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By Audrey Sivasothy, author of The Science of Black Hair: A Comprehensive Guide to Textured Hair Care

*Click for part 2 of this series

So you’ve been taking care of your hair diligently for the last year. You’ve been protective styling, reducing the heat, and taking care to address your protein and moisture concerns as they arise from time to time. You’ve changed your old habits, and at first your hair seemed to take off – greatly improving in health and length. Then you hit what seems like a growth plateau. All of a sudden, the dreaded “T” word comes up: terminal length.

Or . . . I’ve heard it a million times.

Well I am genetically predetermined for shoulder length hair because my hair has been this length for my whole life. And come to think of it, so has everyone else in my family . . . it is genetics.

Again, the dreaded “T” word comes up: terminal length. Then, upon close examination of their hair regimen (or lack of one) you find that they are still frying, dyeing, and not actively trying to grow their hair. Improving the length and condition of the hair obviously does not happen by accident, but where do genetics and terminal length come into play?

Why does my hair stop growing at a certain point?

For most of us, growing the hair without actively taking steps to maintain it, often ends in utter disappointment; but then sometimes, even excellent care has us wondering why we appear to be making no progress at all. Many factors go into dictating whether or not a person will be able to achieve a healthier, lengthier head of hair. It is very easy at this point to give up and concede your lack of growth to genetics or some other factor, but before you throw in the towel-take these notes into consideration. Let’s talk terminal hair length and genetics!

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84 Comments on "Genetics: Do They Determine Your Hair Length?"

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[…] hair length on the body and head are genetically determined. Some people have a longer growth cycle than others meaning that they can grow longer hair than […]

Samantha Derrick
please!Simply put, your genes will determine whether or not your hair will keep growing and there is pretty much nothing that you can do to change that.No ointment,no oil,no cream,no pill! if that were the case than all blacks owuld have butt length thick hair! indian women dont have shrinkage! they dont have to straightne it to make it look long! even when u doo straighten..its not long and it looks britle and ugly! parched! not dry! u can argue until death do u part!!!! when people think of long luxurious silky hair they think of rapunzel,indian women,arrab women,russian women,pocahontas,Mulan… Read more »
Jake jr

no that’s just ignorant old you… black hair can be just as pretty as Indian , Asian , or white hair just because its not flat boring and stale doesn’t mean that tight curls cant be pretty. Plus they’re plenty of blacks with well moisturized hair because they use something called coconut oil , olive ,caster etc . I’ve always loved African curly hair 😛 as well as my white friends who dote over my Haitian friends curly hair.

SHL
This is a good article. Informative and to the point. What is interesting to me on the hair growth and length retention topic is how many black women think that their hair just does not grow. If African hair was unable to grow beyond a particular point then how do we explain the hair length of Rastafarians? Why do dreadlocks in general grow so long? I used to process my hair and for many years i too believed that my terminal length was my shoulders. The amount of damage beyond that point was just unbearable. While I am in the… Read more »
more

Dreads are dead hairs that never fell out.

SHL
All hair is dead. Unless it is a twa it is dead. Taking proper care of hair is what makes sure that the dead hair stays on ones head for an extended period of time until it goes through the final phase of growth and falls out on its own. I take your point that the long hairs in dreads do not fall off. My point is that it grew that long in the first place. It is much harder to maintain loose long hair since it tends to damage more. However, it can stay on ones head for between… Read more »
more

Rasta hair i hair that never fell out. WE would all have long hair if it never fell out !

Crawfordcrawford Crawfordcrawf
Crawfordcrawford Crawfordcrawf

I believe that she should have said shed hair. Dreds when the hair normally sheds gets caught in the locks.

Amy
Can someone please help me? If you have any tips on how to grow hair longer please reply it would mean alot! My hair is shoulder length and very curly. My genes from my mother mean I have very fragile, thin, extremely slow growing hair and my fathers side has dry but faster growing hair. I know that genetics play a huge part in hair and hair growth, but I was wondering if there was any way I could grow my hair just a bit longer, past my shoulders. It gets me down alot when all my friends’ hair is… Read more »
Haya

Omg this whole thing describes me exactly!

