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Understanding Your Hair's Growth Phases

There are a lot of urban legends surrounding hair growth - more so than any other hair topic, we think. A magical pill that catapults strands to record lengths? Or how about a viral challenge promising to grow it from chin to chest in a week, thanks to an upside down scalp massage? With so many false promises and misinformation, we can find ourselves wasting a lot of time, energy, and products in the hopes of finding that one quick fix to grow healthy hair at turbo speed.

But the true - and most boring - answer is one word: patience. There is no yellow brick road to fast hair growth; only one to a happy, healthy scalp that provides the best environment for happy, healthy, and normal hair growth. So now that we’ve cleared all of that up, it’s time to settle down and get sciencey about how and when our hair grows. Once you’ve formed that foundational understanding, you’ll get why the hair growth cycle is mostly untouchable by what you put on it. 

One single hair grows inside a tiny follicle just underneath the scalp, right next to an oil gland. As hair is pushed out, so is oil, or sebum, which lubricates the scalp and protects it against microbes that could penetrate the skin. “This growing stage is called the anagen stage, which lasts approximately two to seven years,” explains Stephanie Sey, afro hair specialist and trichologist. “On average, hair grows about half an inch per month depending on your genetics - for some, it’s as fast as an inch or a quarter inch.” And as for the illusion of afro and curly hair growing slower than straight hair? “The actual growth isn’t always realised because of curling up, or shrinkage,” says Stephanie. “I always say to people who ask me this: “remember back to your relaxer or straightening days, if you’re worried your growth has slowed down.”

So once hair has been growing over the years, it then naturally transitions into the catagen phase, which lasts around ten days while it detaches itself from the blood supply, while it waits for the third phase: telogen. “Also known as the resting phase, it lasts around three months before heading into the exogen, or shedding, phase,” explains Stephanie. It goes without saying that we want our hair to stay in the race for as long as possible before losing it, but there’s not much we can do to force it. “It’ll move from one phase to the other naturally, except when disrupted by external factors like stress, illness, childbirth, and crash dieting, which disrupts the cycle and sends hairs straight to the telogen phase, causing shedding three months later.” If you’re noticing more hair falling out than usual, think back to a season ago to get to the root (literally) of it. Also, it’s been noted that seasonal shifts and lack of vitamin D can disrupt the hormonal balance in women especially, leading to more hair fall in the autumn and winter months.

But that’s not to say that altering the hair’s growth cycle is 100% impossible. “The only clinically proven topical treatment is minoxidil - known commercially as Regaine,” says Stephanie. While the exact workings of it aren’t clear, we do know that it works as a vasodilator, widening the hair follicle and keeping the hair in the anagen stage for longer. However, this only works with hereditary balding, and definitely isn’t an option for sudden, patch hair loss, as a result of the wrong hair product or alopecia. Another theory ties in to hair growth being stimulated by better blood circulation, which brings nutrients to the follicles. “Essential oils like rosemary along with scalp massage have been credited with follicle-feeding superpowers, but this is mostly anecdotal without enough studies to prove it,” says Stephanie.

“One thing I often have to clear up is the misinformation surrounding oils, butters and grease for the scalp,” adds Stephanie. “Leaving them on your scalp for long periods actually feeds the fungus that lives naturally on the skin, causing itching. There are no clinically proven hair growth oils - just keep the area clean, and avoid high-tension hairstyles like tight braids that can stress the scalp.” But fear not - if you can’t give up your weekly scalp massage, just make sure the focus is for unwinding and giving the scalp some love, rather than a singular motive to grow the hair, and wash it soon after. Take care of the lengths, as dry split ends and rough handling will break them from bottom to top, which is usually the culprit for your hair not going past a certain length.

The funny thing about hair growth is that for something that revolves so much around the external action of pushing it out, the most deciding factor is how your body is internally. Having a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, staying hydrated and as unstressed as possible (we know, we’re eye-rolling too but it’s facts) has much more power over your hair growth than you think. When you’re low on fuel and high on inflammation, your body sends the emergency services to the organs instead of external things like hair, nails and skin - so they’re the first to suffer.
Get connected with one of our hair coaches to discuss your current routine, lifestyle, and concerns, and get a personalised plan and prescription.

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