It’s a biiit complicated, but let’s break it down together.

By Hana Hong
May 11, 2021
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Ever wanted to pick the brain of a beauty editor? Or get beauty product recommendations from someone who has tried them all? You've come to the right place. In our new weekly series, Ask a Beauty Editor, beauty editor Hana Hong answers your biggest skincare, haircare, and makeup questions, all submitted by Real Simple readers. Tune in every Tuesday and submit your own burning beauty questions here for a chance to be featured.

Question: "If I'm trying to grow out my hair, how often should I be cutting it?" — @gracingparker

Let me start off by saying that I detest getting haircuts. They're costly and time-consuming for one, but more importantly, my hair is my security blanket, so entrusting it into the hands of another person gives me near-crippling anxiety. I shudder at the thought of chopping off more than a couple inches and haven't repped hair higher than my chest since the traumatic bowl cut of '03 (don't ask). 

But personal feelings aside, it's important to get regularly scheduled trims for the sake of your hair health. If you're dead set on keeping your long locks, I hear you. While your length goals are holding you back from the scissors, a quick snip could actually play to your benefit.

Haircuts don't promote hair growth per se, but they can help you grow your hair longer because they eliminate split ends. I'll explain: When you get a split end, it runs up the hair fiber like a rip in your stockings. If you don't snip it ASAP, the breakage will either snap the strand completely or travel all the way up to your roots. Either way, it will result in needing a shorter cut.

Now here's where it gets a bit tricky. There is no universal number for how often you should cut your hair (sorry!). But the rule of thumb is every six to 12 weeks. 

I know, I know—that's a big ballpark. That's because the exact number will vary depending on factors like heat styling and color-treating, along with your hair shape, which might require more or less maintenance to upkeep. If you have virgin hair, you can probably get away with getting a haircut every 12 weeks. If you dye, heat style, or chemically process your hair frequently, you'll likely have to halve that. 

It's also important to note that different textures of hair affect that number. "As you can probably imagine, fine hair is more easily prone to breakage," says Anthony Cole, hairstylist for Sebastian Professional and Creative Director at Salon Sans Égal in Oceanside, N.Y. "On the flip side, curly and textured hair tends to be drier since you're not brushing as often (brushing helps coat the full hair shaft with natural sebum and oils, which is the best conditioner for your strands)."

With so many variables, how's a girl to find her golden number? According to celebrity hairstylist Gina Rivera, you should evaluate two things when you're planning your personal cutting or trimming routine. First, are you still able to easily style your hair and achieve the results that you want? Next, have you already experienced breakage or are there visible signs of it? Common signs are coarse texture and hair that tangles easily (especially at the bottom). Once you get a haircut, take note of when you can answer yes to either of these questions. That turnaround time is your reference point.

That's not to say you have to go for dramatic chops every time—thankfully—just a dry cut to dust the dead ends will suffice to keep a healthy head of hair. Factor in the fact that hair grows roughly half an inch each month (according to the American Academy of Dermatology), and you'll reach Rapunzel status in no time.