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Let’s Get Growing: A Guide to Long, Healthy Hair

When I was fourteen, I thought it was an absolutely brilliant idea to get a pixie cut, despite the fact that the haircut did not suit my face shape whatsoever. That’s when I made a vow, from that day forward, I would avoid cutting my hair at all costs. It’s been almost 5 years now, and spare for a few trims here and there, I’ve kept that vow.

Growing out your hair, especially from such a short length, can be an exhausting, patience-testing process. But the outcome is well worth it. There is no right or wrong way to grow out your hair, but I’ve compiled a list of some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years that will make your hair-growth journey a much smoother (and silkier!) process. 

Tip Number One: Avoid harsh coloring, bleaching, and perming! I’ve known so many other women throughout high school that always expressed how much they wanted to grow their hair out, but “couldn’t do it” because they were always switching up their hair color every month or two.

It should be common knowledge that bleaching and coloring strip your hair of its natural oils and change the chemical composition of your hair, leaving it dry, brittle, and more prone to breakage. I know that changing things up can be fun and rather tempting, but if you want long, healthy locks, skip that trip to Sally’s. If you do intend on dying or bleaching your hair, I would recommend getting things done professionally at a salon. Subtle highlights and natural colors (if executed correctly by a professional stylist) will be minimally damaging to your hair so you can keep on growing!

Tip Number Two: Don’t brush when wet! This is one rule that I tend to break quite often, especially now that my hair has gotten so long. Although it might seem like a good idea to get the snarls out of your hair before it dries, it actually does more harm than good. When hair is wet, it becomes more elastic and easier to break, leaving you with split ends. If you must brush your hair while it’s still wet or damp, I would recommend using a brush designed for wet hair, alongside a detangling spray or a leave-in conditioner. My personal favorite is the Wet Brush brand hairbrush, but there are tons of other options to choose from.

This next recommendation is going to sound a little strange, but trust me on this one. My go-to product for brushing and combing through my hair- especially when wet- is Suave Kids Detangling Spray. I was a little bit embarrassed of having a Princess Elsa sticker on my spray bottle, so I just removed the sticker and no one has ever questioned a thing. Not only does it work super well, but it’s also a great option on a budget compared to other leave-in conditioner brands… plus, it smells like candy!

Tip Number Three: Turn down the heat! Styling your hair with heat tools causes damage over time, so try and minimize how often you straighten or curl your hair. This also applies to blow-drying. Any kind of high heat, even from your hairdryer, will have a negative effect on the health of your hair in the long run. So if you aren’t in a rush, opt to air-dry! It may take longer, but your hair will thank you. 

When you do use heat on your hair, consider using a heat-protectant styling spray to minimize damage. I personally don’t style my hair with heat tools very often, but I know there are tons of products out there to choose from!

Tip Number Four: Adjust your washing schedule. As someone with super oily hair, this is one of the most challenging parts of my haircare routine to manage. My hair used to get noticeably grimy just hours after a shower, so I made the foolish mistake of washing my hair each and every day. Turns out, washing my hair every day only worsened my problems. 

Shampoo- especially those with a high sulfate content and other harsh chemical ingredients- works by stripping the oil out of your hair when you wash, leaving you with that fluffy clean feel. However, when you wash your hair every day, shampoo will begin to leave your hair dull, lifeless, and even more oily because it interferes with your scalp’s natural oil production. Instead, try spacing out your wash days to every 2-3 days to allow your scalp to maintain a healthy oil production. It might feel gross for the first week, (keep some hats handy!) but eventually your scalp will return to its natural cycle, and you won’t feel compelled to wash as frequently as before. 

Tip Number Five: Check your ingredients! The most important part of your hair care routine above all else is to use quality products and ingredients in your hair care products. It’s like the old saying, “You are what you eat!” except in this case, it’s what you feed your hair. Think of your hair as less of an accessory, and more an extension of your health. You wouldn’t eat or drink chemicals that make you sick, so why would you do that to your hair? 

Chances are, if you’re using a drugstore shampoo or even a name-brand shampoo from a major retailer, you’re putting all kinds of nasty chemicals in your hair. Don’t be fooled by fancy advertising, any brand can tell you that they’re “recommended by professionals” or are “salon-grade” quality. Instead, set aside a few extra minutes during your next shopping trip to really investigate the ingredients on the back of the bottle. There are all kinds of different chemicals with all kinds of fancy names to avoid when it comes to shampoos, conditioners, and hairsprays, but here’s a quick list of red flags when it comes to your hair care products. If you see these listed in the ingredients, do yourself a favor and run in the opposite direction.

  1. Sulfates. These may be listed on the bottle as Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate or Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS). These ingredients strip your hair of its healthy shine and can leave your scalp dry, flaky and irritated. Most sulfate free shampoos will say so on the bottle, but it’s always wise to double check.
  1. Parabens. These are wicked. Not only can these irritate your skin, they can affect your body’s hormones and studies have even shown that they can increase your risk for breast cancer. They can be hidden under all kinds of different names that I can’t begin to list in this article, but the most common names you’ll find are Methylparaben, Propylparaben and Butylparaben. 
  1. Formaldehyde. Do I even need to do any convincing on this one? This is the stuff they used to preserve the frogs you had to dissect in high school science class… Why would you ever want to put this in your hair? It’s not just gross, but it’s a carcinogen. Cancer should never be a consequence of washing your hair!
  1. Phthalates. These bad boys are in all kinds of things, even beyond hair products. Even worse, they can be disguised on your bottle as a number of different synthetic fragrances, so they can be difficult to identify. Avoid products with heavy amounts of synthetic fragrances. Chances are, they’re phthalates just waiting to get into your system and cause all kinds of diseases and hormone issues. Smelling like a bed of roses is overrated, anyways.
  1. Polyethylene Glycol. At this point, hair care companies might as well start marketing cancer. This funky little ingredient is often produced with carcinogenic chemicals, so if you value the health of both your hair and your body, you might want to skip out on products containing PEG.

With all this information in mind, you’re ready to start your hair growth journey. If there’s any single piece of advice I leave you with, it’s to be patient. Everyone’s hair grows at a different rate, some slower than others, but it will grow if you commit to it! Don’t give up, eventually, you’ll end up with luscious locks that even Rapunzel would be jealous of. If you mess up, though, don’t beat yourself up over it. In the end, it’s just hair; it will always grow back. You’ve got a lifetime to try it out… or you could just get extensions, but where’s the fun in that? 

My name is Olivia Bystrom and I'm a college freshman studying Journalism at Arizona State University's Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications. I have a passion for writing, fashion, beauty and music. I'm originally from Minnesota, and I typically spend my winter hitting the slopes on my snowboard. I am also an advocate for fellow neurodivergent women and nonbinary folks. In my free time, you can catch me practicing my roller derby skills with the ASU Derby Devils, at the gym trying to set a new deadlift PR or grabbing coffee after a good thrift session with my friends.
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