You have begged, you have pleaded, wondered what kind of voodoo magic Demi Moore is up to and finally, given up. But there’s no question that countless middle-aged women share the same lament: “Why—really, why?—won’t my hair grow any faster? And is it just me, or does it seem to get slower each year?”
In a world of Blake Livelys and Giseles (not to mention plenty of more mature leading ladies), it can seem like everyone is sporting insanely long locks. But keep in mind two things. One, natural, mid-back hair growth is not as common as Hollywood would have you think. While there’s no statistic measuring the overall population’s varying hair lengths, consider a Los Angeles hair expert’s very educated guess. “Oh please, it’s so rare! So many women have extensions. It’s very, very unusual to see naturally long hair. I’d roughly estimate it’s not even 10 percent of women,” says Christophe Belkacemi, a top stylist at the Serge Normant at John Frieda salon in LA.
Second, the hair’s anagen phase (aka the growth stage that is crucial to achieving great lengths) is, like everything else in the world of beauty, seemingly wasted on the young. A P&G (makers of such hair care as Pantene and Herbal Essences) report on the hair growth cycle found the following: “As people grow older, the period of anagen shortens. For example, the hair of someone with a five-year anagen can grow to a length of 60 centimeters before it enters the shedding phase. If their anagen period drops to three years as they age, their hair will then grow only to shoulder length before it falls out or is brushed out.” Not exactly Demi territory.
There’s another new, semi-depressing finding on the correlation between hair growth and aging. Biologically, researchers are finding that hair simply changes. Another in-depth study executed by P&G found that sebum (oil) production overall but here, specifically on the scalp, decreases rapidly starting at age 45. When hair becomes less able to keep itself hydrated, it can become coarser-looking and more susceptible to breakage. Again, not exactly conducive to growth.
And that leads us to the TLC factor. In the latter study, a few findings help explain why at some point, hair basically just kind of gives up in protest. First off, the actual diameter of individual hair strands lessens, which simply means your hair may look skimpier—hardly adding to the illusion of long, cascading locks. Additionally, consider a recent Unilever North America study, which spouted the following statistic: Long hair (that is 24 centimeters long, to be exact), will have 19,122 split ends. Lack of conditioning and breakage from brushing means your hair won’t stand a chance when it comes to length. Talk about growing pains.
Then again, the difference between you and some of the red carpet’s finest could simply be a change in your regimen. Heat styling addicts take note: Step away from the hair dryer. The less you damage strands with high temps (heat weakens cuticles), the more you encourage the growth of long hair—healthier tresses more easily withstand breakage. Additionally, with a slew of new heat protectant lines now on the market—Tresemmé makes a new affordable line called Platinum Strength, which contains conditioning agents meant to mimic the natural lubrication strands lose with age—even flat iron junkies have no excuse to not pre-treat hair before turning up the heat. “Any kind of nourishing base will help protect your hair,” says Belkacemi. “I recommend doing a deep conditioning mask (Serge Normant’s Meta Velour is good) once every 10 days. You would do a mask for your face, so why not your hair?” Think of it as applying moisturizer or primer before you apply your makeup. It should be that basic.
And curly girls take note, too, because P&G research finds your hair is even more susceptible to damage. Make sure to incorporate hyper-moisturizing conditioning products into your daily routine, and pop biotin pills, which may help fortify strands.
Of course, at the end of the day, it might be unavoidable. You may have done all you can, yet it still stands that nothing is happening past your shoulders. While extensions may start to look enticing, think twice. Besides the astronomical cost, they tend to exacerbate the problem. Says Belkacemi, “Extensions at least give you a youthful feeling, psychologically. But they are also counterproductive because they pull on the scalp and can cause thinning and breakage.”
An even simpler, cheaper and infinitely cooler solution? You can still create the illusion of length with a great cut and the right texture. Belkacemi says an all-one-length, blunt and straight style will appear longest, as opposed to layers, which chop up the silhouette and draw the eye up.
And if you happen to be blessed with the ultra long hair you grew out in your youth, don’t forget to take a closer look. While we could care less about those old-fashioned notions that say women of a certain age should wear shorter styles (and we hope you feel the same way!), there’s no denying that when you’re dealing with majorly frayed ends thanks to years of abuse and an increased frizz factor—yes, hair also gets frizzier with age—it may mean you’d be better off with a chic, “long” bob. It’s better to rock a style that looks healthy, rather than just long.
Demi be damned: You want your lengths, no matter what the measurement, to be great.