*The Shoulder Length Plateau = The "brick wall" of hair growth, where hair appears as though it has stopped growing once it reaches shoulder length. *Particularly common amongst women of colour/african heritage.
For many (if not most) of us with african heritage, we have at some point in our lives hit the shoulder length plateau and become convinced that our hair had stopped growing entirely. We tried everything from excessive (or not enough) trimming and “miracle” creams, to braiding all year long - only to find ourselves back at square one, feeling like we were fighting a losing battle.
Sigh... Fix it, Lord!
But what if I told you that the shoulder length plateau is a myth? Yes girl, they lied. It’s doesn’t exist. Unless you have a genetic or clinical scalp condition, your hair will continue to grow at an average rate of 0.5”(inches) every month. Plus, each individual hair on your head has overlapping growth cycles - which explains why all your hairs do not shed at once. If that were the case, we would all go completely bald every 7-10 years (the duration of the average hair growth cycle). By that logic, it can’t possibly be the case that all the hairs on your head magically know when they’ve reached your shoulders and make a unanimous decision to go on an indefinite strike. What is typically the case, is that your hair is breaking at a similar rate as it is growing. If your hair gains 6" in length every year, but your total hair loss (in length) due to breakage is about the same, we don’t need our grade school math teachers to tell us that the outcome will be appeared stagnation.
So what’s the solution, then?
Ultimately, beating the shoulder length plateau is about maximizing your length retention in any/every given growth cycle i.e. making sure that you’re maintaining the length that you do get - as opposed to losing it.
Here are some ways you can do just that;
Maintaining The Moisture Protein Balance
Two things hair needs to be healthy - moisture and protein. More importantly, the two must be in equilibrium for optimal hair health. Too much moisture (with the absence of protein) will make your hair susceptible to breakage from gummy-ness/excessive elasticity, while the reverse will cause breakage from brittleness of hair that is too hard. This is why ensuring you feed your hair the right amounts (and types) of moisturers and proteins is key to length retention.
In the same way your hair can suffer from a lack of something - you can also lose length as a result of inflicting external stressors on it. Constant and/or improper manipulation methods like excessive or dry combing/brushing, for example, is one of the various ways the ends of your hair can break. Taking care when manipulating your hair in any way shape, or form and protective styling will help minimize direct self inflicted breakage.
Halt the Heat
Ah, heat styling...if you know about this love-hate relationship, you know. Whether or not we know the science behind it, we can all testify that excessive and/or reckless heat use is damaging to the hair. Such high levels of heat (too often, and without an appropriate heat protectant) can not only permanently change the fundamental composition of your hair, but in doing so also leave your hair cuticle severely damaged - exposing your hair to even the most feeble external stressors, and making it that much more difficult to maintain its moisture-protein balance.
Not trimming vs. Excessive trimming
This one has long been a touchy subject in our community so worry not, I will be sure to tread lightly. I will start by reiterating that cutting your hair will not make it grow quicker and is counterintuitive to hair growth. However, as the hair at the ends of each hair is technically the oldest (and most jaded) it is possible that they could “compromise” the health of the rest of the hair and cause breakage. Hairs that are more damaged/that are missing parts of its cuticle are rough/rugged and can latch onto and/or rub against other surrounding hairs which, especially if you have naturally curly/kinky hair, will almost definitely result in knots and tangles - which in turn will lead to increasingly more if not cut off/trimmed. A similar logic works with split ends. We ought to trim them off so they don’t contribute to knots, but also so that a small split doesn’t work its way up, splitting an entire hair - making it completely exposed and for the most part irredeemable. At the same time there is hope. Trimming should only be done as needed, thus, it is only hair that is damaged that needs constant trimming/cutting. Observing the previous three tips will go a long way towards helping you minimizing the need to lose (instead of retain) acquired length.
Well there you have it girls. Adhering to the above in tandem with each other should put you in a good position to win your lifelong battle against the shoulder length plateau. But take note - and heart - that there is an asterisk, and that is *patience. If your hair grows 6” a year on average and you manage to retain 5 of those 6 - you’ve done an incredible job as avoiding breakage completely is almost impossible. But 5” spread over 12 months = 0.4/month. So if you don’t see results overnight, don’t be discouraged. Stick with it and I promise you, it will pay off very nicely!