Is Natural Hair Growth an Illusion for Tightly Curled Hair?

My hair had been breaking for a while so natural hair growth for me seemed impossible. I honestly thought that my natural hair only grew to a certain length and once I had reached shoulder length that was my genetic limit. However earlier this year, parts of my hair grew past shoulder length surprising me because I didn’t know why. Needless to say, I wanted to know more.

So, I go to the library and find the research article, African Hair Length: The Picture is Clearer, studying three people of African descent with tightly curled hair (Khumalo, 2006). Their hair lengths after the time periods of 6 months, 1 year and 3 years are observed. Their hair is natural, has not been chemically altered with color or straightening agents. There is no scalp disease and the three participants haven’t been receiving medical treatments. Their grooming routine only includes shampooing and combing. So what natural hair growth did they experience??? It is found that they still have short hair lengths even after these time periods have passed. What gives??? However, they also add a fourth woman to the study who participated in a previous one and she had changed her hairstyle to dreadlocks and experienced extensive growth. Again, I ask, Huh???

Now for the three subjects mentioned earlier, the following hair characteristics are found:

  • Broken hair strands: more than 60% of the hair strands collected are broken without the white root bulb

Read here about a type of hair breakage that splinters the hair in half

  • Simple knots on the hair strand

  • Complex knots, intertwined hair, and fractional breaks of the hair strand

These knots are called trichonodosis. Read about it here

The research findings suggest that combing may be the culprit for the short length because when a comb is pulled through the hair, intertwining of the hair occurs which can make combing more difficult and adding the knots on the hair strand to the equation is a perfect storm for breakage. The comb will break off the hair at the places where there are knots. Therefore, this breakage can mean that “a steady state is reached in which daily loss from combing equals new growth (Khumalo, 2006 p. 888).” And, if that happens, it can seems that natural hair growth is not happening.

Read here about trichorrexis nodosa. Another type of hair breakage

So what does this mean for us naturals whose natural hair growth is stuck? We have to ask ourselves some questions:

  • Could my combing or detangling routine be breaking my hair?
  • When I style or detangle my hair, how much hair is there in my comb? (And while there may be root bulbs on your hair strands, it may not only be shed hair, but pulled hair if you are combing too roughly)
  • How do I handle the knots in my hair? Do I cut them off, break them off, comb them, finger-comb through them, leave them alone?

While this is a case study, and a larger group of people should be examined to confirm these results, there are still questions remaining such as:

  • How much natural hair growth can occur for tightly curled hair? Since most of the observed hair was broken, how long could the participants’ hair have grown if it didn’t break? So possible hair length, still remains a question in this study.

    Split ends can also delay longer hair growth. Read how to prevent them here.

  • Second, why did the lady with dreadlocks experience such growth?

Read about why the woman with dreadlocks in the study may have experienced the most natural hair growth of all the participants.

Yet, while there are still questions, I now have a place to start with caring for my hair. From this study, I learned that I need to watch the way I comb my hair. Maybe I should continue to finger-comb it. Whatever, I do, if there is breakage, I need to be honest with myself and investigate the sources. I saw the breakage that I was committing against my hair before and I continued to do it, but now, I know more, so I can change.

Read here for some great advice Teri at gave me regarding hair growth.


  • Khumalo, N.P. (2006) African Hair Length: The Picture is Clearer.
        Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology
    ,54(5), 886-888.

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