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Growing long hair is a goal for many women, but what if you can’t even grow past shoulder length? Many women with 4c hair experience this frustration and there are many reasons why hair may not be growing as it should. Knowing how to grow 4c hair to waist length means understanding the fine balance between length retention and your hair growth cycle. For 4c curly hair, this can be difficult because of many misconceptions and misinformation.
A common misconception about kinky hair is that it is strong and can handle a lot. This is simply not true. Natural black hair is some of the most delicate hair strands among most ethnic groups. Just because our hair appears strong, does not mean it actually is. With 4c hair, it is even more delicate because it tangles very easily due to its tight curl pattern.
While most black women think this means protective styles are required, the best way to grow 4c waist-length hair is by maintaining a healthy scalp, low manipulation, and with regular trims.
In order to grow and retain our hair, a comprehensive understanding of what hair is, what it does, and how to handle it is critical. Before we dive into how to build a hair regimen for type 4c hair let’s cover a few hair fundaments:
It starts with a healthy scalp1
Have you ever heard the old wives’ tale about “dirt making your hair grow”? If not, lucky you. But for many black women, this is a sad tale that has been passed around. With this tale, we wear weaves, wigs, and protective styles for too long and neglect the health of our scalps. Even if you haven’t heard this tale, perhaps you go weeks between washes naturally.
But the same way we cleanse our face to promote healthy skin, we must also cleanse our scalp to remove the buildup of natural oils and dirt. A healthy scalp has many beneficial oils that support hair growth, but these natural oils actually need to be removed regularly as they begin to mix with dead skin cells, sweat, and environmental debris on the scalp2.
If not removed on a regular basis, the hair growth rate can be significantly slowed, and chances for issues like folliculitis, seborrheic dermatitis, and even hair loss are increased3.
Next is understanding 4c curls Diameter
“Fine hair strands have the smallest diameter and are the most fragile hair texture. Many naturals, especially with tighter coils, have hair between fine and medium. This texture can process easily and quickly with heat and chemical treatments. This texture is often mistaken for coarse hair and many fine hair naturals have experienced improper chemical/heat/ styling techniques leading to damage. It’s also very easy to chemically over process, create heat damage, or over manipulate when styling.” – Black Girl Curls, Wash Your Damn Hair Book.
Think of 4c hair like a silk blouse that requires delicate handling and dry cleaning only. This is where the idea of low manipulation and even protective styling begins. Hair density plays an important factor in how strong your hair is, how it responds to manipulation, and what treatments you can use.
Finally is the natural hair growth cycle
Hair grows in three distinct stages4:
Anagen is the active or growth phase.
The anagen stage is when hair follicles produce new hair. It is considered the active or growth phase. The average woman’s anagen phase is 170 days long while some women have a longer and some shorter anagen phase. This new hair (the actual shaft that is visible) The average growth rate of hair is 1/2 inch per month. 90% of the hair is in the anagen stage at any given time5.
Catagen is the transitional state between hair growth and hair loss.
After anagen, the next phase of the hair growth cycle is catagen, and this usually lasts for about two or three weeks. This is a transitional state between the growth phase and the resting phase. Catagen is part of the natural hair growth cycle, the hair bulb disappears and the root shrinks to form a club bulb6.
Telogen is the resting stage.
The telogen, or “resting” stage, lasts about one to two months, in which hair does not grow in this phase. The hair follicle shrinks in preparation for its next anagen cycle. Hair either sheds or stays in the scalp7. This part of the hair growth cycle is why we often find so much hair on our brush or comb and even in the drain.
Since many of us only detangle on average every 1-2 weeks during “wash day,” it is not uncommon to come away with a large ball of hair. This is natural and should not cause alarm.
What about terminal length? This is the maximum length hair could possibly reach without being cut or damaged. Each strand of hair completes an individual growth cycle, shedding when the cycle is complete, and it is then replaced with newly growing hair8.
This does not mean that all your hair strands will reach the terminal length at the same time. There are several things that can determine how long your hair can grow, but primarily it is determined by genetics and age.
Understanding the hair growth cycle helps you have more patience and grace when learning how to grow 4c hair to waist length. You are no longer fighting yourself or nature, you are working with the hair growth cycle. You can learn how to manipulate your hair more effectively and not make mistakes like over manipulating because it is in its telogen phase or over conditioning because the hair is in the anagen phase.
Having this knowledge becomes especially important if you decide you want to transition from relaxed to natural hair.
During and after the transition, it is extremely important to follow protective styles and low manipulation techniques because the ends of the hair are in the telogen phase and will break off easily. The less you handle this fragile hair, the more likely you will have retained length and increase your overall hair length.
How To Grow 4c Hair To Waist Length
The important thing to remember on your hair journey is a daily hair care routine doesn’t revolve solely around hair products. A healthy hair care regimen involves being knowledgeable about hair fundamentals (if you skipped the section above, go back, it’s vital), practicing and mastering your personal styling techniques, and eating a balanced diet.
1. Wash Your Scalp and Hair Regularly
To cultivate healthy hair growth a clean scalp is vital. Remember if dirt and your scalp’s natural oils are not removed on a regular basis, hair growth can be significantly slowed. On average, you should wash your hair every 5 to 10 days.
Depending on your lifestyle (where you work, your environment, and level of activity) this can change but essential you do not want to go more than 14 days without washing your hair.
Myth: Shampoo dries out 4c hair
What most people considered stripped or drying is actually the feeling of your natural hair surface texture without a lot of product or coating.
It is important to know that shampoos come on a spectrum. Often the “shampoo causes dry hair” narrative comes up when you are using a shampoo with a cleansing strength that is too strong for your hair.
