Whether you’ve been growing your hair (or trying, at least) for years without the desired Rapunzel-esque success, or chopped it all off when the Lob took over and now yearn for the return of your long locks, we’ve got exactly the information you need. The answer to one of the most Googled beauty questions the world over, and the solution to all your stunted hair growth quandaries.
That’s right, we’ve found out exactly how you really can make your hair grow faster.
While plenty of myths abound (eat your crusts, the cold water rinse), we’ve gone straight to an expert source for the facts, the science and the tips that really work. Want to grow your locks long and strong - without spending a lifetime waiting for the results? Scroll down to see what trichologist Anabel Kingsley (daughter of legendary hair guru Philip Kingsley) has to say on the matter.
If you want to really understand what’s going on with your hair, it’s important to get to grips with the hair growth cycle - everyone experiences the same three stages, and so swotting-up will give you a better idea of why your hair behaves the way it does.
“There are three stages of the hair growth cycle; Anagen (the growth phase), Catagen (an intermediary phase), and Telogen (the shedding/resting phase),” explains Kingsley.
During the Anagen phase, which typically lasts anywhere between three and five years, each strand will grow, on average, by half an inch each month – so in a year it generally grows by around six inches, and at full-length, can likely reach between 18 and 30 inches.
Interesting fact; Asian hair is known to often have a longer Anagen cycle of anywhere up to seven years, which explains why some Asian women can (provided they care for it properly) grow their locks up to a metre long!
After the Anagen phase comes the transitional Catagen phase - around 10 days where not much really happens - before hair enters the final Telogen stage. This is where your locks go through a period of natural shedding. Now of course, if every hair follicle went through all of these same stages at the exact same rate, all of your hair would fall out at the same time - thankfully, that doesn’t happen (unless something’s wrong - see our advice on hair thinning and hair loss).
Each follicle is wholly unique, and operates at its own pace, meaning that you’ll always have strands at completely different stages of the growth cycle, and only a certain number of strands will fall away each day. For healthy hair, that’s normally up to 80 strands per day. Once a follicle has shed a strand, it’ll enter a rest period - around 12 weeks - where it’ll remain inactive, before starting the whole thing all over again.
Okay, so your strands are ploughing their way through the Anagen phase, growing their half-inch every day, and heartily speeding towards Beyoncé levels of swishable. But what about breakage? That dastardly crime that puts an end to even the best of growth spurt efforts.
Well, this is where hair health, care and protection come into play, says Kingsley. “Hair should stretch to a third of its length when wet before breaking,” she notes. “But this often is not the case with long hair. Styling and daily wear and tear decrease the hair’s stretchability, so that strands snap much more easily.
“To help maintain and improve the strength, elasticity and condition of long hair, you should use a pre-shampoo conditioning treatment twice a week. Try Philip Kingsley Elasticizer (£30). Long hair also has a tendency to tangle easily – and detangling incorrectly can cause quite substantial breakage and split-ends.
“Before detangling, spray a detangling spray throughout your mid-lengths and ends. Then, starting at your ends, gradually and gently work your way up using either a wide-tooth comb or paddle brush with rounded, plastic prongs.
“Starting your combing or detangling at the top near your roots can worsen the tangles and snap more strands.”
Spoiler alert; there’s no overnight fix. Unless of course, you’re prepared to go down the temporary weave/extensions route. There are, however, various things you can do to promote better hair health, for longer, stronger locks at a quicker pace.
“Scalp health is vital to hair health, and a clean scalp helps to support healthy hair growth,” explains Kingsley. “To optimise your scalp environment, shampoo frequently and use a daily scalp toner, plus a weekly stimulating scalp mask.”
“Thickening, strengthening protein sprays can also be helpful,” she adds. “They immediately add volume to the hair, giving an instant boost in confidence – something that is very important for those experiencing hair fall or reduced volume. They also strengthen the hair over time, which helps to reduce hair fall as the result of breakage. While breakage is not true loss from the follicle, it can thin the appearance of the mid-lengths and ends.”
Knowing what to look for in your hair care products–so that they really are helping to boost hair health and growth– is another key factor. Thankfully, Kingsley has offered up her checklist of scalp and hair boosting ingredients, so you can buy the right potion for your #hairgoals.
