Having long, flowing locks may seem glamorous, but is it actually healthy? There has been some debate over whether keeping hair long has any impacts on physical health and wellbeing. In this article, we’ll explore some of the proposed pros and cons of having long hair and look at what the science says.
The supposed pros of long hair
There are a few commonly cited benefits of having long hair:
- Aesthetics – Many people find long hair beautiful and a sign of femininity or masculinity. The look of long hair can boost self-esteem.
- Versatility – Long hair allows for more styling options like braids, updos, and elaborate curls.
- Self-expression – Hair length and style can be a form of self-expression and personal choice.
- Low maintenance – Once long hair reaches maximum length, maintenance may be less frequent than with short styles.
- Natural shine – The natural oils of long hair have more surface area to spread over, creating shine.
While these benefits are subjective, having the choice to grow long hair can certainly be positive for mental and emotional health for some people.
The supposed cons of long hair
On the flip side, there are also some alleged downsides of having long locks:
- Tangling – Long hair tangles more easily, requiring tedious brushing and detangling.
- Damage – Long hair is more prone to split ends and breakage from oxidative stress over time.
- Scalp issues – Product buildup and infrequent washing can lead to dandruff or clogged follicles.
- Weight – Very long, thick hair can put strain on the scalp and neck muscles.
- Shedding – Long hair sheds more noticeably than short hair as strands fall out.
- Time – Long hair takes more time to wash, dry, brush, and style.
- Cost – More products are required for conditioning and styling long hair.
Frequently dealing with tangles, damage, and excess shedding can certainly be frustrating. But do any of these factors actually impact physical health in a significant way?
Does hair length affect hair health?
One of the most common concerns with growing hair long is that the ends will become damaged, dry, and split over time. Does long hair inherently become less healthy?
According to research, hair condition depends largely on internal factors like nutrition and genetics, not length alone. Some key points:
- Each hair strand has a life cycle of 2-7 years, going through growth, rest, and shedding phases. Hair length does not affect this cycle.
- Hair condition is primarily determined by the health of the follicles and vitamin/mineral status of the body.
- Genetics influence hair thickness, growth speed, oiliness, and fragility.
- Oxidative damage from sun, chlorine, hair dye, heat styling, and chemical treatments is the main external cause of damage.
- Damage to the ends does not travel up the hair strand, so trims are mainly for aesthetics.
In healthy individuals, keeping hair long does not inherently damage it or cause increased shedding. However, long hair requires more careful protective styling to minimize mechanical and oxidative damage.
Tips for keeping long hair healthy
- Use gentle, detangling brushes, starting at the bottom of hair and working up.
- Apply conditioner concentrating on the ends to limit split ends.
- Let hair air dry when possible to limit heat damage from blow drying.
- Use heat protecting sprays and minimize heat tools to damaged parts.
- Wear hair up and use protective styles when swimming.
- Get occasional trims (1-2 inches every 8-12 weeks) to tidy ends.
- Use leave-in treatments and masks to replenish moisture.
- Take biotin, fish oil, vitamin E, and other supplements for growth.
Can long hair lead to scalp issues?
Some claim that infrequent washing and product buildup lead to more dandruff and clogged follicles when growing hair long. But dermatologists disagree:
- Dandruff is caused by a fungal infection and oily skin, not poor hygiene.
- Product residue typically does not clog follicles enough to impair growth.
- Overwashing long hair removes beneficial natural oils, causing more irritation.
- Scalp massage while washing improves blood flow and product absorption into follicles.
- Rinsing thoroughly with cool water after washing prevents oiliness.
- Shampooing less often (1-2 times a week) is fine for long, dry hair as long as scalp is cleansed.
Maintaining a healthy scalp while growing hair longer just requires finding the right washing frequency and massaging products in thoroughly from root to tip.
Does long hair cause neck, shoulder and back pain?
Very thick, heavy hair reaching tailbone length or longer can potentially lead to some strain on the neck muscles. A few points on hair weight and pain:
- Human scalp hair follicles can support up to 100g of weight without detachment or damage.
- The average head of 12-inch long hair weighs about 200g.
- Hair longer than 15 inches may start weighting over 300g, depending on thickness.
- Ponytails, buns, braids and updos redistribute the weight off the scalp.
- Impacts on neck and shoulders are minimal for hair under 20 inches in most people.
- Added weight from very long thick hair can contribute to cervical strain and headaches in some individuals.
Overall, moderately long hair is very unlikely to cause pain issues. Only extremely long, heavy hair approaches the load weight that could potentially impact musculoskeletal health. Good posture and strengthening neck muscles can prevent problems.
How does long hair impact activity and exercise?
Hair whipping your face on runs or getting tangled in sports equipment are certainly annoyances when you have longer styles. But the impacts on exercising aren’t usually significant:
- Ponytails and braids secure long hair out of the face for most activities.
- Sweat and motion do not cause more tangling in long hair vs short hair.
- Long hair does not have to be washed more frequently with activity.
- Hats and headbands can keep loose strands back.
- Swimming caps contain long hair well for water sports.
With the right accessories and styling, healthy long hair should not interfere with regular activity or require special care following exercise. The exceptions are competitive sports like gymnastics and wrestling where very long hair could potentially get in the way or become a hazard.
Does long hair affect beauty and self image?
Perhaps more important than any potential physical impacts of long hair are the psychological aspects of beauty, identity, and self-esteem. Some perspectives to consider:
- Hair is linked to perceptions of attractiveness across cultures, with various ideals.
- Long hair is viewed by many as a sign of femininity, while short cuts are seen as more masculine.
- Hair length and styling can signify social status, spiritual beliefs, and coming of age.
- Long hair allows creative expression through styling, coloring, textures, and accessories.
- Cutting long hair short can represent a new phase of life or boost confidence.
- Losing long hair to medical treatments like chemo can be emotionally devastating.
At the end of the day, your hair becomes part of your identity. If keeping your hair long makes you feel more beautiful, confident, and true to yourself, those perceptions can have concrete impacts on mental health and quality of life. That may well outweigh any minor physical considerations of having longer locks.
The bottom line
Here are the key takeaways on how long hair impacts health:
- Genetics, nutrition, and damage cause variation in hair condition, not length itself.
- Long hair may require more careful styling and maintenance to prevent breakage.
- Scalp issues are not caused specifically by having longer hair.
- Only extraordinarily long and thick hair weighs enough to potentially strain the neck.
- With styling adjustments, long hair does not have to limit activity.
- Beauty and femininity associations with long hair affect self-esteem and confidence.
While long hair has some added styling needs, there is no significant evidence that keeping hair long into adulthood is inherently unhealthy or detrimental to the body in a major way. The choice to grow your hair as long as you want is a personal one that can have many positive psychological rewards.