individual strands of hair, the more delicate they are and the more careful with it you will have to be. Once your hair is at your waist the ends can be more than six years old (and that's assuming your hair is straight, you'll have to add time for waves and a lot of time for a head of curls to reach your waist), and your hair will go through a lot of trauma over the course of those years no matter how careful you are with it. Because damage is cumulative and will only get worse as time passes, and as I noted above you cannot repair it, it is especially important that your hair be in the best possible condition from the very start of your long hair journey.

Remember, long damaged hair is never as pretty as shorter healthy hair, and because healthy hair needs to be trimmed less often and doesn't break as easily, the result is much faster growth overall. I learned this step the hard way and wasted ten years trying to grow damaged hair I refused to cut... hair that started literally growing like a weed when I finally gave in, did the dirty deed and stopped doing all the horrible nasties that initially resulted in the damage. Duh. Learn from my pain, there's no reason both of us have to suffer.

If your hair is not very damaged too far up the length of the hair shaft, you may start with a very healthy trim and then continue to trim monthly to maintain your length until all the damage is gone; however, keep in mind that if the amount of damage does not continue to decrease and the overall condition of your hair improve using this method, you didn't remove enough of the damage to begin with and another healthy trim is in order. You'll save precious time by removing as much damage as possible from the very beginning and immediately implementing the steps that follow to your now beautifully healthy tresses!

2. Always trim often. Damage will move up from the ends or point of breakage and the only way to stop it in its tracks is to remove it as soon as it happens. Please be sure to use good tools to trim your hair, using anything else can actually result in more splitting down the road (especially using any type of razor blade to "thin" or trim your hair). It's extremely important the scissors you use be very sharp, made specifically for cutting hair, and used for absolutely nothing else. The small investment you make in a really good pair of dependable styling shears will pay off many, many times over in the long run, both financially and with extended time between trims, resulting in much faster growth overall. (I just came across these phenomenally gorgeous hair styling scissors, aren't they absolutely divine?)

Don't forget to explain to everyone else in your house that your precious shears are your tool and are absolutely not to be used for anything else, especially prying off bottle caps when your husband can't find the bottle opener, which is of course in the drawer next to the dishwasher where it belongs if he'd just look.

If your goal is maintaining your current length, trim a half inch every month (the average rate of hair growth, adjust this amount if your growth rate differs). If you are actively growing your hair, trim it a half inch every three or four months or at the very first sign of damage, usually visible as frizzy ends or flyaways that are shorter than the bulk of your hair (and are a sign of breakage) If your hair begins to show damage, it is important to trim it more often and to lessen the time between trims going forward so you don't get to that point! Damaged hair doesn't grow, it breaks and if you let it go, the damage will only get worse. Absolutely.

Once you have progressed to the point where your hair is in really good condition, the time between whole-head trims can be extended even longer by removing splits as soon as they occur. An easy way to keep on top of this is to sit in bright light, tightly twist small sections of your hair, and using your good styling scissors, snip off any splits from the ends of individual hairs that emerge from the twist. Using this method, I can now often go six months or longer without a trim, and the trims I do have are usually just a means to remove several inches just to keep my hair at a manageable length (being approached at a stop light to be told your hair is sticking out the car door may be construed as a helpful reminder that it's time for a major trim... embarassingly true story).

3. If you don't want to learn to trim your hair yourself or have someone you trust implicitly to do it for you, find a salon that caters to long hair, has a long hair specialist, or at least be sure to glare at your stylist as menacingly as you can while you clearly explain your growth goals before letting her come at you with a pair of styling scissors. It also helps to ask your stylist to show you exactly their perception of the measure of your tresses you would like trimmed by showing you what they think is the same distance from the end of their comb. I am convinced stylists are taught a completely different measuring system from the rest of the world, not once have I ever had one show me an accurate half inch on her first try. Not once. If you don't have inches of hair to spare, you'll be very glad you asked!

Remember, it is not in the best interest of most salons or stylists if you rarely make visits to their salon, which is definitely a conflict of interest! If your hair is short and styled, you are always at the salon spending money for maintenance. If your stylist tries to convince you that your long, healthy hair should be cut, run screaming from the salon immediately!

