Slow hair growth is becoming more common for both men and women. This is partially due to poor diets and stressful lifestyles. It can become particularly problematic as we get older or go through a stressful period in life.
Hair that grows slowly can be accompanied by thinning, lifeless, and overall lackluster hair that just does not look as good as it used to.
Improving the speed at which your hair grows is possible. In turn, the overall health, shine, thickness, quality, and texture of your hair should improve.
Understanding the Hair Growth Cycle
To understand why your hair is not growing as fast as it used to, it is first important to understand how hair grows. The cycle takes place over three phases. They are (1):
- Catagen; and
Here is a closer look at each phase.
Also known as the active growth phase, anagen lasts anywhere from two to seven years. It begins towards the end of telogen, the last phase in the cycle (see below). There are actually a few steps before an anagen hair shaft even makes its appearance on the surface of the scalp:
- The hair follicle enlarges and deepens. This happens because more nutrients and blood supply are required for a new hair to form. This increased supply will be delivered by the Dermal Papilla (the structure at the very bottom of the follicle).
- A hair bulb forms at the base of the follicle. Once the follicle has deepened enough, the bulb is able to form. This bulb is the very start of a hair strand, and it will play a big role in development.
- The follicle fully attaches to the DP. With the bulb in place, the follicle can now receive blood and nutrients from the DP.
- The hair strand begins to grow. Finally, the hair strand grows. It will first grow upwards until it reaches the scalp (as it pushes the telogen hair from the follicle), and then outwards.
At any given time, 90% of your hair follicles are in the anagen phase.
When the phase of active growth ceases, it is time for transition. This is the catagen phase, which lasts anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
Over this time period, the bulb will detach from the DP (so it can no longer receive blood supply). The hair strand will then slowly move up in the follicle, as the follicle shrinks to push it out.
The strand is still held firmly in place, though normal activities (such as scratching, brushing, etc.) can dislodge it.
This is known as the resting phase and for good reason. At this time, there is little to no activity within the follicle.
However, beneath the follicle is where the anagen phase is beginning all over again. It is at this time that the follicle will once again widen which leads to the shedding of your telogen hairs. In fact, you can expect to shed anywhere from 50 – 150 telogen hairs per day.
If a white bulb is present at the bottom, this is indicative of a hair strand shed during the telogen phase.
(Are you worried about Telogen Effluvium? Take a look at this post here!)
How Does Hair Grow?
Contrary to common belief, each hair shaft grows from the follicle, not at the edges. The follicle slowly pushes it out, by adding more and more cells to the hair shaft in the bulb area.
This means that if you have long hair, the tips of the hair shaft may be several years old. It is for this reason that problems like split ends occur most often at the tip of our hair shafts.
What Is the Speed of Hair Growth?
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, an anagen hair shaft grows on average around half an inch per month. This equates to 12 inches (30 centimeters) in one year.
Is There a Limit to How Long Hair Can Grow?
The truth is that scientists do not know.
Researchers do know that the follicle receives some type of signal to stop actively growing (2). This triggers the beginning of the catagen phase.
While the trigger is unknown, it is known that the timing of the signal is sent is genetically determined (3).
The 8 Main Causes of Slow Hair Growth
Perhaps you think that your diet is varied enough to avoid major vitamin deficiencies. However, even the slightest deficiencies can lead to slow – or even stagnant – hair growth.
Vitamins play a critical role in the way the body functions. While the majority of first-world inhabitants are not likely to suffer from malnutrition, they can still be deficient in many of the most important nutrients.
Some nutrients important for hair growth include iron, vitamins A, B, C, and D, niacin, and zinc. In some cases, even minor deficiencies can throw the body’s systems out of balance. This is true for even hair growth.
Stress and Illness
Stress is a normal part of everyday life, but it is also something that can cause health problems if not treated accordingly.
When people are under stress, there are a number of undetected changes that take place within the body. One of these changes is how you breathe.
As oxygen is crucial to all of our body’s systems, this means that the acquired oxygen must go to the most important organs first – namely, the heart, lungs, brain, etc. This means there is less oxygen that can be delivered to less significant organs, such as the hair follicles.
Stress impairs our general health and impairs our ability to fight disease and to heal ourselves because it reduces the effectiveness of the immune system. Also, stress is not just a mental condition. It can also happen as a result of illness or injury.
(Learn more about stress, and how to cope with it, in this post.)
Chemotherapy medications are perhaps the most common ones linked to hair loss. In fact, they can cause either Anagen Effluvium (AE) or Telogen Effluvium (TE).
The side effects of many common medications – such as blood thinners, antidepressants, and beta-blockers – can include hair loss and thinning (6, 7).
One thing you can do to address this issue is to speak with your doctor. It may be possible to switch to another medication or stop taking the medication altogether.
