Short Cuts to Great Lengths

An unexpected 'trim' sends Erin Flaherty searching for hair-growing miracles.

THE SALON MIGHT as well have been a Turkish bazaar the way the stylist and I were haggling over how much of my waist-length mane to cut. He wanted to go chin, but I talked him into chest-length, only briefly pausing to consider why I had to argue with a paid professional at all. Still ambivalent, I shut my eyes for the first chop, and when I opened them, about 12 inches of strands lay limply at my feet. Where's the patron saint of haircuts when you need her? We were barely skimming the collarbone here, and there was no going back. "It's cool," I tried to tell myself. And what did this strong, sophisticated woman (me) do after the blowout? She weakly thanked the man, left a generous tip, and walked out feeling like Samson.

It happens: You go in craving a change, blindly put your trust in a seductive stranger wielding a sharp weapon, and stumble out feeling maimed. Maybe it's for the same reasons we sometimes hesitate to speak up in the boardroom. The salon may be more intimate, but we're still not immune to avoiding confrontation. Dashed dreams aside, a good hair day equals confidence; a bad one can deflate you. But this felt worse. We all have that one feature—toned legs, pretty eyes—we're vain about: Hair was mine. Stylists stopped me at photo shoots to caress it; men did double takes on the street.

I know, it's just hair—but this unexpected loss was treading near identity-crisis territory. It didn't help that I was in the midst of a big transition: selling the apartment I had gut renovated and moving into a rental. Change is good, but too much at once is overwhelming. I felt plain. My old look screamed boho-fairy-princess chic! The new 'do whispered soccer mom. I tried to rock it, but I just wanted it to freakin' grow, and fast.

There are options. Once the stuff of late-night infomercials and bald men, the hair-growth industry has recently exploded. There are clinically lauded pills, scalp-stimulating gadgets, and even good old-fashioned crazes: Some NYC and L.A. salons now host "lunar trims," based on an ancient belief that hair cut during a full moon will grow back faster and stronger. (Um, dubious.) But at the end of the day, hair growth is complicated. While the average is about 6 inches per year, the active period of hair growth is cyclical throughout our lifetimes and can last anywhere from two to six years (!)—with transitional and resting stages of about a few weeks to 100 days in between—and varies based on factors from genetics to stress. Mental note: Stop skipping yoga class.

It's been two months since I was chopped, and my hair has grown almost 2 inches. Here's what worked: Most experts will tell you to get regular trims, but I personally think if you want longer hair, don't cut it so much. This can get messy, but there are a multitude of new split-end menders to help you through. (Pantene's, below, was a godsend.) And you know that conditioning mask you've always meant to try but is just sitting in your bathroom? Use it once a week. I also adopted a more forgiving wavy texture to help hide awkward layers—for straight-haired ladies, meet the curling iron. And once I conceded that throttling my stylist in a dark alley would do me no favors, I picked up some other tips: Invest in a good brush (like boar bristle), and comb through your scalp daily (like 10 passes; 100 is overkill). To avoid dryness and breakage, shampoo only when necessary. Take a biotin supplement—I took Viviscal twice a day—which helps nails grow faster, too. I've hit a not princess-y but not too conservative length. But ladies, I've got one more crucial tip for you: Next time you go to the salon, speak up and keep your eyes wide open.

"You go in craving a change, blindly put your trust in a seductive stranger wielding a sharp weapon, and stumble out feeling maimed."


PANTENE PRO-V Everlasting Ends Split Fix Créme, $6.

VIVISCAL Extra Strength, $50 for 60 pills.

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