It’s nearly impossible to not stare when you spot someone with stereotypical shampoo-commercial hair in real life. You know the kind: longer than you’ve ever been able to grow yours, shiny as silk, and just begging to be flipped dramatically in slow motion. So why are some of us plagued by split ends, dull strands, and that seemingly unending awkward stage in between short and sweet and long and luxurious?
We asked eight women with beautiful, healthy-looking, super-long hair for their advice on how to make your hair grow faster. They also shared what they do—and don’t do—to keep their manes in such enviable condition. You may be surprised to learn that the secrets to their healthy strands don't always include expensive shampoos and conditioners; most of them actually rely on drugstore hair products. Many also don't bother with regular trips to the salon—so much for the oft-repeated theory that regular haircuts are the key to growing out your hair.
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Read on to learn their secrets, and steal them for yourself.
Saryn, 38, has worn her hair long for most of her life, letting it reach her waist multiple times throughout childhood and adulthood. “I've always felt most comfortable and like myself with long hair," she says. “It's sort of a security blanket.”
Do you currently color your hair? Nope. I'm always curious to try color/highlights, but then I think my hair is really healthy right now and why mess with a good thing?
Do you get regular trims? Not as regularly as I should. Probably three times a year, but my hairstylist always tells me I should come four times to keep it healthiest.
What’s your typical haircare routine? I wash my hair two or three times a week with Neutrogena Anti-Residue Shampoo and follow with ESPA Nourishing Conditioner; maybe a conditioning mask on Sunday afternoon/evening after a workout. I'll let it air dry for a while, but never go to bed with it wet, so I'll run an argan oil serum or Arrojo Frizz Control cream through it and blow-dry it a bit before I go to sleep. On Monday mornings, I use a heat-protective spray and curl it with a curling iron and run my hands through the curls for a softer effect. I then spray it with BioSilk Silk Therapy, which I’ve been using since college—it’s my favorite product of all time! I’ll touch it up with a curling or flat iron for the next couple of mornings, using the heat-protective spray each time. On Thursdays, I wash my hair again and the cycle repeats itself.
What advice would you give to someone trying to grow her hair long? Put serum on the ends and length of your, but try to keep product off your scalp as much as possible. And definitely be careful with any kind of heating tools. I've singed my hair with irons before, and sometimes smell it "burning" even from the blow dryer. I have a ton of hair so I haven't had any major disasters, but I know fried tresses don't grow very well.
Robin, 31, grows her hair so long sometimes that its weight strains her scalp! “When my friends refuse to talk to me because it's inappropriately long, then I cut it,” she says, and that has meant donating it a couple of times. But she definitely prefers the long look. “I love the look and feel of mermaid hair, especially in the summer.”
Do you currently color your hair? I've never colored my hair. My mother strictly forbade me from coloring it as a teen. I resented her for it, but she always said I'd appreciate it down the road and, as always, she was right.
Do you get regular trims? Nope. I know I should but I don't. Honestly, I cut my hair every 12 to 18 months.
What’s your typical hair care routine? Generally, I wash my hair three or four times per week—in the winter, only after a sweaty workout, and in the summer, after workouts or sweaty days. I condition my hair only every other wash. I use Dove Daily Moisture Shampoo and Conditioner; I love that they never feel heavy or greasy but leave my hair soft and hydrated. A quick towel dry, and then I'll shake my hair out like wet dog (not kidding — I look), and I'll run DermOrganic Pure Argan Oil from roots to end to make my hair dry softer and shinier. And I haven't brushed my hair in years; I'll just run my fingers through when it's wet and call it a day.
What advice would you give to someone trying to grow her hair long? Leave it alone. Cut it when it starts to look ratty. Also, through most of my early and mid 20s, I ironed my hair religiously. Not anymore. But keep in mind, having beautiful mermaid hair isn't always glamorous; it gets stuck in zippers, bag straps, hair ties, etc.
Courtney’s long hair has been her lifelong signature look. “There are people who recognize me from preschool because of my hair”—and she’s 36 now. “At various times over my life it’s been halfway past my butt. It usually hovers just above the waistband of my pants.”
