Going through the motions of a bad haircut is, quite honestly, a sweat-inducing nightmare. We’ve all been there, mourning in the aftermath of a ‘short trim’ that’s somehow resulted in a jaw-length bob. It doesn’t help that Googling ‘how to grow your hair faster’ seems only to present you with the sobering fact that your locks grow at an average of two-and-a-half centimetres a month.
What your searches might not reveal, however, are the many and often neglected ways you can aid the natural process with vitamins, brushing, and even your daily diet. No matter what that ad says, there is no miracle pill that will transform you into Rapunzel overnight. But what you can do is take active steps to optimise your hair’s thickness and prevent it from falling out prematurely.
Here, Vogue answers all your burning questions, and shares the secrets you’ll need to know for growing a head full of healthy, shiny—and of course, long—hair.
A healthy scalp for healthy hair?
Like all good dilemmas, you’ll need to start by getting to the root of the problem; to grow your hair faster, you’ll need to apply the idiom very literally. Anabel Kingsley, a leading trichologist based in London and New York, reveals just how important it is to nurture your scalp in caring for your hair. “The scalp is the environment from which hair grows,” she says. “As such, looking after your scalp is essential if you want to grow your hair long and strong.”
Regular cleansing provides an essential foundation for a solid daily regimen. As time-absorbing as it is, shampooing your hair on alternating days during the week helps enormously in preventing dandruff and flakiness—things that actually make it easier for hair to fall out.
Once consistent shampooing is a part of your routine, you might want to consider additional treatments that can help with targeted concerns. If your hair is dyed, a daily toner will work wonders for not only maintaining warmth, coolness or vibrancy, but also glossiness and texture. Weekly exfoliating scalp masks, which help eradicate dead skin cells and scrub off excess sebum, prevent other forms of build-up that weigh your hair down. Like any product, make sure you exercise restraint and due care; while toner applied too liberally can leave blonde hair grey, failing to rinse a scrub thoroughly from your scalp might cause some discomfort.
How do I prevent hair breakage?
That hair will not grow past a certain length if it is fragile and prone to breakage seems an obvious truth but one worth repeating. It might be worthwhile, therefore, to invest in certain products that will keep your hair healthy and happy. Kingsley recommends using a pre-shampoo conditioning treatment once a week. “These plump the hair shaft with moisture,” she advises, “improving elasticity and strength.” Hair masks, such as those for colour-protection or general smoothness, will also be useful if you go to the salon often. Though a perm or a dye might hold up on its own in the first week, nurturing your hair cuticles—which break down due to bleach or excessive heat—is important at home as well. Wanting to indulge in that bit of extra luxury? Budget permitting, silk pillow-covers and softer hair-elastics have also become increasingly popular, minimising irritation and maximising comfort.
Yet, the inclusion of new products and treatments will help little without the presence of habits necessary to prevent the dryness that precedes hair damage. Simple steps like showering in warm rather than searing hot water, opting for looser hairdos over tight ponytails, or letting your hair air-dry rather than blow-dry, are easy changes you can make to help strengthen your hair. If you do find yourself using heated tools like a straightener or a curling iron, try using a heat protective spray and refrain from styling your hair everyday. Sometimes, all your hair needs is a breather.
What foods should I be eating?
Like the rest of your body, the health of your hair depends on your diet, which should feel good as well as taste good. “Protein and complex carbohydrates are key to maintaining a good hair growth cycle, so make sure you are including both of these at breakfast and lunch,” says Kingsley. “These are the most important meals of the day for your hair as that is when energy expenditure is greatest.”
In order to tick off your nutritional requirements, shop around for delicious and well-balanced recipes. Servings of protein such as salmon, chicken, or eggs, eaten with complex carbohydrates found in brown rice, beans and legumes, and vegetables are ideal not just for the appearance of your hair, but for your general wellbeing. Peckish in between meals? Snack on nuts like almonds or cashews, full of fibre and healthy fats, or enjoy vitamin C-rich fruits like kiwis and oranges that stimulate hair growth. If what you’re craving is a head full of long hair, you can most certainly eat your way to happiness!
What about supplements?
Of course, as amazing as your diet may be, you might want to give your hair an extra boost of nutrients that aren’t so readily accessible or abundantly present in everyday foods. According to Shabir Daya, pharmacist and co-founder of natural supplement provider Victoria Health, certain minerals—incorporated into your diet as either a pill or soluble powder—can help promote hair nourishment and prevent hair loss. “We found that a blind study using a fulvic acid supplement provided significant hair thickness and improvement in hair condition,” Daya noted.
Iron deficiencies, which affect approximately fifteen percent of the global population, can also lead to shedding in a manner similar to pattern baldness. Not only is it important to eat iron-rich foods, like leafy greens or red meat, but “it’s important to ensure you’re not part of that group by taking a high-quality iron supplement,” says Daya. Finally, biotin—also found in foods like sunflower seeds or sweet potatoes—is of particular note for those experiencing hair-thinning, or a lack of lustre. As hair is primarily made up of keratin, Daya warns that “a biotin deficiency could result in hair loss.”
What brush should I be using?
Brushing your hair, which for most of us is an almost involuntary activity, is actually vital for the maintenance of your mane. Not only does it ensure the distribution of natural oils from your roots to the end of your strands, but it also gets rid of the knots and dead hair that might lead to matting. The type of brush you choose also bears more weight than you might think. In general, try opting for brushes with a cushioned base, and avoid generic plastic combs that attract static. For those with naturally curly hair, wide-tooth detangling combs will maintain the integrity of your ringlets, especially when you’re fresh out of the shower. Those with straighter or wavier hair might consider paddle brushes, looking to boar-bristle or mixed bristle brushes for the best results.
Do I need to cut my hair to grow it out?
As counterintuitive as it seems—and it is, if but temporarily—cutting your hair is essential if you want to grow it out. Hair stylist George Northwood, known for styling the Duchess of Sussex’s updo at her wedding reception, recommends going in for an ‘invisible trim’ every three months. “This is where we skim the ends without taking off length,” he explains. “Follow this with regular strengthening treatments to prevent it breaking and always use a thermal heat protection product on your hair when using hot tools.” Northwood also suggests a keratin blow dry that will inject the hair with additional proteins. Ultimately, trimming your hair, if infrequently, isn’t something you should avoid—especially if you’re looking to achieve hair that’s healthy first, and long second.
This article originally appeared on Vogue Australia.