We are born with the total amount of hair follicles we will ever have over our lifetime. There may be about 5 million on our body, but our head has about 100,000 follicles. As we age, some follicles stop producing hair, which is how baldness or hair thinning occurs.
The American Academy of Dermatology says that hair grows about 1/2 inch per month on average. That's a grand total of about 6 inches per year for the hair on your head.
How fast your hair grows will depend on your:
- specific hair type
- overall health
- other health conditions
Science has discovered a little bit about how hair growth is controlled at the cellular level in the body, but not enough to know how we can directly speed up hair growth. Read on to learn about the science behind hair growth and how to use that knowledge for healthier hair.
Hair grows in three stages, and each strand of hair follows its own timeline. These three stages are:
- anagen: active growth phase of hair that lasts 2-8 years
- catagen: transition phase where hair stops growing, lasts 4-6 weeks
- telogen: resting phase where hair falls out, lasts 2-3 months
The average scalp has 90-95 percent of the hair follicles in anagen phase. This means about 5-10 percent are in the telogen phase, which accounts for the 100-150 hairs that fall out every day.
Can you increase the anagen phase for hair growth?
How long the anagen phase lasts depends on how long your hair is and if the cells in your follicle base are continuing to multiply and become hair cells. Hair grows because matrix cells shed some of their structure as they reach the upper follicle. The shed structure combines with keratins to form hair strands that exit your skin’s surface.
Researchers are still looking into what triggers our bodies to "turn on" the anagen phases. But there are steps you can take to promote healthy hair during the anagen phase.
Hair is made up of keratin and dead skin cells. While there’s no direct method to make your hair grow faster overnight, there are steps you can take to keep your hair healthy and long. Talk to your doctor before trying supplements such as biotin, keratin, or other nutritional supplements. They may interact with medications and cause unintended side effects.
1. Keep up with vitamins and nutrients
While many companies promote vitamins or supplements for hair growth, they don’t always directly affect hair length. But the body does require a lot of energy to make your hair grow. Missing out on balanced meals and nutrients can affect hair growth.
It’s best to get your vitamins and nutrients from your diet, but supplements you may be interested in include:
|Vitamin or nutrient||Does it work?||Studies|
|omega-3 and 6||may work||In a study of 120 healthy females, the group who took omega-3 and -6 supplements had less hair loss and improved hair density.|
|zinc||may only affect those with a zinc deficiency||Zinc deficiency plays a role in hair loss.|
|B-5 and biotin||no evidence that it works for people who are not biotin deficient||A study that looked at oral supplements containing biotin and zinc found that they helped decreased hair shedding and improved hair quality and strength.|
|vitamin C||anecdotal evidence||The antioxidant effects of vitamin C may help prevent oxidative stress that causes hair to gray and thin out.|
|iron||may only work if you have an iron deficiency||Insufficient evidence for the relationship between iron deficiency and hair loss.|
|vitamin D||may only work if you have alopecia, or hair loss||One study found that people with alopecia had vitamin D deficiencies.|
2. Apply essential oils
Put a few drops of into your shampoo or dilute it with jojoba oil. One study showed that pumpkin seed increases hair count for men with hair loss by 40 percent.
Avoid applying essential oils directly to your skin. You can dilute the oil with a few drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil. Two other oils that may help include rosemary and peppermint oil. While the trials have been animal studies, results suggest that these oils may benefit hair growth.
You can also mix these essential oils with other carrier oils that prevent hair damage, such as:
3. Try topical ointments
Topical ointments are generally for people experiencing hair loss. They may help your hair grow. Studies show that these products are effective in treating alopecia, or hair loss, and promoting hair growth:
- topical melatonin reduces hair loss and increases hair density
- topical minoxidil 5 percent slows hair loss
- ketoconazole shampoo
4. Take keratin supplements
There aren’t many studies on the effects of protein, keratin, and vitamins on hair health. One study looked at a product that had 500 milligrams of keratin and other vitamins and minerals. The group that took the supplement showed:
- 12.5 percent reduction in hair loss
- 5.9 percent improved in hair strength
- improved hair brightness and luster
5. Use protein
Protein helps your hair grow and protect it from chemical and environmental damage. If you style or apply heat to your hair often, using a protein treatment can protect your hair. You can purchase these online or use coconut oil at home. Coconut oil helps reduce protein lost both before and after washing hair.
Too much protein can affect your kidneys. It may also cause your hair to become brittle, although this is rare. It’s best to get protein from your diet and not supplements. You can get protein from vegetables, nuts, yogurt, and other foods.
6. Caffeinate your follicles
Studies are still new on the effects of caffeine on hair growth, but a cell study found that caffeine may have growth-promoting effects on hair. Using hair products with caffeine, like this shampoo by AB Crew, as an ingredient may help.
There are a few factors that can affect hair growth, including:
- genetics or family history of hair loss
- hormonal changes
- lack of nutrition
- trauma that damages follicles
- other diseases or conditions
It's also important to note that if you are experiencing unexplained and severe hair loss, you should schedule a checkup with your doctor, as certain illnesses and health conditions can cause hair loss.
Hair growth during and after pregnancy
Women who are pregnant may feel that their hair is actually growing faster. And women who have just had a baby may feel like they are losing their hair at a faster rate than normal. This is because during pregnancy, the hormone estrogen actually causes a woman to have a higher ratio of hair follicles in the growing phase. After the baby is born, hair follicles return to the "resting" phase, making it appear as if they are shedding hair.
Most of the factors that control hair growth are out of our day-to-day control. The best step you can take is to prevent hair loss and thinning due to poor nutrition. Be sure to eat a balanced diet and stay hydrated. Check in with your doctor if you feel that you are experiencing significant hair loss.