On Being a Longhair

Part 2 - Caring for Long Hair

Why Now Worry About Hair Care?

Now that you're a longhair or you plan to be, care of your hair is important. As a shorthaired guy, you probably thought your hair was indestructible. And it practically was. The oldest hair fragment on your head, at the tips of your two-inch-long (5 cm) locks was a mere four months old.

Think back to when you once had a favorite pair of jeans. If you wore them every day, you were probably lucky to see them last a year. Well, you do wear your hair every day, flexing it back and forth constantly. It is bleached by the sun and blown by the wind. It is washed and dried, and combed. All of these things subject it to wear and tear. If, like the threads in those jeans, your hair strands were to be beat to a pulp in a year's time, your hair would never get more than six inches (15 cm) from your scalp, because the hair at that distance out is a year old. So the message is, as a longhair you must pay attention to your hair. You want to take care of it. You want it to last long enough to die its natural death - to reach terminal length.

Before discussing care of hair, let's just talk about human hair a bit.

The Human Head of Hair

The head of hair that we have is unique among the animals on this planet. Sure, other animals have hair on their head, but none grow it all over the top and back of the head to a length of three feet (90 cm)! So long hair is a very human trait.

Hair is important to humans in the wild. Any hiker or outdoorsman will tell you a human loses far more heat from his head than from any other part of the body. Hair provides insulation for that vulnerable area. It protects it from sun too. It directs rain promptly off the head channeling it right on past the eyes even, in front. Also, long hair streaming out in the wind around your head forms a wind shear boundary, allowing a warm air mass to accumulate near your head.

When I was shorthaired, I was always the one to be coldest in a group. With the long hair and beard, I'm now the one often out in a T-shirt on days others are wearing light jackets. The hair made a difference of a whole layer of clothing, so the insulation value of hair is real. (You can mostly defeat this insulation quality of long hair by tying it into a pony tail. And if your hair blossoms out all over your back below the hair tie, you can use multiple ties along your pony tail, or do a braid, to minimize hair contact with your back and keep it cool. These things are good to know, since growing long hair is a project spanning many years, and to be a longhair, you will have to have long hair in the summer.)

The body has a natural way to care for this valuable resource. It provides an oil to constantly nourish the hair and keep it supple. This oil is secreted by the scalp. This oil is also able to survive the way humans in the wild wash their hair - in cool or lukewarm rain or streams.

Two Kinds of Hair - Straight and Curly

Of course guys' hair falls on a continuum, ranging from very straight to very curly, with wavy hair in between. It will be helpful, though, to look at typical hair at these two extremes, "straight" and "curly". Different approaches often apply, and you can read them and decide what is right for you.

Straight hair is great for length! Every inch of hair you grow heads for your belt, and then for the floor. As a straight haired guy, you'll have strong strands that will probably reach their full length potential as years go by. When you run a comb through your hair you'll run into less tangles, and you can even brush your hair if you want, which may give it more body and shine, since brushing really pulls the oil from your scalp down into your strands. You may yearn for more body for your hair, because your straight hair can be limp, compared to that of your curly-haired friends. But man, can you grow hair long!

Curls are great for bulk! No expensive perms for you! And maybe no salon trims, because curls are easy to cut. What you lose by having more volume up top, of course, is volume down below. You don't get as much length. Your hair grows around in spirals and takes forever to reach mid-back, or wherever you want it to go. Your curls trap air pockets and are great insulation in cold weather. You may not be able to get a brush though your hair, and you may not even want to, because it will just make your hair frizzy. You'll probably use a wide-toothed comb such as an Afro pick, and you may want to minimize combing as well, to keep the frizz factor at bay. Unlike your straight haired friends, you will look longhaired from every angle, because hair will be all around your head where people always see it!

Whichever hair type you have, celebrate it! Both look great. Think long and hard before trying to change what you have. Any time you go for that, you will damage your hair some.

With all this in mind, let us now talk about caring for your hair.

A Word About Barbers, Beauticians, and Care Products

First it should be said that there are only two ways that barbers and beauticians make money:

Either of these things can devastate your long hair. These people do not always have your hair's interest at heart. So be very careful.

When it comes to trims, longhairs have lost several inches (a dozen centimeters) at the hands of haircutters who've said they would only take off a fraction of an inch (a few millimeters) to "neaten up the bottom" or "take off split ends". Do not trust anyone to cut your hair unless you trust him absolutely. A year's growth can end up on some jerk's floor in fifteen minutes. (We will talk about whether such trims are really necessary - they often aren't - later on.)

