Some folks would have you believe your hair length was written in stone.
But the science says different.
Every year, a surprising amount of research is published on ways to increase hair growth.
Incredibly, many of these proven hair growth solutions stay hidden in scientific journals.
But what they've discovered is too good to not share...
How to make hair grow...
Rarely does a day go by where we don't hear from readers who wish their hair could grow longer, thicker or faster.
But often, they can barely dare to hope it will ever happen. Many have been led to think that their type of hair "can't grow", or that because they've suffered hair loss, their hair will never grow back.
Both online and offline, the voices insisting that "hair growth is genetic" - as in, "there's nothing you can do to change it" are many and they are loud.
But that doesn't make it true.
Hair growth is genetic... but it's environment too
It's not that there isn't a genetic component to hair growth rate: there is. Our genes contain instructions for how much time our hair spends in each phase of its growth cycle: from the active growth phase known as anagen, to exogen, the point at which hair is shed.
And related traits, like how fine or thick our hair is, also play a role in determining hair growth rate.
How fine or thick your hair is will affect growth rate. Image by Herbert Santos.
But our genetic code is written in proteins, not in stone.
Our genes interact with, and are shaped, by their environment. And there are multiple factors within the environment that can affect growth rate.
Several of these have already been broken down by scientists: for instance, researchers have revealed how hair growth can be increased by certain fruits that extend anagen. They've also shown how certain hormones can make anagen stop abruptly, bringing growth to a halt.
But it's when you hear that scientists are able to grow hair where none has grown before, just by applying Vitamin E to skin, that you realise once and for all that those ideas about hair growth being fixed are obsolete.
Faster hair growth is possible, and with it, thicker, longer hair, too.
Why hair growth is slow for many people
If faster hair growth is possible, why are so many of us stuck with slow-growing hair?
Your individual hair growth rate is influenced by a multitude of factors. First, come the instructions from your genes, that determine the speed of the metabolic processes inside your hair follicles, which are essentially tiny hair factories in your scalp.
The genetic instructions around hair thickness we mentioned before play a role here, too: fine hair strands are known to grow slower on average than thicker hairs.
Then, there are all the other factors, both within and outside your body, that affect the way those genes are expressed.
These include everything from available nutrients, to circadian rhythms, stress levels, pollution, medical conditions - even exposure to sunlight.
So how do each of these work?
Emotional and environmental stress can slow your hair growth rate. Image by Alvin Ng.
Psychoemotional stress and pollution can both slow hair growth and in some cases stop it. Poor diet can stop hair growth altogether, too.
Plus, hair growth is seasonal: our hair is known to grow faster at the times of the year where there is more sunlight.
The growth rate also changes at different periods in our lives: it tends to gradually slow down with age. Somewhat ironically though, going grey, which also happens with increasing age, seems to have the opposite effect on hair growth rates: hair that turns white grows faster than pigmented hairs.
Something about the loss of pigmentation seems to shield strands from the slowdown in growth rate that impacts those hairs that keep their youthful colour.
Slow hair growth vs poor length retention
There's one more very common reason why some people's hair seems to grow at a much slower rate. Many people who think their hair grows slowly don't actually have slow-growing hair at all.
Poor haircare can often break hair so badly that it looks like the hair is growing slowly or isn't growing at all, but it's not: it's just breaking off as quickly as it grows in.
Poor length retention can mimic slow hair growth. Image by Cottonbro.
In other words, their hair does grow - often very fast - it's just not visible because most of that length isn't retained.
If that is you, then you have the easiest possible "growth" issue to fix. All you need to do is improve your haircare, and specifically, reduce breakage at the ends. Your hair will look like it's growing faster, just because the length is finally increasing in line with your growth rate.
Can hair growth be accelerated?
Yes. It's not just factors beyond our control that can change the rate our hair grows. We can manipulate, or at least influence, the hair growth process. Sometimes, all it takes is changing certain things in your environment, like the food you eat or being more vigilant over your stress levels. With these changes, you could see a dramatic improvement in your hair growth rate.
There are other, more direct ways to get your hair growth to increase, too. These include vitamins, minerals, special proteins, herbs, or more complex medical interventions which can increase the growth of your hair.
