Historical Hair Care Grew My Hair to Hip Length! Here's How
Updated: Nov 27, 2022
I have a confession to make. I haven't shampooed, brushed, or combed my hair in years. Seriously. Okay, that's not 100% true, but in today's article I will be sharing with you how, after chopping all my hair off to chin length almost 6 years ago, I have been able to grow it to hip length, which is longer than it has been in my entire life. It is also healthier than it has been my entire life, and historical hair care is the reason!
Have you ever looked at those historical photos and paintings of women with surreally long hair, and then looked at the many thousands of people today who desperately desire long tresses, but their hair simply refuses to grow past a certain point, and wondered . . . maybe those historical women knew something we don't?
I have wondered the exact same thing, which is why, when I did my "big chop", I decided to drastically rethink my hair routine. Previous generations clearly knew how to grow long hair - and I was ready to figure out the secret, even if it meant throwing out everything I'd been taught about modern hair care.
In this article, I will share with you the historically inspired, minimalist, natural hair care routine that I believe has been largely responsible for my dramatically improved hair length and health, and in the video, actually show you what a week in my hair care life looks like.
Be forewarned: This routine dramatically differs from all modern hair care routines, especially those typically recommended for people with curly hair like me!
One final note before we jump in: throughout this article and the accompanying video, I will refer to hair growth synonymously with length retention (ie. avoiding breakage). This is because for 99% of people, their hair is always growing, but if their hair care practices are constantly breaking their hair off at the ends, they will never see that growth. This was my own personal experience before beginning my current historical hair care routine. Keep reading to see how I changed that!
In this article I will share:
My unique hair history and how it's led me to the methods I now use
The unique detangling method I use
What on earth clay and healthy, clean hair have in common
How only washing my hair once a week has helped my hair to grow
The natural, homemade concoctions I use in my hair that have helped it to
grow and be healthy. Hint: I only use products in my hair that are edible
The styling routine that has made the biggest difference in my length retention
The first section will be a discussion of my personal hair history, and will give context for why I have developed my current historical hair care routine rather than modern hair routines and practices.
The second section will be a theoretical discussion of historical hair care and how it differs in its goals from modern hair care.
The third section will give a break-down of the main tenets of my historical hair care routine.
Be sure to watch the video where I will bring you along with me for a week in my hair care life, and illustrate to you my unique detangling and washing method.
Lets jump into it!
My Hair History
For as long as I can remember, my hair has always been something I had to contend with. Whether it was dry, frizzy and tangled, requiring hours to detangle as a child, or being the only kid in my classroom with very curly hair and being teased as a result, learning to love my hair has certainly been a journey. By the time I hit puberty, my hair became so extremely curly that it was far closer to typical kinky hair than to the straight caucasian hair of most of the people around me. This is when I first learned that what worked for most people's hair, such as regular shampooing and brushing, did NOT work for my hair. It was time to think outside of the box.
In high school, I went full force into what's typically known as "the curly girl method". If you aren't aware, the curly girl method is a contemporary reaction against the frequent shampooing, brushing, and other hair care practices that may work well for straight hair, but simply destroys curly hair. The curly girl method" was a term coined by the founder of the brand Deva curl, but it's more a set of practices that can work with many different brands of hair products - I myself never actually used the brand Deva curl, which I want to emphasize because Deva Curl has had a lot of bad press lately, and I don't want to give the impression that my hair problems were due to that.
For me, "the curly girl method" looked like never using shampoo, going through (practically) half a bottle of conditioner every wash, wet detangling with a wide tooth comb, and using tons of curly hair styling products to achieve those crisp, perfect curls that I wanted so badly, as well as taming frizz. While this got me through high school, and I learned to like my hair a bit more, my hair never grew past a certain point, despite barely trimming it and desperately wanting long hair. I also had plenty of split ends, and repeated breakage in the same areas of my head of hair.