When it comes to chemicals, they are generally designed to make your hair look great the day they are applied and maybe the day after. What they do to your hair long-term is of little concern to their manufacturers, though this will be of great concern to you. What this situation means to you is that the routine that makes your hair look the best for the moment may not be the routine that is best for it in the long run. So you may have to weigh priorities and make choices.

Why Wash Your Hair?

You've always been told you ought to wash your hair, but as a longhair you need to look at why.

We've mentioned how your hair is lubricated with oil from your scalp. Long hair draws this oil away from your scalp, but some people create too much, and the excess needs to be washed away. Also, the oil that ends up in your hair dries out and breaks down after a day or two, and then it no longer lubricates. The oil in your hair also traps airborne dirt, and once that happens it no longer lubricates. You need to get the old oil and its dirt out of your hair so newly created oil can flow down and take its place.

Shampoos and Other Stuff

Soaps and shampoos will strip all the natural oil and dirt out of your hair, but they will remove all of the oil from your scalp, too. This deprives your hair of newly created oil and leaves your hair dry, brittle, and unlubricated. This makes strands far more apt to tangle and break, and it stresses your hair, shortening its life out at the ends. So one must choose such products with care.

Different products work for different people, but in general, don't subject your hair to any more stress than necessary. Anything that perms it, straightens it, bleaches it, or dissolves all the dandruff in it, is bound to subject your hair to stress. So use such products sparingly if at all.

A man who wants his hair to last a while wants a mild shampoo, but finding one is not easy, because when you go to the drugstore and look at the labels, none will say they are harsh! To rule some out and pick others, you'll need to ask around. Be sure you ask people with long hair.

One means to protect your hair from the effects of shampoos is simply to wash your hair with them less often. If you cut the number of your shampooings in half, you cut in half the stress upon your hair due to shampooings. As a shorthaired person, you perhaps washed your hair every day, and you maybe even discovered your scalp would itch if you didn't. Well, as a longhair, your hair will be drawing the oil off your scalp because you have enough hair to absorb it, and no itchy buildup will occur. And the scalp is different from areas such as the underarms - it does not generate a strong odor. So there is no reason to wash your hair every day. A few longhairs do, but most go for every two to three days, and some find that what suits their hair best is once a week. Pay attention to your hair, and you will find what works best for you.

If you let "itching" be your clue for a wash, don't let itching in short-haired areas such as your sideburns or beard prompt you to wash your long hair. As short-haired areas, those will still need frequent washing as always, though your long hair will not. For example, I wash my beard and mustache daily, but my hair can go much longer between washings before it itches.

Some men are blessed with way too much oil, and they need to apply a good washing to their hair frequently to keep the oil in check. By applying warmer water and more shampoo, this is easy to do. Those men are a minority though. Most longhaired men need to keep their hair from getting too dry, and we will now focus our attention on techniques to preserve the oil in your hair.

One instruction you should always ignore is the one on most shampoo bottles to "rinse, lather, repeat". Once is enough! Even the mildest of shampoos when used once will take more of the oils out of your hair than most longhairs would like, so many of us use a "conditioner", which is really just a concoction to return to the hair much of what we just stripped out of it. My experience has been, though, that no conditioner makes my hair as supple and lubricated as good old natural scalp oil. Conditioners may perform better for a few hours, and they may briefly look better, but they dry out and deteriorate faster than does natural oil.

If you use a conditioner, be aware that to some extent conditioners are washed out by hotter water just as oil is. After applying a conditioner you may wish to rinse it out with cooler water than, say, you shampooed with.

Always consider washing your hair in as mild a solution as possible. You can dilute shampoo in your hand a bit before applying it. The closer what you put on your head resembles cool rain water, the better off your hair will be. You may even choose to just wash in water sometimes.

Washing Just in Water

We should talk about washing in water here because with long hair doing so is a bit of an art. Even if you normally use shampoo, you may be on a hiking trip or in some other situation where you won't have access to hair care products. Sometimes your hair may still be clean, but you want the neat look that "having just washed" will bring. These are all times you will want to just wash in water, so you need to know how to best do that. There are even some longhairs who have forsaken shampoo altogether and only wash in cool or lukewarm water. To maximize oil retention, and oil distribution to the ends of the hair, here are some tips if you want to wash in water:

There is no reason you can't mix methods. Shampooing sometimes, and washing in water other times, is of course perfectly okay. You can opt to apply a conditioner after either method if you like. And some of the techniques used in washing with water can also be applied when shampooing to minimize hair damage.

