While trends are constantly changing, healthy hair is always in style. I’ve been growing my hair long and then cutting off anywhere from 10-15 inches at a time to donate since the age of 9. As of October 2017, I made my 6th donation. It’s safe to say that I have quite a bit of experience in growing hair! Below are my tips on growing healthy hair as naturally as possible.
Hair Growth 101:
Hair is comprised of a hard protein called keratin, which is also found in skin, nails, and teeth. The speed of hair growth, terminal hair length, thickness, and texture of the hair is largely genetic. However, diet, hormones, stress, medication, illnesses, hair care practices and even the time of year all play a part in how well the hair grows and how healthy the hair ultimately is. Healthy, undamaged hair grows about 1/4 – 1/2” per month.
Hair follicles individually grow in threes phases; anagen or growth phase, the catagen or resting phase, and telogen or shedding phase. In order to grow hair to it’s longest possible length, you must keep it as healthy and damage free as possible.
Hair Care Basics:
Shampoo- The purpose of shampoo is to remove dirt and product buildup on the hair and scalp. Because of the stripping nature of the product, shampoo every few days and only apply the product to the scalp and work it into the roots. As you rinse, the suds will naturally glide down the length of the hair and clean the ends without stripping them. The heat of the water will also loosen dirt and oil, so wash with warm (not hot) water to avoid damage and end with a cold rinse to seal the cuticle of the hair to prevent moisture loss. A cold shot of water at the end of your shower also helps to stimulate the immune system, so it’s a win-win.
The type of shampoo you use should be tailored to your hair type (fine, thick, coarse, dry, color treated, etc). Choose a shampoo that suits your hair type, aiming for one as natural as possible. Finding a natural shampoo can be tricky because your scalp can get accustomed to relying on the strong chemicals in traditional shampoos that strip the hair. Take the transition to more natural shampoo one bottle at a time until you find the most natural brand that works for your hair type. If you’re using drug store shampoo, try looking for one that is sulfate and paraben free. Then move to one that uses natural plant surfactants rather than chemicals. Next move to a shampoo with as little ingredients as possible. The Environmental Working Group Skin Deep Database is a fantastic resource to check the toxicity of the products you’re buying and will help you learn what ingredients to avoid. The goal is to transition away from shampoos (and all body-care products) that contain known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, and toxins.
Conditioner- Just as with shampoo, you’ll want to choose a conditioner that suits your hair type and work your way to one that is as natural as possible. Even if you have fine hair texture, you need to condition your hair every time you shampoo. Because shampoo strips beneficial oils from the hair as it cleans, you’ll need to replace the lipids and proteins with conditioner. Conditioner also helps seal the cuticle of the hair to prevent further damage. To avoid unnecessary oil on the scalp, apply conditioner to the hair from the ear down, avoiding the scalp.
Deep Conditioning- Regardless of your hair type, you should be deep conditioning your hair on a regular basis. Finer hair may only need a deep treatment once or twice a month, whereas more coarse or chemically treated hair will need weekly treatments. The most natural deep conditioners are pure oils. While eating oil isn’t the best idea, slathering it on your hair sure is. Unlike many store bought deep conditioners, pure oils are able to penetrate the hair shaft and replace essential fatty acids in each strand leaving your hair stronger and softer. Experiment with different oils to find one that works best for you.
I prefer a twice monthly coconut oil treatment by applying virgin coconut oil to my scalp and the length of my hair. I take this opportunity to give myself a 3-5 minute scalp massage to stimulate the blood flow to the scalp which promotes hair growth. I’ll clip my hair up in a bun and let the oil sit for an hour or more. In order to rinse the oil out completely, put a generous amount of shampoo onto your scalp and hair before you wet it. Since oil and water do not mix, the shampoo needs to get to work on the fatty acids in the oil before the water is able to wash it away. I’ll then shampoo one more time, apply conditioner, and go about my day with nourished hair.
Cuts- If your goal is long, healthy hair, you’ll need to get it cut regularly. Regular hair cuts do not encourage growth, but rather remove split ends that can work their way up the length of the hair shaft (and then need more drastic cuts). Consider going to your stylist for a “dusting” every 3-4 months to remove about 1/8” of hair to prevent and remove split ends.
Brushing and Tension Breakage- Brushing can cause physical harm to your hair if done incorrectly. Always brush from the bottom of the hair up toward the scalp in short, gentle strokes. If you brush from the top down, not only can you cause more tangles, but the brush can snap off the hair at the tangled portion. Wooden brushes are fantastic at distributing the scalp’s natural, nourishing oils to the length of the hair. If you must brush your hair when wet, use a wide tooth comb and do it while conditioner is on your hair in the shower. Otherwise, avoid brushing wet hair as it is most fragile in this state.
If you tend to wear your hair pulled back, make sure to change the placement of your ponytail or bun often. Pulling your hair into these tight styles on a daily basis can cause tension breakage not only at the sight of the elastic band, but at the scalp where the tension is the greatest. If possible, wear your hair in loose or in protective styles when at home or running errands and then pull it back into a braid or bun for when needed.
Minimizing Damage- In order to keep your hair growing healthily, you must minimize damage from heat styling. Reducing your hair’s exposure to heat via blow dryers, straighteners, and curling irons is key. Gently blot extra moisture out of your hair with an old t-shirt or microfiber towel. Wrapping a towel around your wet hair causes tension at the scalp where fragile baby hairs are more prone to breakage. By gently blotting with a softer fabric, you’ll minimize breakage.
