Formulate user Erin is wondering how she can grow out her curls:
I feel like my curls have a set "end point". I can grow them out to a certain length, but then it seems like they just stop growing. It's super annoying because I want long curly fabulous hair! How can I get my hair to grow past where it is right now?
Thanks for writing, Erin.
The good news is that your curls are still growing. The bad news is that they're likely breaking off faster than they grow, which is leading to the "end point" that you're experiencing. Fortunately, there are many changes that you can make to your hair care routine that will protect your curls from breakage. Here's what we suggest:
Exposure to water isn't great for curly hair. When curls get wet, the hair fiber stretches, which deforms the hair cuticle. Once the hair dries, the cuticle remains slightly deformed. Add up shower on top of shower on top of shower and, well, you'll end up with cuticles that are wide open. The cuticle of the hair fiber is its first line of defense, and once it's gone, it doesn't come back. Losing the cuticle means that your hair loses its armor -- this makes it much more susceptible to breakage.
The solution to this problem is to wash your hair just a little bit less each week. If you're currently washing five times a week, switch down to four. If you're currently washing three times a week, try switching down to two. Long term, you're likely to see a big difference in your hair's length, not to mention its shine.
When you do wash your hair, do it with care. Curly hair is already notoriously fragile, and it's even more susceptible to breakage when wet. When washing your hair, push the suds down towards your ends, instead of in a circular or forward motion. This way, you follow the direction of your hair's cuticle rather than rubbing against it -- we want to avoid unnecessary curl friction whenever possible, especially when said curls are wet.
It'll also help if you focus your shampooing efforts more on your roots, rather than your ends. The older a curl is, the more fragile it becomes. By cleansing your roots more than you cleanse your ends, you'll be able to target the oiliest parts of your hair and give the most fragile part of your hair a little break, thus lessening the likelihood of breakage. That isn't to say you shouldn't shampoo your ends at all -- this will lead to buildup, which will make curls weighted, limp, and dull. Just do it with a light hand, and extra care.
Forget everything you've heard about curly girls not using conditioner -- conditioner should be your best friend! Curly hair is typically more porous than non-curly hair, making it more susceptible to breakage. Conditioners, particularly ones with silicones such as dimethicone, help by temporarily sealing the openings in the hair cuticle. This essentially forms a shield around the hair, helping to prevent unwanted trauma to the hair fiber. Keep in mind that the conditioner shield is temporary -- if it hasn't worn off by the next time you wash your hair, it'll be removed by exposure to water. Be sure to reapply the conditioner after every wash.
Color changes can be disastrous to curl health and growth. Whenever hair is dyed, the hair cuticle is chemically opened so that pigments can either be stripped or added to the innermost parts of the hair. Though many home-hair dying kits include silicone-rich conditioners to try to smush the hair cuticle back into place, the cuticle will remain permanently open. Even worse -- each subsequent dye job opens it further until it becomes stripped away entirely.
Since most people with curly hair already have hair that's porous, it's best to avoid hair dye altogether, as this helps prevent the cuticle from opening further. But if you absolutely can't give up dying your hair, you've still got options. We recommend going with simple, gradual changes that altar the color of your hair only slightly. By making gradual, mindful choices with your hair color you'll be able to have the satisfaction of changing your look without drastically harming your hair. Even better -- you'll avoid the risk of making a change so drastic that you require a color correction service, which will certainly damage your hair further and may even involve chopping off a chunk of your curls.
Chances are that if your hair doesn't feel like it's growing, you've got more than a couple of dead ends and need a trim. It's important to get rid of dead and split ends before the split crawls further and further up your hair shaft. Curl specialists are rare, and many are expensive to book an appointment with. But the results are absolutely worth it. A curl specialist will navigate your hair's natural curl pattern, and snip strategically so that your hair is left bouncier and happier than before. Paradoxically, a curl cut can actually make your hair to be bigger and more voluminous than before, as weighted-down curls are cut free.
Since curly hair is so fragile, it's ultra-important to treat it with care. If your go-to style is a tight ponytail or braid, it's no wonder that your hair is breaking off rapidly. High-tension hairstyles pull hairs right out of the scalp, hampering growth. If you'd like to speed up growth, ditch the tight styles in favor of something a little more loosey-goosey, like a headband, a loose half-ponytail, a thick braid, or a loose messy bun. And speaking of headbands, keep in mind that the accessories you use matter. You'll be better off with a loose, silky headband than one that's rigid and digs into your scalp, pulling your hair.
Wanna learn more about the ins and outs of haircare? Here's what you should read next:
5 tips for getting your natural curls back
Buh bye, flyaways!
Your how-to guide for dealing with curly hair in the humidity.
Everything you need to know about oil training your hair
Let's curl that hair!