By Jc of The Natural Haven Bloom
Does your hair appear to be stuck or stagnant at a particular length? Some people with natural hair can continuously gain length but for others it can be tricky. A hair plateau is basically a point where your hair breaks at the same rate as it is growing. The length therefore appears static and this leads some people to incorrectly say ‘my hair is not growing’.
Getting over hair plateaus requires some understanding of your hair. There is no straight forward and simple route for everyone, the real remedy lies in finding out why your hair is breaking. This is my experience and observation:
1. Necklength Plateau (4–6 inches)
It may seem quite odd to some but for hair that has a lot of kinks or hair with small curls, the fact is a necklength plateau is very possible even with the most gentle care. The reason is that the curls are very small and the kinks within the hair add continuous points of stress which break with handling. My observation is that neck length plateaus tend to be related to combing and brushing.
People with thicker hair strands (individual) tend to fair quite well with gentle combing but if a fine tooth comb is used, then breakage can arise. For some, changing from dry combing to conditioner combing is a remedy rather than changing from a fine comb to a wide comb.
However, for fine and kinky hair, combing and brushing is sometimes just not an option. Some naturals can only progress from a necklength plateau by eliminating combing and brushing. The finger detangling method is indeed slow and painstaking for some but is a guaranteed way to ensure that the comb does not rip through the complex tangles in kinky hair. Feeling these tangles out with fingers is usually ideal.
The general measure I would use to determine whether combing is suitable to your hair is to first finger detangle your hair and follow up with a wide tooth comb. If the comb persistently gets stuck in your hair and you cannot run the comb from root to tip AFTER detangling, then combing is probably not something your hair likes.
2. Midlength plateaus (shoulder to armpit length — 9–12 inches)
If you got over an early plateau or were lucky enough never to have one, it is still possible to experience another stagnant phase. Some naturals spend ages at shoulder to armpit length when they would like their hair to grow longer. My observation is that mid length plateaus tend to be related to styling and/or trimming schedules.
Protective styling is a guaranteed method to get over plateaus. However the protective styling method has to be productive. This means it has to reduce knots, tangling, splitting, breakage due to handling and importantly you must not lose hair when undoing the style. Not all protective styles are suitable for everybody. For example, if your hair easily tangles up when free, a bun which is considered a protective style may not be suitable for you. If your hair easily untwists or strands tend to mesh when twisted, then a twist style which is considered protective may not be for you. If you are not patient enough to take down minibraids, then this style is not ideal for getting over a plateau. The bottom line is that you must pick a protective style that you can keep for a significant time (3–4 weeks) and rest your hair for a few days in between before reinstalling the style. Make sure it is a productive protective style.
In regards to trimming, you have to bear in mind that hair at 12 inches is old. It is 2–3 years old depending on your growth rate. The cuticle layers gradually deplete and this is what causes split ends to form. If you find several split ends on your hair, the answer to your plateau problems may lie in establishing a trimming routine. This can mean a search and destroy where you find and cut split ends only or a regular cut every few months . Ideally you should not need to cut your hair more often than once every 2–3 months. If you are exceeding this level then you need to look at ways to protect your ends (See protective styling above).
3. Hair strengthening
For some naturals products and routines make a real difference to hair and help them either get over or not experience plateaus. As always, there is no set formula, the guide for what you use to strengthen your hair is what your hair itself responds to. This is what I have observed from natural blogs,vlogs and forums
- 1. alternating with a protein conditioner or adding hydrolysed protein to conditioner (for others though eliminating protein is useful when they find that it makes their hair hard/stiff and therefore easier to break)
- 2. using a preconditioning step to protect hair while it is washed
- 3. washing hair in braids or twists or using section clips (i.e making hair more manageable when washing, reducing shrinkage and therefore possible knotting)
- 4. choosing to either deep condition or to eliminate deep conditioning (for some, deep conditioning is a must and users say that it makes hair softer and more manageable, for others it makes no difference and is unnecessary time spent with wet hair).
- 5. stretching hair gently (i.e using twists, braids etc to stop the full effects of shrinkage and therefore reducing tangling and knotting).
Ladies, how do you get over hair length and strength plateaus?