Growing long relaxed hair can feel like an elusive and sometimes insurmountable feat. The good news is that all hair grows. Now depending on your genetics, your hair grows at a certain rate. The average woman’s hair grows roughly ¼ to ½ inch each month. So in a year most ladies can expect 3-6 inches of growth. Each person has a unique hair growth cycle where hairs will grow for a certain amount of time (anagen phase) before shedding (telogen phase) and making way for new hair. Some women have cycles as short as 2 years while others can be as long as 7 years. The length of that growth cycle determines the ultimate length that you can achieve. Right now you may be thinking:
So, if we all have a unique cycle why is it that so many relaxed hair ladies seem to have the same shoulder-length hair, no matter what they do?
It all boils down to BREAKAGE. If you want to grow your relaxed hair to its full potential, you have to stop (or at least minimize) the breakage.
Here are the most common issues that are sabotaging your relaxed hair growth.
Lack of moisture – This is a biggie. In fact, this might be the MOST common reason for relaxed hair breakage and we can all thank the processing that gives us our straight hair. Relaxer “processes” the hair by lifting the cuticle and then breaking down the di-sulfide bonds in your hair’s cortex. These bonds are what give you curls, coils and kinks in your natural hair. By breaking them down, the hair shape “relaxes” delivering you your desired look. However, it also gives you a propensity for dry hair since the hair cuticle that was lifted during processing, typically stays lifted. This may not sound like a big deal, but in fact your hair cuticle is the outer layer that is responsible for protecting your hair by keeping good things like moisture and protein in and bad things like minerals out.
Too little protein – The cortex is the largest portion of the hair strand. Cortical cells are mostly made up of protein (ever heard of keratin?). Keratin is made up of an amino acid called cysteine that is held together with sulfide bonds. Chemical processing that changes the shape of hair (whether making it curly or straight breaks down those bonds and rearranges them, leaving your hair with weakened structure and strength. Without replenishing lost protein, your hair will become more and more weak over time and likely increase the breakage you experience.
Too much tension – We don’t know about you, but we love some hair accessories, especially on a day when our hair may not be cooperating. However, accessories and styles you choose can either help or hurt your ability to grow your relaxed hair. Ultimately, any styles that pull the hair too taught and/or put a lot of pressure on the hair (example, a very tightly wound hair elastic) put unnecessary and damaging tension on your strands. With relaxed hair, that extra tension, especially if the hair style is repeated day after the day can put you on a fast track to seeing breakage.
Over-manipulation – Over-manipulation basically means, you’re doing too much, girl. We get it, you want your hair to look snatch all the time. However, every time you run a tool or your hands through your hair you can consider that to be manipulation. Yes, even running your hands through your hair (you know you love to do that after a fresh relaxer!) can be damaging. The more you manipulate your relaxed hair whether it is through styling everyday, brushing/combing too much or constantly pulling your hair back, the more opportunities for your hair to break.
Too much heat – Using heat can be a good thing for relaxed hair, for example using steam can help your conditioner deeply penetrate your hair strands. But generally, applying direct heat (without a moisturizing product) to your hair will actually dry it out. If you are applying too much heat (for example using your flat iron on 450 degrees and doing several passes on each section) or applying heat too often (blow drying or heat styling multiple times a week), you may experience dry hair. And of course, dry and brittle hair is more likely to snap off causing breakage.
Overprocessing – Overprocessing can occur two main ways: 1. the relaxer is left on the hair for too long and 2. by “overlapping”. The first way is pretty straight forward. Leaving the relaxer on longer than recommended and/or longer than your hair needs will deplete the hair of more protein, thereby weakening it more than is necessary to achieve straight hair. For overlapping, it is exactly what it sounds like. Since hair relaxer is a permanent process, during a relaxer it is only necessary (and actually is imperative) to relax ONLY new growth. If the relaxer is applied to your new growth, but also some of your previously relaxed hair, that hair is likely to become overprocessed. No matter how your hair becomes overprocessed the result is weak and brittle hair strands that are more vulnerable to breakage.
Hard Water – Believe or not, the type of water you have can impact your relaxed hair health. If you’ve read through all the other culprits and none of them seem to apply to you, then hard water may be your issue. Hard water contains a higher concentration of minerals (largely, calcium and magnesium) than soft water. Each time you wash your hair, mineral deposits are left on your hair. Unfortunately, the minerals in hard water don’t play well with the many of the ingredients in your hair products, rendering them less effective. If you have hard water you may notice it is more difficult to lather your shampoo or your hair may still feel stiff and hard after a deep conditioning treatment. Without intervention hard water can lead to dry, frizzy, stiff or brittle hair over time.
Finding the culprit that is driving your hair breakage is the first step growing long relaxed hair. The good news is that once you identify your issues, you can put in a plan to remedy them. If you don’t know where to start, read MMARA™’s Ultimate Guide to Growing Long Relaxed Hair for easy to implement tips and techniques