Since the very beginning of my hair journey, even before I big chopped and officially joined the natural community, I noticed instant improvement in my hair’s ability to retain length. Pretty quickly, my hair went from a stagnant length to being much longer, and it wasn’t because it suddenly started growing faster. I used to constantly have short hairs breaking and terrible split ends. Now, aside from as a result of single strand knots (which can be minimized but not totally avoided), I rarely experience breakage or split ends. My hair health immediately improved when I started my hair journey because I integrated a few basic principles for length retention, or actually retaining the ends of your hair as it also grows from the roots. I think it’s important for all naturals (and non-naturals) to integrate these 6 principles into their hair regimen in order to retain length and lead a healthy hair lifestyle.
Principle 1: Sleep on a satin pillowcase; use satin headscarves and satin bonnets.
Okay, so this is something I have actually always done! Even when I was relaxed I always slept with my headscarf. But when I began my hair journey, I took it a step further and purchased the Betty Dain satin pillowcase. (I purchased this pillowcase about two years ago and it has held up marvelously, so I would recommend it!)
Why it’s important: Cotton has the tendency to absorb the moisture in your hair, leaving it dry, brittle, and susceptible to breakage. Satin is much gentler on the hair.
Principle 2: Detangle gently with a wide toothed comb, preferably on wet hair.
This one was hard for me at first. My hair is super thick and I’m not always the best at being gentle and patient with it. To properly detangle your hair you should first wet it. I typically detangle when in the shower with a rinse out conditioner so my hair is soaked and has“slip,” but you should at least spritz it with a spray bottle before running a comb through your hair. After wetting your hair, use a wide toothed comb, start at the ends, and slowly work your way up to the roots. DO NOT EVER put a comb to your roots without first detangling the ends and the length of your hair.
Why it’s important: Carefully and gently detangling your hair helps prevent breakage and allows you to retain more length because you are being more careful to work through knots, rather than just ripping your hair out. Adding water and conditioner adds slip, which aids in loosening tangles and knots.
Principle 3: Moisturize and frequently deep condition.
In my post 9 Things I Learned in my First Year with Natural Hair, I talked about how important moisturizing and deep conditioning has been for me. I typically use the LCO method as needed, and deep condition on a weekly basis.
Why it’s important: Dry hair is more susceptible to breakage. Keeping your hair moisturized helps prevent breakage.
Principle 4: Utilize protective styles and low-manipulation styles.
There is a bit of confusion about the difference between protective styles and low-manipulation styles. Both can aid in length retention, but there is a difference, which I’ll try to explain briefly here.
A protective style is any hairstyle that prevents the exposure of the ends of your hair, which helps it to retain moisture and stay intact. Examples of protective styles include faux locs, box braids, and Senegalese twists, as well as styles that don’t require added hair like a bun, Dutch braids with pinned and tucked ends, or a headwrap. Low-manipulation styles are also good for your hair because they keep you from having to manipulate or style on a daily basis. The key to low-manipulation styles really has to do with the amount of time you leave your hair in the style; the longer you leave it, the less you manipulate it, the better. Protective styles are typically also low-manipulation styles, although low-manipulation styles aren’t necessarily protective styles. A good example of a low-manipulation style that isn’t also a protective style is wearable two-strand twists (with no added hair).
Why it’s important: Protective styling and low-manipulation styling both serve the end purpose of reducing breakage and retaining length. Protective styling is particularly important for those of us who live in colder climates and during the winter months because the elements can cause hair dryness and breakage. Since the end of your hair is the oldest part of your hair, most likely to become dry and break, protective styles shield your ends from the elements. Even though they don’t always keep your ends protected, low-manipulation styles are also important because the less you have to manipulate your hair, the less likely you are to lose hair (from combing, brushing, etc.).
Principle 5: Pay attention to product ingredients.
One of the first things I did when I started my hair journey was to do research on typical hair product ingredients. There are some ingredients used frequently in shampoos, conditioners, and stylers that can actually be damaging to your hair and lead to dryness/breakage. Things that I personally try to avoid or at least minimize my use of are sulfates in shampoos, alcohol in gels and edge controls, and silicones in conditioners. Some other ingredients that I’ve noticed many naturalistas are mindful of are petroleum, parabens, and mineral oil. Many brands geared toward naturals make it a point to exclude these ingredients, like Shea Moisture, Eden Bodyworks, and Kinky-Curly, for example.
Why it’s important: It’s always a good idea to understand what chemicals you are putting in or on your body and the exact effect those chemicals will have. Understanding ingredients can also help you better understand your hairs likes and dislikes. It’s also great to be able to read a product’s ingredients and know right away if it is not something that will be good for your hair; you won’t have to waste time and money trying it out, only to be disappointed.
Principle 6: Limit how often you use heat, especially direct heat.
This is the BIG ONE! Heat, especially direct heat, is your curly/kinky hair’s biggest enemy. The biggest contributor to my hair’s improved health has been the minimization of heat styling. When you apply direct heat, like from a blow dryer or flat iron, too frequently you will inevitably incur heat damage. Having heat damage means your hair is not healthy, it has sustained irreversible burns. Eventually if this hair doesn’t break off on its own, you will have to cut it. While indirect heat, like from sitting under a hooded dryer, is less likely to be damaging, it’s still a good idea to minimize it as well.
Why it’s important: Hair breakage or having to cut off a lot of hair because of heat damage is obviously not conducive for length retention, so it’s important to limit how often you are using direct heat.