This is something that’s common sense but something I never really considered or gave a lot of thought to before I joined the online natural hair community. I noticed in high school that my hair was longer (at most armpit length) when I wore it up all the time. I knew my hair could grow long because it was down to the middle of my back up until an unfortunate haircut in 7th grade.  Since then I was unable to grow my hair much longer than armpit length and my ends were in a terrible state.

When I finally read about the difference between growth and retention and the impact those two things have on the length of hair, I knew exactly what I needed to do have long hair.


Barring any medical conditions- such as alopecia, everybody’s hair grows. Average hair growth is a rate of about 1/2 an inch per month. I’ve found personally that my hair grows at a below average rate. If you maintain a healthy lifestyle, your rate of hair growth is largely out of your control. Your hair is growing but how well you take care of your hair will determine whether or not that growth shows.


This is the all important thing to understand when it comes to hair care. Before researching online, I noticed that my hair was longer and looked better during my softball season and I realized I always had my hair up- all day, every day. Retention in a way is how much or little your hair breaks. If the ends of your hair are constantly breaking off, you won’t retain any of the growth you get throughout the months. My hair is very fine in texture and high in porosity so I’ve come to realize there are some absolute musts that I must follow to prevent hair breakage…

1. Use protein.

I need to do protein treatments very often- at least every other week to prevent my ends from fraying, splits, and breaking off.

2. Keep my hair up and cover it at night.

Keeping my hair off my shoulders helps a lot. My ends are in better shape when they don’t have the opportunity to rub on my back and shoulders. I also have to wear a scarf at night because I sleep on my right side every single night and I get thinning at my temple because of that. Wearing a silk scarf to bed prevents damage from friction.

3. Trim often.

I can’t not trim. That type of thing does not work for me. I need my ends to be in tip-top shape and that means trimming on a schedule and trimming off split ends as I see them. Not trimming, will cause any damage on my ends to travel up the strand of hair.

4. Use hair tools sparingly.

I noticed a huge difference in my hair when I took apart my denman brush and hid the pieces in different places-  it was that serious, I was addicted to that thing. I had little C-shaped pieces of curls all over my shower walls after detangling with my denman and some conditioner. For a long time I thought that was a normal part of hair care… Little did I realize that giving up that denman would change that for me. Since November 2011, a comb or brush has only touched my hair 2 times. I don’t even brush before braiding…I finger detangle almost exclusively.

5. Low Manipulation.

I can’t fiddle and style my hair often. I haven’t mastered the 4 day wash and go or the 4 day braidout, so when my hair is loose I re-style it each morning. Wearing mini braids have been the best thing for my hair because I can literally style it only 6 times a year if I wanted to. Putting in braids every two months is the ultimate low manipulation, protective style.

Those are just a few things that are an absolute must for my hair. There’s more but these are the basics. Growth may be largely out of my control but retention is not. I can do many things that help with retaining the hair that I’m growing. Mini braids are the most important tool in my arsenal and I’m happy I’ve perfected this long-term style while I grow my hair to waist length and beyond.

What are some things you have to do help you retain length? Leave a comment below.

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2 Responses to Growth versus Retention

  1. poupette says:

    I am trying now to include low manipulatio in my regimen. For a year I tought grow was the most important thing. I was in my hair almost every day to moisturize and so on, but did not retain any length at all, plus I realize that I was using too much protein and not enough moisture. My cabinet is full with products nothing come with it. Now, I am starting to twist my hair and keep them for 3 weeks. and I am thinking to braid and keep them longer to see if I can reach the armpit length by the end of the year.

    • Jay says:

      Sounds like a good plan. I hope you see good results! I’ve had years like that were I didn’t see much retention but I definitely learned a lot about my hair. So in the end, every part of the hair journey is useful…the ups and the downs. 🙂

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