SHL
If you are not using heat and chemicals then being stuck at exactly the same length for that long is uncommon. If you had a medical condition that would prevent hair growth chances are you would know about it. Just in case do have your thyroid checked. Get a scalp regulator. Dandruff is a fungus and you do need to treat it. Find a shampoo containing Ketocanazole to control some of the symptoms. Dr. Hauschka hair products are great at scalp regulation. The Neem hair oil and neem hair lotion work really well at scalp regulation. Also, Naturalmente products are… Read more »
Caramel
As said previously, there are many things which can affect hair and hair growth.So I will rehash, you have to look at both external and internal factors. Internal factors include hormones, thyroid issues,lack of certain vitamins and minerals( many black women have low iron levels),diet- eating your greens, cutting out the soda and fast food and drinking lots of water.Any chronic illnesses and/or taking any long term medications. You should be eating more fruit and veg than meat. High protein levels are not good for the kidneys. In terms of external, keeping your hair moisturised, wearing satin at night as… Read more »
naturalgrl

Actually because I am so tall and I have such a long neck, the 12 inches of hair i have on my head only puts me at about armpit length. I think I may have reached my terminal length…

more
Just because someone hair does not go past a certain length DOES NOT MEAN they are abusing there hair!! To think that is crazy! Relaxed hair does GROWs. why do u think domicans have hair past there shoulders? We who have AFRICAN HAIR MUST fIND something to reduce the breakage enough so that it will grow STRONG. Other races dont have to do protective styles BECAUSE there hair is STRONGER THE OURS. When are people going to realize that! we as BLACKS have to try harder to GROW hair its the COLD HARD TRUTH THAT WE NEED TO EXCEPT. IF… Read more »
ce ce
When we get out of comparing ourselves to others then it will be a more productive mindset. It’s funny to mention genetics when so many textures can exist in one family. Also, you cannot know your real length for many years. In this fast moving society people are not usually patient. Potential to do anything is based on variables. For example, a person could be applying great hair care, but using prodcts that are all wrong for their hair. Also, if you live in a climate that negatively affects your hair and skin then it is totally understandable. Kinky curly… Read more »
veronica daley

Wow I have her book, not finished it yet but certainly havent come across ‘Terminal lenghts’ never heard of it – but it makes sense!.

Really interesting article!

Tamika
This was informative. I have been natural for 2 1/2 years now, and I noticed that my hair wasn’t growing anymore back in Aug. I do not pratice the BEST hair care but I do take good care of it. My lenght is right above APL. I also noticed -back in Aug- alot of shedding, to the point that I wanted to cry. I checked the shed hair to be sure it wasn’t breakage. My hair is still shedding, but not as bad. But if anyone could help me: When can I expect the shedding to stop and my hair… Read more »
Janay

Tamika, is that your little one? Adorable!
She also may be responsible for some of that shedding. Have you heard of Post Partum shedding?

Tamika

Yes she is. Thank You. No I haven’t, please explain.

Janay

Sure! Basically, as this post mentioned, about 85% of your hair is in a growth phase at any given time; the other 15% is at rest. During pregnancy, high estrogen levels prolong the growth phase, making you shed less and your hair appears thicker and fuller.

After your give birth, and that estrogen takes a tumble, the shedding begins.

Hopefully someone will chime in as far as tips. There isn’t much you can do to prevent the actual shedding…

Tamika

Whats funny is I work for an Ob/Gyn and I still haven’t heard of that. Im actually at work now and im going to ask her soon as were finished with the patients. I know the shedding isn’t going to stop completely. Maby I should have stated it differently.

Thank You.

bee

tamika where do you work? do you work in florida? if so I think you know me….

Tamika

No I don’t. I live in Michigan. You can e-mail me @ mcnac_t@yahoo.com… I do know someone in FLA.

