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My only quarantine project is growing my hair. This is partially, okay totally, because growing your hair is a project that requires basically no effort.
I’ve had an on-and-off bob for the last six years, which has involved a constant cycle of wanting to grow my hair longer, realizing my hair is too thin to be so long, then chopping it back above my shoulders. I usually love my bob—it’s easy to style and it suits me—but recently I’ve been dreaming of long hair. It might be all the reality TV dating shows I’m watching (is there an official ban on bobs on Love Island?) or maybe it’s just the desire to feel hot—all I know is that I want long hair, and I want it now.
And so I decided to call in the experts. Below, you’ll find everything you need to know about fixing hair damage, preventing more damage, and encouraging hair growth (through more than wishful thinking), so you can have the kind of hair that would at least get you through to the second round of reality TV auditions.
Fix Your Damage, If You Realllllly Need To
When trying to grow hair with seriously damaged ends, it can almost feel like your hair is shrinking, rather than gaining length—and that’s because, well, it kind of is. Split ends and breakage take precious length off your hair, so it’s important to know when to address your damage head on (lol) and when to just make peace with it, especially if you can’t go to a salon right now.
With a Very Careful Trim
It probably goes without saying, but trimming your hair at home generally isn’t a great idea. However, if your split ends are getting out of control—as in, you can visibly see them—you might want to consider trimming them yourself.
According to celebrity hair stylist and Biolage brand ambassador Sunnie Brook Jones, the biggest mistakes people make when trying to trim their own split ends are using kitchen scissors or working in sections that are too big. Instead, she recommends cutting dry hair in small sections, with professional hair cutting scissors, so you can “dust” your hair rather than properly trim it.
Dusting is a technique hair stylists use to gently trim flyaways and ends without dramatically altering the length. It requires sharp scissors and a lot of patience.
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If you have curly or kinky hair, Robin Groover, hair stylist and African Pride brand educator, recommends starting any at-home hair cuts by dividing your hair into 6–8 sections. After twisting or braiding those sections, she suggests blow-drying your ends straight, then snipping your least dense strands. “It’s easier to do frequent tiny trims than trying to cut everything at once,” says Groover. Don’t feel the need to cut all your split ends in one go.
Or, With Some Thoughtfully Selected Products
According to Jones, hair masks are essential, especially if you’re skipping trims. She suggests Biolage HydraSource Deep Treatment, which has aloe and spirulina for a dose of hydration, once or twice a week. Olaplex’s Bond Maintenance range also has a huge cult following (for good reason) and is formulated specifically for split-end repair.
Then, Be Sure to Prevent Further Damage
Once you’ve addressed your damage it’s important to switch your focus to preventing more of it happening. Our poor hair can be damaged by everything under the sun (including the sun) so it’s important to assess every step of your hair routine, looking for clues like a tiny, damage-seeking detective.
When You’re in the Shower
Avoiding products with sulphates and parabens is a solid, general recommendation, but it’s especially important for those trying to prevent damage and grow their hair. “Strong shampoos can injure hair follicles,” says Dr. Richard Firshein, founder and CEO of Layla Health. “One of the worst things you can do is over-shampoo your hair, as soaps can reduce the oils that naturally keep your scalp happy.” The less you wash your hair, the better.
When You’re Drying Off
Heat (see: your hairdryer) isn’t great for your hair. But what may be slightly more eye-opening is that rough towel-drying and sleeping with damp hair can also be capital-B bad! “The best way to dry your hair is with a smooth towel or T-shirt that’s made from cotton. Use this to blot your hair and remove any moisture, then leave to air dry,” says Jones.
You should also avoid going to bed with wet hair. “Wet hair is a lot more fragile than dry hair, so your hair is much more susceptible to damage caused by the friction between your head and pillowcase. Sleeping on a silk pillowcase can also help reduce this friction,” says Dr Angela Phipps, medical advisor and hair restoration expert at HairClub.
And When You’re Actually Styling
According to Jones (and my hair after every summer vacation, imo) sun, wind, and water all put the same kind of stress on your hair that hair-drying, straightening, and curling does. The best thing you can do for your hair is avoid these things as much as possible—makes sense!
However, if you don’t want to totally forgo everything that makes you and your hair look and feel good, the best thing you can do is keep the heat of your styling tools as low as possible and apply a heat-protectant product. Excessively brushing your hair, combing it while it’s wet, and backcombing can also lead to breakage, so the same rule applies: Do these things as little as necessary, and when you just need to, go easy.
Even if you’re not heat styling, it’s also important to consider how you’re wearing your hair. According to Phipps, wearing your hair in a tight ponytail, bun, or braids can also cause damage. “This constant pulling on the hair shafts causes tension and pressure on the follicle roots,” she says. “Over time, this tension causes damage that leads to breakage and, eventually, could permanently damage the follicles and lead to hair loss, also known as traction alopecia. If these styles are required for certain events or activities, only leave the hair in that style for as short a time as possible.”
Encourage Some Extra Growth
Ah, growth. Personal, career, physical: We’re all chasing it, especially those of us who have big, Rapunzel-inspired hair dreams. But when talking about hair growth in particular, it’s just as important to talk about hair loss, which is often at the root (literally!) of our personal gripes.
“If you’re noticing more hair than usual in your drain, hair brush, floor, or bed you may have a hair loss problem. The first step here is to find the underlying cause of your hair loss, because there are so many. See a doctor (by tele appointment or when it’s next safe to do so), if you haven’t already, and discuss whether or not you could have a thyroid condition, allergy to hair products, or an underlying hormonal deficiency,” says Firshein. Once you’ve either addressed those issues, or ruled them out, you can start thinking about at-home remedies.
From the Inside, Out
First some bad news for anyone who was hoping a home remedy was going to completely change the way their hair sprouts out of their pretty lil’ head: According to Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, chief medical officer and founder of PFRANKMD, there’s nothing you can do at home to create new follicles for hair growth. “Minoxidil, a prescription, can help to stimulate growth from present hair follicles, but that’s something that would need to be discussed with a GP,” he says.
However, there are things you can do to try and prevent hair loss. “I recommend silica, zinc, and collagen to prevent hair loss. But it depends—I’ve also had patients with anemia respond to iron or B12,” says Firshein. “Biotin is also helpful since it actually improves and thickens the hair shaft and promotes stronger hair. It also improves your body’s keratin infrastructure.”
And From the Outside, In
There have been a number of studies that have found that scalp massage can actually encourage hair growth and physically thicker hair follicles. The research is pretty limited at the moment, but look, I’ll take any excuse for an extra few minutes massaging my scalp in the shower. The most important thing here is to massage gently because any damage to your sensitive scalp can—and will—impact your hair.
Photography Leila Fakouri.