What effects does it have?
- Head hair
Increases length and can help hide hairline or balding
What is it?
Leaving hair to grow to increase its length.
Hair grows at an average rate of just over 1cm per month, though it can vary slightly from person to person depending on genetics 1.
There isn’t any way to speed the growth rate of individual hairs up, but you can decrease the time it takes for your hair to grow by reducing the amount of hairs that are shortened by damage. When hair is grown longer it stays attached to your head accumulating damage, perhaps for up to several years, so you need to work harder to protect it than you would with shorter hair. The most important things you can do are:
- wash your hair regularly but not too often (twice a week works well for many people)
- when you wash hair with shampoo, always use a conditioner afterwards
- always wait for your hair to dry before detangling, brushing, combing, straightening or curling it
- dry your hair carefully, ideally patting it dry rather than rubbing it with a towel
- always rinse your hair after swimming in a pool or the sea
Many hair stylists and hair websites recommend that even when growing your hair, the ends should be trimmed every few months to remove damage. We have been unable so far to find expert advice from trichologists (specialists in hair and hair disorders) about whether this is necessary - but you may want to do it anyway, as this will help your hair look more healthy and well maintained.
You can find more detailed information on protecting your hair lower down on this page.
If you’d like you hair to be longer right now without having to wait for it to grow, an alternative you could consider is hair extensions. You may also be able to get a small increase in hair length from hair straightening if your hair is curly or wavy.
Finding a hairdresser
Hair salons can be intimidating and confusing if you’ve only ever visited a barber’s before. Here are a few tips that might help:
Some hair salons advertise that they are specifically for men or for women; others will advertise themselves as “unisex”. If you ask, salons will often accept you as a customer even if your gender does not match what they advertise. There are some hairdressers that specialise in gender variant clients, such as Open Barbers and Barberette.
“Unisex” salons may have different prices listed for “men’s” and “women’s” hair, but normally this actually means they will charge a more expensive rate for people with longer hair.
Some hair salons require you to make an appointment in advance; some will allow you to turn up without advance notice. If you need to make an appointment but aren’t comfortable using the telephone, many salons will now allow you to make appointments via email or messages to their Facebook page.
Salons usually have several stylists working in them who have different levels of expertise. You may be charged more for using a hair stylist who has more expertise, and you may be expected to say which level of experience you are expecting when you book your appointment.
If your body or presentation is different to what people in the hair salon are expecting, you may be anxious about how accepting hair stylists will be. One way to reduce this anxiety is to contact the hair salon to tell them what to expect and ask if they are comfortable cutting your hair. Hair salons are often very LGBT friendly places, and hair stylists cut a very wide range of people’s hair from all walks of life, so there is a good chance they will be accepting of you. If you’d like to be sure, you can also try contacting a local trans group in your area, who may be able to suggest hairdressers to you. You can use our Local groups in the UK page to find groups near to you.
Protecting your hair
Hair is covered in a protective layer of scales called the cuticle. This protects the more delicate inner layers of the hair. If the scales are undamaged and smoothly layered, the hair will look glossy and smooth 2.
A number of different stresses can cause the cuticle to be weakened or entirely removed - a process called hair weathering. Weathering has many different causes, including using heated straighteners and curlers, UV radiation, wind, humidity, sea salt, chlorinated water, dust, pollution, and friction. When weathering occurs, the more delicate inside layers of the hair - the cortex - are exposed, and start to unravel or fracture, which can lead to hair splitting or hair breaking off 3.
You can protect against hair damage in the following ways:
- friction damage - friction is caused during washing, brushing, and towel drying 4. Most conditioners contain chemicals called silicones which lubricate the hair shaft, reducing the amount of friction and the amount of damage caused by combing 3. Using conditioner significantly reduces the amount of damage done to the hair from combing 5.
- weakness from absorbing water - hair becomes significantly more elastic when it is wet. Once your hair has absorbed water, much less force is required to stretch it to the point where it breaks. You should avoid trying to detangle your hair when it is wet - for example, after you have washed it, wait until it is dry before combing or brushing. If you have to detangle wet hair, use only your fingers or a wide-toothed comb to detangle it, and never a brush 6. You may also be able to reduce the amount of friction involved in drying by avoiding rubbing your hair with a towel and instead blotting/patting it or wrapping it in a towel.
