Table of Contents:
- Hair Care Basics
- Assessing Your Hair Type
- Deep Conditioning
- Finding Your Style
Every guy should grow his hair long at least once in life. Doesn’t matter how old you are, what your loved ones might think, or what your profession is — provided you don’t work for a place that specifically restricts such things — as long as you’ve got a full head of hair, go for it.
Now I’ll admit up front that unfortunately, at least here in the US, long hair on guys is often frowned upon. “It’s too feminine,” they might say, or “Ugh, men with long hair are SO unattractive,” or even, “What are you, some kinda druggie/hippie/hipster/basement dweller/manchild/[insert stereotype here]?”
Despite the haters, growing your hair is a worthwhile thing to do for many reasons:
It will teach you patience. Growing from a typical short men’s style to a majestic mane takes a long time — usually on the order of a year or two before it reaches your shoulders. Three years or more if it’s on the extremely curly/kinky side.
Of course, the internet is loaded with tips on growing your hair faster — taking biotin (or other supplements), applying coconut oil, gently massaging your scalp daily to increase blood flow there, doing the “inversion method” (don’t do this if you have heart risks, etc) — but really there’s not much you can do beyond your natural, genetically-driven hair growth except…wait.
It will teach you resilience. Pretty much every guy growing out his hair goes through several months of something called the “awkward phase”, where the hair hasn’t yet grown long enough to be properly weighed down, but long enough to look messy and weird and you don’t know what to do with it and ARGH YOU JUST WANT TO CUT IT ALL OFF. If you push through this phase, you quickly learn not to care what anyone thinks about your appearance, because the alternative is never going out in public.
You’ll probably also start getting comments from people about your hair, especially from friends and family who aren’t used to seeing you like this. When it’s long enough, even strangers may feel the need to give an opinion, good or bad. You’ll naturally start to stand out anywhere you go, simply because most guys never dare to grow their manes.
- You might be surprised what your hair looks like long. Most guys never get to learn what their true hair type is. Some find out they actually have quite wavy or curly hair, which they never would’ve known had they kept a short haircut all their lives.
You’ll learn proper hair maintenance. When you’re constantly trimming your hair short, you can feel free to abuse it all the time with harsh shampoos and rough towel-drying and heat tools, because it’ll be gone soon anyway.
Once you’ve decided to grow it out though, the hair that’s close to your scalp now is something you’ll still be managing a year or two from now, so caring for it along the way is key.
- You’ll gain a newfound appreciation for other “longhairs”. When you’ve successfully grown your hair, any time you see another longhair on the street you’ll know they went through all the same BS you have, never wavering despite being treated differently for what is really a personal decision. It’s like joining a secret club, albeit a small one.
- Long hair is versatile. You can’t do a lot with short hair beyond throwing some product in it, but with long hair you can have a different style every day. Let it ride free, wear it up in one of several ways, put a hat on and let your hair flow out of it, stuff it all into a slouch beanie, whatever. It’s nice to have options.
- It’ll help keep you warm in the winter. You’d be surprised how toasty your head, ears, and neck can feel with long hair.
- You can potentially look like a rock star or viking. ‘Nuff said.
So what are you waiting for? Get that fierce flow going!
Note: Despite the title of this article, the tips covered below apply to all hair, male or female. Hair is hair, no matter whose head it’s on. I wrote this guide with men in mind because it seems like women often have a lifetime of hair experience behind them, whereas most guys aren’t taught this sort of thing from birth (almost the opposite, in fact) and have to learn everything at once.
If you’re like most people, you shampoo your hair at least once a day, probably with something nice and sudsy. Well I hate to break it to you, but that’s definitely not a good thing if you’re trying to grow long, healthy hair.
Many commercial shampoos you find at grocery stores and pharmacies are way too harsh, mainly due to sulfates/surfactants such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). Detergents like these are what make shampoos so foamy, which people often think makes for a better-cleaning product. The sudsier and squeakier the better, right? Wrong!
