I've had a long journey with my curls—from hating them, to over-styling them, and finally, accepting and loving them. After a decade-long bout with hair extensions, I decided to unclip and allow my hair a bit of freedom. I thought my hair would grow like lightning, believing surely it was the styling and extra weight that kept the length stagnant for years on end. I stopped using heat tools (save for the occasional blowout) and expected that all my problems would be solved. What I realized, though, is that taking care of your hair is far more involved than putting down the curling iron.
I came to this realization one morning when I opened up Facebook's "On This Day" app and was startled at the picture it presented. There, a year-old picture illustrated just how much my hair had broken off even after I started wearing my natural texture. I looked down at my hair, broken, processed, and dry, and I couldn't believe how much shorter it was than just a year ago—especially since I hadn't actually cut it since. I began to go through an identity crisis of sorts, with this picture as my catalyst. The texture wouldn't lay like it used to (I have photographic evidence of that), it was shorter, thinner, and generally more sad-looking. So I finally booked myself an appointment with Halli Bivona at the John Barrett Salon (my go-to guru) and badgered her with questions once I arrived. Why did this happen? How can we fix it? How should I prevent this from ever happening again? She calmed me down and, in so many words, told me, "I told you so."
Meet the Expert
Bivona and I go way back, and she knows the struggle I've always had with growing out my hair. She constantly prodded, telling me to cut my hair, take better care of it, and listen to her expert advice. But I'm stubborn, and I did nothing of the sort. Finally, my ears and eyes were wide open.
Read on to learn what happens to your hair if you don’t cut your split ends.
1. Your Hair "Stops Growing."
"By not cutting your hair, you are actually risking the length rather than letting it grow," says Bivona. It seems counterintuitive, but by frequently trimming your hair, you'll prevent breakage by removing the dead, fragile ends. When those ends split, they'll eventually travel up your hair and break it off higher, leaving your hair shorter than before—and such was the case with my sad, sad locks.
"To keep your hair growing, I recommend doing a dusting once a season," suggests Bivona, "that way you stay on top of those split ends, without cutting off your precious length." Hair artist Chase Kusero concurs — adding that a dramatic cut isn't necessary, just thin out the ends for healthy hair. "Get a very loose haircut, only cutting the shape with texture, so the hair appears to be un-cut, allowing the hair to hang naturally," he says.
To keep things full and growing, I also started taking Nutrafol's Thinning Hair Supplement ($79) with my morning glass of water. They supply a healthy dose of medical-grade botanical ingredients meant to support hair growth and thickening. I also take Ashwagandha, a powerful Ayurvedic healing herb, as it naturally helps to reduce the stress hormone, cortisol, in your body. The bottle says to expect results in four months, so I'll keep you updated.
Stress is very often one reason—among age, diet, and lifestyle—that your hair begins to thin. Trying to keep your stress levels down will lower Cortisol release in the body and help with mental health and hair growth.
2. It Causes External Damage
"Your hair will continue to rub against clothing, get ripped out by sunglasses, and generally get beat up by your day to day life," Bivona notes. "This roughs up the cuticle, which will cause your hair to lose its shine and cause added dryness and weakness. As your hair gets more damaged, unfortunately, it begins to break off and get caught up more often."
According to Bivona, the best way to protect your hair is to use a deep conditioning mask one to two times a week to smooth down the cuticle and infuse moisture back into your hair. I've been using a very generous amount of Olaplex Hair Perfector No 3 Repairing Treatment ($28) twice a week—it promises to work on a molecular level, seeking out broken bonds in your hair that are caused by chemical damage (like color) and working to repair them. So far, I've noticed a striking difference in the way my hair feels after using the mask. I haven't noticed any new length, but I have recorded a shift in thickness, which is definitely exciting.
Kusero adds that how often you wash and condition can impact the hair, too. "The best advice for those with long hair is to wash the hair less," Kusero says. And when washing, use a clarifying shampoo like IGK’s First Class Charcoal Detox Clarifying Shampoo ($29) and only condition the ends every other time so the hair isn’t weighed down and looks thick."
Investing in a silk pillowcase may help with external damage even more by limiting friction as you sleep.
3. Your Natural Texture Won't Behave Like It Used To
"When you don't cut naturally curly hair, the ends become weak and don't hold their natural shape properly. So, by cutting off the dead ends, you bring life back into your curls," says Bivona.
It's interesting because this isn't something I had considered, even though I had noticed a tangible shift in the way my hair was air-drying. It looked plain and limp instead of big, full, and curly. I began looking for a product that would redefine my curl pattern while it added hydration and shine. Luckily, I had met with Vernon Francois's team the week prior and had a bag full of his line by my desk. The celebrity hairstylist just knows curls, and created a moisture spray that has since really helped my hair—it shapes and defines my hair's texture while infusing each strand with good, moisturizing ingredients.
Lopresti AL, Smith SJ, Malvi H, Kodgule R. An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine (Baltimore). 2019;98(37):e17186. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000017186
Thom E. Stress and the hair growth cycle: cortisol-induced hair growth disruption. J Drugs Dermatol. 2016;15(8):1001-1004.