Carolyn

It’s just physics. According to science, generally everybody’s hair grows at the same rate. Genetics do count. Straight hair has round, cylinder shaped strands. Wavy hair has oval strands and kinky hair has more flattened strands. The structure determines the strength. It’s not that it doesn’t grow, certain hair types just break easier. The kinkier the hair, the more rough combing and brushing, heat and chemicals it is exposed to, therefore, there is more breakage.

Doreen
Exactly!!! I did bring up the issue of what exactly is black earlier on ( I meant genetically)but people didn’t quite catch on. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. We need to learn to be content with what we have and praise God for it.The fact that you have a roof over your head, food in your fridge, is able to get educated up to the age of 18 for free, clothes on your back and money in your bank account and that we are able to talk at length across the World about nonsense of bra… Read more »
Kay

Sure at the end of the day it doesn’t matter, but we are on Black Girl Long Hair website, so that’s what we talk about. If you don’t like it, you can click the X on the top right hand side of your browser.

LisaP
It’s hard to believe that the person who wrote this calls herself a scientist. The length hair will grow is definitely genetic. The writer explains why in the article (the range in hair growth cycles–2-6 years) then goes on to say most people can grow hair that is a foot long. The truth is some people just have short hair. They can take good care of the hair they have but it won’t grow beyond its genetic potential. By the way, genetic does not mean black. There are many, many black women with long hair. Also, growing hair is not… Read more »
Javoszia Sterling
I don’t think “some people just have short hair” I think that’s the problem with so many people today who allow ignorance to guide them. My aunt had short hair all her life. Didn’t start taking care of it until she was about 42. Needless to say she has a head full of hair now. Her sisters all have thin short hair and my grandmother had thin short hair. (They all have the same father as well) Now that’s a pretty mean recessive trait if you ask me. Genes play a part in hair growth yes but they are not… Read more »
hmmm

Cosign 100%

AnnaE
Excellent article. Nutrition & health are also important factors. For the past few years my hair was breaking & could not grow past my collar bone. But I didn’t use chemicals or heat. Turns out I had health issues- Hypoglycemia & Hypothyroidism- that impacted various aspects of my health, including hair growth. I went on thyroid meds & revamped my diet. I follow a Weston A Price style diet (NO more processed food/ synthetic vitamins/ coffee/ processed sugars/ artificial anything; only the following, preferably organic- low glycemic fruit, lots of veggies & sprouts, grass fed & finished meat, fermented grains,… Read more »
Doreen

What about a trichologist?

Hyspin
That is is true is potential to grow longer is excellent. But here a question that now arise how do individuals like myself where there routine brought length until about collar bone length and stop what advice is there on proper was to change a routine to continue past the plateau. There is a lot of advice for working out on how to surpass your plateau, but with hair care it always becomes the blame game “need to take responsibility with your hair care”, ” your not taking care of it correctly” “You’re not got to be delicate” . Instead… Read more »
hmmm

Like I said earlier I think that the major determinant of hair length is in the genes, regardless of race not everyone can grow long hair but most black women do not or never know the full potential of their hair due to poor maintenance.

Doreen
I deliberately put the cat amongst the pigeons to stimulate debate and it obviously worked!I grew up mainly in the West Indian and African community in west London and everybody had long hair growing up. But I’m just talking about west London back in the day, which for me is too small a community to say anything about black hair length. Now is it because alot of people from the carribean are mixed genetically or is it because when we were young, our hair regime was very simple, there was no relaxing, chemicals and just the occasional heat on special… Read more »
Curliegirlie
My hair is BSL, and I’ve been natural for a little over 2 years. I have made SEVERAL mistakes along the way, but the best choice that I have made for my hair has been to use no heat. The last time I used heat on my hair was almost exactly 2 years ago. Women (of all races) are always in awe of my hair. I mean, it’s really thick, but it wasn’t this thick when I was straightening it. I know SEVERAL black girls that straighten their natural hair at least once a week, and their hair is still… Read more »
NaturalGlory

Well said!

