One day, when I finally publish my memoirs of my time as a beauty journalist (working title: Will There Be Food At This Press Launch, Or Just Canapés?), I will dedicate whole swaths of the book to the most egregious products in the industry. Cellulite creams will be up there, along with "detox" teas, and any lotion that claims to defy gravity and "lift" your butt or boobs. You know what else will be in there? Shampoos that claim to make your hair grow faster. They’re the emperor's new clothes of the beauty world.
"You can never make your hair cells grow faster than they naturally can," trichologist Iain Sallis confirms. If you weren’t lucky enough to be born into a gene pool of prolific hair-growers, you have to accept the rate of your hair growth, however protracted it may be. That being said, there’s a glimmer of hope — if your diet or routine is lacking, there may be some obstacles in the way of your hair achieving its full potential.
"The health of your body is inextricably linked to the health of your hair," Sallis says. "I try and tell my patients to think of their hair as a delicate piece of couture that can wear out if not treated properly." You wouldn’t throw a cashmere sweater in the dishwasher and hope for the best — so why would you abuse your hair and expect locks like Rapunzel?
If you want to maximize your hair’s growth potential (and keep the hair you already have strong), it’s about taking a three-pronged approach: diet, scalp care, and styling. "If you lack in certain minerals, vitamins, and proteins, your hair will start growing slower. To make hair grow at its optimum level, you need a lot of protein and iron," Sallis explains. That’s right — yet another reason to grin and bear a morning protein shake. "Red meat, oily fish, and eggs are fantastic for hair, as they all have the sulfur-rich amino acids your body uses to make new hair cells."
Obviously, the supplement question comes into play here. Who among us hasn’t been tempted by an influencer touting miraculous hair-growth pills, their mouth slightly agape to reveal what looks like candy between their teeth? Personally, I’ve taken pretty much every specialized hair supplement under the sun — and almost all of them made me feel positively queasy, even when I took them with food. (All that biotin will do that to you.) The only one I found I could stomach, and which made my hair feel incredible, was supermodel-beloved Viviscal. But Sallis says that what you should really be looking for is sulfur-rich amino acids, paired with a basic iron supplement. (Make sure you take the iron on its own on an empty stomach, as lots of foods and drinks, including coffee, interact with it.)
And from there, it’s on to your scalp. "Scalp health is so crucial," Sallis says. "There’s evidence that suggests having inflammation on the scalp may induce excessive shedding." A clean, healthy scalp is a happy scalp, so take the time to get yours scrupulously clean and free from irritants. "Wash your hair regularly — it’s a myth that it dries the hair out," says Sallis, who swears that washing your hair and scalp more regularly can clean up the majority of your issues. For problematic or sensitive scalps, he recommends using a medicated shampoo or something specifically formulated for sensitivity, without added colors or perfumes.
I’m sure we could all sing the golden rules of haircare (use heat protection, don’t brush too hard when wet, avoid too much styling) in a two-part harmony by now — but it bears repeating, especially if you're wondering why the hell your hair seems stuck in midlength purgatory. "Heat-styling is a way of life now, so I would never ask anyone to give up their straighteners or hairdryer, but there are ways to avoid damaging your hair," Sallis says. "When you use a hairdryer, don’t press it right on your hair or brush or the heat will jump exponentially within seconds." That means moving the hairdryer away from the hair shaft a bit, rather than laying the nozzle right on the stands — and consider investing in wooden-handled brushes. Metal brushes will keep getting hotter and hotter as you dry, which is a recipe for damage.
Long, strong hair is built, not made overnight, and this is only the foundation. Tweak your diet if necessary, clean your scalp, pop a pill (if you like), ease up on the heat — and hang in there. Reaching your #hairgoals will be worth the wait.