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How to Grow and Maintain Long, Healthy Hair

Liz has been growing her long, luxurious locks for the last two years, and it now spans the length of her back.

Long Hair Is an Investment

"Rapunzel! Let down your hair!" You don't have to be Rapunzel to have long, luxurious locks. I have always had shoulder- to medium-length hair, but over the last two and a half years, I have cultivated my do' to reach my lower back. If you are looking for some extra length or volume, read on for some tips I learned on my quest for flowing mane.

Health & Nutrition

Your health can be the biggest piece of the puzzle when growing hair. There are many health issues and medications that can cause changes to hair texture, inhibited hair growth, or even hair loss. Even if you are otherwise healthy, nutritional deficits can wreak havoc on hair growth. The first thing anyone should do is take quick stock of your health and nutrition and make adjustments. These changes don't have to be drastic!

Sneak some extra vegetables into your diet like beans for healthy protein and extra fiber and avocados for healthy fat. Substitute fatty meat with leaner options like fish or chicken. Practice healthy snacking with small portions of protein-rich nuts and dried fruits. Skip past the sugary sweets and enjoy some fresh fruit instead.

Take an occasional multivitamin to fill nutritional gaps. According to an article by WebMD, deficiencies in iron, vitamin D, zinc, and selenium may contribute to hair loss. Another article by Healthline.com,says that vitamins A, B, C, D, & E as well as iron, zinc, and protein are the best contributors to growing healthy hair. Many people tend to over-medicate with high-dose vitamins, so pay attention to how your body reacts. Cut your dosage or completely stop taking any supplements if something seems off like headaches, cramps, or unusual urine. You can also request a blood panel from your doctor. These panels are common, especially for people with certain medical conditions, and may be covered by insurance.

Physical activity also plays a part in hair growth by increasing blood flow. Activity can be as basic as taking a walk or a stretching routine, but have fun and find something that you enjoy that gets your blood pumping!

Detangling

Brushing and combing long hair can be labor-intensive, and your tools may change the longer it gets. When hair is shorter (as long as shoulder length), it seems like you can use almost any brush or comb. I've always preferred paddle brushes with flexible bristles for detangling and some cushion rather than stiff brushes or non-padded brushes with flimsy bristles that tend to create static and have troubles battling knots. As my hair grew longer, I found myself using just a simple comb to work through my tresses. My usual choice is flexible without being flimsy with both fine and medium teeth, although I use the medium side most often.

Your technique is as important as the tool you use so that you prevent breakage. Comb or brush your hair in sections, starting near the bottom to remove tangles near the tips and then work from the middle down before finally working near your scalp. If you were to start at your scalp and work your way down, tangles would just get pushed down on each other and compressed to make a tighter mass. If you find yourself battling with a particularly difficult tangle, pick at it gently with the medium teeth of your comb. You can usually loosen the hair ball's hold a little at a time until you can completely run your comb through.

Enjoy your detangling time! Use this as an opportunity to stimulate your scalp and increase blood flow by giving your scalp a couple of extra finishing strokes at the end of your routine.

Washing and Treatments

My biggest tip for maintaining long hair is to brush or comb it before you wash it. It is easier to work with dry hair, and wet hair is more fragile and prone to breakage.

Once you have your hair detangled, wash it by thoroughly wetting and working the shampoo through your hair. I use a shower-safe scalp massager to work my shampoo through my strands, but I do this in a brushing motion, not a scrubbing back and forth or circular motion that would create more tangles. I rinse and then apply my conditioner or a hair mask, starting a couple of inches from my scalp and using my fingers to comb it through my hair, working it down the length and paying extra attention to the tips. I use only a minimum of conditioner near my scalp to prevent buildup since the scalp produces its own natural oils. I always let the conditioner sit for a couple of minutes while I do the rest of my showering, even if the directions don't indicate a time frame. Don't rush! Let your hair soak in that goodness! Finally, I rinse my hair.

I am a fan of only washing my hair every few days to avoid stripping it. Training my scalp was a little bit of a process that involved gradually increasing the time between washes. I started by skipping washing my hair on the weekends, and then washing my hair every other day, and finally, I started washing my hair every three to four days. After a time, oil glands should recognize that the scalp is maintaining a certain level of oiliness and should reduce their output. Your own journey will depend on your biology and how long you can tough it out before deciding you need to wash. Simply use styles like ponytails or headbands to help disguise the excess oil.

I keep my drying process simple and try to avoid hot dryers and products with alcohol and other drying ingredients. When I finished washing, I gently squeeze the excess water from my hair, starting near the top and working down, and then I wrap my head in a towel. I leave the towel on for the duration of my after-bath ritual (usually about 15 minutes). When I remove the towel, I give my hair a few spritzes of a light conditioning spray. I once again work a comb through my hair. As a special treat, I apply a drop of almond or rose oil to just the tips of my hair to help seal in the moisture.

Coloring and other treatments can be harsh on hair, so I try to stretch out the time in between. When dying, I usually stick to two similar color shades, and I treat my at-home color treatments as root touch-ups plus a few extra inches down the strands and some highlights for the best coverage and realistic blending. I always condition thoroughly after coloring!

Styling

As I've already mentioned, I try to avoid products with drying ingredients, and this includes things like moose, hairspray, and gel. This also helps since I don't wash my hair every day. I keep my styles simple and try to use accessories that will not break my hair.

Rather than a regular ponytail with an elastic band that will pull my hair, I twist my hair at the back of my head, leaving a tail sticking out from my crown. I use a claw to hold it in place, and this creates a beautiful high ponytail that doesn't tug as much. As an added bonus, when I let down my hair, rather than having that annoying crimp that a ponytail holder tends to leave, my hair has extra volume all over.

To prevent nocturnal tangle build-up, I braid my hair before bed. This holds my hair in place, gives my hair volume, and is a safer style that uses elastic bands.

If you're one to let your hair hang down, barrettes are also a great option to add some flair or just keep your hair out of your face.

To Cut or Not to Cut?

Many people battle with the decision of whether to trim their hair when they are in the grow-out process. The answer is that it depends on your hair's health. Hair is not living tissue that can heal itself, despite the claims of many products. If your hair is damaged from styling or fragile hair growth, you will want to trim out the weak hair so that your style looks healthy. If your hair is relatively healthy, clip the odd split ends and visit your stylist as needed for full trims. On average, hair tends to grow about half an inch a month. As long as you spread out your trims or keep the amount trimmed to a minimum, you will see progress.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2021 Liz Woodward

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