Nubia
Love this article… I have to purchase the book and loving the dialogue here. I have to agree I also thought it had to do with genetics.. I still thinks so to a point. Myself as well as many others never took the time to REALLY take good care of our hair to see its full potential. I thought something was wrong with my growth when I used to watch all the YT ladies and see the growth spurts they would endure when mines seemed to barely move. Then I noticed last summer my hair started to take off.. not… Read more »
Classychassis

I love the explanation! Not so much for the hair on my head either- ( my hair was to my butt when i was 12, so i figure that is completely withim the realm of possiblity for me) but ive always been curious as to why like leg hair and eyelashes only get so long! I mean, i know its genetic, but the shedding and how its a time period preset and not a particular length that is measured. I love it! More use(less) knowledge for me:):):)

naturalmelisa
something I find interesting is that in jan or feb of this year, I was blow drying my hair and accidentally burned off a chunk of hair!!! Its in the front and it stopped above my eyebrow! Now it’s toching the top of my bottom jaw! That is crazy to me cuz I dont mess with it and it’s flourished beautifully but the nape of my head-that hair is like 6 inches on one side and 4.5 on the other side and I have been natural since Oct 2008! I jacked my hair up by not moisturizing it properly not… Read more »
Zyaran

Check out this wonderful growth on “SimplYounique” who just celebrated 2yrs, she cut off all of her hair and look at it now gorgeous.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBxcuKbmd68&feature=channel_video_title
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBxcuKbmd68&feature=channel_video_title

NaturalGlory

Wow! I remember running across her video last year. She has come so far because she stuck with it, didn’t play into the negative, and did what worked for her hair.

denise
i dont believe it. most bw had very long hair when they were young before their first perm, yet our moms stayed at shoulder length hair if thatdue to perming and pressing. It all goes back to listening to your hair (ur inner consciousness). You’re doing everything that’s right? right according to who? and sometimes (strangely) hair can get bored and you need to change it up once you hit a plateau. and its not only what you do from the outside but what you put in your body. if i dont take my vitamins and supplements, drink my water,… Read more »
trini

Amen to that. He certainly gave me the strength and tools to handle my natural hair. Now I even install my own extensions. I can do all things through Christ…

NaturalGlory

Exactly! HE knows every head on our heads and the numbers thereof and sometimes HE will tell YOU exactly what YOUR hair needs…I think that is where a lot of us get thrown off while watching YouTube and reading blogs is that we lose sight of what our individual hair needs are and drool over someone else’s growth and techniques. GOD will tell you!

dwarrfhair
i think hair growth is mostly genetics. for example, my step mom wears jherri curls and sometimes wears wigs on days she doesn’t feel like maintaining her style. she has no idea what protective styling is. hell, she doesn’t even do much to her hair than wash, and keep her curls moisturized. still, she has thick hair which grows fast, i mean like 1-1.5in per month! and she cuts her hair frequently because they always grow past her shoulders, which she doesn’t want. my two younger sisters relax their hair, wash it once a month, no protective styling, one of… Read more »
Carla

I used to wear my hair out all the time, but I saw no length retention that way. When I started wearing my hair up this year, my hair started to retain its length.

Dawn
I’ll admit i have no clue how long my hair can get. Since i entered college I’ve always kept it cut short- to around my neck, but I just decided as of this year to not cut it, so the last time it was cut was about last year. Since then I’ve managed to retain 4 inches of the 6. I began my hair growth journey (hoping to reach mid back length) a month back and I plan to continue it into next year. So that said, my guess is that my hair can probably reach my mid back- i… Read more »
Tiffannie

The ladies on this blob always crack me up

Jami
Thank you, thank you, Miss Audrey! I never have had this explained so simply. I did read somewhere an “up to 8 year growing phase.” I also read that 85% of the hairs on the head are in the growing phase. Is this true? I wish there were a better way to find out, but I will start tracking my growth until 2019 LOL to determine the length of my growing phase by taking better care of my hair (which is one of my new year’s resolutions for next year; I’ve never made this as a resolution, so we’ll see).… Read more »
Dawn