- Menthol: This acts as a great stimulant for the scalp, boosting circulation.
- Piroctone olamine: An antimicrobial that helps to clear flaking and itching.
- Methyl nicotinate: A vasodilator (meaning that it boosts circulation by widening the blood vessels) that can also help to increase the effectiveness of other ingredients.
- A combination of Zinc Sulphate, Vitamin B6 and Azelaic Acid: Combined in topical drops, these ingredients can help to block the body’s natural conversion of testosterone to the hormone dihydrotestosterone, which has been linked to hair loss primarily in men, but also in women. Try Philip Kingsley Tricho 7 Stimulating Scalp Drops (£50) – these also contain piroctone olamine and methyl nicotinate.
- Betaine salicylate or salicylic acid: These are exfoliants that can be found in scalp masks to gently remove dead-skin cells, promoting a healthier environment for hair growth.
“It is important to note that the effectiveness of a product it is not just reliant on the ingredients contained,” warns Kingsley. “It is heavily dependent on the concentrations of the ingredients, the quality of them and how they are formulated into the product.
“It also depends on how and how often the product is applied. For instance, many ingredients need to be left on the scalp for an extended period of time and/or be used daily, in order to be effective.”
Our advice is to follow the instructions that come with your products; if it says leave on for five minutes, put the time in.
It’s not just about lotions and potions; if you want long, luscious locks with staying power, you need to eat right, too. That means a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of protein, plus smart snacking.
“Eating a healthy, balanced diet is vital if you wish to maintain or grow long hair,” confirms Kingsley. “Hair is made primarily of protein, so this is perhaps the most important nutrient in terms of growth. At Philip Kingsley, we suggest eating at least 120g of a ‘complete protein’ at breakfast and lunch, when your hair cells are at their most active. Eggs, poultry, fish, lean meat and low-fat cottage cheese are all great examples, as they contain all the essential amino acids our bodies need.
“Ferritin (stored iron) is similarly essential as it helps the body to produce hair cell protein,” adds Kingsley. “Ferritin deficiency commonly causes hairs to shed before they reach the length that they are capable of. To bolster ferritin levels, try to eat red meat at least once a week – and do this alongside taking a daily nutritional supplement containing Iron and Vitamin C.
“Energy to form hair cells drops four hours after eating. If longer than this left between meals, give your follicles an internal boost by snacking on a nutrient-dense carbohydrate, such as fresh fruit or whole grain crackers.”
As we all know, supplements claiming to help boost hair growth abound - the promise of mermaid-worthy hair in a matter of weeks is a much touted message. But do any of them really work, and is a (sometimes pricey) hair growth supplement ever really worth it? Here’s Kingsley’s verdict:
“Due to the high demands of hair, it can be difficult to get sufficient nutrients for optimal hair growth through diet alone - supplements can therefore be very beneficial as they provide extra internal support. A drug-store multi-vitamin can help, but it is better to choose one that has been formulated specifically for the hair’s needs. We make one called Tricho Complex (£45). In order to have maximum benefit, supplements should be taken alongside a healthy diet.”
Now you've got the knowledge down, see the Byrdie edit of the best products to help boost your hair growth - start scrolling for best mane maintainers out there.
Boost the strength of your strands (and your volume) with this protein-packed spray that helps to repair damaged hair cuticles.
Ticking menthol, piroctone olamine and salicylic acid off the must-have ingredients list, this is a great shampoo for promoting better scalp health.
Keep your strands strong and healthy to minimise breakage with this organic hair mask from Rahua, packed with natural plant proteins and oils.
If your hair is dry, fragile or prone to breakage, use a pre shampoo treatment like this one, which uses plenty of enriching coconut oil, to nourish and protect your locks during washing.
Inspired by traditional Indian haircare rituals, this clever bottle blends coconut, turmeric leaf, grapefruit, hibiscus and moringa oils, for a replenishing treatment to strengthen your lengths.
Replenish damaged strands and prevent breakage with this shampoo (there’s a conditioner too) packed full of enriching proteins.
Formulated to nourish and strengthen brittle hair prone to breakage, this conditioner (there’s a shampoo too) gets to work on weak on strands.