After having my first child, I became very interested in natural health, and became more conscious of the ingredients in the products I used every day. This started me on my current path, though it was a steep learning curve after having relied on heavy commercial hair product usage for so long. Essentially, the hair products I had been using for years were really masking the problems with my hair, and once I took them away, my hair actually appeared much dryer, and I had no clue how to detangle it without using tons of conditioner in the shower like I had been. I was still trying to use the same routine I had been using with the commercial products, but had yet to discover a means of detangling my hair that wouldn't cause extreme damage.
Eventually, the problems in my hair really came to a head - I had experienced so much breakage that my hair was all different lengths, quite stringy at the ends, and full of split ends. I actually lost a significant amount of hair length despite not cutting my hair during this period.
I decided to take the drastic move of cutting my hair off to all the same length, which was - to my chin.
While cutting my hair off felt traumatizing, it was also a new start for me. I decided at this point that I would do whatever it took to grow long, healthy hair, while relying on only natural ingredients and products. Enter historical hair care. I actually had made the commitment a couple years before cutting my hair, that I would only use personal care products that were so safe and natural that they were technically edible.
I am proud to say that several years later, I have almost 100% stuck to that, and my hair is longer and healthier than it has ever been. Even though the curls aren't as crisp and perfect as they were in high school when I relied on piles of commercial products, my hair is truly HEALTHY. Healthy without silicones and other products coating the hair and providing a band aid effect. Split ends are no longer such a major issue, and I have hair that is more or less all the same length because I no longer experience major breakage from detangling my hair.
So where does historical hair care enter in? Let's get into that now!
Historical Hair Care
Even though at the beginning of this period, I hadn't yet become as interested in historical clothing as I am today, it was the clear blazing answer that historical people knew what they were doing when it came to growing long hair. They didn't have a commercial hair product industry like we do, so by default all of the products they used were extremely natural. One of my major goals, natural products, check! My second goal, of course, was having very long, healthy hair. Check! Historical women are known for having extremely long hair, longer than what we ever see today.
Before you pipe in and say, "but that's because they just never cut their hair!" I will agree that that is certainly part of it, however, coming from someone who didn't cut her hair for years and it still never gained an inch but rather kept breaking shorter, I can tell you that simply not cutting your hair is not enough to grow long hair. Especially if you have more of a "problem" hair type like me.
Before we jump into the nuts and bolts of the hair care routine I personally began using that grew my hair so long, I would like to give a couple notes. First: Some of the hair care practices we see in history that I have personally adopted will seem very strange and even dirty to many modern hearers. For example, historical people almost never used shampoo or even soap to wash their hair, believing that it would strip the natural oils. This might seem dirty, and that it would cause greasy hair to modern viewers, but here's the thing: the more you use commercial shampoo, the more your hair and scalp comes to rely on it, and therefore begins over-producing oils.
Also, modern hair care trends, such as frequent harsh shampooing, have grown around the fact that most modern people don't grow their hair past shoulder length. Therefore, modern hair care practices are all engineered to simply produce hair that looks good in its short, cut state, without an eye to the long-term health of the hair - ie. how will these practices affect the hair after years of use? Will it cause breakage and split ends? If you are cutting your ends off regularly, this is unimportant. But to most historical women, the long term health of their hair was vitally important, because it was the custom to grow their hair quite long, and only do very minimal trims of the ends here and there. Since my main goal is long hair, the long term health of my hair is likewise very important.
The second thing I would like to note is that the hair care routine I am about to share with you is not straight out of a historical hair care manual, since most of these were written for people with relatively straight hair. If I had your typical straight caucasian-type hair, I probably would have followed a historical hair care routine step for step, but since my hair is very curly, dry, and prone to breakage, I have adapted the principles of historical hair care to work with my curly hair, and brought in ideas from those in the kinky hair community because as I said earlier, my hair bears a lot of similarities to kinky hair in how it likes to be treated, even though it is not that curly.
