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Genetics: Do They Determine Your Hair Length? Part 2

Avatar • Nov 9, 2011


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By Audrey Sivasothy, author of The Science of Black Hair: A Comprehensive Guide to Textured Hair Care

*Click for part 1 of this series

How Do You Determine Your Terminal (Maximum) Length?

I believe that most black women have never achieved their terminal (maximum) hair lengths, nor have they seen mothers, aunts, or sisters do it. Neither have I. Years of bad or nonexistent information on black hair care have put many of us at somewhat of a disadvantage. For determining possible genetic predisposition to short hair and terminal length, you would really need to look at the hair care practices of all of the women in your family over the course of a few years. Before you do this; however, you must make sure that every one of them is practicing impeccable hair care methods. By impeccable hair care, I’m talking a no heat, no coloring, natural, low manipulation, protective styling regimen. If after 4–5 years of impeccable hair care methods, these women still have not seen brastrap, waist-length, or close to it, then genetics might be a factor. The point of this whole hair journey is to break the cycle of doubt and find out our true hair potential once and for all.

Your terminal length would best be decided on a fresh hair that started growing the day you started really caring for the health of your hair. You would need to follow this hair for years until it is eventually shed to truly know the terminal length you can expect. Now you are thinking- It is virtually impossible to follow a single hair from “birth to death”! And you are absolutely right! It is next to impossible to know your terminal length unless you’ve been growing your hair steadily for many, many years under the absolute best conditions.

You also cannot expect to use your current head of hair as a judge of terminal length for some time, especially if your hair has been put through the ringer! The hair you already have on your head has already probably been growing for years in its own cycle with each individual hair working on its own specific timetable. Additionally, this already aging hair has most likely not received the best care before this point. Let’s say your growth phase is 4 years. You have about 4 years to grow your hair as long as it will grow before it sheds. If 3 of those years of the hair’s “life” were spent not being cared for, the growth gained in the last year of its life may not seem all that significant. As it has grown, it has been subjected to damage and breakage through the years, so your “terminal length” can appear to be as short as shoulder or neck-length for a period of time. By the same token, a hair that is “born” during your healthy hair care days stands the better chance of reaching your true terminal length as opposed to the older hairs around it.

The point is, you do not know how old each hair is or what type of breakage it has already endured to this point. This is why when setting your length goals and determining terminal length, you can’t simply expect to add, or more correctly, uniformly add length to your hair all over either. Some of the hair you are looking at now may be weeks away from the end of its growth journey. This is why it tends to take a little longer to reach certain lengths with fullness through to the ends. These transitionary hair phases are what I believe to be the cause of the “growth plateaus” or standstills that can happen in the best of hair regimens.

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Amayou
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Great and informative article, keep them coming BGLH.

cassieo
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cassieo

Love the positivity of this article! 🙂

EG
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EG

I agree with this article 110%. This is the first time that many of us have ever taken such good care of our hair! so how can we say that shoulder length is our terminal length? How would you know that if you just started your regimen, or.….or, you just started the regimen that is right for your hair? I’ve been natural for about 5 years now, but only learned how to properly take care of my hair for the past 9 months! I have no idea what my hair’s potential is, I simply know that for the first time… Read more »

Whitney
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Whitney

Thank you so much, Audrey, for the information. 🙂 It has been so helpful! I’ll take waist length hair! I think knee, thigh, and floor length hair will be too much for me…

Bridget
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Bridget

Great article. Very informative and encouraging. I am currently trying to grow my hair to bra strap length with an ultimate goal of waist length. It is currently a little past armpit when stretched. I am keeping hope alive. LOL.

Lyn W.
Guest
Lyn W.

I too want to grow my hair (in its stretched state to WL and BSL unstretched). It’s nice to know that its possible. I really enjoyed reading this article, well written and positive! I gave myself about 7 YRS to grow it out, it’s been 10 months (lol) I’m supper optimistic. You know, just the other day, I mentioned to my mom: I love natural hair, my hair has not grown this fast when I was relaxed. I started with 2.5–3″ of hair and not I’m a little past collarbone length! Amazing. And I’m still optimistic.

luminous
Guest
luminous

I agree. I have been natural since 1995, but only really starting taking care of my hair in the past year when I discovered youtube videos. My hair, which hadn’t grown longer than APL, has now grown to BSL in the past year.

shannon
Guest
shannon

i gave myself two years of growth and if I wasn’t satisfied with the growth I’d go back to my beloved buzz cut. But I think now I’ll let it go to atleast APL unstretched. I’ve got a LONG way to go…

Sieta
Guest

I’m giving myself four years. The first year has been a bit of a challenge though and just a year for discoveries. I’ll go with another three years. I expect to be BSL and if I am and I feel like it, I may either maintain it or carry on trying to get waist length.