I’ve found that the easiest way to track growth is by dying the hair. I think this would help you track it, if you’re not opposed to dyes. 🙂

LovelyLauz
Have any of you read her book? She explains everything quite thoroughly in the book. Every question you have about your hair she addresses in her book. I highly recommend reading it. What she is talking about in the article is not something to live or die by. It is merely someone well versed in textured hair who is providing an answer to so many people’s questions about hair length. I am not an expert on hair, but I do know that the obsession with long hair is silly. As long as my hair is HEALTHY and I am doing… Read more »
NaturalGlory

I don’t think it is silly to desire long hair because most black women have been robbed from it and have desired it for generations, and now have found a way to get it! Now, like you said, to obsess is a different story, but while you are waiting for the hair to grow to desired lengths it is amazing to look at others that have reached their goals such as Ebony above.

EG

+1

African Mami

Honestly, I just want a headfull of hair that is healthy thick and yummy. I don’t care for length, I care for thickness…now what is the prescription for that ailment?

Jaeda Barbie

I feel the same way! Henna has thickened my hair dramatically. Now that my hair is thick, I am happy even though it isnt super long

Doreen

You’ve obviously traveled and been exposed to many different black women to validate that statement, so its not my place to criticize your findings. I’m just curious to know, under what criteria do call somebody a black woman?

Lyn

To the commenters, I will repeat what I said above. She isn’t saying that short hair is genetic!!! She is saying that most people should be able to grow their hair at least one foot (max. of about 3 feet). If you can’t grow your hair past your collar bone, it is not genetic, it’s your routine that’s the problem!!!

Please re-read the article!!!

EG

Whoa there, some of us (well OK me) agree with you. I don’t believe my post disagreed with what you or the article said.

Lyn
Sorry, I was not referring to your comment. I was referring to the commenters who were debating the idea that genetics are responsible for maximum growth potential (terminal length) and what this means for the average woman trying to grow her hair. I did not mean to imply that all the comments above mine misunderstood the article. Your comments are fine. It’s just that I think this is a very important topic and too many people still falsely believe that they can’t grow there hair long or that their hair can grow to their ankles. Both extremes are not helpful.… Read more »
June

It is easier for them to blame genetics than accept responsibility for their counterproductive hair practices or expend the effort into taking care of their hair better.

EG
This is a great article. The sad truth is that the average black woman does not kknow her hair’s full potential. Most of us have had our hair permed since childhood (mine was at age 6). Add to that other distructive hair practices(infrequent washings, curling irons, blow dryers, no moisture) and it all adds up to STUNTED hair growth, which is why we think we’ve been pre-disposed to neck or shoulder length hair. Genetics plays a role in your hair texture, which of course plays to how dry your hair is and how much you will have to moisturize it,… Read more »
trini

Good point about terminal length and good hair care. Since I’ve sworn off heat, and “rested” my hair in braids w/ extensions, while paying attention to protein, moisture and using natural oils etc., it’s been growing like weeds. It’s been shoulder length before while relaxed, but would eventually break off. Now I’m super cautious about best haircare practices.

denise

+1

Samira

I do think that genetics play a large part in hair growth; most (not all so don’t pounce on me) black women tend to not have long hair. Clearly it’s a genetic thing then if it’s a common trait within a people. However, some black women like the Somalis, Eritreans and Ethiopians do grow long hair and at times even up to their butts which is probably in their genes.

hmmm

I agree that Genetics play a huge role in hair length. The reason most black women tend to not have long hair is because of poor maintenance not genetics. Regardless of race, some people grow long hair while some do not.

nam

I totally agree genetics has a 100% role in determining how long and fast hair grows.If its just in you hair will not grow no matter how hard you tried

Mai

There was an article on here awhile ago that explained the hairstyles African women wore before being colonized. African women over the entire continent of Africa had long hair, so if it is in the genes, then genetically, all women of African descent can grow long hair. Some people from east Africa have a looser hair texture which is easier to take care and grow, but it should be noted that east Africans can also have thick, tight curls like West Africans.

