When Nappy Hair Doesn’t Grow Long…What’s the Deal?

Understanding hair growth and coming to terms with having short nappy hair

When we finally get rid of that relaxer, the early days, weeks, months and indeed the first year or two turns into a time of almost complete discovery. Some of us have had relaxers since early childhood and may recall no memories, other than pictures, of having nappy hair. And others of us, who were fortunate enough to retain our natural tresses a little longer, say into the preteen years, may not been responsible for our own hair unless it was pressed or we started getting relaxers. So by the time many black women reach adulthood, we may do so without ever learning how to care for our natural hair. 

It takes time and patience, but eventually most of us get it. We learn how to detangle, shampoo, condition and style our nappy hair. We learn our hair’s product and styling likes and dislikes. We learn how to trim our hair and how to keep it moisturized. We invest the time and learn all the dos and don’ts of nappy hair care. Then we have an epiphany. Our hair really can grow long if it’s taken care of properly. And many of us soon discover our hair is longer than it has ever been in our entire lives.

But while longer lengths become a reality for many, this isn’t true for everyone. For some, regardless of how well it’s cared for, growing longer hair remains a frustratingly elusive goal.

Growth rates, phases and averages
Truth is, not everyone is genetically predisposed to having long hair. To understand why, we have to understand hair growth rates, phases and averages. First of all, on average, hair grows about 1/4 inch to 1/2 in a month. Since we’re dealing with averages, most of us will be lucky enough to have hair that grows between three and six inches a year. Now of course everyone wants their hair to grow on the high end of this average, and many of us will. Some, however, will experience growth on the lower end. The really lucky folks will have hair that grows faster than average. Yet others will experience slower than average growth.

Get the picture so far?

Three Phases of Growth 
Alrighty then, let’s move on to how long your hair grows before it naturally sheds. Actually your hair has three phases of growth. Quite simply it growsrests (stops growing) and sheds. Then the process starts all over again. Just know that not all your hair is on the same grow, rest, shed cycle. If all the hairs on your head went through these phases simultaneously, you’d experience total baldness serveral times in your life while you waited for your hair to grow back.

Hair grows approximately three to six years before it sheds. Some people will experience average or above average years of growth before shedding occurs, while others will have hair which sheds after fewer years of average growth. But how does all of this relate to having naturally short hair?

Well let’s put all the pieces together. Let’s say your hair only grows two inches a year, and your genes tell your follicals to randomly shed hair every four years. What do we have here?

Two inches of growth/year X four years of growth before shedding = 8 inches of potential maximum length.

So in other words, it would take you four years just to grow 8 inches of hair. And because in year four, your eight-inch hairs shed before they can ever grow any longer, you’ll never be able achieve a length that’s greater than that.

Here’s another example, this time in favor of longer hair…
Someone’s hair grows six inches a year. But they’re genetically programed to naturally shed hair once every seven years.

Six inches of growth/year X seven years of growth before shedding = 42 inches of hair of potential maximum length.

Based on this scenario, in seven years, this person could literally have 3 1/2 feet of hair. Now of course in both scenarios, accounting for minor breakage of your ends and trims, the loss of some length is inevitable and unavoidable. So no matter what your maximum potential length is, you’re not likely to actually realize all of it.

Are you a short-haired natural?
Well, happens if you eventually come to the realization that you’re a shorter-haired nappy? My advice is embrace your hair for all it’s worth. You have to remember that everyone has some type of hair challenge to compensate for and the grass (ewe here comes the cliche) is always greener on the other side of the fence. Some nappies have thin hair that won’t hold twists. Some folks have hair that just makes shake ‘n go styling totally unrealistic. And some nappies have textures that are too loose to wear a fro. The list could go on and on. Bottom line is NO one is 100% happy with their hair. But no matter the challenge, if you’re going to be a happy nappy, you have to learn to work with what you have and not worry about what you don’t have.

Ok, easier said than done I know. Sure coming to terms that you’ll never have long or really long hair will be disappointing, especially in a society that covets long/big hair. But the thing about nappy hair that makes it oh so special — at any length — is its versatility. There’s sooooo many cute things you can do to style nappy hair that could NEVER be done with chemically or thermally straightened hair. Of course there’s the shrinkage factor, but quite frankly we all deal with that no matter the length. However, if you have a burning desire to show length, then banding or braiding your hair to stretch it (to have a bigger fro or puff or elongated twists) will do the trick. Successful, happy nappies learn to work around their hair challenges. Trust me I know, I have have quite a few myself.

So be proactive and don’t let your length be a show stopper. Go visit the FOTKI hair albums and look for other nappies who have or have had your length of hair and see how they style it. If you don’t know how to do flat twists, twists and cornrows…watch some videos and learn. Can’t part your own hair… practice until you can. Don’t think a style will look good on you…try it, you might like it…ya never know. 

In the end, it’s your hair…whatever the length so make the best of it. If life only gives you eight inches to work with, then hold your head high and wear it well with nappy pride.  Attitude is everything.

14 Responses to “When Nappy Hair Doesn’t Grow Long…What’s the Deal?”
  1. Tia says:

    Very informative! I enjoyed this article.