That being said, I am also not a fan of typical modern curly hair care. As I mentioned earlier, even though following a version of the curly girl method helped me achieve crisp, defined curls in high school, it likewise does not take into account the long term health of the hair. In my opinion, it is the rare curly haired person who will be able to grow very long healthy hair while following that method. I am at a point in my life where my main goal is growing long healthy hair, over and above having perfect, crisp curls all the time. So, at points where those two goals conflict, I always choose the method of hair care that lends itself to growing long healthy hair, even if it means sacrificing having those perfect looking curls. I will get into what I mean in a moment.
Main Tenets of my Historically-Inspired Hair Care Routine
Dry Finger Detangling
Let's start with the most controversial point of my hair care routine. Dry finger detangling.
One of the main ways that I learnt to detangle my curly, thick, tangle prone hair was while it was wet, in the shower, loaded with tons of conditioner. Actually, in most curly hair circles, it is taught that this is the ONLY way to properly detangle curly hair. It is true that this typically creates the most defined, crisp curl pattern. But is it good for the long term health of the hair?
For someone like me, whose main goal is growing long hair and avoiding breakage, there is one glaring problem with wet detangling. Hair is at its most fragile state when it is wet, because all of the hairs' salt bonds, which give the hair strand 1/3 of its strength, are dissolved while the hair is wet. This not only makes breakage much more likely to happen while the hair is wet, but when that breakage occurs, you are far less likely to even feel or sense the hair strand snap, since they are essentially like soggy strands of spaghetti. And the more hair is breaking, the less likely you are to see any growth.
When we look at historical women's hair care, what do we see? First of all, they had far less of a reliance on regular showers and hair washing, either due to fear of water and its health effects, no access to running water, or both. Since they weren't getting their hair wet very often, they were by necessity not detangling their hair while wet very often.
Instead, women had learned to care for their hair in other, more "low tech" ways if you will. One of these ways was through brushing their hair every night with a boar bristle brush, while it was dry. This helped to mechanically clean the hair of debris, distribute scalp oils, and detangle the hair. And what do we see about their hair? They all had very long hair. I figured there must be a connection between the historical practice of dry detangling and their very long hair, juxtaposed with our modern practice of regular wet detangling, and the common problem of women not being able to grow long hair even when they want to.
So, I decided it was time for me to try dry detangling. But since I have curly hair, I have made two alterations to the historical practice. The first is that while I don't use water to detangle my hair, I do rely on the use of light oils to lubricate my hair, such as jojoba oil. My hair is so naturally dry that using a little oil each night to detangle does not add any visible greasiness, and it helps to gently detangle my hair while it is still dry.
The other change I made was that I exclusively finger detangle my hair. I love the historical practice of boar bristle brushing, and I do have a boar bristle brush that I use occasionally, but for now finger detangling is working best for my hair. It is obviously the most gentle approach to detangling, as one can clearly feel and negotiate tangles rather than just ripping through them with a brush or comb. It does mean that my hair is never 100% tangle free, especially since my curls like to clump together and do their own thing. I have simply embraced that as a part of my hair type. As long as my curls are relatively separated, and there are no actual knots, I am happy - and thrilled that I am avoiding excessive breakage.
In the last section of the video I actually demonstrate the nuts and bolts of my finger detangling routine, so stay tuned for that.
"No-Poo" Method - Rare and Gentle Hair Washing
Another glaring difference between historical and modern hair care is the different ways we view and practice hair washing. Most people today in the west shampoo their hair every day with relatively harsh, sulfate shampoos. Contrast this with historical practices - there are actual hair care manuals that reference "frequent" hair washing as being once every 2 weeks. Yes, you heard me right. And not only were they not using modern shampoos, they usually didn't even use natural soaps on their hair, believing this would strip the natural oils. Rather, they relied on very gentle washing techniques like using vinegar or a raw egg. Since they weren't regularly shampooing with harsh shampoos, their scalp and hair weren't over producing oils and so they could get away with the infrequent gentle hair washing, in combination with the regular boar bristle brushing, which helps to distribute scalp oils throughout the hair.
