1. The first step to growing long, beautiful hair is by far the most important. It is absolutely non negotiable for anyone who wants healthy hair at any length, but it is also by far the hardest step you will have to follow. In order to have long healthy hair you absolutely have to start with healthy hair.
2. Trim your hair often.
3. If you don't have someone you trust implicitly to trim your hair for you, find a salon that caters to long hair or at least has a long hair specialist.
4. Avoid using any heated appliances whenever possible. No blow drying, no curling irons, no hot rollers, and especially no flat irons or crimpers! If you absolutely must blow dry, do so minimally.
5. Don't use any harsh chemicals on your hair.
6. Avoid chlorine and saltwater. If you go swimming in either, shampoo your hair as soon as possible after exposure.
7. Be *extremely* careful of what kind of hair jewelry you use. Never use metal barrettes (the "French" style) and absolutely NEVER use rubberbands, they will tear your hair when you try to remove them. Avoid anything that has sharp or rough edges, such as plastic combs with rough seams or hair claws with metal hinges. Never put anything in your hair that attaches with Velcro or springs.
8. Never put your hair in any kind of style that will put undue stress on the individual hairs... no tiny braids, no extremely tight coils.
9. Avoid extreme diets. If your body isn't getting enough nutrition, neither is your hair. Even if you try to avoid fat, it's essential that you don't completely eliminate all fat from your diet. Your hair (and body) will surely suffer for it.
10. Be *extremely* gentle with your hair when it is wet. Don't rub your hair vigorously with a towel, gently squeeze the towel down the length of your hair. Turbie Twists are a great alternative to twisting your hair in a standard towel (I can get all my hip-length hair into one, but just barely). NEVER brush your hair when it's wet, this is when your hair is at its most delicate. Use a very wide-tooth comb to smooth wet hair.
11. Be very careful with what you choose to style your hair. When you use a brush, use only natural boar bristle brushes, which are useful in distributing sebum (your hair's natural protective oils) to the ends of your hair and to remove loose hairs. If your hair is so thick that a boar bristle brush won't penetrate, there are several smooth wood brushes on the market that will be kind to your hair.
12. Comb your hair to ensure all knots have been removed before shampooing. After the knots have been removed, use a boar bristle brush to remove loose hairs, which will also cut down on knotting during shampooing (not to mention keep your plumber at bay).
13. Let your hair get dirty once in awhile. That's right... permission to be lazy, what more could you ask for? Don't shampoo, spend the entire weekend in bed drinking Moet, eating chocolate covered strawberries and watching Out of Africa for the umpteenth time (live vicariously through Meryl Streep by rewinding and watching Robert Redford wash her hair a few times), all while those wonderful natural conditioning oils work their magic. Don't forget the boar bristle brush before shampooing to distribute those oils and for heaven's sake don't forget not to answer the door before shampooing for any reason!
14. Don't pile your hair on your head when you wash it, that's just asking for knots. Apply shampoo only to the roots and wash your scalp, then work the shampoo to the ends. You may find adding a bit of water to your shampoo or very quickly ducking under the shower spray after initially applying it to your hair will increase lathering significantly, making it easier to work the soap to the ends of your tresses. When you apply conditioner, work it through to the ends of your hair, smoothing and detangling gently with your fingers as you go. Continue smoothing your hair as you rinse. This will make combing your wet hair much easier.
15. If you wash your hair often or have very dry hair, you may want to consider using only conditioner to wash it on occasion. If your hair isn't very dirty the conditioner will easily rinse away surface contaminants while allowing you to avoid daily use of the harsher solvents found in shampoo.
16. Rinse your hair in as cold water as you can stand. Not only will this make the cuticle lay flat and less likely to snag and break, but by the same token you'll get the added benefit of very shiny hair that's easier to comb wet. Yes, you will get used to doing this, even in the shower, and it is wonderfully invigorating for your whole bod, not just your hair. I know, I know... I couldn't convince Hubby either, but it's true, I swear! Trust me.
17. If your hair is especially coarse, extremely curly, or if you didn't heed my stern advice in Step 1 (don't make me come over there) and your hair is damaged, you may want to consider using a leave-in conditioner in addition to a regular rinse-out conditioner (I recommend Infusium-23, but there are many good ones out there). In some cases, leave-in conditioners may replace rinse-out conditioners altogether.
18. Become familiar with the ingredients in your styling products. Once you know what affects your hair positively or detrimentally, you will be able to effectively choose products that contain ingredients that are best for your hair type. For instance, some people find that their hair does not respond well to silicone products (found in most "smoothing" or "anti frizz" products and many conditioning shampoos), if used over a long period of time. Any ingredient that ends with the suffix "cone" in the ingredient list is usually a silicone derivative and should be avoided by those sensitive to it (I am not decrying products containing silicone, only stating an example... I regularly use some products that contain small amounts of silicone with no ill effects on my own hair). Products that nourish your hair with natural ingredients that are available at most health food stores are excellent alternatives to the chemical laden, overpriced high-end lines sold in department stores and salons (I can personally recommend Nature's Gate products, of which there is a wide variety from which to choose). Either way, what matters most is to use whatever works best for your hair, not what is necessarily the hottest trendy product or for that matter, the most cost efficient product. This is one of those steps to growing long, healthy hair in which common sense plays a huge role.
19. Deep condition your hair at least monthly, even if it's in good shape this will help keep it that way. If your hair is dry or damaged, deep condition weekly. Hot oil treatments are a good alternative for very dry hair or for extra conditioning (but be forewarned, to some extent hot oil treatments will lift any non permanent color you've added). You might want to try washing and applying conditioner at night, wearing a shower cap to bed, and rinsing in the morning for a really intense conditioning treatment as well. A word to the wise... conditioning nights have been conclusively proven to be detrimental to romantic evenings with the significant other. Use this information to your own best advantage.
20. Lessen the friction on your hair whenever possible. Don't sleep with your hair loose or if you must, use a satin pillowcase. If your hair is very long and prone to getting caught in car windows, seat belts, doors, or even under your butt when you sit down, it's important to remember that all these things can cause damage to your precious locks. Wear your hair braided or in an updo hairstyle (did I already mention hairsticks?) whenever possible to avoid daily wear and tear. And we all know, no matter what promises hair product manufacturers claim, the ONLY way to fix damaged hair is to CUT IT OFF... perish the thought!