Why hair springs up at an alarming rate under arms, across knees and even on toes at a rapid rate, but takes absolute yonks to grow on our heads when we want it to, I’ll never know.
Whether you’re facing post-trim regret and want to regrow lopped-off strands, or simply can’t get your hair to extend past your shoulders thanks to it snapping and fraying, finding a solution that actually delivers is tough business.
The problem is, the beauty industry thrives on selling us miracle cures that cost an arm and a leg, without really working. So, we sat down with the country's leading hair experts to get to the bottom of what can really be done when it comes to encouraging our strands. And whether it’s *really* possible to speed up hair growth, once and for all.
Here’s what they had to say...
How fast does hair tend to grow on average per month?
“On average, hair grows half an inch a month,” says Anabel Kingsley, top trichologist and director of communications at Philip Kingsley. So, roughly, it will grow six inches a year, though this may very from person to person.
Are there any miracle treatments that can actually help hair grow?
Beware of “cures” that promise to transform your hair overnight. “There are definitely effective treatments that help to encourage hair growth,” says Kingsley. “However, I would not use the term ‘miracle’. Firstly, bear in mind that any treatment or regime will take time; you can expect to see results at a minimum of 6 weeks, but more noticeable changes to hair growth occur from the three-month mark of starting something new. This is in part due to the rate of hair growth (i.e. half an inch a month), but it is also due to the individual growth cycles of hairs.”
“Secondly, it is important to realise that there is also no ‘one size fits all’ treatment,” says Kingsley. “It very much depends on your individual internal environment and your lifestyle. For instance, diet, nutritional deficiencies, hormone levels, genetics, general health and stress levels can all influence hair growth. You need to assess what areas need addressing, and act accordingly,” she adds.
In very extreme cases however, top trichologist, Stephanie Sey, notes “the only treatment that is clinically proven to grow hair thicker and faster is minoxidil (commonly known as Regaine), however this medication is only used for those suffering with male or female pattern hair loss.”
Are there things we can avoid which hinder growth, if so what?
“Very much so,” says Michael Van Clarke, hairdresser and founder of 3 More Inches. Lifestyle factors like “smoking, alcohol and high sugar diets can lead to scalp problems,” he says. Crash dieting can be detrimental, too. “As hair is a non-essential tissue, it is the first part of you to be deprived of nutrients when you diet is lacking,” says Kingsley, “therefore restrictive eating deprives your hair of nutrients which can cause excessive hair shedding.”
It might be worth keeping an eye on how tight you tie your ponytail, too – “this can cause traction breakage and may even pull out hairs from their follicles,” says Kingsley. And too much high-mercury fish like tuna and swordfish can also cause fallout says Kingsley.
Are there things we can do to encourage growth, if so what?
In general, the healthier you are, the healthier your hair will be, so rather than simply turning to products, it’s important to keep an eye on your lifestyle.
A well-balanced diet
“Poor lifestyle and diet has limited effect on the rate of growth but does impact on the quality,” says Clarke. “Hair is made of 97 percent protein,” says top trichologist, Stephen Carson. “Hair needs sufficient regular amounts of complete protein, vitamins, minerals and water as well as the omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish, fruit and vegetables,” he adds.
“To ensure your hair is getting the protein it needs to grow, eat at least a palm sized portion of protein at breakfast and lunch. Great examples are fish, eggs, lean meat, low fat cottage cheese, quinoa and pulses,” says Kinglsey. “To help ensure that your hair is receiving enough energy for growth (hair cells are the second fastest growing cells the body produces after bone marrow), include a portion of complex carbohydrates with each meal. I.e. brown rice, whole-wheat toast, potatoes with skin-on or oatmeal,” adds Kingsley.
“To enable your body to recover and repair itself, you need quality sleep,” says Carson. “If you have a stressed lifestyle, sleep is important for adrenal recovery.”
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Supplements and vitamins
The experts all agree that a healthy, well-balanced diet should be the first line of defence. “Vitamin supplements shouldn’t be a substitute for a varied diet,” says Clake, “but they can help those with an unbalanced regime.”
“Your hair has especially high nutritional requirements which can be difficult to meet through diet alone,” says Kingsley. “Supplements can be very handy in that they provide your hair with easily accessible nutrients.”
Look for protein, iron, zinc, vitamin B12, vitamin D, Omega 3 and Biotin. “Biotin is especially important to keep the hair healthy because it functions in the synthesis of hair proteins like keratin. Lack of biotin has also been associated with hair breakage and hair loss,” says Clarke. Meanwhile, “B12 is especially important for vegans, as B12 is only found naturally in animal products,” says Kingsley.