In the end, it is up to you to make sure that anyone whose advice you consider, be it a stylist, friend or family member, has only the best interest of YOUR acknowledged hair growth goals in mind. Otherwise smile politely and ignore every word they say. You absolutely are not too old, too thin, too short, too gray, too anything to have long hair.
4. Avoid using any heated appliances whenever possible. No blow drying, no curling irons, no hot rollers, and especially no flat irons or crimpers! If you absolutely must blow dry do so minimally, and contrary to popular belief, it is best to let your hair dry naturally for as long as possible and use the blow dryer just to finish it off at the end. If you must use hot rollers, use flocked or ceramic rollers that are safer for your hair, not spiked plastic rollers (and be sure to read about all the great alternative methods in our Ultimate Guide to Curling Long Hair first!) If you insist on using curling irons, flat irons or crimpers on a daily basis, really long healthy hair isn't in your future. If you do use any kind of heat, be sure to use a product that will help protect your hair from it (Straight Sexy Hair makes a very popular one), but keep in mind that every time you apply heat you are likely to cause some damage no matter how careful you are. Remember, damage is cumulative.
5. Don't use any harsh chemicals on your hair. Definitely no perms and no peroxide! If you really feel you must color, use non peroxide hair dye (like Loving Care) or 100% natural henna (henna comes in a full range of hues, not just red). In addition to being an all-natural way to add color, henna will "plump up" and add body to fine hair (but it's best not to use it on very dry hair). Check out our Hair Care Recipes Cookbook to learn a great way to apply henna, as well as learn to make a whole range of your own custom organic and natural hair color and products.

Some of the better low-peroxide hair coloring products (like Clairol Natural Instincts) are much less damaging than permanent color, but using these products again and again will eventually detrimentally affect the health of your hair, it is unavoidable. If you do choose to go this route, you will have to be even more diligent about taking care to prevent additional damage. You may want to try one of the new cuticle sealers on the market, which deactivate and remove residual chemicals after damaging hair treatments, and reduce the swelling of the hair shaft so the cuticle returns to a smoother, flat state. Definitely be sure to use a good daily shampoo and conditioner formulated specifically for color treated hair (the shampoo and conditioner in the Matrix Biolage Colorcaretherapie line are considered some of the best), which will make your color last longer, which equates to less exposure to damaging chemicals in the end. Using a line of shampoo and conditioner that adds a bit of color back to your hair when you shampoo or condition will make it last even longer (both the Tressa WaterColors and Davines Alchemic lines of color maintenance products are extremely popular and best of all, both come in a huge variety of personalized shades). And be sure to deep condition at least monthly (and preferably weekly), again using a product forumated especially for color treated hair such as the enduringly loved Fekkai Technician Color Care. With making your color last as long as possible as the primary goal so as to limit how often you have to use color, you may also want to consider using a leave-in color protectant (HSI Professional Argan Oil Leave In Conditioner comes extremely highly recommended). In the end, it's much safer, and less work and expense, to learn to love the color you have, or at least to use a coloring product that doesn't contain any peroxide at all. Now, having spoken to hundreds of clients over the years who were addicted to color, I know how difficult it is to convince you kids not to use it. That being the case, the least I can do is tell you how to use it while keeping damage at a minimum and long, gorgeous hair in your future. In this instance, 16oz. of prevention is definitely worth a ton of cure.

Lastly and by far most importantly, never use a perm or chemical straightener for any reason. These extremely harsh products actually break down the structure of your hair and then attempt to rebuild it in a state it was never meant to be. No other chemicals intended to be applied to hair are more damaging than anything that messes with its molecular structure. If you want long healthy hair, you just cannot use these type of nasty chemicals on it. Ever. Think of doing so as commiting "hairicide."

6. Be *extremely* careful to use only hair-safe accessories. Never use metal barrettes (the "French" style), the sharp edges are very hard on your hair and have tight spaces in which it may get caught and subsequently damaged. Absolutely NEVER use rubberbands, they will tear your locks to shreds when removed (and if you're ever in a situation where you must use one, cut it to remove it, don't pull it). Avoid any accessories that have sharp or rough edges, such as plastic combs with rough seams or claws with hinges. Never put anything in your hair that attaches with Velcro or springs. If you take anything out of your hair and a significant amount of hair comes out with it, don't ever put it back in. Terry ponytail holders with no metal connectors or scrunchies are very hair-safe. Need I mention the most elegant and beautiful hair accessories of ALL TIME? [begin: shameless self promotion] Why, one-of-a-kind LongLocks HairSticks of course! [end: shameless self promotion]

7. Never wear a hairstyle that puts undue stress on your roots, such as extremely tight coils. If you wear a braid or ponytail, make sure it isn't pulled too tightly. Pulling hair tightly repeatedly commonly results in bald patches (a lesson even modern day Geisha still learn the hard way!) If you go after the long hair "quick fix" and use extensions, be forewarned that your own hair will likely be significantly more damaged when they are removed than it was to begin with. If you choose to wear locs or dreads, please consider it to be a permanent change. While the dreads themselves will remain healthy (in fact, many find this a great way to grow otherwise "ungrowable" hair), they unfortunately almost always have to be cut off to be removed and the hair involved usually cannot be "undreaded." If you do wear locs, twists or braids, it's a smart idea to use a braid conditioning spray to keep them in top condition.

