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How Constant Length Checks Can Damage Your Hair

Avatar • Mar 20, 2013

Black-girl-hair-detangling

Many naturals like to document the progress of their hair and confirm whether they have gained length. This is actually something perfectly reasonable to do provided the length check is happening after a sufficient time period to be able to see the growth. The best time to mark growth is after around 4–6 months but if you are not that patient, then at the very least, you should wait 2 months. Constant length checks can damage hair in three main ways:

1. Discouraging Results leading to Improper Hair Routine Changes
We generally accept that hair gains approximately half an inch a month but this is really a rough estimate. There are periods when hair grows faster and when it grows slower. The curlier and kinkier your hair is, the more difficult it will be to actually smooth out and see that half inch. Worse still if you are stretching your hair out at every weekly wash or detangling session, you are then truly unlikely to see any progress at all week to week as hair will have gained only millimetres at a time.

It can be very discouraging psychologically to think that your hair growth is stagnant. You may also improperly consider doing things that your hair does not need for example changing products, changing detangling methods, changing how you choose to protectively style your hair. You may incorrectly identify that your hair has a problem when in fact it just needs extra time to show you the length it has gained.

2. Overstretching hair
Protectively styling consistently over a period of weeks by braiding, twisting or making buns generally yields good results. Why is this? The answer is simple — people who just leave their hair alone do less damage to the hair because they are handling it less often.
If you are doing weekly length checks, this can really impact your hair. You will need to fully stretch out the hair to be able to visualise the progress. This can lead to regular over-pulling and overstretching of hair. This damages hair physically, the cuticle layers can be disrupted and internally with sufficient force you can weaken the cortex. Over time, this hair that you have been constantly length checking is more likely to break prematurely compared to hair that has been left alone.

If you were to wait for 4–6 months, it would be really easy to see the progress of 2–3 inches with a gentle stretch compared to really trying to unfurl curls after 1 month so that you can see half an inch which may be disguised in kinks and coils.

3. Over use of heat
Some people fully straighten natural hair out with a blowdryer and/or flat iron for a length check. If you do monthly length checks with heat, it is important to know that your hair will sustain some damage from each heating session. Some naturals experience less damage and will have no problems with this but others will suffer breakage (do you notice little coils on the floor when blow drying?) or eventually get split ends. For this second group, regular length checks with heat are not advisable.

In general, most naturals who want to grow their hair longer will greatly benefit from reducing or avoiding usage of heat as a general principle.

Ladies, have you ever been guilty of length checking obsessively?

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Michelle@RadiantBrownBeauty

I only do length checks every 2–3 months. You can’t see much in one month since hair grows at an average rate of 1/2 inch a month. It can be discouraging to see just a 1/4 inch or less of growth by doing constant checks. You’d be much more pumped to see an inch after 2 months or so.

SJ
SJ
7 years ago

I would love to see an article on stretching techniques that could possibly overstretch or damage hair. Can we overstretch hair with rollers? What about African threading? banding? curlformers? wrapping hair?

I’ve always wondered what was the best way to stretch hair to prevent knots and tangles without overstretching hair. Braids and two-strand twists are pretty safe, but sometimes my hair can still tangle up at the ends.

Barbara
7 years ago
Reply to  SJ

Ruh oh, Lol, I just finished my 3rd set of African hair threads and plan on keeping them in looooooooooooong term as in at minimum 3 months. Sisters, pray for me 🙂

Tiffany
Tiffany
7 years ago

Whoa, #2 has me worried that I am over-manipulating my hari! When I hear length check, my mind thinks of simply pulling hair to its fullest length to note how long it is. From this article, it sounds like JC thinks that this is bad practice for our hair. It’s making me wonder how often we should be touching our hair at all. I’m asking because I detangle my (fine) hair every week with a wide toothed comb when I wash, which probably amounts to even more manipulation than pulling on a strand or two to check length. Is this… Read more »

Jc
Jc
7 years ago
Reply to  Tiffany

Tiffany gentle stretching of hair is fine. During a length check most people really try to see the full length by unwrinkling all the curls. Hair is elastic to a point, it will be able to take the stress of being pulled and return to its original length. However, the only caution is not to pull hair constantly or really hard because hair can turn from elastic to plastic. In the plastic form, the hair will stretch out but will not return to its original length or curl. At this point, the hard pulling will have damaged it. I will… Read more »

Tiffany
Tiffany
7 years ago
Reply to  Jc

Thanks for your quick response and the helpful advice! Also, yes, any articles on “gentle stretching” would be much appreciated.

liberiangirl
7 years ago

great tip JC, thanks! these is the kinds of article that gets my attention.all that other foolishness about “why hair won’t grow” get me annoyed. b/c hair grows regardless.

liberiangirl
7 years ago

these “are”

Bobby
Bobby
7 years ago

One minute Naturals are told to keep the hair stretched to prevent tangles & knots now we are being told over stretching can ’cause “plastic” hair and ruin the curl pattern!

All these “rules” of natural hair can be confusing and too much work!!

Jc
Jc
7 years ago
Reply to  Bobby

I cannot understand why it is confusing. There is a benefit to stretching hair to some degree to prevent knots and tangles. It is however not beneficial to yank on your hair constantly as this can cause it to weaken and break.

It is just like a little bit of salt makes food taste good but if you use too much, you can end up with high blood pressure. So people who say salt is fantastic are right but those who caution against too much salt are also right.….…..what is confusing about that?

Bobby
Bobby
7 years ago
Reply to  Jc

Its confusing because one minute the advice giving says do one thing and the next day the advice given says do the opposite.
Naturals have to take all the “advice” with a grain of salt! Its all about what works for you! You will read one thing one blog and the complete opposite on another blog…thats where the CONFUSION comes in!

Hmm
Hmm
5 years ago
Reply to  Bobby

There are rules that always apply to hair. Anything else should be ignored. e.g. “Regimens”, “pre-poo”, “wash day rules”. Just do what is good for you and don’t get involved in some peoples’ long, complicated rituals. After doing all that, they talk about how tiring it is to have natural hair, when it really isn’t.

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