When is comes to growing out your hair, time is not exactly of the essence. I know it can be frustrating and require a lot of patience, but understanding how our hair grows down to the follicle, and learning ways to stimulate the process will make the whole thing feel a lot less daunting. This week in Beauty School, we’re breaking down hair growth — getting into the science of how it grows, understanding how different hair types grow, what we can do to keep it healthy during the process, and how to maintain length.
Let’s get follicular
We’re staying science-y today in Beauty School with an in-depth lesson about our hair. Not just hair in general, but an in-depth breakdown of the structure of our hair down to the follicle. You’re probably wondering why we should know about this, and the simplest answer is: so we know how to protect our hair and keep it healthy. We knowingly–and unknowingly–put our hair under a lot of stress, with the pulling and the brushing and the exposure to the elements. Learning our hair on a deeper level will give us a better understanding of how we should take care of it!
So while digging into the hair care world on the net, you might see people throwing around words like hair shaft and bulb and dermal papilla and, most of all, follicle. But what exactly are those things? How do they aid in the basic functions of our hair? The dictionary defines the follicle as a “small, secretory cavity, sac, or gland.” Sounds a little icky, but we have ‘em! The human body is kind of a weird place, in case you haven’t noticed. In layman’s terms, the hair follicle is part of our skin that grows hair by packing old cells together. The follicle acts as an anchor for the hair in the skin. It holds the hair in place until the growth restarts and the hair eventually sheds.
The strand itself, or the hair shaft, is made up of three parts: the medulla, the cortex, and the cuticle. Sounds a little brainy, no? The medulla is the deepest layer of the hair and it’s only found in larger, thicker hairs. The cortex is the center layer. This is the part of the hair shaft that gives the hair its strength and determines the color and texture of the hair. And then, of course, there’s the cuticle, which is the outermost layer of the hair. It’s thin and colorless and takes the brunt of all the stuff we put our hair through. Hair is made of keratin, a protein that can deplete with consistent dying, drying, and straightening. Luckily, repairing and replenishing the keratin in our hair is simple with the use of healthier hair habits like cutting out heat styling, alternating deep conditioning and protein treatments at least once a week, moisturizing and nourishing the hair with nutrient-rich oils and creams, and avoiding chemical processing. Even if you absolutely must straighten or dye your hair, be sure to implement the other habits to keep the hair healthy and nourished. Also, understanding the porosity of your hair can help you pick out the right hair treatments!
The Hair Growth Cycle
Before we get into length retention and why a healthy scalp equals healthy hair, let’s break down exactly how our hair grows. For those of us who are super impatient (me) when it comes to growing out our hair, find comfort in the fact that our hair is constantly growing on a 24-hour basis. I know, whenever I trim my hair, I wonder why it hasn’t grown like 6 inches by the next week. Our hair is growing, we just don’t notice it right away. As far as the growth cycle goes, everyone’s hair moves through the same 4 step cycle. Let’s get a little scientific…
Phase 1: Anagen Phase
This is when the hair starts growing. Basically, it’s the active growth phase when the hair follicles are working overtime, dividing rapidly, and adding to the hair shaft. This is the longest phase–it lasts about two to seven years. This phase determines how long our hair is going to be. Every month, the hair grows about a half inch and it grows faster in the summer than in the winter. The hair begins growing from a root made up of cells of protein. Blood vessels in the scalp nourish the root, creating more cells, making the hair grow. The reason our hair (and nails!) grow faster in the summer is simply because of the typically longer amount of exposure to the sun. There are more daylight hours in the summer and our bodies produce more vitamin D.
Phase 2: Catagen Phase
This stage only lasts about 10 days. This marks the end of active hair growth and is considered the intermediate stage of hair growth. In this phase, the hair follicle shrinks and detaches from the papilla. Sounds complicated and science-y, we know, but that just means that the little bulb at the bottom of the hair follicle detaches from the blood vessels that were feeding it before, and the hair is moving upwards. At this point, the strand is fully grown and can be shed just through regular activities.
Phase 3: Telogen Phase
AKA the resting phase, the telogen phase lasts about three months. Basically, the papilla no longer supplies any nutrients to the hair because it’s fully grown. Think of this as the last leg of life for our hair. The hair at this phase is known as “club” hair, which is just hair that’s fully matured and keratinized. The hair doesn’t get any more blood flow and so it’s eventually going to shed. These are the hairs that you find on your brush or your comb — fully matured, exiting the body. R.I.P. little hairs…it was real.
Phase 4: Exogen Phase
This is the shedding phase. Technically not part of the official hair growth cycle because, you know, shedding. However, it’s important to note because shedding hair is totally normal. This is when the hair has reached its end and the follicle is ready to release it. The resting hair slowly starts to loosen and eventually falls out completely. This is a natural part of having hair and is just our body’s way of making room for newer, healthier hair.
A lot of people wonder whether growth cycles differ by hair type. Short answer: no! Every hair type goes through the same cycle, and we’re experiencing each phase at any given moment. This keeps the hair healthy and in check and essentially is the reason why we’re not totally bald. If you feel that you’re hair isn’t growing fast enough or it’s not as thick as you’d like it to be, there are natural solutions to nearly every hair problem. We’ll discuss tips and tricks to maintaining length and thickness throughout the week, but until then, feel free to browse our range of hair masks and teas blended specifically to aid hair growth and thickness!
We now know that our hair is always growing, but sometimes it’s hard to tell. Curly Proverbz makes us aware of some things we do that could be hindering our length retention. Check it out!