Does it feel like your hair stops growing after a certain point—or has stopped growing altogether? We understand how frustrating it can be, so we sought out some answers from two people who are extremely knowledgeable on all things hair growth: Lulu Pierre, founder of Boho Locs, a brand that specializes in crochet loc extentions to offer more options for people seeking protective styles, and Dr. Hadley King, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.
First, let’s start with some foundational basics.
How fast does hair grow?
“That’s dependent on a few factors including your age, genetics, hair type and general health,” says Pierre. “On average, hair grows about half an inch per month for most people,” she adds.
As King further explains: “The hair growth cycle consists of three distinct stages: anagen, catagen and telogen. The growth phase, or anagen, lasts an average of 3 to 5 years, and hair grows around half an inch per month [during this time]. At the end of anagen phase, the hair enters the catagen phase. This is a short, transitional phase that lasts approximately 10 days, before the hair enters the telogen phase, which is a resting phase where strands are released from the follicle and fall out. The follicle then remains inactive for 3 months, after which point, the whole process is repeated.”
Wait, so does your hair really grow slower as you age?
Nope, you weren’t imagining it. “Hair growth may slow down as a part of the natural aging process. As your body ages, changes in your hormones can cause your hair to slowdown in growth,” says Pierre. “Also, some of your follicles may stop growing hair altogether, leading to an overall thinning of the hair or balding in those areas,” adds King.
Just out of curiosity, at what age does hair grow the fastest?
“Hair grows the fastest between the ages of 15 and 30,” says King. This is when optimal hair growth happens, and it tends to slow down incrementally after that.
Again, the exact speed of your hair growth (or lack thereof) depends on a variety of other factors as well, including your genetics, your overall health and whether you have any nutritional deficiencies. Hormonal fluctuations can also affect hair growth and shedding.
OK, apart from aging, why does my hair grow so slow these days?
“Other than age, hair can grow slower due to health conditions, vitamin or nutrient deficiencies caused by a poor diet, stress, hormonal imbalances, certain medications and even excessive heat damage from everyday styling,” explains Pierre.
King agrees, adding that, “If your hair isn’t supported by proper nutrition, you may find that it does not grow as quickly or as long as it used to. This is because your hairs aren't [getting what they need] to stay in the anagen phase long enough to reach their full length.”
In short, if you’ve noticed that your hair growth has slowed down recently, you can try making a few lifestyle changes to see if they help—like implementing a more balanced diet or finding ways to reduce stress. If you don’t see any improvement in a couple of months, you may want to consult with your doctor, who can offer further testing and/or recommendations as needed.
Can you make your hair grow faster?
“Yes, although you shouldn't expect it to grow overnight. Hair growth takes time, and while you don’t have much control over how fast it will grow, you do have control over the health of your hair and scalp—both of which are key factors to helping your hair grow in stronger and healthier,” says Pierre.
Building off the three stages we discussed earlier, when it comes to speeding up your hair growth, you’ll want to focus your attention on the hairs that are in the anagen phase.
As a quick refresher, “Anagen is the stage where the strand of hair is actively growing. In terms of [facilitating] faster hair growth, you want to focus on keeping a healthy hair environment for the strands of hair that are in this phase. This will help promote healthy hair from the very root and extend the amount of time that each hair spends in the growth stage,” explains Pierre.
Do you have any specific tips on how I can speed up hair growth?
Again, the most important factor in helping your hair grow faster is keeping your scalp healthy during the anagen phase. One simple way to do this is to use a gentle shampoo.
“Your scalp is a sensitive environment, so you want to avoid using products that contain harsh ingredients (like sulfates) which can strip natural oils. Instead, find a non-drying shampoo that will cleanse your hair and scalp, which will help reduce the amount of environmental buildup (i.e., dirt, excessive oil and sweat) and subsequent inflammation that can occur on your scalp,” says Pierre.
What about hair growth supplements or treatments?
Ah, you may want to save your money on those hair gummies you were targeted on Instagram. According to Dr. King, currently, the only over-the-counter treatment that has scientifically been proven to work is Minoxidil (the active ingredient found in Rogaine).
As she explains: “Minoxidil is the most proven over-the-counter option, and it works for both men and women. It’s a potassium channel opener, causing hyperpolarization of cell membranes. Theoretically, by widening blood vessels and opening potassium channels, it allows more oxygen, blood and nutrients to reach the follicles, which can encourage growth.”
What about essential oils? Do any of them promote hair growth?
The science is still limited. “We need bigger, better studies in order to properly evaluate whether or not these ingredients may help with hair growth,” says King.
Still, there are limited studies (and plenty of anecdotal claims) that there are some essential oils that could be promising, which include:
- Rosemary Oil: “A 2015 study compared rosemary oil to minoxidil for hair growth and at 6 months, both groups saw significant increases in hair growth. This effect could be due to rosemary oil's enhancement of micro capillary perfusion.”
- Pumpkin Seed Oil: “Pumpkin seed oil has been shown to block the action of 5-alpha reductase, an enzyme that converts testosterone to DHT. This is thought to be why oral pumpkin seed oil may help decrease hair loss in androgenetic alopecia, but we need more data.”
- Castor Oil: Perhaps the most touted hair growth oil on the Internet, King explains that while castor oil has been shown in a study to increase hair luster (aka shine), there are no studies (as of writing) that show that castor oil directly causes hair growth. (TL;DR: As long as it doesn’t irritate your skin, there isn’t much risk to trying it.)
And though it’s not an essential oil, honorable mention goes to ginseng root. “This is another ingredient to look for because ginseng stimulates scalp microcirculation and helps to inhibit the production of DHT, the main hormone responsible for androgenetic hair loss,” says King.
She recommends Collective Laborities Activating Serum because it has ginseng root as well as burdock root, which helps control dandruff because of its antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties, and malabar kino bark, which also has antifungal properties.
Remember what Pierre said earlier about keeping the environment of your hair (aka the scalp) healthy.
Are there any other things I can do to encourage hair growth?
Pierre is a proponent of scalp massages. “Not only do they feel amazing, but they help circulate blood and nutrients to the hair follicles, which can strengthen the hair and stimulate growth,” she says. You can try adding a few drops of one of the aforementioned oils to your shampoo before use—or apply it directly to your scalp, taking the time to really work it in.
Another thing to keep in mind is your diet and lifestyle habits. “Focus on having a healthy diet full of vitamin-packed foods (i.e., healthy fats, protein, iron and vitamin A) that will give your body the important nutrients needed for stimulating hair growth,” says Pierre.
King agrees adding that you want to try to minimize stress wherever possible and develop some techniques that can help with managing stress—be it regular exercise, meditating or scheduling Kikis with your friends—because stress can trigger the end of anagen phase.
King also stresses the importance of protecting the hair that’s already there. “Once a hair reaches beyond the surface of the scalp, it is physiologically dead. Because of this it cannot be nourished and can only be preserved, so you want to follow a hair care regimen that allows the protective layer, or cuticle, to remain intact for as long as possible to decrease breakage and drying out of the hair strands,” she explains.
This means steering clear of “shampoos with harsh detergents” (i.e. sulfates) and “gels or sprays that contain drying ingredients like alcohol.” Instead, you want to keep your strands moisturized with conditioners, creams or oils to decrease the risk of damage. “Glycerin based styling products are good for keeping the hair hydrated,” she adds.
Pierre’s parting advice is to be mindful of how often you heat style your hair. “Your blow dryer, straighter, or curling wand can cause some serious damage to healthy hair over time. As much as possible, scale back on the heat. And when you are using a hot tool, make sure you use a hair protectant beforehand.”