Hair breakage is something I have experienced several times in my life! There have been times when I have discovered bald patches on my head while combing it. Sometimes even more than one bald patch. My hairline is something I am grappling with even now that I have begun this journey in the quest for healthy hair.
To begin with let me just say that all hair breaks! In the process of washing, combing and styling etc, it is bound to break. The key is to minimize this breakage. Breakage, health and growth go hand in hand. With breakage, the health and growth potential of the hair are greatly reduced.
Hair Shedding Versus Breakage
Understanding the difference between breakage and shedding is very important. Shed hair is hair that has reached the end of its growing cycle and naturally falls from the scalp along with its root attached. The root is a tiny white bulb on the scalp originating end of the hair. Shed hair tends to be longer in length than broken hairs which are generally short pieces of varying lengths. Shedding is a natural process. Changes in diet, hormone imbalances, birth control pills and pregnancy can also affect the rate at which hair is shed. I also see the white bulbs of shed hair when I have braids done too tightly. This is because undue stress would have been placed on the hair follicles.
Breakage on the other hand is not natural, and is an indication of an imbalance of important forces within the hair strand. Broken hairs do not fall naturally from the head, but are typically a sign of mishandling or abuse. The proper treatments, will help stop breakage in its tracks. Hair can be weakened and damaged by anything from rough handing and sun exposure to colouring and relaxers. Breakage is also more common with a hair’s age; older hairs, usually the hairs nearest the ends, have the greatest tendency to break due to normal wear and tear. When breakage isn’t a response to physical manipulation and abuse, it is most often triggered by the lack of moisture in the hair strand. Other types of breakage may be caused by excess use of protein treatments or products with protein.
I will be the first to confess – my hair is not growing as fast as I would like! This is a common complaint among African women. The truth is hair does grow – retaining that growth is the key! Our hair grows on average about 1.2cm a month. That gives about 14cm a year!! This rate is an average across races. Asian hair grows slightly faster than this average, Caucasian hair grows near the average and African hair tends to grow at or just below this average each month. Genetics will also influence how close to the average you get each month. Ultimately, reaching any hair length goal depends on two main factors – your individual hair growth rate and your retention ability. So Im sure we are all asking ourselves why we didn’t gain even 5cm in hair length last year! The fact that hair is growing is evident in that ladies with relaxed hair are having a retouch every 6 to 8 weeks because of the growth. As I sit here I am aiming to retouch at the 12 week mark (around 4 February) and I am already struggling with the growth on my head. Though our growth rate may be affected by environmental and personal health matters, the fact remains that our hair is always growing. The issue ladies is hair retention!
Let me take this opportunity to briefly explain terminal length. Terminal length is the length that your hair would reach if it were never cut, never broke, and was just allowed to grow freely without interruption. Once a hair has completed its total growing period and has reached its terminal length, it will shed naturally and be pushed out by (or eventually be replaced by) a new, growing strand. This process repeats all over your head, day in and day out, for your entire lifetime for each single strand of hair.
So back to retention – what can you and I do in order to hold on to the 1cm of hair that our hair is growing each month. The answer is – combat breakage! In order to combat breakage, you have to discover why your hair is breaking. Breakage can occur for a variety of reasons: not enough moisture, not enough protein, too much moisture, too much protein, over manipulation of hair (heat styling, rough combing), over processing of hair (relaxers, dyes) etc.
Here is a guideline to minimizing hair breakage and promote growth:
- Avoid hair styling techniques that pull the hair tight. This is usually found with braids and weaves that are done too tightly. Braids are often so tight that you will find lots of little white bulbs in the hairline where the hair has literally been pulled out of the scalp. Pictures of Naomi Campbell’s hairline have been doing the rounds on the internet. It looks like years of wearing weaves have taken their toll on her hairline. When getting hair braided specifically say to the braider that you do not ant them too tight. I’m sure most of us have had our hair braided and been unable to sleep for a few nights because the braids had been done so tight. Some of us survive on painkillers for a day or two after getting braids or a weave done. Always instruct the braider not to braid your hair too tightly. It is better that your braids become loose than your hair fall out.
- Eat a balanced diet and drink plenty of water. Also get moderate exercise. We hear this every day. Sounds easy but it’s a struggle with the busy lives we all lead
- Minimise heat styling on your hair. Minimise the use of flat irons and curling irons on your hair. I distinctly remember getting my hair blow dried in a salon and I could actually smell my hair burning. Where possible, set your hair with rollers or blow dry it on a cool setting.
- Deep condition your hair on a regular basis. I do this twice a week. Some women prefer once a week and others once a fortnight. I would say try and deep condition at least once a week. Whenever you shampoo your hair, use a conditioner. Remember African hair needs moisture to thrive.
- Use a moisturiser on your hair daily. Seem women prefer twice a day.
- There are some oils that are believed to promote hair growth when sparingly rubbed on the scalp. I have been experimenting with castor oil which I am adding to my deep conditioners as well as rubbing on my scalp twice a week. I cannot say yet whether it is doing anything for my hair growth but I do notice that my new growth is definitely softer than it would usually be at about 10 weeks post my last retouch.
- Use a wide tooth comb for combing your hair. If your comb has teeth that are too close together, they may be pulling on your tangled ends and causing breakage.
- If your hair is relaxed and you retouch more than the new growth, overlapping the relaxer onto previously relaxed hair can cause breakage.
- Hair colour can also cause breakage, if used too often or on top of other chemical processes that leave your hair dry. Hair colours that involve bleaching before depositing new color onto the hair can be especially harsh on hair that’s already relaxed.
- Protect you hair while you sleep with a satin / silk scarf. This prevents your hair from snagging on pillowcases. Cotton pillowcases can also take the moisture out of your hair.