But at the moment, the health of my hair and myself is priority. The length will come and hopefully creep up on me.

Chantal
Guest
Chantal

Hello. Can anyone suggest to me what products to use on my natural hair? I live in Trinidad and Tobago (caribbean) and we have brand called Cher mere. I have been using it for the past 6 months and it is going ok. But I would like other suggestions please. I had cut my hair in May of this year ( i had dread locks for 7 years prior). Help please!

T.
Guest
T.

Hey Chantal, I’m in the Caribbean also and one of the staples of my regimen is good old plain coconut oil. I also use Fantasia IC Leave-in Moisturiser with Aloe and sometimes, Elasta QP Feels Like Silk Leave-in. I don’t use shampoo, I wash with baking soda and/or apple cider vinegar, and I use whatever cheap conditioner I can find. But it’s really the coconut oil that I swear by. I also use castor oil occasionally, and aloe gel (the inside of the leaf, blended up) is good too every now and then.

JJ
Guest
JJ

This article is SPOT-ON!! Thank you!

Shari
Guest

I found this post to be very encouraging to me. I was just thinking to myself after seing a lady walk past me with see-thru ends. She is probably glad that she got her relaxed hair that long, but it is not pretty to look at. There is even a lady at work who tells me she watches the videos on youtube and tries their stuff but doesn’t receive growth and so has determined that her hair cannot grow. This article has opened my eyes — the more we all start taking good care of our hairs, the more the… Read more »

luvmylocs
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luvmylocs

i personally have gone back to locs because in the nearly 5 years of loose hair since cutting my previous locs i have had a lot of breakage. i know my hair grows (a lot) but combing my kinky hair was in some ways more stressing to my hair than combing my chemically straightened hair. i got a lot of snap, crackle, pop regardless of methods and products i used. well now i’m on the road to having length again. it just works for me. long loose natural hair just wasn’t attainable for me but i know it is with… Read more »

Kesha
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Kesha

Great article! I’m 6 months in to intentionally caring for my hair. The hairs on my head have a long way to grow! Thanks for the reality check and or dispelling myths.

Annaleisha
Guest

I love this article and the previous one in this series!! Well done Audrey and BGLH! My last relaxer was Jan 2010, I have had a significant amount of breakage and I was pressured in to pressing my hair (no heat protectant was used). Bad idea, I have heat damage that is permanent, some of the ends are DEAD straight and I will have to cut it off. I wanted to BC but I am so interested in having hair that can go into a bun without pulling tightly that I may just settle for hair that has a looser… Read more »

Chante
Guest

Thank you so much for providing this information. I BC’d for the second time this past April after neglecting and poorly managing my natural hair for 6 years. I’m vowing to take better care of my hair even when I get discouraged and your article is a great motivation to keep that promise.

Petula
Guest

When my mother was young her hair grew to a little longer than waist length. At 16 she cut it into a pageboy and it hasn’t grown that long again. The longest it has been since then is a few inches or so pass her shoulders. My hair has only grown to that length with locks and out of my three daughters only one has hair to bra strap length, the oldest has only gotten to shoulder length since she’s been older and responsible for her hair (after she grew out locks) and youngest is about three inches pass shoulders.… Read more »

Cheryl Lynn
Guest

This was a fabulous article. As an older woman who just recently decided to let the “creamy crack” go for the duration of my life, I am encouraged by such an informative look at the growth patterns of our hair. I am so happy to have found this site, it is more than just informative-it is uplifting and acts as a mirror into the true testament of our hair.

Thank you BGLH!

dawn
Guest
dawn

i’m interested in seeing what my terminal length is. that’s the exciting part of all this- all the dif discoveries you get to make about something so close to home. my hunch is that my terminal length is probly…waist length. i have a great great grandmother who had hair to her butt.…now granted, she WAS also like…one quarter native american so i’m not sure how much that may have played into it. but hey, we all got her famed high cheekbones!