Judging Different Routines

The best time to judge a care routine is when you are detangling. If your hair strands are strong and most tangles slip free, your hair is in good condition and you are doing things right. You have a right to expect both of those things. Some conditioners, for example, will make your hair as tough as plastic, but every tangle will become a hopeless knot that requires breakage to remove. Some conditioners will make your hair feel really silky, but it will be dry and tangles will also knot. Neither of those situations are acceptable.

Anti-dandruff shampoo is strong stuff. Think about using it sparingly, or not at all. Wearing light-colored shirts is an alternative to constantly assaulting your hair with this stuff, should you be a guy prone to flaking. Since longhairs have less grease on their scalps, you might find your flaking to be greatly reduced from what you found in your short-haired days, and dandruff may have become a non-issue for you. So at least lay off the anti-dandruff stuff to find out.

If your hair becomes particularly dry, split, or tangly, consider it a wakeup call. Your hair isn't going to grow much longer than that, until you deal with the problem! You may wish to consult with a beautician, particularly one who specializes in hair like yours, if such a person can be found. But be wary. Some shops claim a specialty just to get people through the door, and frequently the people manning the chairs are not the "specialist" anyway. Rely not on ads but on another longhair's recommendation if you go this route, and see the particular person he recommends.

Another option is to go "as low-impact as possible" (wash infrequently in water) for a couple of weeks. Your hair almost certainly will improve if you do this. Then cautiously add other things in sparingly, observing how your hair detangles after each experiment you make.

Human hair is so varied on different individuals that a myriad of products and other options are available for its care. What works for someone else may be exactly what your hair does not need, so don't take what works on someone else too seriously. You have to take charge and experiment yourself, to find out what is best for you.

And finally, consider beginning to take care of your hair the day you decide to become a longhair. The short hair you are staring at that day will someday be the ends of your long hair, and you want it to last. So don't wait until your hair is long to start caring for it. It may well be too late then, for those ends of your hair.

What About Split Ends?

Besides making the changes we discussed above to minimize hair damage in general, there are these three things you can do specifically about split ends:

An occasional longhair and a heck of a lot of beauticians will tell you that splits will travel rapidly up your hair and make your hair actually get shorter. I even had one beautician tell me that my hairs would split all the way up to the roots and I'd then be bald! Well, I didn't let him cut on my hair, and it didn't happen.

Quite a few guys with really long hair ignore split ends altogether. They say that one side of the split soon breaks off and then the hair continues to dry out and soon the other side does, leaving a strand with a broken end but no traveling split. They also feel a general trimming deprives nearby unsplit and never-cut strands of their natural tapered ends, actually encouraging future splits.

Probably the best thing to do about splits is improve the condition of your hair so they don't continue to happen. They tend to occur in that same dry, scratchy, tangly hair that tells us at detangling time that it needs our immediate attention.

What About Tangles?

Yep! They're going to happen. You'll start noticing them after about a year of hair growth. The way to deal with them is to take your comb or fingers and work on the ends first. Then work your way up the hair strands closer to the scalp, but always combing downward of course. Here's why you want to do the ends first: Though the ends of your hair are where tangles usually develop, they are relatively easy to comb out, so long as you don't push other hairs into the tangle with your comb. If the ends have been untangled first, when you move further up into the hair and catch dead hairs, they will just be combed right on out past the ends and off your head.

If you have curly hair, it helps to pull down on clumps of it to make them straight while detangling them. Curls can often snarl in your comb even when they are not tangled.

Depending upon your hair, you may abandon the comb you used in your shorthaired days in favor of an Afro pick or brush. Most pocket combs don't have teeth long enough to extend through all the hair that a longhair has, and they have teeth so close together that they pull too much when passed through long hair. I have used a "detangling comb", for example, that is shaped like a pocket comb but is bigger. It had longer teeth and less of them per inch. And lately I've settled on an Afro pick. I'll continue to use the word "comb" here, though some longhairs will be using a different instrument.

Some longhairs swear by finger detangling. Fingers have less "teeth" than do a comb, so they are less speedy, but they feel tangles and almost always can let up pressure before breakage occurs. This means one can more quickly dispense with detangling at the ends and soon be running your fingers, positioned like long claws, from the scalp all the way down to the ends. Rapidly but gently doing this with both hands alternating, will quickly find tangles in an area, and the lower hand can serve to straighten curly hair while the upper one is still clawing. This method also distributes oil down into the ends of your strands much more rapidly than one can do with a comb or brush. Your fingers will carry oil much better than either.

