Here’s what reminds me: an abandoned stack of partially-used decal stickers, a pair of glitter-covered Miu Miu platform brogues I wear roughly once a year and a halfway-grown mane I look at in the mirror each morning and try to will longer with the adulterated power of my mind. Yes, still.
My hair may very well be as long as it’s going to get, but I asked three professionals — nutritionist Brooke Alpert, expert on natural hair Nikisha Brunson and celebrity stylist Michael Dueñas — for their pro tips on quick and healthy hair growth. Now, does anyone know a foolproof formula for patience?
First, repeat after me: My hair does not have teeth.
That means you’re in charge of eating for it. “You can see how healthy someone’s diet is by simply looking at their hair,” explains NYC nutritionist and founder of B Nutritious, Brooke Alpert. “People who stick to a crazy fat free regime, for example, experience dullness and breakage.”
Which is why god invented avocados.
“Remember, our cells are coated with a fatty membrane. Encouraging growth starts with keeping the cells healthy, which starts with keeping their fatty membranes healthy, which starts with having the right kind of fat in your diet. That would be sources of Omega 3 fatty acids, like salmon, avocado, nuts and olive oil.”
Fats need good teammates.
Brooke’s suggestions include…
Protein: “Protein is the building block to healthy skin, nails and hair, and is an essential component to healthy growth. Eggs are always great option, but make sure you’re eating the whole thing. The yolk is where all the vitamins and nutrition are. It’s also a huge source of Biotin, which is something people take in pill form for hair loss.”
Vitamin E: “It’s an antioxidant shown to improve blood flow. It will invariably promote a healthier scalp — and the healthier your scalp is, the healthier your cells are, the more likely you are to have faster growing hair. Because nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables are sources of Vitamin E, a salad with sunflower seeds or almonds sprinkled on top is an easy way to boost your daily dose.”
Vitamin C: “Vitamin C is a precursor for collagen production in your body, so it’s another building block for healthy skin, hair and nails. And it’s a major antioxidant. And it fights off all of the cellular damage we’re doing regularly. Some of my favorite Vitamin C foods are red peppers, sweet potatoes and citrus foods.”
Supplements: “My ultimate goal is for everyone to start with the healthiest food on their plates, and supplement with anything additional. So if you’re not a fish eater, then you should taking an Omega 3. And extra Biotin, of course, will do wonders for growing out your hair.”
Never apply high levels of heat without protecting your hair first. “High heat causes ends to break, and slows down growth,” Michael Dueñas, a pro hairstylist based in New York, tells me. “If you must put heat on the ends, then you absolutely need a heat protectant. It’s like a shield of armor that goes over the hair: Most products are rated up to 350 degrees — so as long as you keep the tool’s level below that, the product stays intact and protects.”
Ahhh, but what if I don’t know which level is 350 degrees?! “With hot tools, almost all of them have degrees that will go up to 425 or 450. So as long as you’re at an 8 or under, you’re okay.”
Re-think that tight pony.
Or at least the tie that you’re using to secure it. Dueñas is a proponent of soft, stretchy loops. “If you use something that’s a little more abrasive or has sharp edges on it, then you’ll definitely see breakage. Wide fabric elastics are better. I also love to use bobby pins. Those won’t damage your hair whatsoever.” Whatever kind of band you’re using, though, never secure it too tight. “The extra stress damages follicles and you’ll get breakage on your hairline as well from the extra stress.” In other words…
Baby your hair — especially your baby hairs!
Urban Bush Babes co-founder and editor-in-chief, Nikisha Brunson, warns that while those delicate areas near the scalp are breakage-prone for everyone, they’re especially vulnerable for women with natural, course, curly hair. “Curly, natural hair easily becomes brittle and breaks because we don’t get the same levels of oil people with straight hair do,” she explains. “Oil butters on the ends and around the forehead area are necessary because that part of natural hair is extra sensitive. Some people with natural hair even put it all over their hair to retain the moisture that we don’t get from the scalp.”
Brunson also recommends regular scalp massages with pure organic oils (her apothecary line on Etsy, Folie, has some fantastic ones) and regularly clarifying the scalp. “That’s to wipe out any gross stuff your head collects from the water, air, or even other products — gunk that gets stuck to your scalp and hair strands. Use either a clarifying shampoo or natural remedy. One I like is an apple cider vinegar rinse: a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar mixed with purified water or distilled water.
Getting rid of all the gunk gives roots and hair follicles the room it needs to breath and grow properly. Chemicals not only cause breakage, but the roots of the hair to suffocate; to grow, hair needs a clean, PH balanced environment. Natural hair girls have to worry about that more.”
Never, ever — EVER — use a brush straight out of the shower.
This applies whether your hair is course and curly, fine and straight or somewhere between the two. “Wet hair is at its most elastic,” explains Dueñas. “So if there are tangles, you’ll stretch them until they snap. Just think about fabric when it’s wet, how much more it stretches. So either use a wide tooth comb or your fingers — I love using my fingers, because if I hit a tangle, then I can just pull it apart with my hands. It takes longer, actually, to brush out a tangle than to pull it apart yourself.”
If you’re heading to bed next, Brunson recommends a few extra precautions for women with natural hair: satin pillow cases and bonnets. “Natural hair is already extra dry, so if your hair is freshly conditioned with all these oils and creams and butters and then you sleep on a cotton pillow case, it sucks up the moisture, creates tangles and ruins all that good work.”
Resist the urge to skip your regular trim.
Even the most carefully-tended locks are bound to get a few split ends, and you’ll want to lop those off before the breakage creeps up your hair shaft. Then you’ll just have to cut it off anyways! There are ways, however, to stretch the time between salon visits. Dueñas’ secret weapon is leave-in conditioner. “Even if you condition your hair in the shower, spray on a leave-in anyway. Chances are you aren’t keeping your actual conditioner on long enough and — even if you are — the water constantly running from your scalp to your ends in the shower is diluting the benefits. A back-up after you towel-dry ensures that moisture locks in.”
Collage by Emily Zirimis.