Frequently Asked Questions
We encourage all inquiries regarding how to care for healthy, long hair. However, we do get the same questions repeatedly, so here’s information that may give you what you’re looking for.
- I want to grow my hair long. How do I speed it up?
The principle thing to remember is to treat your hair well in the first place. If you don’t take good care of your hair, it won’t grow as well as it could. There’s a lot of things you may not have noticed before that cause damage to your hair, because keeping it short can hide the kind of damage you see when your hair is several years old. Take a look at the following list:
- Avoid all heat treatments like the plague. This means blow dryers, curling irons and the like. Heat causes the layers of the hair shaft to lift (this also goes for hot water), and the dryness causes a loss of moisture in the hair shaft, causing it to eventually break.
- Commercial dyes usually contain harsh chemicals, including ammonia, that will break down the integrity of the hair shaft. If the color you’re looking for can be achieved with henna, it would be much healthier for your hair.
- Avoid using anything mechanical on your hair with snags, metal joints and the like. This includes bad quality combs and brushes, cheap barrettes and hair accessories, and ponytail holders with metal joins. Use wide-toothed combs and consider not using a brush at all. If you do use one, don’t get the kind with the little balls on the end of the bristle, which tend to rip through tangles. Don't brush the hell out of your hair - the whole "100 brush strokes per night" thing is more likely to cause you damage than help distribute oils. Only use a brush for smoothing.
- Look at all your hair care products and see how many contain a silicone derivative, usually some long chemical name ending in –cone. Dimethicone is the most common one seen in hair care. Silicone and its derivatives acts like Teflon on the hair shaft – it coats it, smooths it, seals it just like a coat of paint. This makes it a popular ingredient in conditioners and anti-frizz products. However, by sealing off the hair shaft after the shampoo has stripped out the hair's oil (which is what keeps it supple), it keeps the hair from being optimally moisturized, and this will eventually cause a break if nothing is done about it.
There are different kinds of –cones with different strengths. Dimethicone is one of the strongest –cones there are. The one found in Aveda’s Sap Moss detangler (cyclopentasiloxane) is one of the weaker –cones. –Cones can be removed with clarifying shampoo, more easily done if it’s a weaker –cone. One of the main problems with people noticing -cone damage is that -cones cause damage while they simultaneously hide it, as it'll glue the split ends it's causing together. Someone decided they want to wean themselves from -cones, stops using them, and suddenly all the damage that the -cones caused shows up. Lastly, sealing the hair shaft off from moisture will more quickly affect those with dry, fine or slow-growing hair than those with coarse, oily or fast-growing hair just because it's harder to cause damage to the latter group. Therefore, some people here swear by –cones, some people despise them.
- Similarly, consider using products without sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, or ammonium lauryl sulfate. All 3 are harsh chemicals that produce a lot of lather, which we’ve been conditioned to equate with cleanliness. It tends to make the scalp either very dry, or to cause the scalp to overproduce oil to try and compensate for the stripping. There are other ways to deal with oily hair, and your hair shaft just doesn’t need that kind of treatment. There’s also some studies that say that at least SLS is retained long-term in the liver and other tissues and may contribute to cancer, but the few studies on both sides of the argument haven’t produced anything besides either nigh-hysterical pro-organic propaganda or we’re-the-chemical-industry, trust-us manipulation, so the jury is out. Just know that you have a choice. And nobody argues that it’s harsh on your hair, and that lather isn’t necessary to get your hair clean. It’s also been known to cause hair loss.
- Unless the rest of your hair is actually dirty, only apply shampoo to the scalp. The rest of your hair will usually get plenty of shampoo in the runoff.
- Try to reduce the number of washes per week. Chances are you don’t need it.
- Don’t tease your hair. Brushing or combing against the grain will rough up the layers of the hair shaft as badly as heat.
- Avoid anything that pulls your hair too tightly. Some people leave their hair in tight ponytails all day. Not only do you risk roughing up the hair shaft by tightening a ponytail holder after it’s already on (goes against the grain like teasing does), but the constant pulling on your scalp can cause hair loss.
- Be sure to consider the condition of your hair when you sleep. That’s where we spend 1/3 of our day, and the whole time with pressure on your hair. If you are prone to tangles, consider braiding your hair before going to bed (pigtails if you’re prone to rats’ nests at the nape and crown), and get a pillowcase that is very smooth. Satin, sateen or high-count cotton will all make a difference.
- Never brush or comb your hair when wet. Your hair is more pliable then, and pulling can cause it to stretch and eventually break.