Of course, if you are unable to get a tangle out, you have no choice but to remove it, which means snapping off hair strands, something that will always make you cringe a bit when you do it. But you should be able to get most tangles out without breaking hair. If you cannot, your hair is too dry and you need to take action.

Knots in a single strand are a special case. In effect, they are a tangle of one hair, and one that is impractical to untangle. The presence of one knot can cause future tangles, and the presence of many can make your hair look less even and thus frizzier. You are best off to trim any knotted strands just above the knot.

Various Strategies

The conventional wisdom is that you want to minimize combing out tangles while your hair is wet. Wet hair is much weaker, and you don't want to subject it to the stress. So always comb your hair or finger-detangle before showering, to remove all the tangles you can. But don't force any tangles out by breaking them at this point, because some tangles will come out when your hair is wet but not when it is dry.

Never brush your hair when it is wet, for the same reason just mentioned. Brushing puts too much stress on it. There are instances a longhair may need to comb his hair when it is wet, and I'll get to that below.

If your hair should become wet out in the wind, where it would get tangled too, resist the temptation to comb it to neaten it up unless it gets drenched and seems to comb easily. Damp hair can resist combing more than wet or dry, so wait until it dries first.

Extreme dust can soak up all your hair's oils, making it so dry and tangly that combing is impossible without causing too much hair damage. If your hair gets extremely dusty, you really can't detangle it or do anything else for it until you've first washed the dust out.

To catch tangles while they are small, you will want to comb or finger detangle your hair a few times per day, not just once or twice. How often you need to do this is something you will need to determine by experimentation. This should only take a few moments, and it can be done when you go to the rest room. It can also be done subtlely at other times if you feel the need. If you have curly hair, you may not want to comb your hair every time you do this, as I'll mention below. In that case, just check for tangles and tidy your hair up with your fingers.

If you have straight hair, combing or brushing can be beneficial in moving oils downward. One old wives tale is that one should brush such hair a hundred strokes a day. Some people say that's a bit much (after all, eventually brushing wears on your hair), while others feel it's about right. This probably depends most on how straight your hair is. Go for what makes your hair silky and easy to comb, but no more. Brushing or combing your hair this much should most certainly be done when it is dry.

If you have curly hair, brushing is tough to do and will probably make your hair very frizzy. You'll probably set aside the brush and be combing, but even that if overdone will make your hair frizzy.

When you first wash curly hair, the strands will cling together in hanging curls. Combing works to separate these, making more strands hang alone. In this situation they dry out faster, but they also occupy more space. Thus frizziness. Combing is also harder on curly hair because it fights the comb more, and as said earlier, curly hair is weaker than straight hair is. So if you have curly hair you may get more length and have neater hair if you minimize combing. Some curly-haired guys comb in the morning when their hair is wet, and not at all the rest of the day if they can help it. This is with the aim of minimizing frizziness.

If you are minimizing combing, you have to worry about getting the oils down into your strands another way, and you have to worry about how you are going to get out dead strands that have fallen out. It turns out that the oils move down into your strands best just after you have lightly washed your hair, and this lubricated moment is also the easiest time to get out dead strands. Also, while your hair is still wet, combing does not contribute much to frizziness, because the strands while wet continue to stick together. So the advice for you, as a curly haired guy, is indeed to comb your hair while it is wet! But start at the ends, as mentioned earlier, pull down on your hair to make it momentarily straight, work your way up patiently, and be very gentle. If your hair is too thick to comb all at once, tilt your head sideways and take on just a part of your mane at a time.

Often curly hair presents too much friction when it is dry, so you must get water or a conditioner in it just to lubricate it enough for the comb to slip through it. If it is water you are using, a medium amount of cool water is best - just enough to soak your hair but not wash out all the oils. Water does not lubricate much if all the oils are gone, and using hot water, or lots of cold water, will pretty much wash them all out. When combing your hair with water or a conditioner in it, remember that hair is weaker when it is moistened, so be gentle.

Later when we talk about keeping hair neat, we will talk about combing. If you are minimizing combing to prevent frizziness, you sure don't want to comb with an aim to achieve neatness! You'll be neatening up your hair with a little finger combing, and smoothing down your hair on the surface with your hands, instead. Keep that in mind when you get to those paragraphs.

If you're a longhair who looks like he slept in his hair in the morning (hey, you did!), and you don't plan to wash it some mornings, you may want to moisten the outside layer of your mane slightly before combing or hand-smoothing down the frizzies. Just get your hand wet and wipe it across your hair. Doing this a very few times will get your hair wet enough to neaten it up on the surface, without soaking it underneath. It will then dry promptly, and look neat, too! This trick can also be used during the day if your hair gets messed up.


