Practices NOT Products are the Key to Natural Hair Length Retention

Style Icon Tessa

Recently a young woman approached me while I was on my way home to ask about my hair. My hair happened to be blown out that day so much of her curiosity was focused on the length of my hair.  The first question she asked was “What products do you use?”  I usually hesitate when asked this question and it isn’t because I don’t have an answer.  I know that in asking that question she wants to know what combination of products she can use so that her hair will grow longer. I feel that in sharing the products that I use without providing the caveat that my low manipulation regimen is the most important aspect of my hair care, I am giving misleading advice. The truth is if you see someone with hair that you admire and want to know their “secret”, begin by asking them about how they care for their hair. Learning how they approach washing, detangling and styling will give much greater insight into how they retain length than the products that they use.

When it comes to hair products my mantra is this: Products are helpful but they cannot compensate for poor hair practices. On the flip side, you can retain length with 5 or 6 products from a drug store. I choose to use some quality products, several of which I have to purchase online, not because I think I need them to retain hair length but because I like the way they make my hair feel.  I find this especially true of moisturizers. My hair often feels dry to the touch even when it has received the necessary amount of moisture. So, when I come across a product that allows my hair to receive both the needed moisture and to feel soft and supple I may continue to use it. This is not to say other moisturizers are poor quality because they don’t make my hair feel the same way.  My hair may feel differently but if my hair is being moisturized then the ultimate result — healthier, longer hair — is the outcome.

In the first 7 months of my healthy hair journey I used drug store products in the “ethnic” hair section (mind you, this was before the plethora of “natural” lines currently in drug stores). I found a moisturizer that had water as its first ingredient and decided it was good enough. And you know what? It was. My hair retained every inch during those months. It was only until I tried one of two other natural hair lines that I realized I preferred them or that, in addition to water, I liked aloe vera juice to rank high on the ingredient list. Although I have changed products during my healthy hair journey, the truth is my hair hasn’t had a drastic increase or decrease in length retention. For this reason, I feel that only sharing the hair care products that I use without sharing technique is only half of the story.

I understand that at the beginning of your hair journey the temptation to be a product junkie is real. There’s nothing wrong with experimenting. But please know that there is no silver bullet product that will take you hair from shoulder length to waist length in a year. Trust me, I jumped on (and off) enough odd bandwagons to know that hair care requires identifying a routine that works and remaining consistent.  As for the specific bandwagons I’ve joined…well, perhaps I’ll save that for another post :)

What do you find plays a greater role in your hair care regimen: technique or hair products?



Island girl raised in the most royal of NYC's boroughs. Proud nerd, social scientist, educator and recovering awkward black girl. When not listening to NPR, trying to grow spiritually, or detangling my fro, I'm searching for the best shrimp and grits in the Queen City.


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49 thoughts on “Practices NOT Products are the Key to Natural Hair Length Retention

    • I’ve been dying my hair since I was about 14. And in my experiences the box dye has alawys turned out on top. There was one time it turned out bad but I knew the reason and fixed it. Every time I’ve gone to the salon they want to over charge me and never do what I want. I remember getting highlights once and I had to go back twice because they messed up. Don’t get me wrong I respect professionals and love when they can get my hair perfect. But I don’t have the time or luxury to get it done at those prices. I stick to box dye and my hair is doing great, even the hairstylists comment on how healthy my hair is. I do have a secret that keeps it healthy. But that’s mine to keep. Haha. But I will stick to box dye because I feel it doesn’t do major damage nor have had many incidents. But I think whatever suits your needs and preference is your decision. No ones trying to insult the professionals, we just simple prefer box or we can’t afford it. No offence to anyone is intended.

  1. I have tried many products over the years and I too continue to use a product if I like the way the product makes my hair feel. My hair is pretty close to my bra strap, but that is not what I am proud of. I am proud that my hair is healthy. Great article.

  2. I agree as well! I made it to apl with an assortment of products that I largely never really liked. Now I’ve mostly found my staples 5 years later. What the good products have done is really ensure more consistent, predictable results. The key is just do whatever you can to prevent breakage!

    • Kim, even after showing my haisrtylist (when I actually was able to splurge) a picture of the cut I wanted, he still cut it the way he wanted, way too short and after also telling him (in September, 2012) that I wanted to be able to have an updo for a March wedding, coming up in less than 2 weeks, I still won’t have the length I need for an updo, so I have to improvise for my mother of the bride moment. Not to worry, it’s all about the bride, anyway, it’s just that I specifically told him, (and showed him a pic) that I wanted an updo for March wedding, he still cut it way shorter than I wanted. I cried when I got home and took a scarf to work to wear over it, because I was so disappointed in the cut!!! Why do they do what they want?!?!

  3. wonderful article. i used to spend way too much on products. but i learned over time how to use a combination of drugstore and select natural hair care products to keep it simple. first water, water everywhere. drink it. shower in it and spritz your hair with it. steam it up. walk in the rain. learn to love fog and mist. sorry shea butter does nothing for me. completely unabsorbable. i know it’s heresy but my 4b4/c hair simply does not like oil. in winter, i will do a skin scalp treatment with grapeseeed oil/lavendar/citrus. the best! but day to day, my natural hair loves aveda humectant; motions leave in and trader joe’s “nourish” conditioner instead of shampoo — all botanicals in the latter. one thing i know for sure – anything dimethicone is death on my black hair. next up for me: the taliah wahjid products at target! i hear they are just the right balance of oil and moisture. and besides i like to support another african american woman’s business venture as long as the product supports me. oh, and throw away the fine tooth comb, the bristle brushes, my sisters! bring back head wraps and hats for that hot summer sun that makes our hair too crispy. and invest in a silk pillowcase, not synthetic – silk. love you!