- Split ends are the enemy. Use professional scissors to remove them immediately before the break travels further up the hair shaft. Do not use everyday household scissors, sewing scissors, or anything besides professional scissors to trim a break, unless it's an emergency kind of thing. Using the wrong kind of scissors will actually encourage a future split. (So will using a lighter to burn them off.) Trimming your own split ends individually is also known as dusting. If your hair obviously thins at a certain point and the split ends are bad, a trim will look better than dusting, but keeping on top of dusting will reduce the need for a trim.
- Consider your nutrition. Healthy hair requires protein, silica and B-vitamins. Make sure you’re getting enough of them all. Silica can be found in natural form in the herb horsetail. However, because it causes rapid generation of hair, nails and skin, by the same token it can cause terrible cramps in women prone to dysmenorrhea, as it will strengthen the uterine lining as well. If you have this condition and still wish to take horsetail, stop taking it at least a week before your cycle begins.
- Lastly, know that everybody's hair rate is different. You may absolutely baby your hair, but only see 1/2" per month in growth. Some lucky b...people might grow a good 2" per month. If you're in this range, and you've accounted for factors like split ends, then your hair growth rate is probably normal. Do check your nutrition, though.
- I’ve suddenly started losing a lot of hair – what’s wrong?
Be sure to go through all the steps above to see if there’s something you could change. Know that when you’re growing long hair and not used to the way it looks in a brush or comb, a few hairs may suddenly look like a lot. Also know that some scalps will compensate for the extra weight of your hair by thinning out, and that some thinning is natural with aging.
If none of this applies, it may be a medical condition. Hypothyroidism is the most frequent culprit, but they all warrant a doctor’s visit.
- I've got split ends - what's the best way to repair them?
There isn't one. All those products that claim to repair split ends? They lie. There's nothing that can be done for a broken piece of hair except to trim it off, and the sooner the better. Some products, such as -cone based anti-frizz treatments, will seal the hair in a coat of silicone. That will temporarily keep the split from getting worse, same as you can paint a peeling house with another coat of paint to keep it from peeling so quickly. But -cones can cause the splitting in the first place due to sealing out moisture, so that's not a recommendation for reducing split ends. It does explain why some people suddenly see a bunch of new split ends when they give up their -cones...the split ends were there all the time, but you aren't painting them any longer.
- My hair tangles very easily – what can I do if I want to avoid –cones?
Always detangle your hair before getting into the shower. Consider using jojoba or coconut oil as a leave-in conditioner. Braid it a lot, especially before going to bed. Use satin pillowcases.
- What about dandruff – how can I take care of it without using harsh soaps?
Hair products based in tea tree or rosemary will help control dandruff. Brush your scalp enough to keep it clean. Avoid shampoos with SLS, which can aggravate dandruff and irritated scalps. Try using a sugar scrub on your scalp to exfoliate it without irritation.
- SLS, BBB…what are all these acronyms and terms?
Here are ones you’ll see on this board:
- ACV – apple cider vinegar. Used in diluted form (usually 1-2 tablespoons per quart of water) as a clarifier.
- BBB – boar bristle brush. An expensive natural brush that helps move oil away from the scalp and towards the rest of your hair due to being slightly absorbent. Wooden combs work on the same principle, though it's very important that you never use a wooden comb on wet hair, to avoid making the wood swell and splinter. People with thick hair have trouble using BBB’s unless they split the hair into small sections.
- BSL – bra strap length. Generally considered as the point where hair is called “long” by most of us.
- Classic length: when the ends of the hair reach the tops of the thighs. (BTW, hair is usually measured as the longest piece of hair on your head, which is usually on the crown.)
- CO – conditioner only. A method of hair care that involves using no shampoo, only conditioner. It removes the dirt and excess oil without stripping the hair. People with oily hair need more time to adjust to CO, but eventually the scalp will stop producing as much oil. Many people who have tried it report great success.
- -cones: silicone derivatives. Discussed elsewhere in this FAQ.
- Dusting: removing split ends individually vs getting an overall trim. This needs to be done with professional scissors that are never used for any other purpose…hair needs very sharp, thin bladed scissors. Some can be purchased from Sally’s for as little as $10. Also check eBay.
- EVOO - extra virgin olive oil. Used as a pre-shampoo deep conditioner. Extra virgin and virgin OO is a result of mechanical pressing, where other OO is a result of chemical extraction. EVOO has a slighty lower acidity than plain virgin OO, so it's probably better for those with colored hair.
- LoL – Locks of Love. An evil company who has great success convincing otherwise good-meaning people to donate their hair. In truth, they sometimes don’t pick up the hair that’s donated at all, let people think they make wigs for kids with cancer in general when they do not, make very few wigs at all, sell most donations they do pick up for cash, and only recently started opening their books to the Better Business Bureau. Don’t make the mistake of posting that you’re donating your beautiful long hair to LoL to help out some needy child unless you’re prepared to get an earful of how you’ve been tricked. They have their own memories category.