If you scratch your scalp with your fingernails, this will damage your hair. Massage any itch with the tips of your fingers instead. This technique is more apt to cause nearby hair to lift oil off your scalp, and oil is something your hair needs and your scalp doesn't. Actually, too much oil on the scalp is often the cause of itching, so using fingertips stops the itch better than using fingernails.

A Word About Diet

Keep in mind that the material to grow your hair and create its oils comes from what you eat. Some people embarking on "crash diets" have experienced significant hair loss. So a longhair should undertake such ventures in moderation, and he should consider getting a balanced diet to be a matter of importance.

Some longhairs have found vitamin supplements to be very beneficial to their hair. You may think, "I eat a balanced diet, so I don't need to take pills!" but keep these two things in mind:

So the option, if you are not getting enough vitamins for your hair, will probably be to take pills. But how are you to know if you aren't getting enough of these vitamins in your diet already? One way to decide is to ask yourself whether you are happy with your growth rate and the ampleness of the scalp oil in your hair. If either of these things are lower than you would like, you might want to consider a dietary supplement.

Regular vitamin pills, which give you doses in the 100% range of the government estimates of requirements, will make up for vitamin deficiencies caused by dieting. If you're eating normally though, your diet probably has you in that range of intake already, and it may do your body fine, but the government is not interested in your hair. To really benefit your hair, if your diet is not already doing the trick for you, you will need pills that pack a heftier punch.

Brace yourself. Just as you'll learn with hair ties and such, these vitamins you'll discover are mostly marketed to women. They may be baby pink in color and in jars that have "female" written all over them, but take the pills anyway, dude. They won't turn your hair baby pink. Pills that longhairs have reported success with include these:

So these formulations do help some guys. The only way to find out if they will help you, if you're not happy with your hair's health and growth rate, is to try them.

Be aware that these vitamins will help all the hair on your body and also your nails. It takes a while to notice if growth has sped up on hair a foot (30 cm) long, but you may notice you are trimming your nails and beard more often right away. Because these things are short to begin with, the effect of the vitamins will first show up there, if they are having an effect on you. The dryness of your hair and itchiness of your scalp may also decrease, and if that is to occur, it should become apparent right away as well. Noticing whether the vitamins speed up growth of the hair on your head will, of course, come later.

Some of these formulations may make your urine bright yellow and smell funny. This is a byproduct produced when your body has assimilated the vitamins. Vitamin sellers report this as to be expected, and harmless.

Exercise common sense. The supplement market is not heavily regulated, and your liver and kidneys will be getting rid of whatever you ingest, day after day. Health-conscious longhairs may not want to embark on some plans, particularly when considering they are long term.

Help, I'm Shedding!

Quite a few new longhairs panic when they suddenly discover a lot of hair showing up in their comb, in their shower, or around their house. Their first thought is usually, "Can growing long hair cause me to go bald?"

Relax. It is normal to lose between 50 and 100 hair strands a day. You were losing them when you had short hair, and you are losing them now. If your hair strands are ten times as long now, this means you will shed a hair mass ten times as big each day as you used to.

You may think, "But I am not growing any more hair each day!" and that is true. So where is all that hair coming from? The answer is that you used to leave it on the barbershop floor. Now you are leaving it around your own house.

Routines, and Etiquette Considerations

As a shorthaired guy, you probably seldom combed your hair, and often you just gave it a swipe when coming indoors and went on with your business. You can't always do what long hair requires like that.

While you can quickly swipe a comb through your hair just about anywhere, people really don't like longer combing sessions to go on where they are eating, or where they are likely to be snowed on with whatever you might shed. If you are in such a place, you should do what ladies have always done, and retreat to the restroom.

You may have to make some routine changes. When coming inside after being outdoors in the wind, you may want to slip off to comb your hair right away, since messy hair indoors seems more out of place than it does outside.

And you will probably need to slip off to tend to your hair more frequently than you ever worried about your short hair. You will soon learn how often your hair needs care, but you do have to be aware of this possibility so you will keep an eye on your hair and make the right changes in routine.

We now look at just what one does to keep long hair neat, in Part 3.

Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - Caring for Long Hair
Part 3 - Keeping Long Hair Neat
Part 4 - How People Feel About Long Hair

Copyright © 1998-2014 by Bill Choisser, All Rights Reserved.

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