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Across time and especially across cultures, humans have always held a deep interest in hair. As far as mythical tales go, the heroes and heroines more often than not display an impressive, healthy mane. In famous paintings, the hair regularly becomes a focal point for the eyes, with contrasting colors.
There are many cultures where one’s method of styling or growing hair indicates one’s status within society: the head of a tribe will always wear the most impressive embellishments to express their power; similarly, the CEO of a company will display impeccable hair arrangement and style in front of their employees.
It is no wonder then, that a lot of effort has been exerted into the science behind hair. Especially of interest has been the question of how fast does hair grow. It has been shown that many factors contribute to its rate of development. Some of them are obvious, such as age or nutrition, and others not so, like exposure to the sun or lack thereof.
The cycle of growth
While the scalp might be considered the most important, the human skin actually has over 5 million follicles, of which approximately one hundred thousand of them are in the head area. Follicles are situated in the upper layer of the skin and make up the effective tissue surrounding a piece of hair, along with the glands that supply it with what it needs in order to grow.
When a baby is born, they are born with all follicles (they develop inside the womb). The human skin is covered in them, and they have three essential phases of growth. They also determine how hairy an individual will be, as humans do not grow new follicles, unlike hair itself. Important to note is the fact that hair develops at different rates.
The first phase in a follicle’s cycle, the anagen phase, is also the longest, lasting up to eight years for the scalp skin. This is because, during this phase, it is effectively determined how fast the hair shaft will grow, what texture it will have, as well as the length. The average rate of growth during the anagen stage of the cycle is 1/2″ a month. This can vary depending on an individual’s overall health and genetic determinants.
What follows is the catagen phase, a transition between the first and last stages of a cycle. The growth stops at this point because the follicle begins to shrink in the areas of its outer root. It has been observed that over 150,000 pieces of hair are in this phase at any given time. This second phase can last up to three weeks.
Lastly, the telogen phase means that a piece of hair is ready to be replaced by the human body. It can last up to three months, and it is a resting period. Sometimes follicles can enter this phase too soon, causing hair to fall out without it being fully-grown. Under normal circumstances, a follicle will start the cycle anew, entering once again the anagen phase. The cells will start again to divide at really fast rates, a new hair will start growing and push out the old one. On average, a human loses somewhere between sixty and one hundred pieces of hair per day. (1)
Influential Factors Regarding How Fast Does Hair Grow
More often than not, when one’s asking how fast does one’s hair grow, the most quoted reasons are negative influences on your body: cigarette smoke, long exposure to the sun (which is also bad for your skin), working in an environment where chemicals are present, lack of various vitamins, and so on. However, these are general factors that have an impact on the entirety of your body and not just your hair. As mentioned previously, overall health is often reflected in an individual’s hair. (2)
Since the first phase of hair growth can take up to eight years, over the course of this period a lot can happen to the outer layer of a hair shaft (the cuticle). A form of protection that your own body employs is the process of pushing dead cells towards this segment. The cells become hardened and offer a sheath for the ones that are still alive. Split ends can occur because of a shaft’s age, and one way of avoiding this type of damage is to simply cut off an inch or so. Friction (during sleep, for example) applied to the cuticle can also damage it.
As far as the growth rates themselves are concerned, the genetic factor plays a huge role, but this is beyond one’s control. However, there are a number of relevant elements which can be controlled in order to ensure a more steady and healthy growth cycle. Extreme levels of stress are one of the top reasons why hair can stop growing prematurely, for example. This leads to a smaller cycle, and to hair loss. Over the course of one’s life, there are periods in which a lot of mental pressure appears and one way to diminish the damage done is with regular scalp massages, applied before going to sleep. (3)
Regarding genetic factors, studies have found a lot of variation in how fast one’s hair grows. People of Asian descent generally grow hair faster than people of Caucasian or African ethnicity. Age plays a huge role in this as well – not unlike the rest of the human body, the process becomes slower, and many people develop a good amount of hair loss from 60 years onward. Finally, it is a myth that men’s hair grows faster than women’s hair. As far as these genetic elements are concerned, there is no difference between how fast hair grows. (4)
Retention, diets and other aspects that affect growth
Retention refers to maintaining the hair in the anagen phase for as long as possible. This is how an individual can grow their hair very long. As previously stated, the first phase of a follicle’s cycle is the one effectively growing your hair. Moisture is very important in retention, but it can also damage the outer layer of hair strands if done excessively. It goes without saying that frequent hydration and cleaning go a long way towards achieving good retention.
Dust particles and dryness can shed the layer prematurely. This is most commonly found with prolonged exposure to direct sunlight, or during summer in more arid climates. Many products sold for exactly this purpose can end up destroying the cuticle. This happens due to the effective variation of hair care products being sold, many of them being beneficial only towards specific hair types. Be sure to always carefully read a product’s label to ensure it is the right one. Consulting a dermatologist is also a surefire way to go when picking the right method for enabling retention.
