"Generally, hair grows about half an inch per month," says Yolanda Lenzy, MD, of Lenzy Dermatology in Massachusetts. And unfortunately, there's not much you can do to speed things up, because genetics are the main factor in your growth speed. "Some [hair grows] faster or slower than others, but unless you have a medical condition your hair should grow."
While there isn't a magic spell you can cast for drastically longer hair overnight — with extensions being the exception — there are a few things you can do to create the best environment for your hair to flourish. Ahead, we rounded up a few expert-approved tips you can follow to make sure the hair on your hair is healthy, thriving, and — ultimately — growing.
1. Don't go too long without cleansing your scalp.
Think of your scalp like the foundation to your home: If your foundation isn't right, then your home won't be steady. The same thing goes for your hair. If your scalp isn't healthy and your follicles are damaged (or clogged), it can prevent your hair from growing. It can also result in other issues like scalp acne, dandruff, and alopecia.
For natural hair, it's common to shampoo less frequently, but Lenzy recommends using some type of cleanser at least once a week. "It's important that you regularly cleanse your scalp of product buildup," she says. To further encourage healthy hair, you can incorporate shampoos with growth-stimulating ingredients into your routine.
2. Maintain a healthy diet.
Your diet can also influence the health of your hair. "Your body needs the right nutrients for your follicles and scalp to be healthy," says dermatologist Neil Sadick, MD, of Sadick Dermatology. A diet rich in proteins, vitamins, iron, and omega oils will promote a healthy scalp and follicles. Vitamin B and C, found in berries and citrus fruits, are also essential for healthy hair.
According to Lenzy, vitamin-rich foods help the body produce protein, which results in stronger strands. Foods that are rich in zinc (like lean red meats and seafood) can also prevent dry scalp and brittle hair. This also goes without saying, but drink water. Consuming around eight glasses a day will not only keep your body hydrated, but it'll positively impact your skin — including your scalp.
3. Add the right supplement to your routine.
"Viviscal has an ingredient called marine complex protein, which helps lengthen the growth cycle," Lenzy says. But be wary of taking Viviscal if you have a shellfish allergy, since its main ingredient is derived from shark cartilage. Nutrafol is another physician favourite because of its mixture of powerful ingredients. It has ashwagandha root, which is great for inflammation, and saw palmetto, which mimics some prescription treatments for alopecia.
Keep in mind: A supplement alone is not the solution. "When used in conjunction with everything else, you should notice some growth and overall healthier hair," says Lenzy.
4. Pay attention to the ingredients in your products.
What gets put on the outside of your body is as important as what gets put in — especially in the name of healthy hair. For optimal health and growth, Sadick recommends looking for nourishing ingredients in styling products. "Look for things that include silk proteins, keratin, ceramides, and natural oils, like avocado and argan," he says. On the flip side, pay extra attention to harmful ingredients like alcohol, sulphates, and artificial fragrances that can damage the scalp and hair shaft.
5. Take a break between protective styles.
A major part of growing (and preserving) the hair on your head is making proper styling choices. "In theory, hairstyles like braids, sew-in weaves, and tight ponytails allow you to do less manipulation to the hair, so you don't get much breakage," Lenzy explains. "However, they can also make it difficult to actually cleanse your hair and scalp."
Additionally, many protective styles require feeding in additional hair for length and thickness, which adds weight to hair follicles. "When your follicles are weighed down for long periods of time, that increases your risk of traction alopecia and central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia — a progressive type of scarring that causes permanent hair loss and is the most common form of hair loss in Black women," Lenzy says.
To avoid creating tension that ends up in permanent damage, avoid keeping protective styles in for long periods of time or wearing protective styles back to back. "For vacation or a few weeks is fine, but once you take it out, leave your hair out for a considerable amount of time," says Lenzy. Between braids and extensions, Lenzy recommends styles that require less manipulation, like wash-and-gos and loose twists-outs. But, above all, remember that stressed out hair will look (and feel) stressed out. So, be kind to your strands and let your body do the rest of the work.