Oh, those suds clean your hair all right, but they do it by harshly degrading the hair cuticle through abrasion and excessively stripping it of the natural oils (aka sebum) produced by your scalp — which are actually quite beneficial for your hair if kept in check rather than extracted with impunity — and generally drying your hair out.
With that said, here’s a general routine and set of rules to start with (customize this to your needs as you go):
- Shampoo less often — every other day at most, less if you can swing it. People hear this and immediately get all grossed out. Don’t be! Your hair doesn’t need to be cleaned that well, that often.
- When you do shampoo, use something gentler and sulfate-free. (We’ll dive into specific products in a bit, or you can skip ahead now if you like.)
- You also don’t need to use a huge amount of shampoo, or even focus on the ends of your hair with it. Take a small amount and distribute it through your scalp, then rinse. It’ll clean the rest of your hair as it slides off.
- You could also skip shampooing altogether and go “no-poo”, but I’ve yet to go that far myself.
- If you take steaming hot showers, ease off the temperature a bit. Extreme heat is really not great for your hair, and over time it’ll do a lot of damage.
Conditioner is your friend. Use it every time you shower, whether or not you’ve shampooed first. You can even use it to “co-wash” your hair in place of shampooing (this is what I do), or you can use an actual cowashing product like As I Am Coconut Cowash).
Whenever you use conditioner, let it sit in your hair for several minutes while you do other shower things, then rinse it off at the end. Follow this by rinsing your hair with cold-ish water (think cool rain, not ice). Cold water closes the hair cuticle up, sealing moisture inside and smoothing the hair shaft so it doesn’t catch on everything and get damaged later.
- Hair is at its weakest when wet, so treat it carefully after showering.
- Avoid roughly drying your hair with a typical terry cloth towel, as the rough fabric loops can cause frizziness at best and friction damage at worst. If you’ve got an old t-shirt lying around, use that instead, and gently squeeze your hair with it, don’t do that crazy rubbing-back-and-forth thing. Also, don’t shake your head like a dog or headbang to get the water out. Just soak up the drips with the shirt and let it air dry from there if you can.
- Those of you with especially curly hair (and who want to keep it that way) may like the “plopping” technique.
- Unless you’re going “no-poo” and need a boar bristle brush to distribute scalp oils throughout your hair, stick with a wide-toothed comb and use it gently. Or better yet, just use your fingers! They’re the best detangling and styling tools around.
- If you don’t have time for air-drying, or simply must use a hair dryer for whatever reason, try to use it on a warm or cool setting rather than hot. Avoid other such heat tools (straighteners, curling irons, etc) and try to make the most of your natural hair texture. I did the straightening thing for years, and looking back, I really wish I hadn’t.
- Use an oil or leave-in conditioner while your hair is still damp, especially if you’ve got naturally dry hair. More on this in the products section.
- Of course, all of this is a moot point if you don’t have a decent diet — or failing that, a decent supplement routine. Talk to your doctor before making dietary or supplement changes of any kind. We are not medical professionals. That being said, healthy hair generally means avoiding too many sugars and processed foods (duh) and making sure you’re getting plenty of:
- Vitamin B, namely B12, B6, and B3 (i.e. Niacin). Vitamin B5 can help prevent graying, if this is a concern.
- Also, vitamins C and E
- Omega-3 acids
- Folic acid
- Beware too much vitamin A, as it can lead to hair loss and other health issues. Never exceed 25,000 IU per day, and try to stay under 7,000 IU if at all possible. Simply eat half a medium-sized carrot to meet a day’s requirement, or a quarter of a sweet potato (~1 cup).
- People recommend taking a biotin supplement (also known as Vitamin B7 or Vitamin H), but it tends to cause cystic acne in high doses (1,000 mcg/day and up). Most people get enough biotin in their daily diet anyway, especially if they regularly eat eggs, nuts, bananas, or dark leafy greens like spinach or kale.
Last but not least, DON’T CUT YOUR HAIR.
This seems obvious if you’re trying to grow it out, but a lot of guys forget. Or they think, “I’ll just go in for a trim to make this awkward phase a little more bearable.” This only prolongs the awkwardness and makes it take way longer to reach your desired length. Plus, even if you tell them to only trim your split ends, a lot of barbers/stylists end up cutting too much off, setting you back months of growth. Just be patient.
