Hard to believe, but in this era of quick tans and almost insta-dry nail polish, there’s still no way to grow hair faster (extensions aside). Trim and brush all you want, but your hair ... prefers ... to take ... its time.
Exactly how much time depends on genetics. On average each strand grows about a half inch in a month. But hair doesn’t grow like that nonstop; it grows in cycles. At any given moment, about 85 percent of follicles are in the anagen (growing) phase. The rest of the follicles are in either the catagen (transitioning) phase or the telogen (resting) phase. For some lucky individuals, the growing phase lasts as long as seven years; for others, it’s as little as two. At the end of this stage, the strand falls out, and its follicle remains dormant and hairless for about three months. After that a sprig of hair finally sprouts, and the growth process starts again. “If your hair never gets past your shoulders, chances are, you have a shorter anagen cycle than others do,” says Francesca Fusco, a dermatologist in New York City.
What Slows Growth
If you come from a family of women with Rapunzel-like locks but yours are not, the problem may be external. Here are some factors (and ways to counteract them) to consider.
Split ends: Turns out that the old adage is partly true: If you cut your hair, it won’t grow longer, but it’s more likely to achieve its fullest potential. Why? The ends, which have been styled and colored the most (since the farther a strand is from its root, the older it is), are vulnerable to splitting. When you don’t trim regularly, hairs can split right up the shafts and break off, even though the follicles are still in the growth phase. “I’ve had clients with such bad split ends that the hair actually got shorter as it grew it out,” says Mark Townsend, a hairstylist in Los Angeles. A quarter-inch trim every 8 to 12 weeks should keep your ends in one piece. Fine, curly hair, which tends to split more easily than other textures, is best cropped bluntly; “razor cutting,” which creates thinned-out layers, can precipitate frayed ends.
Extensions: Over time both the types that are glued in and those that are sewn into tight braids can pull on follicles, injuring them and slowing growth. Consider temporary clip-in pieces to get a longer look if your hair breaks easily.
Bleaching: Peroxide, ammonia, and other oxidizers used to lift hair cuticles and remove pigment may also allow natural moisture to escape, leaving strands brittle. So condition at least three times a week.
Stress: Anxiety increases your level of the stress hormone cortisol. This can cause nerve cells to release chemicals that, in the case of chronic stress (which affects eating and sleeping habits), may shift follicles from the growth phase to the resting phase.
Medications: “Some antidepressants, such as Zoloft, may shorten the anagen phase,” says Alan Bauman, M.D., a hair-restoration physician in Boca Raton, Florida. Other drugs, such as certain contraceptives and medications for thyroid or cholesterol conditions, can compromise growth as well. See your doctor for alternatives.
Hair grows longest when healthiest. Consider these factors and learn how to grow hair faster.
Diet: “Hair is made of protein built by enzymes that are activated by iron,” says Paradi Mirmirani, a dermatologist in Vallejo, California. So eat a balanced diet that includes 46 grams of protein and 18 milligrams of iron a day. (Steak, turkey, and black beans offer generous doses of both.) “The hair follicle is among the top cell-turnover sites in the body and demands many nutrients and hormones to function adequately,” says Wilma Bergfeld, a senior dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
Supplements: There’s no scientific proof that hair grows faster when you take in more nutrients than what is in an already healthy diet. You get more than enough of certain vitamins—for example, biotin, a B vitamin found in hair-growth supplements—simply by eating well. (Biotin is found in such common foods as eggs, avocados, and salmon.) Still, some users are convinced that hair-growth supplements work (one to try: Viviscal Extra Strength dietary supplements, $50, viviscal.com). If you’re eating poorly, says Fusco, the extra boost, taken as directed, might help.
Scalp treatments: Hair looks more voluminous when follicles are not blocked by dirt, dead skin cells, and product buildup. Once a week, treat your scalp to a clarifying shampoo that also moisturizes. (Two treatments we like: Moroccanoil Clarifying Shampoo, $25.50, moroccanoil.com; Redken Intra Force 2 scalp treatment, $25, redken.com for salons.)