how to GROW hair long
It's a constant complaint: something, in the air or in the water, seems to be keeping tightly curly hair from reaching its full potential in the UK. Women who spend lengthy summer holidays in hot countries often return to these shores boasting of hair that grew an inch in a month (average growth rate for all hair types is 1/2 an inch per month), while those who spend the summer months firmly planted in the UK continue to contend with damage and length issues. On the flipside, visitors who originally hail from more tropical climes are often perplexed by changes in texture and marked breakage after spending long stints in the UK. Yet, there are UK women with lengthy Afro hair despite all the odds, so what is it that they're doing that others are not? Below, we look at 6 barriers between you and long, natural hair due directly or indirectly to your geographical location. We also let you know how to surmount them.
BARRIER #1: Lack of sunlight
Given the blanket of grey clouds that typically covers the British sky, it might not come as a surprise that the nation doesn't clock an especially high annual number of sunshine hours. On average, the UK receives a grand total of 1339.7 hours of sunshine a year. By comparison, Jamaica basks in a balmy 3002 sunshine hours annually; approximately 8.2 a day. Why is that important for your hair? Sunlight stimulates the production of Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to hair loss, making sufficient Vitamin D levels key to hair health. In addition, it has been scientifically proven that added sunlight leads to increased growth; a couple of possible reasons, then, for those returning from holiday with lengthier tresses as well as glowing, sunkissed skin.
Remedy: Short of moving to a country with more sunlight hours, there is little you can do to get the maximised exposure that leads to vacation growth miracle stories. But that doesn't mean you should forsake getting your recommended daily dose of sunlight. The Vitamin D production it kickstarts goes a long way to helping your skin, bones, blood and immune system, as well as your hair.
BARRIER #2: Hard water
This topic will be covered in greater detail in an upcoming post which touches specifically on hard water and its effects on your hair. To summarise, much of the water in the UK is hard. In addition to making it difficult to rinse soap from your skin and leaving limescale nightmares in your washing machine, hard water particles sit on the hair and roughen it, making the texture more brittle, as well as interfering with the function of shampoos and conditioners. Given that most of the problems with growing Afro and other tightly curly hair to long lengths are to do with length retention rather than actual growth, anything that gets in the way of you holding onto your strands once they've made it out of your scalp is a bad thing.
Remedy: Try attaching a specially-designed filter to your showerhead. Or, if you wash your hair over a sink or a bathtub, without using a showerhead, there is also the option of filtering your water in a jug or, more expensively, buying bottled water to wash your hair.
BARRIER #3: Water in the air
Given the aforementioned clouds and an average of 154 rainy days a year, you would be forgiven for thinking the water content of the British air was more than sufficient to keep thirsty curls hydrated. Interestingly, with annual relative humidity averaging a high of 90% and low of 70%, the air in London is actually more humid than that of Kingston, at 74.8%. If you're wondering why the Caribbean city feels markedly more humid than its European counterpart, in spite of the numbers, here's why: A high relative humidity combined with lower temperatures means less water in the air than the same humidity level at a higher temperature. While its humidity levels may be on the high side, London's mean annual temperature is about 11°C, while Kingston's is more than double, at 27°C. So it's that tropical combination of heat and water which gives hair that all-round steaming, infusing it with strength and making it more resistant to breakage; thus allowing it to grow longer.
Remedy: Though some studies throw doubt on the efficacy of heat treatments, you can mimic some of the effects of the water-rich tropical air by getting your hair steamed regularly. Don't overdo it; once a week or biweekly should be sufficient if using a steamer. The cuticle stress from the expansion of water in the hair can make it weak. To maximise hydration, use rich, highly moisturizing conditioners and leave ins, followed by a good sealant.
BARRIER #4: Cold weather
Cold weather can actually break your hair. Severely cold temperatures can have a similar effect on the hair to excessively hot temperatures, with both causing water in the hair to expand and create miniature fissures in the hair shaft. While most of the UK is not known for its bitterly cold temperatures, it is usually cold enough much of the year for most to opt for a coat and, often, a hat. While coats, hats and headscarves can shield the hair from the drying effects of a frosty wind, the friction on the hair from all three of these items is often enough to cause dryness, breakage and even traction alopecia.
Remedy: Be careful to secure hair away from your coat in the back, as the friction from your collar can cause breakage, especially when hair is at that delicate length between neckline and shoulder-length, at which most of our breakage problems begin. If you ensure your hair makes it past this precarious stage, you are much more likely to take it to much longer lengths. Hats and headscarves made from highly-absorbent materials like cotton or wool can pull moisture and emollients away from your hair, while all but the smoothest fabrics can mean way too much friction and way too much damage. Protective steps include smoothing your edges with a protective butter or pomade to reduce friction from hats and coats. Also, avoid tying your headwraps and scarves too tightly, and make sure to select lined hats or cover your hair with a satin scarf before putting on woollen, crocheted or other non-smooth textured hats.
BARRIER #5: Products
With lower availability of quality products compared to the Americas, not to mention the lack of access to the tropical fruits, juices and oils which Caribbean and Amazonian denizens can take advantage of, hair in the UK can often become dry and stressed, leading to breakage and getting in the way of length.
Remedy: Scan the ingredients list and pick products carefully, making sure they have what it takes to provide the hydration you need. Get to know your hair and its response to different ingredients and research products that address its specific needs. Avoid forcing non-performing products on your hair; everyone's hair is different and what works consistently for your best friend might not turn out the same performance for you. And if there's a product you want that you can't get your hands on, don't be afraid to request it from your local store.
BARRIER #6: Nutrition
With greater access to fresh, local foods, people in tropical climates often enjoy a much better diet than the average UK citizen, despite lower relative wealth. With fresh fruits and vegetables usually priced much higher than processed foods, many in the UK opt for the nutrient-poor latter, and experience the poor growth, weak, breaking hair (not to mention a host of health problems arising from suboptimal nutrition) that come with them.
Remedy: Be sure to get at least your five-a-day; many nutritionists even recommend you get nine portions of fruit or vegetables in daily. Read up on nutrition so you have better information in selecting the foods you eat. Also, visit farmers markets, cutting out the middleman, and thus getting cheaper access to fresh fruits and veg and other farm goods. And don't forget to drink lots of water; hydrating your hair from within and making everything else in your body work much better!
DHA Hair Care Experts
Dominican Hair Alliance