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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?

Gen

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 Comments on "Practices NOT Products are the Key to Natural Hair Length Retention"

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Zaza

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?

Carlton

Wow, that’s what I was seeking for, what a information! present here at this blog, thanks admin of this web site.

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[…] women she meets at the mall asking her what her secret her or what product she uses to keep her hair that long and that beautiful. She does not really have any particular special product only that she […]

Charlotte
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… Read more »
Ashley

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.

Milton Genova

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.^..

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Mary Cosedine

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.

AnnFelicity
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’… Read more »
Charlotte
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.… Read more »
surVIVEr28

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!

jeanettesdaughter
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… Read more »
abielle

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!

Rebel
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… Read more »
Shamelle

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.

Barbara Horne

Nice Article. I completely agree.

Daniela
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… Read more »
imani
Its a combo for sure but nothing annoys me more (i guess i shouldnt be annoyed bc if you dont know, you dont know) than when someone asks what products im using to make my hair grow….everyone is different and someone using the same products as me doesnt mean their hair will grow like mine or curl like mine. My hair grows (and breaks off too! nothing is perfect!) bc i take care with it and bc its MY hair, my gene pool, my dumb luck to be born with this hair so jbc i use a hair line doesnt… Read more »
LBell
This part needs to be repeated: “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.” In my experience products take a DISTANT back seat to technique especially when it comes to fine-stranded kinky (4b/4c) hair. Case in point: These days, my nightly routine consists of me putting my hair into two puffs — one on either… Read more »
thelady
I’d say it is about 70% technique and 30% products. There are certain products that the natural hair community raves about that do not work on a small percentage of people. My hair hates protein so I can’t use most of the Shea Moisture product line. I know other naturals who can’t use coconut oil. So there are some times when product is making the difference. I know I suffered a lot of breakage when I was using a shampoo that had protein. I admit gentle detangling and protective styles will help maintain length even if you are using petroleum… Read more »
Jessica

I hear you! The only thing that sucks is, you don’t know your hair hates it until you try it, you hair feels terrible, and you have to wash it out and start over lol! I tried as I am twist defining cream the other night and couldn’t wait to get out if work for a date with some shampoo! Ugh!

stephanieb

Amen Jessica, I totally understand where you are coming from. I think too the 70%/30% ratio is about right, because in my experience, products are important and can really help protect and moisturize the hair, but if you don’t have good techniques and abuse your hair with heat, chemicals, etc., all of the products in the world won’t make a difference, been there, done that, got the t-shirt 🙂

Tisha
I am one of those who thinks everyone has their predetermined length. I don’t discourage those who seek long hair and I actually applaud those who reach their goals. Still,IMO it all comes down to genetics(or at least it plays a big part). Maybe this stems from the fact that both my sisters and I had our hair done by my mom as youngsters…same regimen, same products. My siblings have respectively WL hair and MBL hair while I barely have BSL hair.The products and practises definitely give a “boost” to hair growth, but don’t change much overall.That doesn’t mean I… Read more »
ashley

mayb you just need a different regimen. just like raising children. u may have to go about different means to get the same result.

Tisha
The funny thing is that I grew up wearing protective styles.My mom would braid or twist my own hair and the style would stay for 2/3 weeks. There was never tension on the edges, no tight hairstyles. I also used to deep condition every two weeks and do hot oil treatments also. I even used to spray water on my hair and then add oil. Looking back, I had a pretty good regimen till I got my relaxer at 17. I would say the only “bad” habit I had was dry detangling with a comb. But considering that the natural… Read more »
Anike

Great article! Whenever someone asks me what I use I very briefly tell them what products I use b.c who knows??? They might get some great results from them! I do, however, make sure to tell my FRIENDS & people who I’m actually having a conversation w/ that lasts longer than 20 seconds that moisture, good hair care habits, & DEDICATION are key to having healthy, beautiful curls! Length will come w/ the proper hair care.

CurlyQ

I find that technique and PATIENCE is the key to lengthening your hair. I don’t use a lot of products, but I do keep my curls hydrated. But as long as you keep your hair healthy, i.e., hydrated, it will grow, so the key is to just let it do its thing!!!! Stay away from the flat iron and the blow dryer and keep it hydrated!!!!!!!! And stop trying every product under the sun!!!

