From the time I was 14, I’ve lusted after Rapunzel-length hair — but no matter how many biotin supplements I took and conditioning treatments I eagerly applied, my strands never seemed to grow far past my shoulders. Alas, I relied on tape-in extensions to achieve my goals — except by a cruel twist of fate, they made it harder for me to take care of my scalp, which then compromised my growth even further. So, I went back to the drawing board — and I’m elated to report that after much trial and error, I finally found five hair growth products that worked with me, not against me, on my quest for longer hair.
According to The Trichological Society, hair growth peaks between the ages of 15 and 30, then starts declining around age 40. There are so many factors that can come into play here — age, stress levels, genetics, hormonal fluctuations, and even diet. I’ve long suspected that high-stress levels and my never-ending battle with seborrheic dermatitis on my scalp were the main problems preventing me from the hair of my dreams. But I also knew that regularly bleaching and heat styling my hair probably wasn’t helping either, because both contribute to breakage.
As such, I realized that I’d need to take a multi-pronged approach in order to give my hair the TLC it needed and deserved. That meant introducing two kinds of products into my regimen: some that help improve scalp health, and others that protect my hair from damage.
I’m happy to report that these efforts paid off: In the last year and a half since I started using these products, my hair has grown over 4 inches — falling well below where my trusty extensions did. Better yet, my locks feel stronger and healthier, too. Curious? Here are the five holy grail hair growth products I used to get there.
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1. The Exfoliating Shampoo
Briogeo’s shampoo contains a natural micro-exfoliator to slough away dead skin cells that might be clogging up the scalp. It’s also chock-full of nourishing ingredients, such as peppermint oil — which, according to celebrity hairstylist Deaundra Metzger, can calm inflammation, soothe itchiness, and support a healthy, balanced scalp pH. It also contains charcoal, which Jennifer Cenaiko-McCowan, a certified clinical trichologist, owner and founder of Hope Hair Recovery, and the official trichological partner for Luna Nectar, says has been used for centuries to exfoliate the scalp, absorb impurities, and detoxify the follicles. Then there’s the tea tree oil in the formula, an ingredient known for its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.
The product also keeps your strands moisturized thanks to coconut oil and panthenol. Coconut oil, of course, is a hair care staple that’s ultra-hydrating, says Dr. Nava Greenfield, M.D., a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City. Because of its emollient properties, Dr. Hadley King, an NYC-based dermatologist, notes that it may reduce hair breakage and make the hair less brittle — thereby contributing to hair growth over time.
I’ve tried countless dandruff and scalp-centered shampoos — both over-the-counter and prescription — to no avail. But after using this shampoo just twice, I already felt a difference: visible flakes were gone, and any itchiness had subsided. My favorite part? The subtle tingling sensation and heavenly mint chip milkshake scent.
2. The Scalp Massager
I’m a firm believer that everyone should have one of these scalp exfoliating tools in their shower, regardless of whether or not they have scalp problems. It’s especially helpful if you use a lot of products — like I certainly do — because it can scrub away any pesky scalp buildup that would otherwise suffocate your hair follicles (and therefore prevent healthy growth).
“The theory is that the mechanical stimulation of a scalp massage causes blood vessels under the skin to dilate, encouraging more blood flow to the hair follicles,” says Metzger. “The stimulation stretches out the cells of the hair follicles, which then causes them to produce thicker hair strands.”
After I bought this handy little tool, I caught my fiance “borrowing” it more than once, and I wasn’t surprised in the slightest — it feels amazing. The silicone spikes are just firm enough to provide a little pressure but also flexible enough not to cause any discomfort. I like to use it after leaving the Briogeo scrub on for a few minutes.
3. The Hair Growth Supplement
With an almost overwhelming array of collagen gummies and other hair vitamins on the market, it can be tough to suss out which ones are worth the hype. I’ve had a lot of luck with Nutrafol in particular, which does its job via both collagen and keratin to boost hair strength and prevent breakage. What makes this formula extra unique, however, is that it contains ingredients designed to target the stress hormones that impede hair growth.
Stefanie Rippenbaum, a nurse practitioner and hair care specialist at Modern Age, says she frequently recommends Nutrafol to clients because it combats all six factors that contribute to hair thinning and loss: hormones, stress, environment, metabolism, nutrition, and aging. “On top of being packed with amino acids, protein builders that are essential for strong hair, Nutrafol contains zinc, saw palmetto, and horsetail extract, all of which are known to encourage hair growth,” adds Cenaiko-McCowan. O’Connell points out that this supplement also contains the antioxidant curcumin, which addresses multiple root causes of hair thinning.
Per the instructions, I take four capsules a day with a meal (typically breakfast). After about three to four months of adding Nutrafol to my routine, I noticed that my hair looked — and felt — much thicker.
4. The Nourishing Conditioner
Thanks to many years of highlights and heat styling, my strands have a tendency to feel thirsty. So, a super nourishing conditioner was a crucial component of my hair growth regimen. What differentiates Virtue Labs’ product line, according to Cenaiko-McCowan, is the ingredient alpha keratin 60ku, the brand’s multi-patented protein derived from human hair. It binds to strands to repair damage — almost like repaving a cracked road. Plus, King points out that this conditioner contains rosemary leaf extract, and a 2015 study suggested rosemary may offer benefits in the way of hair growth.
“Virtue’s Recovery Conditioner is a favorite of mine as it contains hydrolyzed quinoa, which retains moisture and shine; baobab seed oil, an intense emollient for dry, damaged hair; and pea protein, which protects the hair from thermal heat and daily styling damage,” says O’Connell.
Using this conditioner once or twice a week has made my hair feel softer and more manageable without weighing it down. More importantly, I suspect it’s helped to heal my overprocessed strands, thus warding off split ends and breakage.
5. The Detangler
I can’t remember the last time I left the house without blow drying or curling my hair. (Still working on embracing my naturally curly texture.) So, needless to say, a heat protectant is a must for me. “A heat protectant reduces moisture loss caused by the heat applied to your hair shaft,” says Metzger.
According to Cenaiko-McCowan, the hydrolyzed wheat protein is the standout ingredient in Unite’s 7Seconds Detangler: It works by providing a protective film around the hair strands to shield them from damage. King also points to the many moisturizing superstars within the formula, like glycol and panthenol.
I was introduced to the product by my hairstylist — after she spritzed it on following a trim, I was taken aback by how amazing it smelled, but also how soft and shiny my hair looked post blowout. I instantly scooped up a bottle, and it’s the first product I apply to my hair after getting out of the shower. By detangling my hair, it makes it much easier to brush or comb through without causing unnecessary breakage — and thus being able to continue growing it longer than ever.
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Dr. Nava Greenfield, M.D., a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City
Dr. Hadley King, M.D., an NYC-based dermatologist
Deaundra Metzger, celebrity hairstylist