If you must get a trim, be very, very specific with whoever is cutting it that you only want the tiniest bit cut off.
Everyone’s hair is different, we all know that. When trying to figure out which products and methods will work best for your hair, it helps to know where it falls on the straight → curly spectrum. There are four basic hair types (in order of curliness):
- Type 1 — Straight
- Type 2 — Wavy
- Type 3 — Curly
- Type 4 — Coily/Kinky
Each of these is subdivided into A, B, and C classes. So for example, most of my hair falls into the slightly wavy 2A range, and in some places is a wavier 2B. Knowing your own hair type will be your guide to finding the right products and routine for you.
Now let’s talk about hair porosity. Most hair maintenance guides I’ve ever come across fail to mention porosity at all, which is strange because it’s a rather important thing to know when you’re figuring out a routine.
My own hair is low-porosity, which means the cuticles (those little microscopic scales that make up the outer layer of each hair) lay very flat against the hair shaft, making it difficult for moisture to get in or out.
- This kind of hair likes showers that begin warm (to temporarily open the cuticles) and end cold.
- Low porosity hair also tends to be “protein sensitive”, where proteins (especially those in hair products) can build up too easily and overload the hair, causing it to be stiff and brittle like straw. I found this out the hard way.
People with high-porosity hair have the opposite problem, in which the cuticles are wide open and moisture can easily get in but then leaves just as easily.
- This kind of hair likes all-cold showers and LOVES protein.
Medium-porosity hair is…well, somewhere in the middle. If you fall into this category, you’re pretty much in the sweet spot.
There are a couple ways to determine your porosity:
- Hold the end of a single hair strand between your thumb and forefinger, then run them “backward” up the strand toward your scalp. If the hair feels bumpy it’s likely high-porosity, and if it feels smooth like plastic it’s probably low-porosity.
- Take a clean strand of hair and place it in a bowl of water. After a few minutes, see if the hair is floating or has sunk to the bottom. Floating hair is likely low-porosity, while sunken hair is likely high-porosity. Medium porosity hair tends to drift between the two extremes.
These are not foolproof methods though, and the only way to know for sure is to have your hair analyzed. I’ve personally never gone that far, but there is a lady on Etsy who charges an affordable rate if you’re really wanting to know what your specific hair texture is on a microscopic level.
Because everyone’s hair is so different, it’s impossible to recommend products that work for everyone, every single time. The frustrating reality is, the only way to find what works for you is by trial-and-error.
Thankfully, if you’ve already figured out your specific hair type with the info in this guide, you’ve already got a head start on your research. Once you’re able to Google “leave-in conditioner for 2A low-porosity hair” for example, you’re way more likely to find someone out there who has faced the same struggles you have and knows what works and what doesn’t.
That said, there are a few general product recommendations I can offer.
While some people are actually perfectly fine sticking with the typical combo of shampoos with sulfates and conditioners with silicones, I’ll only be recommending products without those things. You can find the standard stuff on any store shelf, so just pick one that sounds good to you.
For those of you wanting to make the switch though, here are a few good product lines:
Suave Essentials (formerly Suave Naturals) — If you’re on a tight budget but want a decent conditioner for co-washing, Suave Essentials conditioners are silicone-free and cheap — typically $1 at your local store. The equally-cheap shampoos in this line still have sulfates, so they can work well for clarifying if you need to remove any product/oil buildup in your hair, but the conditioners are really where it’s at.
One thing to keep in mind: Their Tropical Coconut conditioner, which is often the most-recommended of the bunch, contains proteins in the form of silk amino acids. High-porosity hair will love how well this stuff moisturizes, but it makes low-porosity hair like mine dry like a broom.
Tresemme Perfectly Undone — Up until just recently there used to be a line called Tresemme Naturals that was like Suave Naturals/Essentials in that the conditioner was silicone-free, the shampoo was relatively low in sulfates, and both were pretty cheap for the amount you got in a bottle. Tresemme has discontinued that line for some reason, and put in its place the reformulated Tresemme Botanique line (which I believe has silicones?).
