Secrets From My 5-Year Quest For Long, Beautiful Mermaid Hair

I dream of shiny, butt-length homeschool hair, the kind of look that says "check out my notebook full of horse drawings."
Publish date:
January 14, 2013
hair, shoppables. nerd skills, long hair, Mermaid Hair

I've always had a thing for long hair. Blame it on Sailor Moon, I guess -- given that I grew up with cartoon heroines fighting evil by moonlight without so much as a strand out of place, it's no surprise that I dream of shiny, butt-length homeschool hair, the kind of look that says, "Check out my notebook full of horse drawings."

I've been growing my hair out for almost five years. (It would be a lot longer, but about a year or so into it I went nuts and did this to my head.) I've done a lot of ridiculous stuff in my quest for Renn fair hair. There's something about long hair in particular that encourages a kind of experimentation that is equal parts old wives' tale and sorority hazing.

Here's what I wish I'd known when I began turning an unconscious biological function into a hobby.

The average person grows about six inches (roughly 15 cm, shout-outs to the metric system) of hair a year, or about a half-inch a month. How long this growth cycle lasts is genetically determined, and there's really nothing you can do to change it -- though that doesn't stop people from trying.

I've tried a few expensive stimulating shampoos, and all kinds of DIY concoctions, none of which I'd recommend. For a while I was using a cayenne pepper and olive oil scalp treatment, which wasn't too bad; it was a little tingly -- kind of invigorating, actually, until you're flailing around in blind agony in the shower.

I've even heard of women applying Monistat 1 to their scalps in hopes of stimulating growth, which is, like, do you get beauty advice from Johnny Knoxville? Most of these treatments increase blood flow to the scalp by mildly (or not) irritating it, which could theoretically boost growth if you're regular in your applications, but probably not enough to produce noticeable results.

In my experience, the key ingredient in every product that promises long hair fast is magical thinking.

Nutrition is a more effective way of boosting hair growth. Supplements such as biotin, folic acid, MSM (a kind of sulfur often used to treat arthritis), and even prenatal vitamins are all popular with women trying to get faster growth. I almost feel like I'm insulting you by explaining this, but taking prenatal vitamins when you're not pregnant is not a good idea. High doses of certain vitamins can be toxic, and prenatal supplements have more of those vitamins than your average woman needs, because -- duh -- they're formulated for pregnant women.

It's probably not going to kill you or anything, but jeopardizing your liver for marginally faster hair growth is kind of ridiculous. It's not even like those pills are cheap

Biotin and MSM get a lot of hype on the Internet, and to some degree, they deserve it; my hair grew noticeably faster when I was taking biotin, which was awesome until my face erupted into an angry red mountain range. Everyone who had recommended it to me failed to mention that it can cause breakouts, which makes it a gamble for anybody with sensitive skin.

MSM, which can give even more dramatic hair-growth results, has been known to cause cystic acne even in people who aren't prone to it. Right now the only supplement I take for my hair is Vitamin E, which also helps with acne, but I learned my lesson and talked with my doctor before I started taking it (Vitamin E is one of those potentially toxic vitamins I mentioned earlier).

I'm not trying to sound alarmist, but I think a lot of people, like me, are too comfortable self-medicating at the drug store. Just because you can buy something over the counter doesn't mean it can't mess you up.

Instead of trying to force your hair grow faster, it's more productive to focus on protecting the hair you already have. With a few small changes, you can minimize everyday shedding. Invest in a satin pillowcase, or wrap your hair in a silk scarf before bed to prevent tangles, comb it out gently, starting from the very ends, and never, ever brush it wet.

I quit using damaging heat-styling tools, which wasn't a real sacrifice for me because I have both the hand-eye coordination and patience of a toddler. The last time I tried to use a curling iron I got so mad I had to stop and do some breathing exercises.

I get much better results from putting my hair up in a loose bun before bed, or running a wet comb through my hair and rolling it up in Velcro rollers to dry during the day. If I'm feeling really fancy, I might even do pin curls -- waking up to perfect hair is more than worth the discomfort.

If you're interested in making the switch, the best thing to do is experiment; watch a few tutorials from babes on YouTube, peep some hair styling diagrams from old-timey magazines and see what works for you. It takes a little while to get the hang of hair sets, but you'll be surprised at what you can accomplish without $50 worth of hot metal.

You're all familiar with the concept of shampoo-free, correct? There have been about a million articles and approximately ten squillion blog posts about how everybody's stripping the oils out of their hair with conventional shampoo, how your hair will look better after you let your scalp detox and blah blah bah.

I know it works really well for some people, particularly ladies with curlier texture, but I went poo-free for six months and it left me greasy and discouraged.

Not everyone can live their lives free of poo, but I highly recommend reassessing your shampoo game, switching out products with sulfates and strong detergents for gentler cleansers. I'm a big fan of this Ayurvedic Herb Shampoo Bar from Chagrin Valley, which cleans my hair without parching it and smells wonderfully spicy.

What you use is important, but the way you use it makes just as much difference. Grab your hair like you're about to put it up in a high, obnoxious ponytail. The hair sticking out of your fist is where you apply conditioner, and shampoo only goes on your scalp. Condition first, then use shampoo, rinse it out, and condition again.

This is what's known as the condition-wash-condition, or CWC, method, and it rules. It took me a few weeks to notice a difference, but my hair is shinier, and gets way less oily between washes.

Above all, deep conditioning is key to keeping your hair healthy. For the past six months, I've been using Shea Moisture's Deep Treatment Hair Masque at least once a week, and my hair has never felt better. I also recommend adding oil to your routine, at least during the winter; argan and coconut are my favorites, but even olive oil will do in a pinch.

If you have fine hair, avoid using too much oil at one time to keep from weighing your hair down. Just take just a tiny dot of oil, rub it like crazy between your palms to warm it, and apply it to the bottom third of your hair. Leave it in overnight, and even the most fried ends will be silky in the morning.

If all of that sounds inconvenient, that's because it is -- and, honestly, that's sort of the point. Growing out my hair is a delightfully frivolous ongoing project, something that lifts my mood at the end of the day. And one of the best parts is the slumber party buzz of sharing hair advice with other women.

Do you have any hair care secrets? Dish!