I did my big chop in the winter of 2004. While my hair seemed to retain length over the next year and a half it eventually plateaued and remained at the same length (shoulder length) through the fall of 2009. I asked myself “What am I doing wrong?”
The answer: Unintentionally breaking my ends. I’ve said this to friends before and I’ll repeat it here- Using a comb on dry hair, tightly coiled hair is tantamount to giving yourself a haircut. All those years of raking through my hair with a comb didn’t only remove shed hair or break hair off from the root but it also broke off the ends of my hair. As you know, no matter how much your hair grows each month, if you cut your hair every month you won’t see any length retention. When you’re “cutting” your hair with a comb it can be frustrating because it isn’t obvious that your daily routine is the cause of your stunted growth.
I can’t remember where I read this, but during my search for hair care ideas, one writer said to treat the ends of your hair like fine lace. Be gentle when styling and only comb your ends when they are thoroughly moisturized. I began to first put this into practice during my wash routine. I drenched my hair in oils and conditioner so that when I detangled my hair only the hair that I naturally shed during the week was removed. I can’t describe how surprised I was when, for the first time I saw how little hair was in the comb after detangling. I knew then that I was going to see positive changes in my hair over the next few months.
It bears emphasizing that the products I began using 2009 were simple. Before there was a small army of natural hair products in places like Target and Walgreens, I used water and castor oil on my ends. How much more simple than that can you get? Each night I would lightly dampen my hair, then seal my ends with a dime-sized amount of castor oil. I would then style my hair in a simple protective style, like the example featured below (if you are interested, I have a tutorial on the style posted here).
Years later I still style my hair in protective styles, although I am more comfortable wearing loose styles (non-protective styles) because I am no longer on a mission to grow my hair any longer. Even when wearing loose styles I am sure to minimize the potential for knots by applying oil to the ends of my hair. Moreover, at night I always wrap my hair with a satin scarf and/or satin bonnet, which not only preserves my style for the next day, but also protects my hair from friction and breakage. My hair isn’t particularly “strong” or comprised of very coarse strands so it is important for me to limit how much I manipulate my hair. If I am wearing a no-manipulation style, like two strand twists, then I moisturize the ends of my hair four times a week, alternating days. For other styles, I moisturize my hair 3 times a week.
It’s helpful to keep in mind that single strand knots are inevitable with tightly coiled hair. For me, the key is not to eliminate them, but to limit them so that they do not stunt length retention.
How have you managed to stop breakage?