Have you ever felt like your hair growth was completely stagnant? Like no matter the number of hair masks you put on and nourishing foods you eat, the inches just aren't adding up? Chances are you've got other hair growth–stunting factors in play that you aren't even aware of.
From your meal choices to chemical imbalances to the products you use, here are the reasons your hair isn't growing faster (and how to reverse the damage).
Dermatologist Michele Green, MD cites hormonal problems like thyroid disease or PCOS as causes of hair loss, which, when occurring in small amounts, can make it seem like your hair just isn't growing. Both hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) and hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) involve overall scalp hair loss wherein the hair appears thin and sparse. With PCOS, individuals experience male-pattern baldness where alopecia (hair loss that's concentrated in small sections) causes triangular-shaped hair loss at the scalp.
What Is PCOS?
A common hormonal condition affecting individuals of reproductive age. It can cause irregular cycles, excess bodily hair growth, weight gain, and complications with fertility.
Celebrity hairstylist Paul Labrecque says the way you eat affects your hair's overall health and growth. But it's not so much the foods you are eating, but rather the foods you aren't eating that prevent your hair from growing long and strong—more specifically a lack of nutrients and vitamins. According to a report in the Dermatology Practical & Conceptual, the absence of iron, zinc, niacin, fatty acids, selenium, folic acid, antioxidants, biotin, protein, and vitamins A, D, and E can lead to poor hair health and hair loss. Being particularly low in one or a few of these may pinpoint why your hair isn't reaching its full potential.
Normally, the hair follicle grows, then rests, then sheds to be replaced with new hair. However, for an individual with a severe disease like pneumonia, their hair may go through a stagnant period wherein the stress of the illness causes all hair follicles to go into their resting phase, and hair growth temporarily ceases; this is called telogen effluvium.
Lars Skjoth, founder and head of research and development for Harklinikken says that Mother Nature plays a role in your hair's growth as you age. We know that hair thins as we get older, but there's a heredity factor that may affect your strands' fate faster than others: "The main cause of stunted hair growth is what is known as hair miniaturization caused by hereditary hair thinning," Skjoth explains. "Miniaturization of hair follicles is a process that occurs naturally in those who have a predisposition to androgenetic hair thinning, during which your follicle shrinks in size. A general rule of thumb when it comes to hair length is that the deeper-set your follicle is, the longer your hair is capable of growing. However, miniaturized hair follicles cannot grow very long hairs—they produce hairs that are weaker, duller, and more prone to breakage."
Overprocessing and Styling
It's a no-brainer that heat styling your hair too often can lead to breakage and damage. And according to Green, different types of braids, tight styles, and hair extensions can cause stress to the hair shaft, leading to loss.
The same goes for frequent dying, perming, or chemical straightening. Chemically processed hair is more porous than untreated hair, which results in protein loss, and eventually breakage.
Lastly, Skjoth notes that product buildup, such as overusing dry shampoo, can clog the hair follicle, which prevents hair from growing at a normal pace.
So, What Can Be Done?
For starters, Labrecque suggests proper diet (including fresh, unprocessed, nutrient-dense whole foods) and exercise to keep the body healthy and keep your hair growing. His go-to method, though, is scalp maintenance, which includes a good scalp massage to stimulate your hair and help it grow. He explains, "I've been doing scalp treatments for years on clients and just introduced a new purifying one with Biologique Recherche's incredible Lotion P50 to help balance pH levels, moisturize, and lightly exfoliate to help reveal very healthy hair. I also offer a quick 15-minute Mint Menthol Scalp Revitalizer that helps soothe itchy and dry scalps. The cool eucalyptus menthol peppermint mask is designed to cleanse, improve moisture retention, enhance shine, and treat damaged strands. Plus, it will leave you with an invigorating, tingling, and refreshing feeling that lasts all day."
To address hair miniaturization, Skjoth suggests using a shampoo that promotes the health of the follicle: "Harklinikken Balancing Shampoo ($36) is based on oat and mustard seeds that work to deep cleanse the scalp while regulating its pH balance and still being gentle."
Green is a fan of treating the issue internally. "There are many things you can do to stimulate hair growth depending on the cause. Medications when it is hormonally related (topical Minoxidil, Propecia) or the laser cap to grow hair. The most popular method in my office is PRP (platelet-rich plasma) for hair growth. It works amazingly well to thicken existing hair and promote the growth of new hair. I do three treatments one month apart for the best results with the maintenance of PRP to promote new hair growth."
Important note: Before taking supplements, using a laser cap, or changing your diet, please speak with your general practitioner.
Carmina E, Azziz R, Bergfeld W, et al. Female pattern hair loss and androgen excess: A report from the multidisciplinary androgen excess and PCOS committee. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2019;104(7):2875-2891. doi:10.1210/jc.2018-02548
Guo EL, Katta R. Diet and hair loss: effects of nutrient deficiency and supplement use. Dermatol Pract Concept. 2017;7(1):1-10. doi:10.5826/dpc.0701a01
Cleveland Clinic. Hair loss in women. Updated February 10, 2021.
Gavazzoni Dias MF. Hair cosmetics: an overview. Int J Trichology. 2015;7(1):2-15. doi:10.4103/0974-7753.153450