- no-poo – no shampoo. Similar to CO, except that no commercial products are used at all to clean the hair. In actuality, keeping the hair brushed and occasionally running water through it to remove dirt is sufficient for many people to keep it clean, once the scalp adjusts to producing less oil. Some people use a baking soda solution to clarify the hair, then an ACV rinse as a finisher. Here is a very thorough link covering no-poo.
- SLS – Sodium Lauryl (or Laureth) Sulfate. Many people avoid products with these chemicals, which are extremely common in shampoos. See the FAQ on growing hair.
- OK, now I have long hair, and I have no idea what to do with it. How do I braid hair? How do you use hairsticks?
There’s dozens of links and pictures saved in the memories under both hairstyles and stuff, and I add to this all the time.
- I want to go as natural as possible. What are homemade things I can use to keep my hair healthy?
- Soapwort and cornstarch can be used as a dry shampoo, which avoids subjecting all of your hair to a wet, soapy wash. Apply to the scalp, scrub it around, then brush it out.
- Consider using natural oils as a conditioner. Essentials oils have their own properties (like rosemary to reduce dandruff and make hair darker), but should be diluted rather than applied straight.
- Many people use olive oil, or olive oil and honey as a hot oil treatment that is left on for a while then shampooed out.
- Jojoba and/or coconut oil have been both used with a lot of success as leave-in conditioners and detanglers. A very, very little goes a long, long way! Coconut oil is cheapest when gotten at an Indian grocery, but even a $10 jar of it will last months.
- Some people's routine consist of using a baking soda solution as a substitute for shampoo, followed by a ACV rinse as a finisher. Many people here have success with ACV, but the baking soda results vary a lot.
- I have dry or fine hair – what should I do to keep it healthy?
Observe all the healthy hair growth habits to the nth degree, especially those regarding breakage, -cones and heat. Also consider putting a chlorine filter on your showerhead – chlorine is very damaging to hair.
- I have oily hair that needs frequent washing and causes breakouts if I leave it down. What can I do about it?
Some oiliness cannot be helped, especially if you just naturally have oily skin, or if you’re in your teens. But the most common problem is that it’s your body’s way of compensating for dryness, either because it actually is dry, or because harsh chemicals are irritating it and stripping out too much oil, which then gets replenished. Here’s a couple of things to try:
- Train it to need less washings by slowly cutting back on frequency. Use a shampoo that does not contain SLS, which can encourage oil production. Consider eventually switching to CO.
- Use dry shampoos like soapwort or cornstarch to absorb the oil without subjecting your hair to an actual washing. Rub it into the scalp, then brush it out.
- Keep your hair off your neck - braid it, put it in a ponytail, hairsticks, whatever.
- How do I use henna? What colors does it come in? Why use it instead of a commercial dye? What’s the difference between henna I see at the store and body henna?
The absolute best resource for henna knowledge is Henna For Hair. No need to reproduce the wheel by repeating it all here, but some pointers:
- Be absolutely sure of the source of your henna. Some henna powders are sold with other products in them. And while some things like beetroot or chamomile are good for your hair, the one thing you must avoid is metallic salts. It will not harm your hair immediately, but if you have colored your hair with commercial dyes before or after a henna application containing metallic salts, your hair will fall off. In clumps. I cannot stress this enough. Hennaluscent is the most common henna found in stores like Sally’s, and it does not contain metallic salts.
- Henna is good for your hair. Commercial dyes are not, I don’t care how lush the hair in the Clairol commercials looks. Henna will condition your hair and add volume to it. Commercial dyes strip pigment out of your hair to put something else in. Nuff said.
- If you’re going for a black or blue-tinged look, do check the indigo instructions on Henna For Hair. You cannot really lighten your hair with henna – that has to be done by stripping pigment.
- If hot water is so bad for hair, is cold water really good?
Cool water is really good for your hair. Super cold water can cause damage to the capillaries in your scalp, which is not good.
- My vacuum cleaner keeps dying a horrible death, and my husband is about to kill me.
Yeah, that happens. Be more considerate about where you brush your hair, dispose of dead hair in wastebaskets (or outside for birds’ nests), and watch the roller in your vacuum to keep it free of hairs that can tangle and break it. And consider getting rid of your carpet – it’s a formaldehyde-ridden allergen trap anyway.
- I go swimming a lot - what can I do to protect my hair?
2 things will make a big difference - a swimming cap, and wetting your hair before you get into the pool. Wet hair swells, and therefore won't absorb the pool water quite so much. Use shampoo designed for getting out chlorine as soon as possible.
You can also condition the heck out of your hair before you get in the pool, which works similarly to wetting your hair, but with better protection. Many pools have policies specifically against this, though, because of the oil you'll leave behind in the water.
- I’ve suddenly started losing a lot of hair – what’s wrong?