  2. babygurl says:

    Nappyme, thank you so much!! After struggling with this subject for the past 6 months or so, you have brought light to the subject and encouraged me!

  3. nappyme says:

    Oh you’re so welcome!

  4. briana says:

    Hey gurl hows it going? thanx for the advice but i also have another question what hair do you think grows your nappy hair faster between cornrows and plaits?

  5. nappyme says:

    Hi Briana…everything is going well thank you very much for asking.

    Well, to address your question, the answer is neither. Your hair is genetically programmed to grow at a certain rate. Poor health and certain medications can also impede your growth as well. So accounting for your genetics and let’s say your in relatively good health and on no medications that could stunt your growth or otherwise affect the quality of growth, hair grows on average of 1/4 – 1/2 inch per month. That equates to upwards of 6 inches of growth per year. Now remember this is an AVERAGE. That means some folks hair will grow slower and some folks hair will grow faster. You also have to consider that probably NO ONE ever sees their maximum yearly growth average whatever it is because of trims and breakage. Unfortunately, no matter how well you take care of your ends, you’re likely to loose even a tiny bit of length due to breakage.

    So, then how you style your hair as absolutely no bearing on how fast or slow your hair actually grows out of your head.

    Now if maintaining length is your concern in addition to how fast your hair grows then remember, you have to protect your ends at all costs if you want to have longer hair.

    Ok? If you have any more questions let me know.


  6. briana says:

    Hey I appreciate all the advice, one more question if you dont mind…. Well my brother was wondering since he does not use chemicals in his hair like us women do how often do you suggest he get his ends cut?..And also he wants to know how long you suggest he keep his cornrows in before you think he should take them out as wel as his plaits when he gets them done. He has natural thick afro hair(nappy at times). I appreciate all the help..you are a life saver

  7. nappyme says:

    Hi Briana,
    Tell your brother to trim as necessary. There’s no need to follow a set time table. So when he takes his cornrows out tell him to check for split and frayed ends. If they look badly, then trim them…if not…leave ’em alone.

    As far as how long to leave cornrows and plaits in…until he can’t stand them anymore. Probably about two or three weeks. In the mean time, he can use a diluted shampoo, cver his head with a stocking cap or something similiar and rise them out in the shower. The stocking cap will help keep the frizz down. Tell him to use his finger tips to massage his scalp and loosen up any dirt and dandruff. He can condition the same way. Dilute the conditioner apply and then rinse it out. That way his hair can stay fresh while he continues to get the most out of his style.

    Good luck to you both!

  8. sara says:

    Hey nappy me? My name is sara and I have a question. Im planning on growing my hair natural and i wanted to know if it was better to use oil or grease on my scalp. Second Ive been referrerd to 3 good products and I wanted your opinion on the usage of each. Sulfer 8, dr miracle and doo gro. If you have any other good suggestions please let me know thanx.

  9. wanna grow long says:

    i have hair that grows about 5 to 6 inches a year, i bleached my hair from the root and i measured the growth after a year. problem is my hair baarely seems longer. what are some products to stop my hair fom breaking?

    • nappyme says:

      Sorry to hear about your dilemma. But your problem is the bleached hair. It’s one of the worse things you can do to your hair. The more color you lift from your hair, the more damage you do. And you’ve lifted ALL the color form your hair so this ain’t about to get better. Just from little bit that you’ve shared, it sounds to me like it’s breaking as fast as it’s growing, hence, the inability for you to retain your ends and gain any length.

      My first suggestion would be to let it grow out and gradually cut the color out. Surely there’s another better, less harsher, DARKER shade that you think might be attractive on you. However, if you want to try to strengthen it, you could try protein treatments like aphogee or Nexxus Emergencee. Or products that have protein in them. I’m assuming you’re natural (cause that’s what my blog is about…natural hair) so as a natural, you’ll want also want to step up your moisture game. Dry hair is NOT an option for you. You’ll need to keep it heavily moisturized if you want to minimize breakage.

      But I’ll tell ya, I hate to be the bearer of bad news. You keep bleaching your hair and you’re going to be lucky to HAVE hair. There’s a reason you don’t see many black women with LONG BLEACHED hair…it can’t take it. And it sounds like your’s ain’t havin’ it either.

      Take care and good luck,

  10. T-boy says:

    Hey Nappyme,

    Ok i have a dillema. I have probably the nappiest type of hair you can think of. Straight up African nappy hair. Im trying to grow it out but i have no clue at all how to take care of it. And for some reason the back of my hair grows ALOT slower than the front and it doesnt have that afro round shape. and everytime i comb my hair, alot of hair breaks off and gets caught in the comb, even when the hair is wet. What do suggest i do to take care of my hair?

  11. yia yia says:

    hi i would like to say thank you for the advice. My hair is a mess it’s short in the back and all around my head but it’s very thick in the center many people tell me i should shave my head so it could be even and I have no idea what to do.What should i do?

    • nappyme says:

      Without knowing anything about your hair history it’s impossible for me to tell you what to do. However, I’d suggest seeing a dermatologist to rule out any medical conditions and at that point she/he could offer you some advice.

      Good luck,

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