I've had long hair for as long as I can remember (except when I was three, and I had a slightly suspicious bob); however, it's only recently that I've realised I've become a bit of an expert on the subject. Try not to take this as big-headedness - I really mean that it hasn't all fallen off yet, so I must've done something right.
Over the years, my hair's taken some heavy blows. I've straightened it to within an inch of its life, given up with that and had it chemically straightened, then (shock horror) decided to bleach it. And somehow, it's hung in there like that cat hanging onto a branch from that motivational poster in the 70s.
This can only be down to all the intensive care I use on my hair to strengthen and maintain it. The hair at the bottom is probably about ten years old and, like a fur coat or a rug, it has to be given special treatment to keep it healthy and strong. In contrast to what the adverts tell you, I don't believe that you can repair hair, you can only maintain what you've already got. So here are a few tips for those of you with extra long hair, or those of you thinking of growing your hair to this length, and how to sustain its condition.
(Remember that everyone's hair is different, so these tips are just a guideline for general use. You should always tailor your hair care to your personal needs! If you want to know my hair type, in case it's similar to yours, I have slightly wavy hair with fairly thin strands. The lower hair of my hair is bleached and the top half is my natural colour - a very dark brown. Generally, my hair, like my skin, is quite dry.)
1. It all starts with the scalp
Once hair passes through your scalp, it's dead, and you can't do anything else to improve its condition - so your first action should be to make sure your scalp gets the nutrients it needs to produce healthy hair. For this you can use hair oils, masks and shampoos - but there's nothing better than using natural ingredients. I use coconut oil (Biona's the best) at least twice a week on my scalp and the ends of my hair; I massage it into my scalp and over the ends, leave it in for 45 mins to an hour, then wash it out using my normal shampoo.
2. Straightening is worse than bleaching
I know a lot of people that would disagree with me on this, but unless you bleach your hair on a regular basis, straightening is much worse. When my mum cut me a rather precarious fringe at age 14 (pre-chemical straightening), I took the straighteners to it every morning. After a month or so, my fringe looked like a large collection of thin copper wires, and I tried to disguise it by wearing a sweatband every day. Not my finest hour.
I've now come to love my slight wave, and I only use heat on my hair once or twice a week at most. This has significantly improved the appearance and texture of my hair (now that the frazzled bits have been trimmed off), and I would never go back to straightening it every day.
3. Put the hair brush down
I don't know if this is still the case, but back in the day, French hairstylists only used their fingers to comb through their clients' hair. This reduces breakages and split ends by a serious margin - believe me, I've tested it - and the skin's natural oils will moisturise the hair, making it smoother and easier to manipulate. Just make sure you've got clean hands.
On the other hand, it's a hard practice to keep up. Sometimes, you just need to brush your hair out and be done with it - after all, nothing can beat the silky smooth feeling of freshly-brushed hair. If this is the case, try a boar bristle brush rather than a synthetic one - you'll definitely notice the difference (especially in the amount of hair you have to hoover off your bedroom floor *sigh*).
4. It doesn't matter how often you wash your hair
A lot of people say that if you wash your hair every day, it's somehow bad for its health. This might be true if you're using heaps of shampoo, as it tends to dry it out, but manage your products well and you'll have no problem. Use a 2 minute hair mask either instead of your conditioner or as well as, and only use a teaspoonful of shampoo on your scalp, not the ends. Seriously, a teaspoonful - you don't need anymore.
I only wash my hair two or three times a week, simply because it can take over an hour to wash, dry and style it - not ideal for any busy girl. I use a nourishing shampoo, then a conditioner or hair mask, and nothing else. It's important not to overgunk your hair with chemical-filled products.