How do you make hair grow faster?
For your hair to grow faster, first you need to fix any lifestyle issues that might be affecting your hair growth:
Exposure to pollution
High stress levels
Lack of sunlight
Length retention (though this doesn't actually cause hair growth to increase, it could increase the rate at which your hair length increases)
Hair grows faster in seasons with increased sunlight. Image by Matheus Henrin.
Slow growth can sometimes be a symptom of a more serious medical condition, such as a thyroid disorder or diabetes. Often, getting a diagnosis and treatment for these conditions helps increase hair growth rate, too.
It's important to get the lifestyle and medical factors in check before you try to actively increase hair growth with supplements or any targeted therapies. If these factors stay unaddressed, they can work against you, sabotaging your hair growth efforts, no matter how effective the extra methods you try actually are.
Extra steps to increase hair growth
So what are the steps you can take to directly increase hair growth rate?
Vitamins B-12 C, D, E and folate have all been shown to increase hair growth. Research also reveals how hair growth can be increased by optimising your intake of essential minerals, e.g., hair can grow back from bald patches when an iron or zinc deficiency is corrected.
On the conventional medicine side, there are drugs like minoxidil and finasteride which dermatologists frequently prescribe to help hair growth (neither is without side effects, though).
And right out on the frontier, there are techniques using standardised scalp massage and even nanoparticles to stimulate growth.
Can hair grow back after thinning or hair loss?
Yes. all hope is not gone after hair loss. In a surprisingly large number of cases, hair does grow back.
It often regrows spontaneously after telogen effluvium, aka hair fall - the sudden loss of hair which can occur after acute stress. With traction alopecia, removing the source of the hair loss is often enough to make hair grow back, as long as it is done early enough.
Even if you have one of the more complex to treat forms of hair loss, your hair can grow back. There are promising studies where natural approaches like pumpkin seed oil and standardised scalp massage have helped get hair growing again after androgenic alopecia.
What hair growth products actually work?
Unfortunately, not all of the hair growth treatments that have been proven to work are available on the market. It can take a while for a scientists to get the funding they need to turn their discoveries into actual products.
Sometimes, valuable research ends up languishing forgotten in a journal, because it was deemed "unpatentable", which often happens with ingredients sourced directly from nature.
So what we really need to look at is, out of the ones that you can actually access, what hair growth products work?
Many vitamins play a role in hair growth rate. Image by Jo Christian Oterhals.
Vitamins and minerals are probably the most easily available hair growth products with the science to back them up, but you still need to do your due diligence.
Not only should you to check that the manufacturer is a quality supplier, you also need to get the dosage right. Taking too little might mean no or poor results, while overconsuming some nutrients can actually make your hair fall out - or worse.
If you decide to go down the supplement path, first get a medical check to see if (a) you are deficient in any of the nutrients that are associated with hair growth and (b) if your doctor thinks it's safe and appropriate for you to take that mineral, vitamin or other hair growth supplement.
Similarly, if you choose to use herbs or essential oils to boost your hair growth and thickness, it's always worthwhile consulting with a medical professional first to rule out any contraindications.
You also have to look carefully at the research and ask questions: e.g., a certain compound has been shown to increase hair growth and thickness, but in what circumstances? Often, the type of hair loss or the reason behind the slow growth will decide which hair growth product is the best for you.
Good research is essential to choosing hair growth supplements. Image by Cottonbro.
Again, no one treatment is effective for everyone. Just because it worked for someone else who has the same type of hair thinning doesn't mean it will work for you, and vice versa.
On the other hand, with the sheer volume of available hair growth solutions, the odds are increasingly in your favour. Something that works is very likely to turn up at some point.
In fact, the one downside to the ever growing number of hair growth possibilities is the sheer amount of data.
It can get overwhelming to even compile a list of the hair growth remedies that work best, far less sift through the finer details that determine who a solution might work for, and how safe or effective it is.
Growth Drops: Hair growth cheat codes
That's why we decided to tackle the task bit by bit.
Every week, we delve into the science in search of new hair growth-boosting ingredients or techniques. We pick one exciting hair growth discovery, and break down the data on how effective it looks, how it works and who it works on.