For me, I have discovered a very gentle, natural, but effective means of washing my hair, which I do once a week. The substance I use to wash my hair has been used for hair and skin for hundreds if not thousands of years in eastern parts of the world, especially Morocco. It not only cleans my hair of oils, even when I have done a pre-wash oil treatment, but it actually leaves my curls feeling very defined, moisturized, and strengthened. Drumroll please . .. I wash my hair with . . . rhassoul clay!
Rhassoul clay is a magnesium rich clay that comes from the mountains of Morocco and has been used for beauty purposes by various cultures, far back into history. It is beyond the scope of this article to get much into its benefits, but I would encourage you to research it further if you are interested in trying it out! I have used different mild shampoos on rare occasions, and have always returned to rhassoul clay as a hair wash because it is extremely effective at cleaning my hair, while leaving my curls very defined, moisturized, and never with the stripped feeling that even the mildest commercial shampoos leave my hair with. This is where I personally order my Rhassoul clay from (not sponsored).
Again, in the final section of the video I will be sharing with you the exact recipe I use for my clay hair wash, and how I use it in my hair and scalp each week.
One last note I would like to make in this section is that in addition to only my hair once weekly, I likewise use very minimal products in my hair in general. Throughout the past several years of growing my hair out, pretty much the only other "styling ingredient" I have used in my hair are natural oils. After washing and conditioning my hair, I will typically "seal" my hair ends with a light application of jojoba oil, and that's pretty much it. I have occasionally used homemade flaxseed gel because it is a great all natural styling gel for curly hair, but most of the time I don't mostly because it is more hassle to make it.
It probably goes without saying that I avoid all use of heat in my hair, and don't use any chemical treatments in my hair either.
With that, let's jump into talking more about hair oils and how they have helped me grow my hair!
Hair and Scalp Oil
Whenever we look at historical hair care, and the hair care of other cultures around the world, there is one ingredient and practice that comes up universally, over and over. What is it? Hair and scalp oiling. We see this in historical hair care manuals, and we especially see this in traditional hair care from the east, such as in India, where women are still known for having very long hair and oiling it regularly. Oils are nature's secret for keeping hair moisturized and healthy, and promoting hair growth. Oiling my hair and scalp is the most consistent practice I have been using since cutting my hair six years ago. It has helped its health improve dramatically. I do a weekly hair and scalp oil treatment, while applying light amounts of oil to my ends throughout the week.
Another huge difference between historical hair care of the west and modern hair care is the way we like to wear and style our hair each day. In the modern day, most people with long hair like to wear it loose most days, and use various commercial products and heat styling tools to help it look nice. Historically, while most women had extremely long hair, they were wearing it in an updo every single day. Not only was this practical, and part of their social customs, but it also had protective benefits for the hair. Nowadays, those in the long hair community call these styles "protective styles" - and rightly so. Wearing the hair up, with the ends tucked away, protects it from environmental and mechanical damage, and can improve hair health over the long term.
Don't get me wrong, I love wearing my hair loose, but the fact is that wearing my hair up helps protect my hair from breakage, wear and tear, weather, and helps minimize tangles. My main goal is length, not a perfect loose curly hair day every day. I enjoy wearing my hair loose on those first couple days after my wash day, when the curls are at their best. After that, I opt to wear it up in buns and other styles that keep the ends tucked away and my hair out of my way. Often when I make buns I separate out the hair at the front of my head, mostly to add interest, but also to avoid excess tension on my edges. In the video, I will demonstrate my favourite protective style.
Thats it! Be sure to watch the last section of the video for a visual demonstration of a week in my historical hair care life.
My hair has never been longer and healthier, than it is now, and I would love to hear if this information has inspired you to give natural or historical hair care a try! When you put love and attention into anything in your life, you will always be rewarded for it in the long run!
I hope you found this article helpful! In addition to my sewing and shoemaking, hair care is another passion of mine! If you appreciate vintage and historical sewing, and historical and classic shoemaking, you will definitely want to subscribe to my email newsletter so you won't miss a future post!
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Would you ever try historical hair care? Has this article inspired you to change up anything in your hair care routine? I would love to hear from you in the comments section!
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