Allow your hair to air dry whenever possible to avoid exposure to heat styling tools. If you wash your hair in the evening, you can take advantage of heatless hair styles to avoid hot tools altogether. Two of my favorites are allowing my hair to air dry 80%, split my hair down the middle into 2 sections, and then sleeping in protective Dutch Braids or Rope Braids. Dutch Braids will leave beautiful mermaid waves in the morning whereas Rope Braids will unravel into lovely curls. Please note that I am NOT a hair stylist, so I would suggest a quick YouTube search on how to do those techniques. 😉
To take your night-time hair care up another notch, invest in some satin pillowcases to help further reduce breakage and frizz.
It also goes without saying that any chemical treatments such as coloring, bleaching, perming, or relaxing can cause significant damage to the hair. If you can rock your natural color and texture, you’re much more likely to grow long, healthy hair.
Stress and Illness- After a stressful event, you may notice more hair loss than normal. Both stress and illness can push more hair into the resting and shedding phases. By reducing stress (through deep breathing, meditation, journaling, and other lifestyle modifications) and keeping the immune system strong, you’ll be able to reduce excessive hair loss. If you are experiencing significant hair loss, it might be due to conditions such as nutrient deficiency, Anemia, Thyroid issues, Alopecia, or Telogen Effluvium. A doctor can help determine the cause and help you explore treatment options.
Nutrients and Foods to Support Hair Growth:
Water- H20 makes up almost 1/4 of the weight of a hair strand. It also hydrates the body and helps regulate the circulatory system, feeding the hair follicle that stimulates hair growth. Water is necessary in almost all of our bodily functions, but direct impacts cell health and reproduction throughout the body. If your body is dehydrated, it will shuttle blood supply away from the skin and hair to more vital organs in need of nutrition to keep you alive. Not only will your hair and skin become dry and brittle, but the hair will not grow due to lack circulation (and it can even begin to fall out!). Aim to drink at least 1/2 your body weight in ounces a day for healthy hair (and skin, and nails, and everything else).
Vitamin C Rich Foods- Vitamin C has strong antioxidant properties that protect the hair (and the body!) against free radical damage. The body also uses vitamin C to produce collagen, a protein that helps strengthen the hair and skin. Additionally, vitamin C helps the body absorb iron from the diet, a mineral that’s critical in the prevention of Anemia which is known to cause hair loss. Vitamin C rich foods include bell peppers, kiwi, broccoli, strawberries, and citrus fruit (oranges, lemons, limes, and pineapples).
Beta-Carotene Rich Foods- Vitamin A helps the skin glands produce sebum. This natural oil help to moisturize the scalp and keep the hair healthy. It’s also been shown to speed up hair growth rates and encourage the growth of thicker hair. The body takes beta-carotene from the produce we eat and converts it into vitamin A. Beta-Carotene rich foods include leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards, etc), sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and carrots.
Healthy Fats- Vitamin E and Omega-3 Fatty Acids help the body combat oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals. Healthy fats also help to moisturize the hair and skin from the inside out. Foods containing omega-3s and/or vitamin E include avocados, nuts, and seeds (I’m looking at you, hemp hearts, chia seeds, and flax seeds!).
Zinc- Zinc is a mineral that supports the hair growth and repair cycle. It’s also crucial for a well-functioning immune system and helps protect our bodies from the damaging effects of stress. Foods high in zinc include, hemp hearts, pumpkin seeds, tofu, lentils, oats, and wild rice.
Biotin-Biotin belongs to the B Complex Vitamin group and helps your body convert food into energy and supports liver health. Biotin has been the darling supplement of hair/skin/nail health for quite some time. However, taking supplements (which are unregulated) often leads to an overdose of vitamins that your body cannot utilized and literally get flushed down the drain. If you aren’t deficient in biotin and aren’t given supplements by your healthcare provider, try eating biotin rich foods that your body can better assimilate. Biotin rich foods include almonds, cauliflower, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, and spinach.
Silica- Silica is a crucial mineral in the body’s formation of collagen. It helps regenerate and strengthen skin, hair, bone, and nails by repairing connective tissues. Silica also helps to strengthen blood vessels, improve circulation, and stimulate blood flow to your scalp which encourages hair growth. Silica rich foods include cucumbers, avocados, flaxseeds, oats, and rice.
A note about collagen- I know that collagen powders and supplements are very “in” right now. I am approached often by brands to promote them. However, based on my research, there is little evidence to support that taking collagen supplements actually leads to more collagen production in the body. Also, these supplements are largely animal based which is a no-go for With Love and Veggies.
When the body is healthy it produces it’s own, bioavailable collagen. The college molecule itself is too big to penetrate the outer layer of skin, so collagen containing creams, lotions, and hair products are not absorbed. By ingesting collagen supplements, your body digests the protein, breaks it down into tiny protein building blocks (amino acids), and then uses them as the body sees fit. So ingesting large amounts of collagen, or any type of protein supplement for that matter, does not actually translate into more collagen directly in the hair or skin itself. Your body decides where to send the amino acids and then discards what it cannot use. Save your money and eat fruits and vegetables rich in the vitamins and minerals that support your body’s ability to make it’s own collagen which WILL give you healthier hair, skin, and nails.
Full disclosure: This blog post contains some affiliate links. Meaning, basically, if you make a purchase from any of these links it doesn’t cost you anything extra, but I may make a little money. So thank you in advance for supporting my family. I am not sponsored by any products, brands, or vegetables featured.