Before taking supplements, it’s best to consult with a doctor and take a blood test first, advises Carson.
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“A trim will not make your hair grow faster, but it will help to improve and maintain the quality and density of your ends,” says Kingsley. “Regular trims will help get rid of the old weathered ends of the hair,” says Sey. “The ends of the hair are the oldest having gone through repeated washing, combing and styling. If you want to retain the length you are growing then it is essential to trim.”
“As hair grows it changes shape. So regular reshaping as it gets longer is important to keep you happy with your hair all the way through,” says Clarke. As for how often we should trim, Carson recommends every six to eight weeks.
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Scalp scrubs and regular shampooing
“Hair grows best from a healthy scalp,” says Kingsley. So it’s important to cleanse it regularly, since “shampooing gets rid of the dirt and debris on the scalp, which includes pollution, sweat and old skin cells,” says Sey.
And to make the most of it, really massage your shampoo in. “Scalp massage is good for blood circulation which brings oxygen and nutrients to the hair follicle and takes toxins away,” says Clarke.
Finally, it’s a good idea to use an exfoliating scalp mask once a week “to keep your scalp supple and to remove dead skin cells,” says Kingsley. You can use a scrub, just be careful to scrub gently so as not to cause breakages.
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itioners and masks
“Shampooing lifts the surface cuticle of the hair shaft so conditioner is essential for smoothing this down and protecting the hair shaft,” says Clarke. Using a good conditioner will help you restore moisture and also help give the hair a lovely look and feel – in some cases it may make it more manageable,” adds Sey.
“itioning masks help to strengthen your hair, reducing breakage – which can improve the thickness of your mid-lengths and ends. If your ends are breaking, your hair simply won’t be able to grow as long as it otherwise could. They also plump your hair shaft with moisture, giving strands the appearance of more body,” says Kingsley who recommends the Philip Kingsley pre-shampoo conditioning mask, Elasticizer.
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Protection from heat styling
“If you are wedded to your styling tools you definitely need to use heat protectors,” says Carson. “In my opinion today’s powerful hair dryers set on the high temperatures are too hot,” he adds.
Kingsley agrees, noting that some hair tools can get hot enough to caramelise sugar. In order to reduce the damage, don’t hold your dryer to close to your hair “hold it approximately 12 inches away,” says Kingsley. Opt for a medium or low heat setting, and turn your dryer off as soon as your hair is just dry. “Applying heat to already dried hair evaporates precious moisture from within your hair shaft, which can cause brittleness and breakage,” says Kingsley, so try to limit using your straighteners or tools to once a week if possible. “And don’t go over the same areas of hair repeatedly,” warns Kingsley.
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Limit dying and bleaching
One of the best things about our hair is being able to have fun with it and play with colour, and a cracking dye job can do wonders for our confidence. While it does cause damage there are steps we can take to mitigate this as much as possible. Firstly, “go to a salon and have a colour technician look after your hair if you are going to bleach it,” says Carson. “This is a chemical process that should be carried out by a qualified professional.”
Secondly, “take steps to hydrate and strengthen the strands between processing,” says Kingsley. “If your hair is coloured use a shampoo and conditioner specific for this type. It will be formulated to keep the cuticle tight to try and keep the colour pigments locked in the hair,” Carson explains, while Sey recommends regular deep conditioning treatments.
Finally, “leave enough time between your colour appointments (preferably 8 weeks),” says Kingsley. “If you have colour done too soon, it is more likely to overlap and cause damage.”
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“Your hair is weakest when wet,” says Carson. “This is because water separates some of the bonds. When the hair is dry, the bonds are reformed,” so it’s important to be gentle when brushing it wet.
Detangle from your ends and use a gentle hair brush. “A brush with rounded, plastic prongs and a vented cushioned base is the most friendly of brushes,” says Kingsley. Avoid anything with harsh boar bristles since this can remove sections of your outer hair cuticle says Kingsley and avoid brushes with metal prongs. “These have the tendency to get very hot when you heat style and can burn both your scalp and your hair.”
Gentle hair ties
As for hair bands, soft fabric is your best bet. “Hard ties and clips in and out of the hair can lead to breakage,” says Clarke. “Anything that ties the hair should have some give so that if there is any pressure it can flex around the hair shaft.” Hard metal edges can cut into your hair and lead to snapping, so avoid.