Thursday, 24 September 2009

Growing Pains: Is it harder to grow African hair? (part 2 of 2)

So in part 1, we explored 4 reasons why it may be harder to grow African hair long. I am not differentiating from growth rate and length retention as both may be factors. To remind you, the previous four are

1. Hair growth rate
2. Shape of the hair
4. Method of Breakage.

Today here are another two potential reasons

5. Knotting
African hair has more knots than any other hair type. In one study about 500 hair strands were taken from several volunteers. Amazingly (for me) Asian hair had no knots and only 2 were found in Caucasian hair. The African hair results – 10-15% of the hair had knots. Another study on curly Caucasian hair though seems to say that this type of hair experiences knots too (British Journal of Dermatology, Pages 169 – 173, 2006) . So why are knots such a big deal?

1. Harder for a comb to pass through
2. Cuticle gets damaged which is why knots should be cut off as the hair in the knot is probably very damaged

6. Combing
A South African study revealed that combing hair can have the same effect as a hair cut (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Pages 886-888, 2006). The average hair length was much shorter than even the 4 inches per year growth rate. The type of comb used and whether or not wet combing was used was not reported. It does highlight however, the curlier the hair, the more gentle it needs to be handled

From my perspective, there are not enough studies on African hair for example some papers suggest that African hair may have a shorter growing phase or a longer resting phase but there is no evidence of this.

I do also wonder what exactly is long? Growing up in Kenya, among the people of African origin, the longest hair that I saw were two sisters with waist length hair. However, the average long haired person was shoulder length (usually somewhere past the shoulders but not quite at the armpit). I would estimate the hair length to be approximately 1 foot or 12 inches which runs hand in hand with the very controversial 4 inches per year growth rate and a 3 year growing phase.

How long is long hair to you?


  1. wow, great research. I hate knots! Seems I am cutting more and more out of my hair since it is getting longer. That picture of the knot damage is scary.

    Your information makes me wonder, if african hair get so knotty how were we suppose to take care of it. Meaning back in the day when there were no combs or nice conditioner to give "slip" What did africans do? Sorry, the article just made me think.

    Anyway, long hair to me is to your shoulders. but truthfully if your hair is cut in a bob then it would be longer than someone whose hair is shaved. So long hair is hair hanging from your head. lol :)

  2. I just took out my locs, so now it is I guess it is just below my chin. I'm not sure because I haven't blown it out yet, so I'm not sure how much length I retained.

    I do know that when I had locks for 10 years my hair was never above my shoulders. The longest it got was mid-back. I assumed that was because all I did was wash and twist. Now, I'm hoping that I can retain length with my natural hair.

  3. Long hair to me is a little past shoulder length.

    Interesting info about combing having the effect of ahair cut. I try to comb my hair less, but in turn I seem to end up up tangles and knots.... :/

  4. @ Ayomide
    When i look at our traditional hair styles , lenght was not a requirement . The hair was alway in protective style and the beauty of the design and how it fit your features seemed to be the criteria for beauty . Not the length. kinky hair is made to be evaluated by its volume not by it length cuz no matter how long it gets when it shrinks, all you get is a nice dense hair. We should be looking for volume, knowing that more lenght equal more volume.

    In my ouest african country my 8 inch long hair will be considered long. I think.

    I do belieave that if our hairs did grow as fast as caucasian hair, it would have been a nuisance. I see a lot of 4 type hair people that spend like 8 hours just detangling and twisting if i'm not mistaken. God did it like that for a reason.

    I love this blog

  5. Thanks Kadiane and I completely agree with you that volume is the aim with natural hair and as you say more length more volume.

    Jonezy - Research says that combing hair when wet and with conditioner eases the passage of the comb and leads to less breakage than combing hair dry. It is a trade off between what you want to achieve (style wise/ maintenance wise).

    I have been finger combing for several months now and it works for me. The one thing that some people may not like about this method is that it encourages shrinkage. I don't mind

  6. I agree Kadiane, I was just answering the question for all hair whether it was natural or not in terms of length. I do know that our hair has more volume. I would be in the 4a category. So my hair grows out not down. But when it was permed people thought my hair was long because it went passed my shoulders. Those same people wouldn't think that my hair is long now even though if I straightened it, it would be. So length is perceived differently to people.

  7. @Ayomide
    I'm not an anthropologist but I believe that back in the day Africans used natural ingredients to care for and style their hair like people in other places did too I suppose. I mean, shea butter all over west and central africa. Also there had to be natural oils people used.

    I spent time doing research in northern Namibia and learned that the Himba people there mix up a little concoction of butter from some animal I suppose, clay and plants to use on their hair and skin. It's a serious sun protectant and also seems to condition pretty well because they have very few wrinkles and long hair.

    I would guess that Africans had their own versions of any grocery store item the modern "mixtresses" use today to create their own products from scratch.

    I also agree with the comments about less focus on length. Maybe white and other straight haired people focus on length more because their hair could not hold styles very well. Especially the intricate ones.

  8. i think long hair is to the middle of your back, even though my hair is inches past my should er its hard when you see those with straight long hair

  9. Long hair to me is shoulder length curls in! so stretching or pressing... which for a 4b means about lower back length

  10. To me after watching people on YT like Kimmytube, African Export and taran.. Long hair is BSL.After reading articles here, it has solidified my observation that.. after year 2 the hair retention is usually more visual. 2-3 years are the marks for that longer hair if taken care of. That 1st year you are finding what works best and being disgusted by all the styles you cant achieve since your hair is short. The 2nd year.. you are seeing the different styling your hair is capable of and then your seeing the hair NORMALLY past the collar bone past the shoulders>> after that you just sit back, wait and watch the retention take over! LOVE THIS BLOG

  11. deepa my mother hair is upto her knees
    i also want to grow my hair like my mother ,but i.had failed . i always twist my hair in indian style. what should i do to grow my hair long ?
    if i leave my hair loose is their is a chances for hair damage?

  12. just found this site! really enjoying the articles on here! well done!

    As for me 2 years 1 month hair. Not bad, not shoulder lenght when wet but blow out is better! Ive had to put up with protection styles like buns for the last 4 months to retain lenght; as i felt it wasnt growing anymore! having said that when i bleached a section i found out it was growing - albeit slowing.... so typical!

    The knots drive me nuts!! and yes out come the scissors!! this hair is a nightmare - 4b/c! will stay with it though for another 2 years and see what it does!

    1. Thanks for the compliment - I think that our hair is not difficult, it is just different. It takes different steps to make it look and feel good. It may take more time and effort but the reward is worth it.


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