They do still offer the Tresemme Perfectly Undone conditioner though, which is silicone-free and seems to moisturize my hair well enough.
As I Am — Their coconut cowash is great for cleansing the scalp and hair and moisturizing somewhat, plus it smells great. I do wish it had a pump or something though, because the wide-mouthed tub fills up with shower water easily.
L’Oreal EverCréme — Their sulfate-free shampoo is pricey for the amount you get, but it’s good stuff.
Although your natural scalp oils are generally the best for your hair, sometimes they need a little help. People have varying levels of success with different oils. Some will even distribute a tiny amount of olive oil from their pantry after showering. Here are a few you may not have considered, though:
Coconut oil — Coconut oil is amazing for most types of hair, whether you’re using it for a deep conditioning treatment or just applying a tiny amount after showering. The brand isn’t too important here, you just want a jar of the organic virgin stuff. It’s usually pretty affordable too — I’ve found jars at my local Aldi for $5.
Be warned if your hair is protein-sensitive though: Coconut oil has no proteins of its own, but it has a habit of sealing proteins in your hair, causing them to build up rapidly if you don’t shampoo them out from time to time.
Argan oil and Jojoba oil— These tend to be much pricier than coconut oil, and you get a lot less of the stuff for that price. Since you only need a drop or two to run through your hair on wash days though, they can last quite a while. They’re also quite healthy for your hair.
If you’re not into the oil thing, most conditioners you would use in the shower can also be used post-shower, while your hair is still damp, to keep your hair moisturized and tangle-free throughout the day. Take a pea-sized amount, distribute it throughout (either with your fingers or a wide-toothed comb), and leave it there. Be careful not to use too much because it’ll make your hair feel crunchy. Like with oils, a little bit goes a long way here.
If you’ve got particularly dry hair, doing a weekly deep-conditioning treatment is key. For this purpose you can buy something like the Shea Moisture deep treatment masque, or you can use coconut oil, or you can make your own hair mask.
I’ve done the coconut oil thing myself, which goes like this:
Warm some coconut oil on the stove (do NOT microwave it) and once it’s melted, pour in a drop or two of peppermint essential oil for a nice smell (totally optional). Don’t overdo the peppermint; it dries the scalp.
Apply on dry, clean-ish hair. Saturate hair and massage down to scalp using finger pads (NOT nails).
Put on a shower cap or tie a plastic grocery bag around head to ensure your now-oily hair doesn’t touch anything. You’ll look super silly but you’re in the privacy of your home so who cares?
Leave hair this way for at least 2 hours, or overnight if possible. (If in a hurry, sit underneath a hair dryer to speed up the process/help your hair absorb the oil better.)
When it’s time to rinse out, apply conditioner liberally on hair to emulsify the coconut oil, and leave it for 15–30 minutes.
Rinse everything out with warm water as opposed to cold. This ensures that the hair cuticles open, preventing them from retaining too much oil/conditioner. It also keeps the oil from re-solidifying in your hair.
Once all the gunk is out, then rinse with cold water to seal the hairs back up.
Optional: If you feel your hair needs it, do another co-wash and/or regular conditioning of your hair. If not, skip this step and dry off as normal!
I recommend two things to keep you going, especially through the awkward phase:
- Take photos of your hair often, and keep a journal of it as it grows. You can do this with Notes.app in iOS, Evernote, Day One, or whatever else you like. Sometimes it’s hard to notice in the real world that you’re making progress, so refer back to this journal from time to time to see how far you’ve actually come in your long hair journey.
- Keep an inspiration album with photos of guys whose hair you’d like to emulate. Once you’ve determined your hair type/texture, keep an especially close eye out for anyone who shares the same kind of hair as you and has a style you’d like to aim for. You can find lots of good photos of various styles on the /r/FierceFlow and /r/MajesticManes subreddits, plus the guys there can share tips, advice, and inspiration with you along the way.