If you choose a regimen that includes water-soluble products and wash regularly, an all-purpose shampoo and even a co-wash can provide enough cleansing power to keep your scalp healthy and hair primed for hydration.
Recommended All-Purpose Shampoos For 4c Hair
If you choose a regimen that uses butters and oils you will need a shampoo with a strong cleansing power since oils and butter are not water-soluble. They are much more difficult to remove and depending on how often/long they have been applied to hair can be difficult to remove in one wash. If this is your regimen, washing with an almost-clarifying shampoo is strongly recommended.
Recommended Clarifying Shampoos For 4c Hair
2. Condition Your Hair After Washes
Shampooing lifts the cuticles of your hair and prepares it for conditioning and essential nutrients. This is the step where many 4c naturals turn to a deep conditioner for moisture. But contrary to popular belief, 4c hair does not always require deep conditioning. A moisture conditioner that contains humectants and some emollients can do the trick.
An effective moisture conditioner:
- prevents water loss from your hair strands allowing it to stay hydrated for 4-5 days
- contains humectants to actively attract moisture to your hair strands
- provides a lipid layer that makes hair easier to comb
- contains some *protein to contribute to strength and flexibility
*protein is optional but if a small amount is included in your weekly containers can reduce the need for protein treatments.
Recommended Moisture Conditioners For 4C Hair
You may think oil sealing is the next step, but conditioner is your sealant. Here’s why:
Closing and sealing your hair cuticles to retain moisture requires going down in ph.
- The shampoo has a ph between 6 and 9 (depending on your cleansing power)
- Conditioner is between 3 and 5 (this is when the cuticle begins to close)
- Styling products are between 3 and 6 (cuticles are signed, sealed, and delivered)
Products like olive oil, castor oil, and even our prized coconut oil don’t have a ph and actually don’t contribute to closing our cuticle. They only add additional oil to the scalp and speed up your wash time to avoid clogging pores.
It’s best to save oils for the end after styling to provide a sheen natural 4c hair. It’s also important to know that the surface structure of afro hair when it is natural doesn’t reflect as much light when curly making it more difficult to create the shiny look associated with straight hair. (This doesn’t mean that the 4c hair type is dry or dull, it just means the lens that you use to view it as healthy shouldn’t be the same as the one you view with straight hair)
It’s best to save oils for the end after styling.
3. Style Your Hair
Remember on average, you should wash your hair every 5 to 10 days. This means after cleansing and conditioning you should choose a style that you enjoy seeing yourself in until your next wash day.
If it is a style that takes a long time to create (meaning you will feel as if your time was wasted if you have to wash again in 7 days) or it prevents you from accessing your scalp in 5-10 days it isn’t a good idea to choose it.
On the other hand, if you work out often or live in an area that is humid, you should also choose a style that can hold you for 4-5 days so that you can hold on until your next wash day.
The main idea here is to choose a style that can last until your wash day and doesn’t prevent or deter you from washing.
It’s also important to choose low manipulation styles to cause less damage and hair problems.
If you have short hair, natural hair styles like wash and gos, twists, coils, and bantu knots are a great way to avoid having to style or touch your hair between washes.
If you have shoulder-length hair, styles like wash and gos, twists, twist outs, braid outs, roller/rod sets, and buns are great choices.
If you have longer hair, styles like wash and gos, twists, braids, twist-outs, braid outs, roller/rod sets, pin-ups, and buns are also great choices.
The best gel for 4c wash and gos
The best styling cream 4c for 4c twists/braids/bantus
The best mousse for roller/rod set twist/braid out
The key here is to create a signature style for your hair type and the length of your hair. Your signature style should be something you feel beautiful and confident with. It should also be something that you can do on your own with little to no effort.
If your ideal signature style involves something more complex or advanced in styling techniques you will need to be patient with yourself. Mastering styling techniques and product application methods take time. But with practice, this will greatly help you on the journey to waist length hair.
If you don’t have time for that partnering with a knowledgable natural hair stylist who understands your goal for long length is the best thing you can do.
Additional Tips For How To Grow 4c Hair To Waist Length
Get regular trims
Split ends, fairy knots, and tangles oh my. These are common with our type of hair and we often live with damaged ends because of hair trim horror stories (I asked for a trim and she cut too much off). This is why we go so long without getting our hair trimmed. But in reality, damaged ends cause more harm than good.
When your hair ends are damaged it is more difficult for your hair to do what it needs to do when styling. This creates unnecessary stress on your hair and mental health. Split ends and knots can continue up the hair stand and need to be trimmed to ensure retention.
Partnering with a stylist who understands your goals and who has a proven track record of long-length clients is vital. Do extensive research when choosing a stylist (check their Instagram and website) and always go for a consultation before allowing them to even touch your hair. Make sure you’re comfortable with a stylist before allowing them to do anything that may alter your natural hair.
Avoid causing extra and unnecessary damage
Avoid using hot tools like flat iron, as these can put too much heat o the hair surface creating damage and causing you to lose inches of hair over time.
Pamper yourself with natural treatments
It’s important to step away from your regimen every now and then to treat yourself. Hot oil treatments before a clarifying session can be relaxing and can increase blood circulation in your scalp and promote growth.
To do this use a warm carrier oil like jojoba and add a few drops of stimulating essential oils (like peppermint oil9 and rosemary oil) to increase blood flow when applied and massaged on the scalp. Let sit for 5 minutes then wash well with a strong cleansing shampoo.
When it comes to learning how to grow 4c hair to waist length there are a number of right things you can do and a number of wrong things. The key is to find a practice and regimen that fits your personal style and lifestyle. There really isn’t a limit to long can 4c hair grow, the only limitations are those we create in your heads.