Do you currently color your hair? I get my gray streak colored at a salon every five weeks.
Do you get regular trims? Nope! I just let it grow and grow, and then a couple times a year I get a proper cut by Jamie Cook at Blackstones in New York (even though I live in Missouri). I know that the advice is to get regular trims to keep ends from splitting and breaking, but if you have relatively healthy hair, I actually think regular trims prevent you from reaching really long lengths. If you can easily brush through your ends without hitting tangles, you’re good. That’s how I know when I need a cut—when I can’t brush through the ends anymore.
What’s your typical hair care routine? I wash my hair once a week with real shampoo—none of this cleansing conditioner BS—and use a thick conditioner or hair mask. I love Bumble and bumble Crème de Coco Shampoo and Conditioner because it really cleans without drying out my hair, and the conditioner is really moisturizing and helps prevent tangles. That’s all I do! I don’t own a blow dryer or any hot tools. I barely brush it!
What advice would you give to someone trying to grow her hair long? I try to avoid tight ponytails because I’m afraid of breakage, so I’ll usually do a braid instead. The braid prevents tangles, especially when it’s windy or if you’re wearing a winter scarf or something with a hood. I use scrunchies when I’m hanging around the house because they are soft and don’t put pressure on hair strands. I need scrunchies to come back so I can wear them in public.
Maricar’s look isn’t just about a love of long hair. “Part of my commitment to the length is that it saves me money,” she says. But she also feels it’s the most flattering option for her. “It suits me because it frames my round face.”
Do you currently color your hair? No, I'm a hair-color virgin! I know that if I color it, chances are it will require a lot of effort and money to keep it looking its best. Also, I have a feeling I take after the side of my family that goes gray really fast, so I just want to appreciate my dark, natural hair as long as I can.
Do you get regular trims? My hair stays pretty healthy since I don't do anything to it so I only need to get a haircut about once or twice a year.
What’s your typical hair care routine? My hair gets oily if I skip one day of shampooing, so I have to wash my hair every day. TRESemmé 24 Hour Body Volume Shampoo is cheap and does the trick of cleaning my oily scalp on a daily basis. After I wash my hair, I use a lightweight conditioner like Renpure Argan Oil Luxurious Conditioner, and comb it through using a detangling brush. Then I let my hair air dry. That's it! I do as little as possible to my hair. I even avoid brushing my hair other than in the shower, and that's using a shower brush and conditioner to detangle all at once. I also avoid blow-drying and heat-styling my hair unless it’s a special occasion.
Have you learned any unusual tricks or hacks for keeping your hair so long and healthy? I haven't learned anything unusual. But I will say that during years when I used to use heat styling tools a lot, my long hair had a lot of split ends. So I think avoiding heat styling tools and air drying whenever you can is really important.
What advice would you give to someone trying to grow her hair long? Limit how often you use heat tools or your blow dryer because the damage from using those can show up later on. Also, be careful about your hair clogging the drain when you shower. I have to deal with clogs pretty often. And watch out for hair accidents, like getting your hair in your bowl of soup or other foods or stuck in the car door!
Emma, 26, has gotten a few breakup bobs, but she always ended up regretting her major cuts. But with a little patience, she’s returned to her happy place. “Having longer hair is easier than short hair, in my opinion,” she says.
Do you currently color your hair? I do, but only about twice a year, professionally. It helps to stay within a few shades of your natural color, and to get highlights/lowlights, so that when your natural color comes in it's not as noticeable.
Do you get regular trims? Not really.
What’s your typical hair care routine? I have seborrheic dermatitis (yum!), so washing my hair everyday is a necessity: three days of Neutrogena T/Sal and four days of a simple clarifying shampoo—and every day conditioning, being sure to squeeze excess water out of my hair first, and then letting the conditioner sit on my hair for three minutes or so. I don't heat style very often, but that's more due to laziness than anything else.
What advice would you give to someone trying to grow her hair long? Don't bother with fancy shampoo, because it literally makes no difference. Oh, and argan oil everything.
