I've always been someone that's enjoyed playing around with my hair as a form of self-expression. One day it's straight, one day it's curly, and the next day it's blue—literally. However, while these styles were a great reflection of my mood and creativity, they often wreaked havoc on my hair. For years, my hair would grow to just above my shoulders and either break off or have to be cut off due to damage and split ends. Retaining length with my fine, textured hair can be a bit of work, but I decided that I wanted to make a change and start to finally give my hair the care and attention that would promote growth.
While I'm still early in my natural hair journey, I've finally grown past the stubborn shoulder-length hair, and I now can clearly identify the habits that help me retain length. While no two heads of hair are the same, here are the tips that worked for me.
My Natural Hair Journey
Like most of the little girls I knew, I associated straight hair with femininity and being presentable when I was younger. When it was the first day of school or time to get dressed up for Easter, out came the hot comb. My hair was chemically relaxed by age 9, so when I finally got to college and was away from my hometown hairdresser, it felt like the perfect time to start caring for my hair independently.
Month after month that I went by without relaxing my hair, I started to realize something that seemed revolutionary at the time—I didn’t need it! My peers were also starting to take the leap of the “big chop,” and it gave me the push I needed. So one day, out of a mix of frustration and curiosity, I washed my hair and then grabbed a pair of sheers and cut my relaxed hair off. That was almost a decade ago, and while it took some time to learn how to care for my textured 3C/4A hair, I’ve finally found a routine that leaves my hair manageable and promotes length retention.
My Natural Hair Routine
When I first transitioned to natural hair, I was all about curl definition. So I did frequent wash-and-go’s with plenty of curl-defining creams and puddings without thinking of hair health. I also frequently color-treated my hair at the salon and would maintain my color with box dyes at home—which I would not recommend! Over time my hair became highly porous, and my growth stunted. I realized that I needed to develop a routine that focused on the overall health of my hair rather than fixating on a temporary look. Here’s the routine I’ve currently developed for natural hair length retention:
First things first, healthy hair starts with a healthy scalp—this is probably one of the most underrated natural hair growth tips. While everyone’s wash needs are different, I learned that my fine, low porosity hair gets dry with too much product build-up, so cleansing is key for me. I alternate between a hydrating shampoo and a clarifying shampoo to find that perfect balance. I also try to use shampoos that prioritize scalp health and use stimulating oils on my scalp like rosemary and tea tree oil.
Hair treatments have also become a part of my regimen. When I’m doing well with my routine, I use a weekly deep conditioning treatment—usually on Sundays while I wind down and watch my favorite shows. During this process, I also take the time to gently and slowly detangle my hair to minimize breakage. I do a protein treatment about once a month to strengthen my strands, but I typically use a hydrating mask or deep conditioner like the Mizani Intense Moisturizing Mask. My hair loves ingredients like honey and olive oil to stay hydrated.
After washing and conditioning, I follow the L.C.O (leave-in, cream, oil) method to maintain moisture, which is key for natural hair length retention. I use a water-based leave-in conditioner to penetrate my hair, and then I follow with a cream-based styling product for a bit of definition and hold to help my curls pop. Finally, I follow with an oil when my hair is dry to seal in moisture. I also refresh my hair with a water-based spray daily to keep my low porosity hair happy.
When it comes to styling, I’ve had to learn the humble truth that less is more. While my creativity urges me to switch it up frequently, less manipulation leads to less breakage. When I stopped putting (literal) pressure on my hair to look perfect all the time, I began to see so much growth. Nightly twisting and braiding can cause damage over time, so I’ve learned to embrace imperfect wash-and-go’s or to wear my twists and braids for days at a time before unraveling them to reveal a defined look. I also have reduced straightening my hair to one to three times a year.
10 Tips To Help Natural Hair Retain Length
Here are some practical natural hair growth tips that can help you along your journey.
1. Learn your hair type.
By taking the time to understand my hair type and porosity, I was able to learn which products work best for me. Learning this quality can help guide your hair care decisions.
2. Deep condition.
This might require a bit of time and attention, but your hair will thank you for it! Curly and coily can be significantly easier to manage when it has the right balance of moisture and protein.
3. Detangle gently.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Be patient with your hair to reduce knots and breaks.
4. Wash your hair in sections.
Curly hair has a mind of its own, so in order to prevent your hair from getting severely tangled, wash it in sections of braids or twists. You’ll experience significantly less shedding because of it.
5. Always protect your hair at night.
Even if you don’t feel like you have a style worth preserving overnight, it is super important to protect your hair while you sleep. Whether you prefer a scarf, a bonnet, or a silk or satin pillowcase, avoid the breakage and drying that can be caused by the friction of your pillow.
6. Show your scalp some love
Making sure that your scalp is clean and free of buildup is key to healthy hair. It’s also important to stimulate blood flow to the scalp with lightweight oils that won’t clog your pores.
7. Ditch the boxed color treatments
The DIY gratification of coloring your own hair won’t last long if you have to sacrifice the integrity of your strands. If a new color is what you want, book an appointment with a stylist to see if your hair color goals will align with your length retaining goals.
8. Wear protective and low manipulation hairstyles
From braids and twists to wigs, protective styles are great for allowing your hair to grow without manipulation that leads to breakage—however, don’t keep them in too long! Six to eight weeks is usually plenty of time to give your hair a rest, and then it’s time to make sure you’re caring for your hair again.
9. Regularly see a hairstylist
Don’t forsake the magic that can happen when you trust your hair in a stylist’s hands. A stylist will help you get the right treatments that you need and will also prioritize trims to rid you of split ends.
10. Remain open to dietary supplements
Choose wisely, but be open to dietary supplements that can help make sure you have the nutrients you need for healthy natural hair growth. When in doubt, always seek out the help of a doctor.
Interested in retaining length in your natural hair? Check out our salon locator to find the right stylist for you.