Do you have problems with hair growth? Have you ever wondered why your hair does not grow as fast or has seemed to stop growing? In our part 1 of this series, I shared my personal story with hair growth. Now, I personally want to take my hair to the next level…but can I? Will highly textured, tightly coiled hair grow free outside of braids and locs? I think that an understanding of why and how hair grows and why Black, afro-textured hair is different may ease some of the frustration. For some of you natural hair vets, this may seem elementary. Of course, I will put my spin on it, so here goes.
The Basics: What is hair?
Hair growth begins inside the hair follicle found under the skin. The only “living” portion of the hair is found in the follicle. Other structures of the hair follicle include the oil producing sebaceous glands which lubricate the hair. What we think of as the hair that grows out from our head is the hair shaft. Once the hair shaft (hair) grows out from the follicle it is considered “dead” because it has no biochemical activity. The living part of the hair is bottom part of the shaft surrounding the papilla called the bulb. This bottom part is the only part fed by the capillaries (blood supply). The cells in the bulb divide every 23 to 72 hours, faster than any other cells in the body.
The hair shaft/strand is roughly divided into three zones: the cuticle, cortex and medulla. The cortex, the middle layer is the main structural component of the hair. It is primarily made up of the keratin protein and is the primary source of mechanical strength and water uptake. The cortex also contains melanin, which gives the hair color.
The phases of growth
Hair production occurs in phases, including a growth phase (anagen), and transitional/cessation phase (catagen), and a rest phase (telogen).
Anagen phase: Anagen is the active growth phase of hair follicles. The stem cells of the hair are dividing rapidly, adding length to the hair shaft. During this phase the hair grows about 1 cm every 28 days. Your hair can stay in this active phase of growth for 2–7 years. The amount of time the hair follicle stays in the anagen phase is genetically determined. At the end of the anagen phase an unknown signal causes the follicle to go into the catagen phase.
Catagen phase: The catagen phase is a short transition stage that occurs at the end of the anagen phase. It signals the end of the active growth of a hair strand. This phase lasts for about 2-3 weeks.
Telogen phase: The follicle then goes into the Telogen or resting phase for two to four months, during this time the hair still does not grow but remains attached to the follicle. Approximately 10-15 percent of all hair strands are in this phase at any one time. Therefore, all the hairs on your head are in different stages of growth.
What makes Black hair different?
A study by the British Journal of Dermatology showed that Afro-textured hair is not as dense as other textures. Specifically, the average density of Afro-textured hair was found to be approximately 190 hairs per square centimeter. This was significantly lower than that of straight hair, which, on average, produces approximately 227 hairs per square centimeter. Further, the study found that Afro-textured hair grows at an average rate of approximately 256 micrometers per day, while straight hair grows at approximately 396 micrometers per day.
Our hair texture can range anywhere from pin-straight to extremely curly. Follicles that are round in cross-section give rise to straight hair. Those out of which curly hair grows are oval. Very tightly coiled hair is due to the nearly flat, ribbon-like structure of the follicles. This hair texture is very common in people of African ancestry. Afro-textured hair is wiry, tightly coiled and often coarse. And though Afro-textured hair produces the same amount of oil as straight hair, due to the tight curls, the oil fails to spread evenly along the hair fiber.
Without lubrication, the fibers become very dry. This causes the brittle strands to flake and roughen, resulting in hair that is coarse to the touch. The brittleness of Afro-textured hair adds to the illusion that it cannot be grown long. The tight curls create stresses at each turn in the hair fiber. The hair strands become weak and fragile, making them prone to breakage. As a result, tightly coiled hair tends to stay quite short. This is why moisture and oil is so important to combating breakage.
So, now what?
Don’t be discouraged. Black hair does grow. It may just grow a little slower and take a little more TLC. If your hair has reached a plateau in growth it could possibly be in a state of rest. In which case, keep taking care of your hair and eventually growth will accelerate on its own. If your hair is not growing, then you may want to look at dermatological, medical or even emotional reasons. Take an honest look at your hair practices and regimen to see if that may be the source of the problem. Please subscribe and check in as we discuss more reasons for sluggish hair growth, stimulation, genetics and healthy hair practices.
African hair growth parameters – Loussouarn – 2001 – British Journal of Dermatology – Wiley Online Library