Most women, at one point or another in their lives, have attempted to grow their hair long. For some, this results in lengthy, waist-grazing, luxurious locks. Others end up staring in the mirror screaming at hair that never seems to budge past their shoulders. Then there are the Rapunzels with hair that can be used as fire ladders who end up in Guinness World Records. Not fair.
Hair-care companies make their living promising that anyone can have hair as long and luxurious as they want it to be, but most of us with common sense have a sneaking suspicion that hair doesn’t grow indefinitely and that there’s a point at which it just … stops. Sounds sensible, but is it true? Does hair really have a maximum length?
The Straight Talk
It is 100 percent true. I hate to be the bubble-buster of anyone’s dreams to wear their hair as an evening gown, but for most of us, that’s never gonna happen. Here’s why:
Human hair goes through three distinct phases. The anagen phase is the active growth phase, where the cells in the follicle are rapidly dividing and adding to the hair shaft. Normal hair grows about one centimeter per month (or around five inches per year), and about 90 percent of the hairs on your head are in the anagen phase at any given time, according to the American Hair Loss Association.
Eventually, due to triggers that trichologists haven’t yet figured out, hair leaves its active growth phase and enters the catagen phase. The catagen phase is a transitional state where the hair stops growing and sort of “finishes” itself off at the root. This phase lasts for a few weeks, and then the hair moves into the telogen phase, where it rests. For about one hundred days, it hangs there without growing, until it falls out and the follicle starts a new hair, repeating the process all over again.
The length of time that your hair spends in its anagen phase is what determines how long it can get, and everyone’s anagen phase is different. The Mayo Clinic estimates that most people’s anagen phase lasts between two and three years, meaning that the average person can grow hair between ten and fifteen inches long. That’s about shoulder length. Some people’s anagen phase is shorter, some people’s is longer; anagen phases of six or seven years are relatively common. Those people with exceptionally long hair—past their waist or so—have freakishly long, one-in-a-million anagen phases.
You know, hair’s growth and resting phases don’t just vary between people—they also vary between different places on your own body. Hair on the eyebrows, eyelashes, pubic area, arms, and legs have extremely short anagen phases (about a month long) and have long telegen phases. That’s why you can’t grow your arm hair as long as the hair on your head (although hopefully you’ve never tried).
The length of your hair’s growth phase is determined by genetics, although your diet and lifestyle habits can definitely influence your hair’s health. You can’t encourage your hair to grow longer than heredity dictates, but by treating it kindly, you can help it maximize its potential and prevent it from breaking before its time.
Say What? is a series created to support or debunk common health and beauty myths. If you have a question, please send it to Allison.firstname.lastname@example.org.