I am no different from most, if not all, women. I want a head full of long, thick, healthy, luxurious, candy-soft, all-natural head of hair. And I want it the day before last month. And, naturally, I have looked into countless ways to grow my hair.
Again, like most women, I came to believe if you are an African woman, your hair simply can’t grow past a certain length. Why would it? It’s genetic, biological and what not. That was myth number one.
Myth number two was, and this I contemplated for the longest time, dreadlocked hair. It is just about the only length that seemed to grow past the shoulders. I don’t want to be Maxi Priest, but I would not have minded an Erykah Badu-do.
The world is full of myths about African hair, and these two happen to be the most common, with good reason. It explains why an entire industry exists around African hair and African hair products, as well as all those ads that pop up online promising you your dream hair.
There are no pills, potions, gels, moisturisers, hair sprays, hair oils or hair anything that you can add onto your hair to make it grow faster. That would be like succumbing to the stretchmark-cream urban legend. It simply isn’t true.
African hair grows when you let it, which is why dreadlocks get so long so fast. They’re not tampered with. They lock your hair, you don’t use heat styling, you don’t comb it, you don’t fiddle with it. You leave it alone. That is the single most important factor in hair growth.
This is why it almost always seems like our sisters, girlfriends, mothers, aunts or any female relative we have seems to come back with longer, healthier hair after they travel abroad. It is not the air in the US or Europe.
It might have a lot to do with the availability of products, though. But the biggest secret they have unwittingly stumbled across is leaving their hair alone.
Months on end
Braiding your hair for months on end — of course with you taking out the braids regularly to shampoo, treat, condition and moisturise — gives your hair room to grow. When you wear your hair in such a way that you get it out of the way, you minimise breakage and dryness.
Breakage because afro hair — if it is natural, coiled and curly — breaks very easily owing to its fragility, and it requires far more moisture than usual to take care of it. Also, open hair is more often than not dry hair.
The most critical aspect of black hair, however, is handling. Detangling hair is an art that requires patience. How gentle should you be with your hair? If you think you are being gentle now, step it up a notch and be even more gentle. Use less heat. If you finger comb and your hair is breaking not growing and takes too long to detangle, find another detangler and another technique.
If you are grappling with the how to, go online. YouTube has countless offerings on precisely how to grow African hair, a lot of them done in real time. These vlogs (video blogs) have women who are more than willing to share their tips, complete with before, during and after footage. You’ll find several mini-documentaries on hair.
Most, if not all, vloggers are strong advocates of natural hair, and they succeed in acquiring the length that they desire.
The videos are quite instructional primarily because when it comes to taking care of your hair, seeing and touching, is believing.
Hair growth is also promoted through the use of products that favour natural hair. A lot of these women endured years of chemical treatment, heat straightening, weaves, hair breakage and some very bad hair decisions. They are great at offering encouragement and rehabilitating what others might have considered a lost cause.
Their vlogs have corresponding blogs: phyllizjampoet.com grew her natural hair 18 inches in 18 months, Onika, also known as shorty2sweet59 is 25 with hair that is unbelievably thick, dark, healthy and luxuriant (there really is no other word for it — I literally want to run my fingers through her hair!), and Babilon Kay, whose newly highlighted hair looks like a really good weave.
I bought into the whole 100 brush strokes each night when I was much younger. It did nothing, except maybe promote breakage. At the time, I had no idea what that even was.
Not manipulating hair is the best thing you could ever do for it, so go for protective styling such as wigs and braids.
If you are growing impatient, as a general rule, it takes you about two to three years to grow your hair from scratch to shoulder length.
Add another year on average, or six months at best, for it to fall to just above the sharpest point of your shoulder blades. Give it yet another year to grow to your bra strap — that being the strap that lies flat across your upper back.
If you want it to get to your waist, the timeline would therefore be an average of four years of consistent hard work because growing longer hair really only means one thing: growing healthy hair. Hair is longer when it is healthy.
Next week I’ll introduce you to a few terminologies used in regards to African hair care, what they mean and what they do.