If you cannot stop the medication, you may be able to combat its effects by using various hair growth techniques. These will be outlined more thoroughly below.
While the human body is capable of incredible things, it is also quite delicate. There is a balance that must be present within the body at all times for it to function properly.
There are many things that can throw off the body, but a very common one is hormonal imbalances. In fact, hormonal imbalance is one of the most common causes of hair loss in women (9).
(Learn more about the causes of female hair loss here.)
Hormone imbalances can go undetected for years. And with a spectrum of causes – ranging from too little to too much of certain hormones – there are a variety of symptoms that you may not be aware of. Unfortunately, one of those symptoms is unexplained hair loss. This may occur on the scalp, or it can even result in bodywide balding.
Excessive Use of Styling Tools
Blow dryers, straighteners, and curling irons – all of these are common tools in a woman’s hairstyling arsenal. They could, however, be causing damage (10).
These tools can cause your hair to become weak and brittle. This breakage can make the hair appear to take longer to grow out when in reality it is growing at the appropriate speed.
While the hair growth cycle is the same for everyone, genetics can play a role in the length of each cycle (3).
Each phase of the hair growth cycle has a length of time in which it lasts. For example, the anagen phase lasts anywhere from two to seven years. This is an average, which means some people have shorter cycles while others have longer.
If you are one of those who have shorter cycles, you are also likely to have a difficult time growing your hair longer.
You know a high fat, high sugar diet is bad for you. Unfortunately, this is the Standard American Diet (SAD), and it can lead to numerous health problems. Aside from heart disease and fatty liver, you can also suffer from hair growth issues. This includes slower than normal growth of hair.
One way a poor diet may impact your hair growth is through blood sugar spikes.
In men and women with insulin resistance, a sugar spike can lead to a release of hormones. Namely, insulin. However, if the body is resistant, sugar levels remain high and insulin isn’t taken into the cells as it should be.
Insulin resistance has actually been linked to hair loss, and while the exact mechanism is unknown, it may be due to premature transition to the catagen phase (11).
How to Combat Hair That Will Not Grow
With so many different ways for slowed hair growth patterns to occur, you may be wondering whether there is a cure. There is not a cure in the true sense, but that does not mean you cannot do your best to create a healthy environment for hair to grow.
NOTE: Improper hair growth can be linked to a number of medical causes, it may be helpful to speak with your doctor. This is especially true if you suspect a hormonal imbalance or a side effect of your medication.
Improve Your Diet and Nutrient Intake
Eat More Protein
The hair is mainly composed of a structure known as keratin, a protein. Keratin plays a rather large role in the human body, as it is not only contained to the hair. It is also found in our skin and nails. And inadequate levels of protein can contribute to this structure’s breakdown (12).
By adding more protein to your diet, you provide a natural source that your body can use in keratin formation. You also increase iron levels, which is a nutrient that is also important for healthy hair.
There are plenty of natural protein sources to choose from, including:
- Tofu and tempeh
- Greek yogurt
- Cottage cheese
- Tuna, Halibut, Salmon
- Peanut butter
Add Bone Broth to Your Weekly Routine
One great way to add protein and other nutrients to your diet is by adding bone broth to your weekly (if not daily) menu.
Bone broth is made when animal bones (traditionally poultry or bovine) are boiled for a long period of time. The time varies, though six to 12 hours is common with poultry and 12 to 24 is common with beef and lamb.
This process enables the nutrients within the bones – particularly within the marrow – to infuse into the water.
One such nutrient is collagen. Collagen is a protein that’s made up of long-chain amino acids. It plays a major role in cell maintenance and renewal and, as such, is found throughout the body’s various tissues and organs (including hair) (13, 14, 15). In fact, collagen is essential to hair’s elasticity which means a lack of collagen in your diet can lead to breakage and increased hair fall.
The easiest way to increase collagen intake is with a daily bone broth.
You can make a large batch at the beginning of the week, and then store it in the fridge for up to three days. If you want it to last longer, you can even store it in your freezer indefinitely.
Avoid Calorie Dense, Low Nutrient Foods
Foods like wheat, rice, and corn products may provide cheap calories that fill you up, but these food sources are often lacking nutrients and minerals. By filling your diet with these types of foods, you will be filling yourself up, but your body may be lacking the nutrients and minerals it needs to grow hair.
Add More Colorful Selections
Fruits and vegetables are naturally high in vitamins and minerals, and they are also high in fiber.
There are other benefits to eating more produce, too. You can effectively reduce your risk of chronic conditions (such as heart disease), while also managing your weight more easily (16).
Monitor Your Nutrients
The most definitive way to know if you suffer from any deficiencies is to see your primary care physician. A simple blood test can check your vitamin and mineral levels, and you can then come up with a plan for nutrient intake from there.
You can also track your nutrient intake the good ol’ fashioned way by tracking the nutrient levels of the foods you consume.
