Hair Growth Series Pt 1

Ainsley Highland

In last week's blog post, we mentioned that ginseng may be able to prevent hair loss and promote hair growth. Since there are many, many myths out there about hair growth, and even more ineffective products to go with them, we thought it would be a good idea to follow up on the mention with a deep dive into facts how hair grows, why it falls out, and what is actually possible in the hunt for longer, thicker hair.

Several single spaced pages into the project, we decided there was far more really important information to be said on the topic than could fit comfortably into one blog post. So, we’re breaking it down into a semi-regular ongoing series where we’ll tackle a different aspect in each installment. So without further ado, the basics:

Get your science hat, we’re exploring the hair growth cycle.

In order to understand problems with hair growth/loss, it is important to understand what is happening when hair grows. This is doubly true because hair growth is complicated. For one thing, it really does occur in a cycle, consisting of three stages:

Anagen phase, when growth occurs
Healthy hair remains in the anagen phase 3-5 years on average, and at any given time 85%-90% of the hairs on a healthy human’s head are in the anagen phase. In this phase, hair grows at 1cm - or ~0.5in - per month. The length of the anagen phase is primarily controlled by genetics, but can be shortened by chemicals, disease or stress.

Catagen phase, when hair rests
When hair has ‘finished’ growing, the hair follicle needs to rest, renew, and prepare for the stress of growing the next hair. This resting period lasts approximately 2 weeks. During this time, the hair is detached from the papilla - the structure that actually grows the hair - which cuts it off from any additional nutrients that would be necessary for further growth.

Telogen phase, when all the shedding happens
The entire hair follicle shrinks in its resting phase, pulling back from the detached hair. This removes the last anchor keeping hair in place, and the hair sheds. For healthy hair, the telogen phase lasts 1-4 months, and the cycle starts over with the emergence of a new hair within 2 weeks of the old hair being shed.

What this means for claims about hair growth products

The reason we spilled so much ink on the science behind hair growth is that it should immediately dispel some pretty common misconceptions - and false claims - about growing longer, thicker hair.

The rate of hair growth is constant, you can’t actually speed it up.

Hair appears to grow faster when it is short because that half inch of growth is a greater percentage increase than on long hair.
Hair appears to grow slower if you have a lot of breakage because the shortening of your hair through breakage is offsetting some percentage of new growth.

At minimum, a half inch of growth a month for the minimum 3 years of growth in the anagen phase means the minimum possible growth for a healthy individual is 18,” or a foot and a half of hair. Straightened, this would reach the bottom of the shoulder blade on most women.*

If you want longer and/or thicker hair, the rate of hair growth isn’t what you need to improve anyways.

There are two ways to get longer hair, up to your genetic limit: eliminate underlying health problems that may be shortening your anagen phase or reduce breakage.
Thicker hair is slightly more complicated, because it could be the result of breakage, or it could be the result of alopecia (hair loss) - which we will get to next. Either way, growing hair faster won’t resolve the problem of sudden induced hair fall, failure of the hair follicle to enter a new anagen phase, or breakage.

Up next time: the science behind hair loss...

*If you are extra clever and mathematically inclined, you may have noticed that the hair growth ‘limit’ for the average person is 6”x 5years or 30”/2.5’. This would be about butt length for the average height woman. For people of Asian descent, the average anagen phase tends to be longer, with an average limit up to 7 years or 42”/3’. This means that any long hair models you see with thigh, knee or floor-length hair truly are the exception. Their hair length isn’t the result a secret formula or rigorous hair care routine, but genuine genetic exceptionalism, like extremely tall people or extremely short people.

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