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