Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Demystifying African Hair: Hair Growth Rates

The name of my blog was inspired by the texture of my hair, what is known as Hard Mashona Type hair in Zimbabwe. The kind of hair that is so resistant to relaxers that stylists tell you to suck up the burning sensation on your scalp and sit still until the hair gets processed to the silky, limp state that was (and still is) preferred by most Zimbabwean stylists. SO when I started my healthy hair journey and told the people around me that I wanted to grow my hair down to my waist like my online hair idols, I was told many things. One person told me that only coloured (biracial), Asians, Arabs and Caucasians could grow that hair long, while I couldn't because I am descended from a long line of Africans, with no dilution by any other races. Another told me that my online hair inspirations could grow their hair down to their waists and beyond because they live in Europe and America, so the cold weather helps them grow their hair longer. I could go on and on listing all the theories I have been told as to why Yvette, a girl of southern African descent couldn't grow her hair past her shoulders. And I am here to bust all these theories wide open and show you how some of these myths hold back our full growth potential.

The average hair growth of any healthy human being that is still breathing is 0.5 inches ( 1.27cm) a month. This adds up to an average of 6 inches (15cm) of hair growth a year. Although some studies suggest that growth rates may vary depending on race (with Asians having the highest growth rate, and Africans having the lowest), no conclusive evidence points to this. Growth rate may also vary because of seasons (apparently hair grows faster in summer) or hormonal changes (pregnant women have longer hair because of an extended growth cycle). But on the whole, one may expect to grow between 4 - 6 inches of hair each year, as long as they are healthy, and have a balanced diet.

The hair growth cycle is another important factor that should be considered when determining one's terminal length (Terminal length = length to which hair would grow when it isn't trimmed or breaking off). The hair growth cycle consist of three phases, anagen, catagen and telogen.

The anagen phase is also known as the growth phase and lasts for 2 - 6 years. Your anagen phase is largely determined by genes, although people claim that there are peoducts or techniques that can be used to extend the anagen phase. About 85% of your hair is in anagen phase at any given moment.So let's say you have an anagen phase of 3 years, and your growth rate is 5 inches a year, you can grow up to 15 inches during that period of time. This means your hair can grow way past your shoulders in that period, busting the myth that African hair cannot grow beyond shoulder length.

The catagen phase lasts about 2 weeks, and during this phase the hair follicle shrinks, and cuts off the hair strand from its blood supply. In this phase, the follicle will be preparing itself for the new hair strand that will be coming through once the existing strand gets pushed out.

The telogen phase, or resting phase, is the stage at which the hair follicle is dormant for up to 4 months. Up to 15% of your hair will be at this stage at any given time. When the follicle starts getting active again, the hair strand will break off from the root and shed (the hair with the white bulbs at the root). Two weeks after this a new hair strand begins to grow, and the anagen phase starts all over again.

One should note that it is impossible for one ton accurately know the length of your anagen phase. This means you can only guess at what your terminal length is, but it is definitely not at your shoulders. Another idea to note is that only time, can determine the length up to which your hair can grow.

Using myself as an example, I cut my hair down to an inch in May 2012. At the last point at which I measured my hair, it was 12 inches long. This means I managed to grow 11 inches in 2 years, giving me an average of 5.5 inches a year. This definitely proves that African hair (not mixed with any other ethnicity) can grow as much as other races' hair.

The Demystifying African Hair series will be back with a post on how to get the hair length you always dreamed off.

I've finally hit hip length. That's only taken my whole frickin' life. Goal is classic.   Pale Lady Writes: Hair Post: Length Chart Image
source: Pintrest

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  1. I started my hair journey because I was tired of looking at broken hair strands on the bathroom floor. I big chopped in the summer of 2009 and I've been growing healthy hair ever since.