- chemical damage - a number of chemicals can damage or remove the cuticle, particularly those used for bleaching, colouring and permanently curling hair 7, so having these treatments as infrequently as possible will help to maintain the health of hair. Another source of chemical damage is chlorinated swimming pool water 8, so rinse your hair well after you leave the pool to minimise exposure.
- salt damage - when hair dries, salt left in the hair dries into hard crystals which rub against the hair damaging it 9,8. It is important to rinse your hair after you have been swimming in sea water.
- hair bubbling - hair straightening and hair curling use very hot temperatures to change the shape of hair. If straighteners or curling tongs are applied to wet hair, the water absorbed by the hair rapidly boils and expands, producing cracks in the hair known as “bubbling” or “bubble hairs” 3,10. You can avoid this by not using straighteners or curling tongs on your hair until it has fully dried, and using heat protection products on your hair before heat styling 11.
- nutritional deficiency - if you are not eating a balanced diet containing enough proteins, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids, you can end up with a nutritional deficiency. Some deficiencies may cause hair to become dry and brittle, cause hair to thin, or cause alopecia (balding) 12. Some hair products contain vitamins - these have little effect as you can’t absorb vitamins directly into your hair 13.
- UV radiation - when you are in sunlight, your hair is exposed to UV radiation from the sun which can damage your hair. Some hair products advertise UV protection, but often these aren’t helpful, as they either wash out of the hair or don’t coat it well 14. You can protect your hair by wearing a hat or bandana - or by staying out of the sun between 11am and 3pm in summer, which is recommended to protect your skin from UV radiation. Your hair is more susceptible to UV damage when it is wet 8, so try and keep it dry when you are out in the sun.
Your hair stylist can advise you on caring for your hair - if you’re not sure about how to look after your hair, ask them for advice.
- 1 Loussouarn, Geneviève, El Rawadi, Charles and Genain, Gilles (2005) “Diversity of hair growth profiles.” International journal of dermatology, 44(s1), pp. 6–9.
- 2 Madnani, Nina, Khan, Kaleem and others (2013) “Hair cosmetics.” Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology, and Leprology, 79(5), p. 654.
- 3 Osório, Filipa and Tosti, Antonella (2011) “Hair weathering, part 2: clinical features, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment.” Cosmetic Dermatology, 24(12), pp. 555–559.
- 4 Robinson, VNE (1976) “A study of damaged hair.” J Soc Cosmet Chem, 27, pp. 155–161.
- 5 Tate, ML, Kamath, YK, Ruetsch, SB and Weigmann, HD (1993) “Quantification and prevention of hair damage.” Journal of the society of cosmetic chemists, 44(6), pp. 347–372.
- 6 Draelos, Zoe Diana (2013) “Shampoos, conditioners, and camouflage techniques.” Dermatologic clinics, 31(1), pp. 173–178.
- 7 Gray, John (2017) “Hair care,” in Baran, R. and Maibach, H. (eds.), Textbook of Cosmetic Dermatology - Fifth Edition, CRC Press, pp. 227–247.
- 8 Horev, Liran (2004) “Exogenous factors in hair disorders.” Exogenous Dermatology, 3(5), pp. 237–245.
- 9 Hoshowski, Myra (1997) “Conditioning of hair,” in Johnson, D. H. (ed.), Hair and hair care, CRC Press.
- 10 Savitha, AS, Sacchidanand, S and Revathy, TN (2011) “Bubble hair and other acquired hair shaft anomalies due to hot ironing on wet hair.” International journal of trichology, 3(2), p. 118.
- 11 Christian, Paul, Winsey, Nigel, Whatmough, Marie and Cornwell, Paul A (2011) “The effects of water on heat-styling damage.” Journal of cosmetic science, 62(1), p. 15.
- 12 Finner, Andreas M (2013) “Nutrition and Hair.” Dermatologic clinics, 31(1), pp. 167–172.
- 13 Peacock, Libby (2005) Good Hair, New Holland Publishers, London.
- 14 Draelos, Zoe Diana (2014) “Hair, sun, regulation, and beauty.” Journal of cosmetic dermatology, 13(1), pp. 1–2.
Errors and omissions
Is there something missing from this page? Have you spotted something that isn't correct? Please tweet us or message us on Facebook to let us know, or file an issue on GitHub.
Page last updated: June 2018