Believe it or not, Maryam, 24, had a Cleopatra-style bob only four years ago. Today, it’s the longest it’s ever been: right above her waist. She owes that to paying as much attention to what she’s putting in her body as what she’s putting on her hair. “The best way to help your hair grow or just be healthy is to be healthy yourself as whole,” she says. “When you take care of YOU, ALL of you is healthy. Including your hair.”
Do you currently color your hair? I was a blonde up until November 2016. Then I dyed my hair black, because I wanted to take a break from constantly getting my roots done. Bleach was starting to damage my hair, and now that I've gone back to a darker hair color, my hair is healthier, shinier and stronger.
Do you get regular trims? Yes, every three or four months in order to prevent split ends that look like tree branches.
What’s your typical hair care routine? I avoid washing my hair every day, because I like to let my hair recover by using natural oils from my scalp. The days I don't wash my hair, I use TRESemmé Fresh Start Volumizing Dry Shampoo. On the days I do wash it, I don't wrap my hair in a towel or comb my hair, because it pulls on my hair and causes it to break or fall. Instead, I just let it air dry and do it's own thing. I use argan oil at the ends of my hair to avoid dry ends. Every weekend, I use coconut oil generously to help repair any damage that may have been caused by hair tools. I usually just straighten or curl my hair, and I will either leave it down or put it in a top knot.
What advice would you give to someone trying to grow her hair long? Water. Drink all the water.
Katie, 38, has never worn her hair shorter than her shoulders, and she has no plans to cut it any time soon. “If your hair is long, and you are happy with it, don't ever think that you have to cut it because of your age.”
Do you currently color your hair? Yes, I've been highlighting my hair for about 12 years, and I go to Kevin Martin at Spoke & Weal. My natural hair color is a mousy brown, and he makes me a honey blond. I’ve never noticed that coloring it made it look less healthy, but I only get partial highlights every four to six months so it's not overly processed. He's that good! I can go that long without needing a root touch-up or trim.
Do you get regular trims? No.
What’s your typical hair care routine? My hair is pretty oily, so I don't normally go more than two or three days without washing it. I use Aveda Invati Exfoliating Shampoo for my scalp and Aveda Camomile Color Conditioner—the latter I’ve used for 15 years. Every time I wash my hair I blow-dry it and curl it with old-fashioned curlers.
What advice would you give to someone trying to grow her hair long? Kevin taught me how to get a blowout to last as long as possible, so I can heat-style less often. When I style my hair, I keep the curlers in as long as possible, until they have cooled. After removing the curlers, I stick my head in the freezer for about 30 seconds. The shot of cold helps the curls set, and I never brush them out. At night, I put my hair into two Princess Lea buns, and when I take my hair down in the morning, I have miraculous beachy waves.
Charlee waited until her 40s to grow her longest-ever hair. “I am just going to let it go and see what happens,” she says. But if it ever stops looking as healthy as it currently does, a dramatic cut may be in order. “Short healthy hair is infinitely better than long scraggly hair.”
Do you currently color your hair? I do, reluctantly. I’m a natural redhead and never wanted to mess with my color, so I didn’t start coloring till my 30s when I started going gray. I mostly color my hair at home because I have yet to find even one stylist who gives me a red shade I love.
Do you get regular trims? Not as regularly as I should.
What’s your typical hair care routine? When it comes to long, curly, thick hair, I’m pretty sure shampoo is the devil. I do a sulfate-free shampoo once every four months; otherwise, I am a conditioner-only girl. I treat it like shampoo, scrubbing and stimulating the scalp. I have learned is that leave in conditioner is where it’s at. I’m currently using Twisted Sista Leave-in Conditioner.
What advice would you give to someone trying to grow her hair long? At the risk of sounding like a crackpot, pay attention to the moon! If you cut your hair as the moon is getting full, specifically following the timetables in the Farmer’s Almanac, it will grow faster. And if you do it regularly, it will grow like mad. True story.
This article originally appeared on health.com.