  4. both. With the right product, my hair stays moist and it doesn’t break off or become tangled at the ends. And keeping my hair moisturized, un-manipulated and protected with a scarf helps too. I’d say that is a powerful combo!

  5. So I recently became fully ‘aware’ of the need to moisturize my hair daily. Out of the 2 years and 4 months I have been wearing my hair in its natural state, it’s only been 1 month now since I’ve really focused in on moisturizing/sealing. It’s crazy, I know! You see last September, my hair started breaking a lot- by the tons! Along with Pre-Poo-ing, Co-Washing, Hair Steaming/Deep Conditioning every weekend, I still experienced massive breakage. I tried Drug Store Anti-Breakage Shampoo/Conditioners, I tried the High End ‘Natural’ (expensive) products but to NO avail! My ends were splitting into ‘trees’ and breaking off. I started to panic. Even though I’ve read a lot of articles and watched 100’s YouTube videos, I didn’t grasped the true reality/concept of the importance of ‘moisturizing’. Anyway, in early March ’13, a light went off in my head lol! Yes, it sure did: It dawned on me that I wasn’t using the right techniques after washing out my Deep Conditioner. You see, after my washing regimen completed, I never used a really good Leave-In Conditioner or oils. I always left my hair hanging dry…so it dried up and broke off. Now I apply Leave-In Conditioner and Coconut Oil daily (night & day). The breakage has reduced SIGNIFICANTLY! Now I’m on my way to retaining length; before I was unable to do so. I prefer healthy hair anyday, all day, everyday!

    • I have the same problem going on right now but I was moisturizing I was just doing it the wrong way. Porosity matters, so be careful that if your hair continues breaking or splitting you should definitely check out your hair porosity. Since my hair is low porosity I have learned that moisturizing works a lot better for me when I warm things up a bit, and it has also helped a lot for me to choose products that are recommended for low porosity hair. This is why in fact product does matter, but how you use them also matters. If you have highly porous hair, or normal hair, you probably need not change a thing. But do be mindful and keep your eye out for further damage because my experience initially was that coconut oil seemed like a great thing, but as I used it more and more it seemed to overpower my fine strands and contribute to the breakage problem. I think if your hair is fine and low porosity using coconut oil might be great to detangle and use as pre-poo perhaps, but leaving on longer may not be good. Just trying to help! Later

  6. Look I couldn’t agree more. I have long hair and I guess i can thank my mother because her approach to hair was simply looking after your hair. I suppose she had a minimalist approach.

    This has rubbed off on me. OK I suppose I do use more products than she did, but in saying that I don’t get lazy and try to take short cuts.

    Let’s face it, most all products should be for short term use – they really do nothing but disguise hair condition – and so should be used as just a finishing touch etc.

  7. Care of the hair and care of the scalp skin may appear separate, but are actually intertwined because hair grows from beneath the skin. The living parts of hair (hair follicle, hair root, root sheath, and sebaceous gland) are beneath the skin, while the actual hair shaft which emerges (the cuticle which covers the cortex and medulla) has no living processes. Damage or changes made to the visible hair shaft cannot be repaired by a biological process, though much can be done to manage hair and ensure that the cuticle remains intact.^..

    Newest posting straight from our own blog

  8. Great article!

    If you ladies have several products that you don’t use anymore here’s a suggestion. Donate them at your local women’s shelter.It would be of great help for these women and children.

  9. Ya know, this very question actually gets so annoying to me that I was tempted to do a youtube video on it and now I think I will. It’s not just about getting long hair, but nice looking curls, product is always the first and only question I get and while I know ppl are doing the best they can with what they know it is really super annoying. However, I do want to say that as a low porosity natural, I used to be skeptical about the power of hair products all together before I knew my hair was low po. Nothing really did anything special for my hair besides weigh it down and severely delay my drying time. As far as length goes, my hair grows fast whether healthy or not. I never used to know what to do to stop my hair from breaking, and yet I would cut it off to my shoulders, still see tons of split ends, and a year later literally it would be past my waist again. However…now that I know so much more about porosity and how that affects the health of my hair, I now see how important your hair products really truly are. Of course without knowing how they should be used (hence regimen) you do not have half the battle one!

    But products DO matter because back before knowing my porosity I did not know who to go to for advice. I would go to some serious healthy hair gurus, all of whom had normal porosity. I remember trying Shea butter on my ends, and Shea butter, the way it was being used at the time actually made the problem worse. Likewise, the advice to use cold water bombed on me and damaged the crap out of my hair!

    So now I know that I have to look for humectants, I may be better off with lighter oils (my hair is also very fine), I may do best with Giovanni 50:50 rather than some expensive organic conditioner, etc, etc. I know not to go overboard with heavy oils for deep conditioning and just focus on lighter oils, conditioner and honey.

    Also, at the end of the day, products are ultimately what keep my hair healthy, because it is a bit harder for my ends to split with adequate moisture. But like you say, especially for low po hair, regimen is everything. Just spritzing some product on my hair will only wet it, but it won’t really keep the ends strong, the temperature I apply them is extremely important!

    Thank you so much for touching in this subject and the hair in this picture above is just…wow! I will have to do a video on this subject one of these days…the whole product question, so check it out!

  10. Pingback: Long and Beautiful Hair « Red <3 Blue

  11. It’s funny because I don’t really use any “products” apart from Giovanni direct leave in and Herbal Essences Hello Hydration. The rest is water, aloe vera gel, homemade shea butter mix, coconut oil, eggs or yoghurt when I want to do a protein DC and I wash my hair with ACV and baking soda. Can somebody say kitchenician out here?

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