8. Become familiar with the ingredients in your styling products. Once you know how natural or chemical additives affect your hair you will be able to effectively choose the products that contain ingredients that are best for your hair type. For instance, some people find their hair does not respond well to silicone (found in most "smoothing" or "anti frizz" products and many conditioning shampoos), if used over a long period of time. Any ingredient that ends with the suffix "cone" in the ingredient list is usually a silicone derivative and should be avoided by those sensitive to it (I am not decrying products containing silicone, only stating an example... I regularly use some products that contain silicone with no ill effects on my own hair). No matter what product you use, clarify your hair on occasion by rinsing with a homemade cider vinegar clarifying rinse or using a specially formulated clarifying shampoo to remove product build-up and avoid the damage to the cuticle this can cause if left unchecked. While everyone should clarify regularly, this step is absolutely essential of you use products that contain silicone. I have to admit that I am very addicted to Aveda Scalp Benefits Balancing Shampoo for clarifying, and it has the added benefit of smelling absolutely divine.

There's an influx of exciting new fast hair growth products on the market that apparently really can stimulate follicles, significantly strengthen your hair and make it less prone to damage and breaking (and thus making it grow faster), but remember that nothing can actually permanently repair damage no matter what it says on the package. Be sure to keep that in mind when you read labels (you do read labels, right?)

Products that nourish your hair with natural ingredients are excellent alternatives to the chemical-laden lines sold in salons and your local supermarket. In addition to online sources, you will find several excellent natural and organic hair products available at health food stores. I personally recommend Nature's Gate products, which are extremely affordable, and there is a huge variety from which to choose. My personal fave is their their Herbal Hair Conditioner (and the scent in this one is even better than Aveda's, it's absolutely out of this world) which I've used on and off for more than 35 years (egads, how did that happen?!) Regardless whether you choose to go low- or high-end, what is most important is to use whatever works best for you, not what is necessarily the trendiest, most expensive product nor for that matter, the cheapest products you can find. Remember, inexpensive products quickly become extremely expensive products if you don't use them because you don't like the way they affect your hair! Do keep in mind that this is one step to growing long, healthy hair in which finding what works for you and sticking with it rather than falling victim to an advertising ploy is the way to go.

9. Be *extremely* gentle with your hair when it is wet. Don't rub it vigorously with a towel, gently squeeze the towel down the length. Turbie Twists are a great alternative to twisting your hair in a standard towel (I can get all my hip-length hair into one, but just barely). NEVER brush your hair when it's wet, this is when your hair is at its most delicate. In fact, it is best to avoid brushing under most circumstances, a wide-tooth comb is almost always a better choice and is a must to smooth wet hair. I have probably tried a hundred combs but now I use only the Mebco Shower Detangler on my own hair, wet or dry. I have five of them scattered all over the house. Of course, I only know where one actually is.

10. Be very careful with what you choose to style your hair. When you do use a brush, use only a natural boar bristle brush, which unlike nylon will not tear your hair and is useful in distributing sebum (your hair's natural protective oils) to the ends of your tresses and to remove loose hairs.

There are a full range of boar bristle brushes available, though I would stay away from any that combine boar bristle with nylon bristles as they defeat the purpose of using a hair-safe brush (if you want the crème de la crème of brushes that will last a lifetime, and are lucky enough to be able to afford it, Mason Pearson is the top of the line in a class all by itself, or if you are looking for a really good and hard-to-find paddle brush, Spornette makes a fabulous 100% boar bristle paddle that is very affordable, especially for boar bristle!) If your hair is so thick that a boar bristle brush won't penetrate, a high-quality, smooth wood pin brush will be kind to your dense tresses (much kinder than the aforementioned boar bristle combined with nylon). Using a wide-toothed comb is far less damaging but it is important to choose a comb that is molded or has smooth seams (use a bit of sand paper to smooth rough seams if necessary). Comb your hair often throughout the day to detangle it. Work in small sections, always starting close to the ends, combing down in long, smooth strokes until all tangles are removed, and then starting the next set of strokes higher on the same section of hair. Knots are very hard on your hair and it's best to avoid them at all costs. Tiny knots that absolutely cannot be removed by any other means should be snipped out, not torn. See our Ultimate Guide to Removing Knots to learn the best way to deal with this common problem. Also, avoid back combing or "teasing" with a fine-tooth comb. This lifts and tears the cuticle, destroying even the healthiest of hair in a very short period of time.

© Copyright -2014 Susan Maxwell Schmidt, All Rights Reserved.