Tiffany
Guest
Tiffany

I believe all healthy women should be able to grow their hair waist length at least, its just that we don’t want to do the work (protective styling religiously) to preserve our afro-textured hair. I really think we all could grow our hair to the floor. Our hair does not have an on/off switch. It’s just like our nails they’ll grow as long as we preserve them and don’t break them off. But as you get to longer lengths, I believe their is diminishing marginal returns on hair growth.

Logic
Guest
Logic

Sorry, but I beg to differ. The work it takes to grow hair is unarguably exercise, eating healthy, drinking plenty of water, rest, gentle handling, satin bonnet/pillowcase and patience, but protective styling is NOT necessary to retain length. i have 4b/c hair and have far better success retaining length with wash and goes, which I do twice a week, and gentle detangling, which I do one a week with a seamless comb and my modified Denman. I co-wash in 8 sections, apply product in 24 sections (shea butter and Eco Styler gel) and that’s it. I put my hair in… Read more »

Aliyah Morrison
Guest
Aliyah Morrison

I’m 3c/4a. I retain length with wash and gos low manipulation styles and protective styling but I retain the most length with protective styling with cornrow braids . I mean a lot of times I miss my hair being our and it sucks being stuck with braids the same style but I have to do what I have to do to get to my goal . I haven’t did wash and gos since last year my hair now looks terrible with wash and gos it only looked good when it was really short . I like low manipulation styles the… Read more »

hbezzy
Guest

Wow! This article is informative but I still dont know what to do about my hair. I have tried everything! Hairpills, protective hairstyles, gentle washes, natural, permed you name it! However the end result is Breakage :’(

savynaturalista
Guest

This is a great article! However I do not believe you half to cut off all your hair for it to grow are you see the actual length. My hair was badly damage and I started off with 6 inches now I am at 15 inches. I do believe in finger combing is the best way to retain length..

hair care tips
Guest

Fantastic items from you, man. I’ve understand your stuff prior to and you are simply too fantastic. I really like what you have got right here, really like what you are saying and the way in which wherein you say it. You’re making it entertaining and you continue to take care
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from you. This is really a tremendous site.

Aliyah Morrison
Guest
Aliyah Morrison

My grandma is fully black and she grew her hair past her waists but she got it cut to her mid back and wears her natural hair flat ironed . Most of the woman in my family have long hair . I would want mines to grow to at least armpit but if it grows past that I’ll be very happy . Right now I’m at collarbone length . I’m praying my terminal length lasts at least up to 5 or 6 years because if it doesn’t I’m going to be so pissed and feel like I’m doing all this… Read more »

stevievi
Guest
stevievi

I just don’t believe that everyone, regardless o genetics can grow waist length hair. I think that’s a myth. Some people eat fast food, don’t exercise, drink soda instead of water and have long hair. They are not buying speciality shampoos or using butters, co washing ect. How do you explain their ability to retain length. That’s why just like blue eyes, Brown hair is genetic, so is your terminal lenght decided. If it only took a special regimen to grow hair wouldn’t there be this hairstylists with all these clients walking around with waist length hair? I think it’s… Read more »

sin
Guest
sin

You must have nver bee to Hawaii. Lol everyone grows out their hair was it length or longer. I had an aunty tell me woke shouldn’t have hair shorter than breast length. I know girls with hair to their ankles. Back of their knees, etc. I want to just go to tail bone length and I’ll be fine.

Byrdie Gaither
Guest
Byrdie Gaither

To those who don’t believe waist length natural hair is possible…What about those with knee length dread locs?? I had locs for 10yrs and they grew too long and heavy (if I could’ve untangled it, any individual strand would’ve reached my bellybutton, easily). I cut them b/c if it was indeed possible to untangle them I’d have died before I did so. What is important to me now is protecting my hair as if it was still locked. And patience.

Cassyy
Guest
Cassyy

My great grandmother had hair up to her ankles. She was African . The only thing she used was African black soap and shea butter. She was also a herbalist so im sure that helped a lot as she ate healthy. She was 108 when she died of natural causes.

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