Like with other parts of the human body, a healthy diet can prove extremely beneficial towards the speed and overall health of hair growth. Keratin is the essential protein that hair and nails are made of. It also plays a very important role in the epidermis, the outer layer of skin. Therefore, diets that are focused on hair growth improvement can have benefits on one’s skin and nails as well. (6)
Vitamin H is really good for this and can improve the health of a follicle’s cycle. Bananas and peanuts contain some of the highest concentrations of it, but it can be found in many fruit and vegetables as well. Of paramount importance are also vitamins B12 and B6. The best sources for these are meat and seafood. Clams and oysters especially contain a huge amount of them.
Finally, in our culture, the various styles and fashion trends that emerge can have a huge impact on the well-being of hair, and it usually is a detrimental one. Hair that is frequently dyed and treated with conditioners, gels or various other fashion products is much more susceptible to damage than usual. Of course, the answer to avoiding this is reducing the amount of time between different hairstyles, especially if they require elaborate techniques involving a lot of chemicals being poured onto the outer layers of hair strands. (5)
Impact of Medication on how fast does hair grow.
An immense fear of many individuals is hair loss. Coming back to the initial social aspect of hair and how it can relate to one’s status in society, it is no surprise that having a bald head is unfortunately still seen as a bad sign, especially in males under 40. Therefore, a similarly great effort has been put into researching the various ways humans can combat hair loss, alongside figuring out how fast it grows. However, there is much debate regarding the aspects of this, since there are so many factors that influence growth and proper health.
One very well-known factor is that iron deficits in the body usually lead to early hair loss. Keep in mind that having low iron levels in one’s body can be a sign of much more serious threats than hair loss and therefore it is recommended to consult a doctor if suspicion arises regarding this (7). Genetic factors also come into play here, as baldness can be transferred to the next generation. However, recent developments in transplant science have shown that it will be soon possible to replace decayed follicles and effectively removing baldness altogether.
A key factor that many people don’t take into account when considering how fast hair grows is the pharmaceutical one. In our culture, it is not uncommon to find even younger people taking medication regularly, even without looking at extreme cases (such as cancer or other life-threatening conditions). Blood thinners, for example, have been shown to have a somewhat detrimental effect towards hair.
Furthermore, antidepressants and anxiety medicine can also facilitate hair loss. Even the most basic of medicines, such as ibuprofen, can play a part in the degradation of one’s hair health. Therefore, consulting a doctor about the implications pharmaceutical products have on one’s hair is the best option here. Variation between individuals is immense, so only a specialist who is familiar with the specifics of one’s body can properly say which are the greater causes (if any).
Methods of increasing growth rates
Since many people are excited to grow their hair to extreme lengths, be it because of fashion, culture, religion or anything else, many techniques have emerged that claim to improve the average rate at which hair grows. That is, besides the aforementioned diets and factors that influence how fast hair grows. Essential oils and other such natural treatments can have a good benefit with little to no risk involved. They have to be rubbed carefully on the scalp and given some time to sink into the follicle tissue. Another trend claims that alongside such treatments one should reserve some time to sitting with the head upside down, to improve blood flow to the scalp.
Yet another important aspect is to avoid using shampoo with every shower. Many products will actually shed away the oil produced by one’s own body, thus damaging the hair. When washing hair, it is usually recommended only to use shampoo twice or thrice a week, and using only water or at the very most, conditioner for the rest of the week.
Whenever we ask ourselves how fast does hair grow, we fail to take into account what exactly are the reasons that make the most difference, as well as ignoring simple but essential information. Our society has become greatly concerned with only a portion of the factors that figure into the complex process of hair growth, while a great deal of it goes without proper awareness. Since hair health is indicative of one’s overall health, we tend to become obsessed with avoiding dangers such as hair loss, while at the same time we can end up doing even more damage. The growth of hair occurs throughout the entirety of our lives, and even though we don’t get more follicles, what we can control is the ongoing process and the care we attribute towards our hair.
ince hair health is indicative of one’s overall health, we tend to become obsessed with avoiding dangers such as hair loss, while at the same time we can end up doing even more damage. The growth of hair occurs throughout the entirety of our lives, and even though we don’t get more follicles, what we can control is the ongoing process and the care we attribute towards our hair.
A good education in what it means to grow healthy hair can prove difficult to achieve since so many websites exist on the Internet solely to convince you to buy specific products that promise miracles but prove to be detrimental to other areas of your body. Patience is a virtue, and many people forget this when considering their own well-being. Talking with your doctor about the best route for you is generally the best first step you can take towards proper hair care.