Hair growth vs. length retention: What are you really after?

Can you really speed up hair growth? The All Things Hair team find out...

We all want long hair to rival Lady Godiva. But is there anything we can do to really speed up the growth of our mane – or is it all a myth? And have you ever considered that what you might actually want is length retention? Not quite sure what that is, or how it differs from hair growth? Don’t worry, just read below to find out more.

What you need to know about hair growth

First, let’s cover the basics. In total, there are three stages of hair growth and shedding: anagen, catagen, and telogen. Anagen (AKA the growth stage) can range anywhere from 2-6 years. Next is a 10-day transitional stage called catagen, and then finally, telogen, which is also known as the resting phase. Have you ever pulled out a hair from the root and noticed there’s a white ‘bulb’ at the base? Well, that is a sign it’s reached the telogen period.

So, how fast does hair really grow? Generally, half an inch a month, so roughly 6 inches (or 15 cm) a year. Unfortunately, we can’t be more specific, because factors like race and genetics also play a part and cause variation in hair growth. But, you’ll be glad to hear that it’s completely normal to lose anywhere from 50 to 100 hairs a day, because each individual strand goes through these stages at different times, which is why we don’t notice it.

Truth is, a lot of people frequently misuse the term hair growth, when what they really mean is length retention.

The real question here though – and what you’re probably all dying to know – is can you make hair grow faster? Well, we hate to burst your bubble, but there’s no such thing as being able to increase your hair’s growth rate. Plus, we were born with all the follicles we’ll ever have, so there’s no chance of changing its density, either. In fact, as we advance, hair follicles actually stop working as efficiently, which why our hair can start to feel thinner as we age.

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Hair growth vs. length retention: Do you know the difference?

The truth is, a lot of people frequently misuse the term hair growth, when what they really mean is length retention. Which brings us to our next point: what is length retention? Well, it’s as simple as maintaining or retaining the length of our locks through care. So while the speed of hair growth can’t be altered, our care routine can – and a better one will certainly help retain that length for longer.

But how does this explain why your hair isn’t getting any longer? Our guess is that it’s simply because your hair is probably growing at the same rate as it is breaking (we know, shocking, right?), which means any changes in length are minimal or virtually undetectable. Sadly, there isn’t one sole cause – but a range of reasons – as to why your hair has seemingly reached a terminal length.

What is the solution, you ask? Don’t worry, there are many measures you can take to help lessen hair breakage. We know it sounds counter-intuitive, but going for regular trims will benefit your hair in the long run. Firstly, this will remove split ends and single strand knots, which, if left unattended can travel further up the hair shaft and develop into more extreme feather and tree split ends that then catch on and tangle other hairs.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but going for regular trims will benefit your hair in the long run.

Excessive manipulation from styling – and friction from clothing, pillowcases and towels – are other factors to consider. So think about cutting back on hairstyles that involve using tension and heat. Anyone with natural hair might want to consider protective styles that are low-maintenance and keep your ends tucked away. Tipsleeping on silk pillowcases and gently squeezing excess water out of your hair with a towel, rather than vigorously rubbing it, can also help minimise damage to your hair. 

A dry and damaged mane is also more prone to breakage. Consider topping up the effects of your regular conditioner with intensive treatments to help add moisture. One of the reasons industry professionals are always going on about biotin and keratin in relation to hair, is because hair is actually made up of protein. So eating a balanced diet and making sure you get a healthy dose of protein is also important.

Ultimately, there is no quick fix or miracle solution for hair growth, but with patience, and a well-considered and consistent haircare routine, you’ll be on the right track to keeping the length you have luscious.

Read our 7 habits of people with healthy hair article for more tips.