Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Demystifying African Hair - Length Retention

So in my last post, I talked about hair growth rates and the growth cycle, and how anyone, even us ''fully black'' people can grow our hair longer than our shoulders. Today, I am going to talk about why the growth rates often do not translate to our hair length as well as what we can do to break the vicious cycle.

The reason why your hair doesn't reflect the growth stats I talked about last time is most likely that your hair is breaking off as fast as it is growing. As one of the numerous bloggers I stalk states "for ladies who relax, by retouching your growth regularly, you prove that your hair grows. Your only problem is retaining all the growth you are gaining." And that is the plain, unvarnished truth. The whole point of a hair journey is to preserve your strands in a healthy state, so that you can keep the length you gain, and end up with long, healthy hair. Please note, I keep mentioning healthy because I am seriously traumatised by the stringy hair I see some ladies flipping claiming that they have long hair.

But I digress. Some of the habits you have that may be preventing you from gaining length are:

1. Overprocessing your hair. Like most women of African descent I have been guilty of this crime. How many times have you had the hairstylist combing the relaxer onto your already relaxed hair to give the "super straight" effect? Or had the relaxer kept on for longer than the recommended time because your hair wasn't straight enough yet? Relaxers break down the protein bonds in your hair, giving you the bone straight look. And if the relaxer is kept on for too long, or put onto already weakened hair (because relaxed hair is essentially weakened hair), your hair won't be strong enough to withstand any stress you put on it by combing it, tying it back or even letting it hang loose against your clothes. Your hair will break off, and you will think your hair never grows because it always remains at the same length.

The solution: when you touch up your growth, make sure you protect your already relaxed hair by coating it in conditioner, or an oil, or even Vaseline. This will mean that the relaxer runoff won't process your already processed hair. Also, follow the instructions on the relaxer. Don't leave it on for too long or comb relaxer for roots to tips if its not being done on natural hair. The relaxer manufacturers knew what they were saying when they out those instructions on their products. Another idea may be to not relax your hair bone straight, but to leave some texture in it, what is now known as texlaxing in the hair forums. This ensures that the protein bonds in your hair are not weakened too much, leaving your hair strong enough to stand most manipulation.

2. Mechanical manipulation. That tail comb you or your stylist love using on your hair is most likely doing more harm than good. Even the way you comb your hair may be doing a lot of harm. Let's start with the comb. Even with relaxed strands, tail combs are not meant to be used for combing but only for styling. I am sure that whenever you have combed your hair with one of these combs, there were lots of broken pieces on the floor, or on your clothes. That's you giving yourself a haircut every time you comb your hair. Another thing I did, that I know many do is to combfrom the roots straight to the ends, ripping through any knots and tangles unfortunate enough to be in your way. That's another way you give yourself split ends and get more broken off pieces. In the end, your hair seems not to be growing when the only issue is you are not able to retain your length.

The solution: Drop the tail comb, and back away from it slowly. If you want to see your hair grow longer in a healthy way, invest in a wide tooth comb, or better yet, a wide tooth seamless comb. Or try using your fingers to detangle most of the time, and save the comb for when you have conditioner in your hair. Also, maybe starting to comb your hair from the ends to the roots is a great idea. This gives you more time to gently comb through. One more thing, combing isn't a thing to be done while in a rush. Take your time and your hair will love you.

3. Heat Tools. Flat irons, curling wands, tongs, blow dryers are the devil's creations. OK, I exaggerate but their effects on hair are not all good. Each time you use a heat tool too often, incorrectly or without adequate protection, you are making your hair weaker and more likely to break off. For example, the last time I used heat, I ended up having tiny bits of hair floating down whenever I touched my hair. This means that in that month, I didn't retain all the length I could have simply because of a heat tool.

The solution: Go cold turkey on the heat. Put yourself on a no heat challenge for about 3 months, and your hair will thrive. If going cold turkey is too much for you, then use heat less. Instead of flat ironing your hair everyday (or every week) do it once every fortnight or once a month. And use only one heat tool (e.g. air dry completely and then flat iron, instead of blowdrying and flat ironing). Use an effective heat protectant, every time you use heat, whether its a blow dry or flat iron. And always do it on the lowest setting, and use quality tools.

In my opinion, these 3 are the major causes of women not retaining length here in Zimbabwe. The series will be back with a post on moisture/protein balance. Until then, take care of your hair...


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