ChukaSarang94
Great article! I’ve found that both products and techniques help me to retain length. Conditioners with silicones just stopped working for me after using them heavily for more than a year; so last year I changed things up and started using more natural products. I can’t cowash (I have an oily scalp sensitive to build up and dry hair), so I just keep my scalp clear with a regular sulphate shampoo and my hair is thriving. I remove shed hairs with my fingers, but if I don’t detangle with a comb, my curls wrap around each other and get matted.… Read more »
Candy

I think Shea Moisture has really helped me. Even when I wasn’t using good practices, but Shea Moisture kind of forgave me and helped me anyway. I’ve even frosted my hair and Shea is bringing it back to life. I am starting to quit using heat again and make Bantu Knots, but Shea Moisture kept my hair moisturized during by bad habit.
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aduke
I am a strong advocate for not using shampoo at all…. I only use conditioner for washing my hair. My locks have gone from feeling dry and rough and looking dull to soft and light and very shinny. I also advised friends to do this and they have converted to conditioner only. For little girls who have been introduced to this regime, hair washing has gone from scary and painful to pleasant and easy. The conditioner does not burn their eyes therefore they can develop some independence by massaging the conditioner into the hair and rinsing out themselves. Drying the… Read more »
Gina

My hair is better when I co-wash, but my scalp gets bumps and my forehead breaks out:( How do you avoid this?

thelady

try a Rhassoul Clay wash or

I also like to wash my hair with Shea Moisture Organic African Black Soap Purification Hair Masque (massage into scalp then smooth down hair, rub scalp while rinsing).

J

How about using a sulfate free shampoo or doing a Apple cider vinegar rinse?

Chan

This was an AWESOME article. Loved that you shared this because it is So true, every aspect of it.

Nene

Very true. I don’t even use protective styles ( I know, the natural die hards are having fits). I usually wash-n-go and,” let her do what she do”..lol. And for me it works. We have an understanding- I cowash, moisturize and leave her,be and she’ll grow. I bc’d in 7/12 and had a college cut; 10 months later I have medium fro, that when stretched, hangs off my shoulders.

Nooni

I don’t know any natural die hards who say you all naturals have to do protective styling for length. People normally say it only really has to be done for the super kinky types.

Gina

Not true. I am a 4a/b who prefers a wash and go. I just have to moisturize a ton and detangle very gently.

Kesha Bruce

So true. In fact, the longer my hair gets, the less products I actually use.

Dani

I totally agree; technique is the key to length retention and therefore visible growth. I use to prepoo, shampoo, deep condition, detangle, leave in conditioner then seal with an oil. Its a normal regimen for some people but i found it to be too much work. I tweaked my regimen and now i just finger detangle my hair with conditioner, bentonite clay wash, then seal with shea butter and twist hair up. Lol my hair likes this simple regimen much better because i’m handling it alot less therefore breakage has been reduced.

mercy
Great article! I been natural for two years. I didn’t know anything about how to treat. I used sulfate shampoos and combed my hair with those not wide toothed combs and didn’t moistrize at all. I was clueless.. and now I know my staple products and been trying not to comb my hair. It’s just so fun to watch the different coils and waves bounce. I was so focused on having long hair so badly like the other natural gurus. Now I’m not as focused and thanks to that my hair is growing pretty fast. I do wish my hair… Read more »
GoldenBlaze

Hi! New subbie here! I love this article because it gives a great truth about growth and hair care. There isn’t a magic formula to growth.

felicia

Love the article I’ve only been natural for 14months and discovering new ways of caring for my hair but more than anything I’ve learnt to be patient I can’t wait till my hair is long enough to try the styles I really wana do

Loriann

Great article. Low manipulation and protective styling has been the key to me retaining length. Like the author I buy the more expensive natural products because my hair just feels and looks better when I use them but I don’t believe they are absolutely necessary for my length retention.

Shani

I always get asked the same question, my hair is past BSL and my daughter’s is to her waist. My answer for years- moisturize, very little to no heat/ styling, and basically just leave it alone. Here’s a pic of my daughter’s first blow out
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D.P. to Shani

Gorgeous head of hair!

Cleo

Low manipulation and protective styling has been key for me. My hair flourishes when I just leave it alone.

Rachel

Great article! Different hair tends to like different products, no one is the same. And what our hair likes today, it might hate tomorrow. At least, that’s my observation. I do personally love moisturizers with water as the first ingredient.

As far as technique goes, for me I find that not using a comb at all is best for length retention. No matter how gentle I think I’m being, I lose much much less when I just use my fingers.

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