Has Your Hair Reached Its Terminal Length?

is your hair at its terminal length

Short answer: NO.

‘Terminal Length’ is a concept I did not understand until very recently. When I started growing my hair out in uni, it started breaking when it reached a comfortable shoulder length. Just a little below the shoulder. Then, I was relaxed. I went natural and it was all good in the first 2 years, but since my hair reached that below the shoulder length again sometime before my 2nd natural hair anniversary, it appears to have stopped growing. Has it really though? 

No. Not because I’m a fighter (I am) but because, your present hair length is actually not your cut off point even if you’ve been there for ever. It is NOT your terminal length.

Your present hair length is not your last bus stop even if you've been stuck here for ever! Click To Tweet

How do I know you haven’t reached your terminal length? What am I even saying?

Think about this. After my last 4 trims, my hair was always at the same length. With each trim, I lost 2-3 inches of hair. If I lost hair and my hair was still the same length after this loss, clearly, it had been growing. This does not even take into account the “minor breakage” I deal with everytime I handle my hair. Oprah What Is The Truth gif

What IS Terminal Length?

Simply put, Terminal length is the longest any hair on your head can grow. It’s the length your hair would be if you never cut it, if it never broke. 

Hmm. So, what is this like?

Science says that the growing phase for hair is anything between 1 and 7 years. For most people, the average growing phase is between 4-6 years, and this probably includes you. Science also tells us that hair grows at 1/4 to 1/2 an inch every month on average.

Stay with me now.

So, let’s imagine your hair is pretty average, capable of growing 1/4 inch a month. 1/4 inch a month x 12 months leaves you with 3 inches a year- in theory. After 4 years, in a perfect world at the slowest rate, where your strands are Spartans and retain every bit of keratin, you should expect to have 12 inches, easily below the shoulder at full stretch. Not bad eh?

Me in September 2014. Not so far from this now.
Me in September 2014.
Blown out 4C Natural Hair
Me again, in April 2016. Here, hair is blown out and appears to be longer right? Shortly after this photo was taken, 2-3 inches were trimmed off.

I may not know you, or your (hair) story, but, I’m willing to bet that you aren’t at your Terminal Length.

From my own experience, I think I grew about 4-6 inches of hair during my 8 month transition to natural hair. I retained all my length because I still had relaxed ends to chop off. 6 inches in 8 months. Clearly, at one point in time, my growth rate was above average.

If you are a relaxed girl or used to be one, think about it. In 2 weeks, your hair is “due” again. That undergrowth is new hair. It is GROWTH. Imagine if you retained ALL that, for the length of your growth cycle (which is probably 4-6 years), where would you be? THAT, my friend, is your terminal length.

Our hair growth is affected by so many factors, some we can control, like nutrition, blood circulation, stress levels. Others are beyond us, like genetics, hormones, certain health conditions. Length retention is a different piece of cake entirely, and that is entirely on us.

So, sista-girl, can you really say you’ve reached your terminal length? The point you absolutely cannot grow past? I doubt it.

Terminal length is the longest any hair on your head can grow. Click To Tweet

If like me, you have been needing motivation to grow your hair or move past a length plateau, I hope this is it! 🙂 You can totally figure this hair thing out! Retaining length is another discussion which we will have (subscribe here so you never miss a post!) but till then, let’s keep hope alive, okay?




10 Replies to “Has Your Hair Reached Its Terminal Length?”

  1. Hello, your post really inspired me… My hair is at shoulder length and i’m convinced it hasn’t got to its terminal length yet but what can i do to enhance its growth ive surfed the internet and tried some diy hair products but most dont work please help

  2. Had the big chop on saturday… 5days after my birthday. Would have done it 2years ago but mumsy said NO. Now i am through with uni and i made the decision. Found your blog today #bellanaija and i am so happy i did. Trust you would help me through this journey. Thanks in advance xo xo

  3. I didn’t do the big chop. my hair is a year and few months old without perming. it seems natural. the problem is its quite slow in growth. does it mean my hair will soon stop growing? or it has not started growing fully?

    1. Hey chica!
      At any given time, over 80% of your hair strands are in the growing phase. I don’t think your hair will soon stop growing. When it does stop, you’ll know because the strands past their growth phase will voluntarily exit your head, as in, shed, fall off.
      There might be room for improvement in growth (exercise, stress, diet, and many more factors affect this), or your hair growth might just be genetically slow, but I doubt you’re at your terminal length. Like I’d bet good money on it.

  4. Hi AB, thanks for the post, I know I’m not at terminal length yet but I’m definitely at a plateaux. Been meaning to chat with you about the after effects of your silk press, I hate it, send an email? Thanks.

  5. Hi AB! Thanks so so for this post cus it’s still something that confuses me.
    What I still don’t really understand though is, unless a person has hair loss issues, their hair never really stops growing… like my mum who’s 50 still has new growth every month. It might not show in terms of length say due to trimming or simply breakage but the new growth is proof of the hair still growing.
    So does Terminal length mean that when your hair reaches that terminal length like we can estimate from your post, new growth will stop coming up? Or the ends will sense it and somehow break off once it’s past that length?
    Do you understand my confusion?

    1. Hi Fiwa, maybe I can help a little here.
      All the hairs on your head are in different stages of the hair growth cycle. Some are actively growing, others are in resting phase: about to shed (not break) and be replaced by a brand new one. Terminal length applies to each individual strand. They don’t all reach it at the same time, so you’ll always notice new growth as long you don’t have a condition that prevents it.
      As for how long your hair can get as an average black woman, here’s a quote from BGLH:
      “So the question is, will you ever have long hair? Let’s do the
      math. Let’s put you right in the middle of the figures… with a growth rate of 5 inches per year and an
      anagen period (growing part of the hair cycle) of 3 years. This would give you 15 inches of hair
      as your terminal length. With an average height woman in the
      USA being 5′ 4.6″ that would be close to waist length hair.
      Long? I think so!”
      I think at the very LEAST with no breakage, bra strap length is reasonable. Length retention is the main matter.

    2. >Hi Fiwa,

      > Sorry for the delay. My internet was a mess throughout the long holiday!

      > When a hair strand reaches its terminal length, this means its Growing Phase (Anagen) has come to an end. The hair then goes through the Regression and Resting phases, in which the follicle takes a break from growing, and the hair prepares to shed.

      > Ideally, in a perfect situation, a hair’s journey ends with shedding- falling out naturally, on its own. Not broken, not yanked off.

      > So, when your hair reaches terminal length, the follicle takes a break from growing, prepares to shed, and when the hair is indeed shed, the cycle repeats itself. A new growth phase starts over.

      > Just to recap, to make sure I’ve answered your question: after reaching terminal length, your hair stops growing and prepares to shed. After shedding, a brand new baby hair starts to grow again- going through the growing phase and the other stages that follow. The ends are not meant to break off. When done growing, the hair itself is supposed to shed without any help from you, from the root. Does this make sense?

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