When you know how much of each nutrient you should consume, you are sure to bring your vitamin levels into alignment. This assumes there are no malabsorption issues, such as is common in individuals with Celiac’s or Leaky Gut Syndrome (LGS).
So, exactly which nutrients should you be monitoring?
If you suffer from Androgenetic Alopecia, you will also be happy to know that quite a few of the above vitamins actually block DHT.
Aside from diet, unnatural damage to the hairs can prevent them from growing at their normal rate. By preventing damage before it happens, you can make it easier for your hair to grow to its natural, healthy length.
Reduce Hair Washing
Our scalps produce a natural, protective substance known as sebum. When left on its own, it can coat the hair strands and protect the hair follicles from damage. When you wash your hair daily (or, even every other day), you strip your scalp of these natural oils.
As an attempt to protect your scalp, your pores will begin to overproduce the substance. This can lead to itching, irritation, and even clogging of the pores.
(Learn more about sebum buildup, and how to handle it, here.)
To strike a balance, it is recommended to wash your hair no more often than twice per week. In fact, the less often you wash, the better! This will then give your scalp time to do its job, and there will be less risk of damage and stress on the follicles.
Get Regular Trims
Trimming your hair does not make it grow quicker. It does, though, prevent your hair strands from breakage and split ends.
Lower Stress Levels
To prevent lowered oxygen and even stress-driven actions, such as hair pulling, it is important to keep your stress levels in check.
There are plenty of stress-reducing methods to try out yourself, but two you may want to try are meditation and chee breathing.
With both of these practices, you are forced to focus on your breathing (17). You learn to take deeper, more meaningful breaths, as well as slow your thoughts and free your mind of unhelpful thoughts.
Best of all, meditation and chee breathing can have long-term impacts on your stress levels (18). This means you can preemptively treat anxiety and acute stress, all in just 20 minutes per day.
Avoid Over Styling
Another way to put stress on your hair is over-styling. If hair straighteners and blow dryers are part of your regular hair care routine, there are things you can do to reduce their negative effects.
- Avoid using straighteners and curling irons on wet hair.
- Add a diffuser to your hairdryer to prevent concentrated heat.
- Use a heat protectant, such as argan oil or coconut oil.
- Upgrade to a boar bristle brush to prevent unnecessary tugging.
It is also a good idea to let your hair rest for as many days as possible.
Create a Healthy Hair Care Routine
Finally, it is time to learn how to increase your hair growth.
Perform Scalp Massage and Exercises
One of the most effective hair growth techniques is the manual stimulation of the scalp. This can be done in the form of massages and scalp exercises, as well as microneedling.
Scalp massages and exercises can naturally increase blood flow, and they also reduce stress levels. If inflammation or calcification are a concern, they can also help to do away with both.
How to Perform Scalp Massage
Using your thumb, middle, and index fingers, place each hand on the sides of your head (just above your ears). Begin to move your fingers in a circular motion, while gently applying pressure to the scalp.
Continue this motion all throughout the scalp, by first moving up to the crown, then to the hairline and temples, and finally to the base.
You can backtrack to previously massaged areas of the scalp as you go along, and a usual routine should last about 10 minutes.
How to Perform Scalp Exercises
Just as the muscles in your body can be exercised, so too can the muscles in your face. More specifically, your eyebrow muscles. When stimulated, they can help to loosen the scalp’s skin and increase blood circulation to the area.
Here is a quick scalp exercise routine you can do at home:
- Lift your eyebrows as high as possible, and hold for one to two minutes. Return to the normal position.
- Furrow your eyebrows as deep as possible, and hold for one to two minutes. Return to the normal position.
- Lift your eyebrows as high as possible, and hold for one to two minutes. Then furrow your eyebrows as deep as possible, and hold for one to two minutes. Finally, return to the normal position.
You can also use your fingertips to gently loosen and tighten the skin. This is a hybrid between massage and exercises, and it can also benefit your hair follicles when done regularly.
For a more in-depth look at the benefits of scalp massages and exercises, check out this post.
Microneedling is a procedure that involves the use of tiny needles. They are gently pushed into the scalp and create micro-wounds as a result.
As the wounds heal, an increase in collagen is produced and skin cells regenerate (20, 21). This can improve the quality of your hair follicles and, as a result, your hair.
There are two tools you can use during a microneedling session: the dermaroller and the dermastamp.
The dermastamp is the better of the two to use, as you can focus on specific areas of the scalp more easily, as well as avoid causing any damage to already-present hairs.
Hair loss is a problem frequently talked about, but stunted hair growth is often overlooked. However, it can have just as much impact on self-esteem and self-confidence, and it can also be just as frustrating to deal with.
Fortunately, there are techniques you can use to combat a slowed hair growth pattern and even increase the health and length of your hair.