How Long Does It Take to Grow Out Natural Hair?


By Audrey Sivasothy, author of The Science of Black Hair: A Comprehensive Guide to Textured Hair Care

“How long will it take me to grow out my hair and reach my hair length goals?”

This question, and the many variations of it, is one of the most frequently asked hair questions I get. Unfortunately, it is also one of the toughest questions to answer. Many factors determine the length of time it takes for a person to grow out their hair and reach certain hair lengths. This article will try to offer some guidance for length planning. As you read, bear in mind that the time estimates listed for growing out the hair in this article are just that-estimates. You’ll see that by the number of “typicallys and generallys” sprinkled throughout the article. There are just so many factors that influence when hair length goals are met including genetics, your anatomical structure, and the level of care and attention you give your hair. Growing out the hair takes years of consistent, diligent care. Though many folks are interested in achieving longer hair lengths, they do not realize the significant time investment that is involved in growing hair. Unrealistic goals and magical creams and potions that promise faster growth results but fall short on the promises make it easy to become discouraged. The only tried and true method for growing out the hair is good old fashioned time. Never fails!
General Considerations
Hair grows approximately ½ inch per month, for a total of six inches in one year. This rate is an average across races. Asian hair grows slightly faster than this average, Caucasian hair grows near the average,and black hair trends to grow at or just below this average each month. Genetics will also influence how close to the average ½ inch you get each month. Ultimately, the estimated time length for growing out the hair and reaching any hair length goal depends on two main factors: each individual person’s hair growth rate and their retention ability. A faster hair grower will always reach their goals sooner than a slower grower if the retention rates are the same. A slower grower will reach their goals consistently over a faster grower who poorly retains their length. Two individuals may grow their hair at the same exact rate while only one reaches her hair goals consistently, this is an instance of an ends retention problem for one of the growers. I often hear ladies say, “My hair is not growing, no matter what I do”-and for chemically relaxed ladies in particular we see that this is not true every 8-10 weeks when they are going in to have their relaxer retouched! Your hair is ALWAYS growing, retention may be the issue.
The Typical Process
Growing out the hair tends to follow a certain path. Generally changes in the look, thickness, and feel of the hair come first. Usually it is within the first 3-4 months of your hair journey that you’ll notice these improvements in thickness, and this tends to happen before you ever see any additional length. The big difference in length usually happens around 6-8 months into the journey provided you have been diligent with your hair care. For me, I started my journey in about June/July of a year, and noticed my hair getting thicker around October of the year. By December and January, I could see the length starting to come as well.

The timetable below is one that is suggested by the literature, but my personal hair growing experience has been different with personal setbacks, style changes, and trims all throughout my journey. Be forewarned, it is a very generalized timetable and not something you should feel compelled to follow to the letter. I certainly have strayed from the mark! Please note that this timetable is so open to interpretation that I almost hesitate to post it here, but some may find it useful!

Timetable
Shoulder length:In general, assuming that you are starting from a fresh, bald shave it should take you about 2 to 2 ½ years to reach shoulder length with great hair care.

Armpit Length: Between shoulder length and brastrap length lies another popular hair length in the hair forum world known as “armpit length” (APL). This is the length along the back that is defined by the imaginary line drawn across the back where the arm meets the back (armpit) and then travels across to the other side. From shoulder length, APL could be anywhere from 6-15 months away- obviously depending on individual trim rates and retention.

Brastrap Length: About 9 months to 18 months from there, you can expect to be reaching brastrap length (BSL). I’ve seen it done in both. This is the length along the back where the bottom strap of your bra rests.* This length is typically 3 years out from a clean shave.

Midback/Waist: From a clean shave, it will take you about 3-4+ years of healthy hair care to reach midback length (between brastrap and waistlength), and possibly another six months to a year to reach waist length considering the length of your torso/back and any trims you may do along the way.

This is the general schedule that I have in mind when I’m thinking about growing out hair. Keep in mind that these measurements are all mathematical and based on ½ inch a month growth and probably “average” height. If your growth rate is slightly slower than average, and you are a taller person-these estimates will be different from someone who is shorter, but has a faster than average ½ a month growth. Trimming, then takes the estimates to an entirely different dimension so there is a lot of wiggle room here. The bottom line is that it does take several years to reach many of the lengths along the back.

Growing out black hair is basically a commitment to care. You almost have look at it as an investment in your hair. Though some of the health returns are immediate (shine, thickness, strength), the length returns may be several years off. If you are aggressively trimming, experimenting with colors/styles, or have setbacks along the way, (raises hand) of course– it will take much longer for you to reach your different goals. If it is taking you longer to meet your goals, do not be too hard on yourself. Consider re-vamping your regimen or changing a few products or techniques. And don’t, don’t, don’t compare your progress to others no matter how tempting it might be. That is a surefire way to throw in the towel and give up! We are all different and our paths to whichever hair goals we have will be just as different. There is no one way there, and I’ve even had to come to grips with the fact that I am not a ½ inch a month timetable follower myself!
A word of encouragement
Finally, there are always exceptions to the rules. Some of us take longer to reach various hair milestones (raises hand), while some of us reach them in record time. In any event, be encouraged ladies! Sometimes change is hard to see. The problem is that we are faced with our hair everyday. You know how when someone has a baby and you don’t see the baby for a few months and then BAM the kid is practically graduating from college the next time you run into them?! Hair is like that too. I’ve run into many ladies that say, “I’ve been at this for a few months now- I’ve changed everything! But I don’t see very much growth. I am about to quit!” The problem with this thinking is that whether you quit or not, time is still going to continue to move right along. You are going to have to pass that time anyway! Six months, 12 months. . . healthy hair care or not! Wouldn’t you rather be six months down the line knowing that you’ve done all you can to address your hair with a little growth rather than be 6 months down the line with hair that is in the same condition it was before you started caring for it? So don’t give up! Be encouraged ladies.
*(Note about BSL: Others have suggested that this length be measured using an imaginary line at the height of the nipples and around across the back. Others suggest that it should be measured at the bottom of the shoulder blades on the back.)

Ladies, how long has it taken you to achieve your hair length goals?

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