In between protective styles, I remember saying to my stylist, “I am so frustrated because it’s obvious my hair has grown but I feel like I don’t see the length.” To clarify, it was obvious my hair had grown because I had remnants of hair color from dying it a while back, so the new growth was obvious. But my hair appeared to be the same length as before. Her response to me was simple, “Yes your hair has grown, but if you aren’t seeing the length that means it’s breaking off at the same rate.”
Boom. That made so much sense. And it isn’t so much that it was a particularly groundbreaking concept, but definitely one we don’t necessarily think about when we aren’t getting the results we expect – in a “protective” style no less. We THINK we are taking care of our hair.
Your hair grows all the time. As you’re reading this it’s growing (except for extreme circumstances such as infections or scalp conditions, etc.). So if we can count on our hair to grow each month (however little), retaining length is contingent upon how diligent we are able to take care of what we already have.
So with renewed perspective, I shifted my focus from growth rate, and began thinking about how I could change my routine and hair habits to yield better retention. I knew immediately I had some hair habits that were direct contributors to breakage, like not tying my hair up most nights or sleeping on a satin pillowcase. Now considering that I already had hair that trended dry AND is color-treated, this habit alone was a recipe for breakage.
Here are 8 tips that have helped me achieve better length retention:
LAY OFF THE HEAT
I’m not one of those who believes that all heat is destructive, but using heat on your hair successfully is a practice of preparation and balance. If you are going to use direct heat, make sure your hair is properly moisturized (i.e. prep with a good deep condition), because heat + dry hair = breakage! Also, consider alternatives – some styles can be achieved without heat.
For example, try stretching/banding instead of blow drying. Then you flat iron so you use heat once not twice. You could also try roller sets instead of flat ironing. Another great tip is to only use heat tools with adjustable heat setting s— nothing worse than just a HIGH setting. Since everyone’s hair is different, 375F could be just enough heat for one person and not enough or too much for someone else. Remember that hair burns at 450F!
Whether long term, or short term, protective styling offers two main benefits which promote retention; little to no manipulation and protected ends. Decreasing how often we manipulate our hair whether by combs or restyling. This plays a significant role in retention.
So while twist outs and braid outs are super cute, if you are retwisting/braiding every night, you may want to consider dropping back to 2-3x a week if you are looking to increase retention. With respect to protected ends, particularly in the cooler months (depending on your length), leaving our ends consistently exposed to the elements can be a recipe for disaster.
For styling Curls Understood recommends Coco Conscious’ Curly Concoctions™ Hydrating Crème Concoction for styling and their Luster Revival Leave-In for softness and shine. Best part? One dollar from each online sale to a worthy cause.
There are several schools of thought on trimming, mine is simple. Trimming is necessary. How often you should trim is dependent upon how often your hair needs it. Also the decision to trim or not to trim also depends a lot on why you are doing it. Are you trimming for even-ness? Or are you trimming for health?
Trimming is not only essential to the health of our hair, in my opinion, but also styling. When my hair is in need of a trim, it doesn’t hold styles well and my ends will look bushy and lifeless. It is amazing the difference a little trim can make.
This tip should probably have been titled; ‘detangling properly’ because detangling itself isn’t going to help with retention per say, but doing it incorrectly can cost you hair, or in other words limit your length retention. The keys to detangling properly are simple and ones we should all know; never attempt to detangle your hair dry and always detangle from root to tip.
Following these two tips will save you from essentially tearing out hair you would otherwise not lose/shed in the process. I mainly detangle my hair with coconut oil or conditioner, depending on what I am doing to my hair. Some other tips for detangling are not to do it in a rush, detangle when you are in a good and relaxed mood, and don’t use fine tooth combs.
WATCH WHAT YOU WEAR
This is more of an issue during the fall and winter seasons, but be mindful of the scarves and sweaters you wear, which are often made of fabrics that will suck all the delicious moisture you spent your precious time enriching your strands with right out of your curls. Most vulnerable spot is usually in the nape area.
Deep conditioning regularly is essential to the overall health of your hair; however the ‘regularly’ part is totally up to you. I deep condition EVERY time I wash my hair, which is generally every week or two. Deep conditioning treatments aid in repairing and nourishing our hair from root to tip, while providing strength and shine. Folks who use sulfate shampoos, are relaxed/texlaxed, are color treated, have damage, or suffer from dry hair, should without question deep condition and do so regularly.
STICK TO A ROUTINE
Simply because consistency is key. Remember, ‘Watched Pots Don’t Boil’ and ‘Watched Cakes Never Bake’. There is no better way to frustrate yourself than to be constantly looking for progress. Just like weight loss, your hair habits didn’t change overnight and neither will your hair. Give your hair time to adjust to the changes before you start pressing her for results. She will respond.
Personally I only ‘length’ check when I get trims (because I straighten to trim) which is typically once every 2 to 3 months. Finally, take pictures! I find this is the best way to gauge change without constantly stretching or straightening your hair in the mirror, not to mention it is a more accurate comparison. Think of it like getting on the scale every day or every week, if you don’t see the number change every time you are liable to get discouraged and even slip back into old and destructive habits.