Rosa

there is a point in what you say, most africans you see in media have short hair but when I was in africa I did not see one african woman with svaved head, most of them had braids or in a updo.
I have seen pictures of my father during the 70s with a big afro and my grand mother also has long “natural” hair though she use heat on it once a week, and they are all south west africans.

Masndo
But how many Black women are actually growing their hair naturally (no relaxers, no heat)? And how many of them are using healthy protective styles? I don’t even think you can look at afro-textured hair women in Africa because so many traditionally cut their hair for cultural reasons. I say look at the female children (which sadly I think is not going to be possible with mother’s relaxing their hair so early), boys and men. We have had many testimonials here where women remember their hair being thick and long before a relaxer/heat. Black little girls still remain the envy… Read more »
Kaye

..Well I personally believe that genetics do play a part, after that is comes down to maintenance with alot of TLC

Jene
Great read!!! Im currently experimenting and taking MSM as a aid for hair growth and many other things as well. I like the concept of “terminal length” it explains the hair growth process a bit more. When I finished combing my locs out I notice that my hair was longer than it had ever been. My locs were APL but my hair unlocked was about 3 inches away from APL as well. I was soo excited. But I needed a trim, badly and my hair was shedding for about two weeks, I think it was in shock from the transition… Read more »
LBell
Thank you for confirming what I always suspected about what “terminal length” really means. This is not a number that I can or want to worry about. That said, for what it’s worth: I had locs for 3.5 years. At the end of that time my locs were approaching APL — the longest my hair had ever been. When I picked them out, I was surprised to find that I had strands attached to my scalp that were, indeed, approaching APL. So I’m guessing that my growth cycle lasts at least 3.5 years. I can’t see how this number could… Read more »
luvmylocs
i was thinking about locs too. i had traditional locs for almost 6 years and my hair was past brastrap length. i didn’t pick out my locs so i never knew if there were stands that were that long. i know my hair NEVER got that long loose. over the weekend i had sisterlocks installed. this feels like a forever thing for me because one thing i’ve learned having loose hair since i cut my traditional locs almost 5 years ago is that ANY type of combing and detangling causes breakage even with the best deep conditioning and leave-ins around.… Read more »
bebe

very interesting. Never heard of terminal lengths. This my explain so many of us ladies stuck at CBL. :(. I wish there was some way you could find out. But i refuse to give up, i really want to reach apl.

Lyn
No no no!!! You missed the point entirely. She was saying that terminal lengths do exist, but it follows from the fact that since most people reach their terminal length at 2-6 years, then most women can achieve anywhere from 1-3 feet of hair (that means around bra-strap length at the least for the hair at the nape of the neck). Collar bone length is NOT likely to be anyone’s terminal length!! If you are stuck at collar bone then that means there is something in your routine that is holding you back and you have to take the time… Read more »
EG

It’s amazing how reading and comprehension does not go hand-in-hand. You would think it would. :-(.

df

i think that was such an unnecessary comment.

EG

You know I was thinking the same thing about yours. Funny isn’t it?

Shonie

WACK as$ comeback!

Jaycee

MEOWWWWW!

naturalgrl

right? cattyyyyy

tamar
I have a hard time knowing what my terminal length would be because one my mothers side the women in my family have shoulder length and hip length ( my great grand mother was taino indian)but most of the time they cut their hair and keep shoulder or halle berry length plus my grandfather has a different father than his siblings his father was white, on my father’s side his sister has shoulder length hair however they have different fathers..my father’s father was italian…my mother started perming my hair at 7 but before that heat styled my hair with dominican… Read more »
Sami

^ You sound like me! My mother’s family is Caribbean, my dad is Mediterranean (both of which translate to very very mixed) I THINK my terminal length is around the hip bone area as my hair was that long for about 5 years without ever being trimmed. I haven’t let it get past bra-strap length since puberty so I’m not sure how hormones may have affected this.

tamar

Yes, someone who feels me…its probably hormones, I think I’m not sure but I really want my hair to grow past this length

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