Natural hair growth seems like magic if you don’t know the science behind the process. Luckily, the scientific community has researched the phenomenon for centuries, drilling down with microscopic clarity to see what makes hair grow.
Besides, you don’t need to be a researcher to find value in understanding how hair growth works. Everyone wants their hair to be healthier, look better, and benefit their self-confidence rather than detracting from it.
With that in mind, what are the factors and conditions that actually promote real, sustainable hair growth on the scalp? What’s happening on a molecular level that makes hair grow long and strong, even in the face of genetic alopecia and environmental stressors?
In this article, we’re offering the definitive guide to what promotes hair growth and what you can do to maximize your natural hair potential at any stage of life.
Like circulation, respiration, and digestion, hair growth is a biological process that follows the same steps in all human beings. Let’s discuss the main components of hair growth and see what clues we can gather to benefit our hair health and longevity.
The most important element of hair growth is the health and function of the follicle structure. These are tube-like pores in the scalp that exist within the top two layers of the skin and can contain anywhere from one to five strands of hair at any time.
This is a key distinction that many overlook: follicles and hairs are related but not the same. When doctors like Jae Pak, M.D. perform hair, eyebrow, or beard transplantation surgeries, they target the entire follicle unit for extraction and implantation, ensuring that real hair grows as it should when placed on the hairline or crown.
The follicle unit is the engine that drives hair growth, but what does the process look like in terms of timing, sequence, and structure? Three phases of hair growth have been identified: anagen, catagen, and telogen.
In the anagen phase, development begins at the root of the hair follicle, as nutrients and amino acids flood the vessels and add about one centimeter of growth per month. This phase can last anywhere from two to seven years and requires strong blood circulation and hair care.
Once the first phase is complete, a follicle will transition to a resting phase called catagen, which lasts for roughly two weeks. Blood flow slows down, nutrient delivery ceases, and the strength of the hair reaches a peak and plateau.
Finally, the telogen phase moves the hair from resting to inactivity and decline. Over three to four months, telogenic follicles cause hair to gently uproot and shed onto your hair brush, pillow, or shower drain. Soon enough, however, the anagen phase begins again, and the cycle starts over from scratch.
These cycles happen at different rates and stagger throughout the hundreds of thousands of follicle units on the scalp at any given time.
Seeing someone with long, healthy hair and complete scalp coverage signals general health and proper biological function throughout the body. In other words, a healthy organism grows hair easily and automatically, making this a priority for anyone seeking better hair growth.
After all, the body’s many systems are interconnected, and we see how they interact in harmony to promote hair growth on the scalp. For example, the nutrients we get from food are the physical building blocks of hair cells (biotin, oils, amino acids). The endocrine system regulates hormones that dictate the growth phases of the follicles for ongoing development and maintenance.
Circulatory health also plays a role in promoting hair growth, as blood vessels around the follicle unit function as the delivery system for nutrients, oxygen, and the various hormones that keep processes moving along.
When we analyze the body as a whole, we can see how each system promotes hair growth and keeps each follicle functioning as it should through the years.
When doctors analyze dysfunction in hair growth, they first look at a patient’s general health for clues that may reveal a root cause.
Typically, hair follicle conditions are related to inflammation, metabolic issues, autoimmune disorders, or problems with hormone regulation. An experienced hair doctor will identify the source of the issue and address it directly before recommending other courses of action.
While alopecia areata and effluvium may affect some patients, the most common cause of hair loss is androgenetic alopecia, or standard male pattern balding. This results from DHT interfering with the natural growth cycles of the follicle and causing miniaturization of the structure over time, leading to thinning and eventual hair loss.
The growth cycles of hair follicles reveal the complexity and interconnectedness of the body’s many systems and functions. But what practical tips can you employ to help promote hair growth or slow the process of degeneration over time?
Here are seven methods to consider.
Blood flow, metabolic health, and proper hormone regulation are all key to helping hair grow long and strong. Daily exercise is a great way to jumpstart these systems of the body with controlled forms of stimulation and stress.
Jogging, strength training, or just daily walks and yoga can all help keep the body in good shape while promoting blood circulation and nutrient delivery to the hair follicles at all times.
Just as hair follicles undergo growth and rest phases, our bodies need daily rest and recovery to stay in top form after performing during waking hours. During sleep, blood vessels remove waste products from the cells of the follicle unit while reducing inflammation and other sources of stress.
To give your hair the best chance of growth, dial in your sleep routine and avoid sleep deprivation problems.
Proteins, fatty acids, vitamin C, and vitamin D are some building blocks that help hair grow properly. This requires a balanced diet and perhaps additional supplementation to fill nutrition gaps.
Some patients find that combination supplements, including biotin, keratin, omega-3 fatty acids, and collagen, help hair grow, while a simple over-the-counter multivitamin can do the trick for others.
Caring for your hair is key to maintaining clean and functional follicle units that promote hair regrowth. This includes the usual routine of daily showering with shampoo or conditioner or the use of healthy scalp massage combined with essential oils. Dry hair can cause breakage, so adding moisture will be key.
Additionally, frequent trims and grooming methods can minimize frizz, split ends, shedding, and tangles which can harm hair strands during resting phases. Stay on top of these routines and give your hair a fighting chance to grow.
Stress comes in many forms, and reducing excess stress can help your hair reach its potential. This means managing mental stress from work and relationships while implementing tactics like meditation, relaxation, and taking time for yourself.
It’s not a coincidence that high-stress lifestyles are correlated with hair loss, so try to limit stress where possible to help hair grow better. There are plenty of anecdotal cases in which positive lifestyle changes reverse hair loss, so don’t discount this possibility.
Many forms of styling and aesthetic hair treatments are worse for our hair than we think. Using heat elements like curling irons and presses can fry the delicate structure of hair strands and accelerate thinning.
Dying hair can also damage the follicle roots with synthetic compounds that disrupt growth and rest cycles. Try to avoid these harsh treatments and opt for natural styling methods when available to avoid damaged hair and support healthier hair.
Certain hairstyles can also contribute to hair thinning, such as straightening curly hair with heat styling, tight ponytails, and braids.
If you’ve done everything you can to maximize hair growth naturally but still are not seeing the results you want, it may be time to introduce new hair loss treatments that take things to the next level. Microchanneling is a popular form of collagen induction therapy, and low-level red light has also proven useful.
In cases of moderate hair loss or a receding hairline, transplantation is a viable option for many patients. These procedures are highly customized, ranging from high-volume FUT strip surgeries (thousands of grafts) to smaller, more targeted FUE procedures that add coverage and density to key areas. Even Long hair FUE procedures can benefit patients by increasing hair volume for more elaborate styling.
Healthy hair growth can feel like a roll of the dice, with genetic factors dictating the outcomes in many cases. However, the more we discover about the impact of diet, lifestyle, treatments, and procedures, the more control you can take over your hair growth, present and future.
If you feel that your hair growth is not where it could be, or you’re noticing the first signs of pattern balding, the time to act is now. Connect with our experts at Jae Pak, M.D. Medical, and let’s get you on course for genuine, sustainable hair growth that lasts.
Standardized Scalp Massage Results in Increased Hair Thickness by Inducing Stretching Forces to Dermal Papilla Cells in the Subcutaneous Tissue | NIH
Mayo Clinic Q and A: Collagen and Biotin Supplements | Mayo Clinic News Network
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