When I was in high school, my hair was in the middle of my back. But junior and senior years, my long hair was going through a lot more stress than normal. I was in cosmetology school, and I was constantly coloring my hair and my classmates were straightening, curling, washing and blow-drying it on a daily basis. It was dry, and the dead and split ends were making it look scraggily.

At the beginning of senior year I decided to start over, so I had my hair chopped off to my chin. Since then, I have been trying to grow it out to the length it once was. It hasn’t been easy—split ends kept reappearing and after a while I would give in and get my hair cut, starting the process all over.

It wasn’t until recently that I began changing my hair-care habits. I decided that if I really wanted to grow my hair, I would need to take better care of it or get hair extensions. Hair extensions, while they can be nice, are expensive. The cheapest can cost around $50 and that’s just for the hair, not the application. Plus, with extensions comes a great deal of hassle that I just was not interested in. So I chose to change up my habits instead. Now my hair has finally reached a couple inches past my shoulders and only a few inches off from where I want it. Here’s what I did and continue to do to grow my hair out and what you should try too.

Stop over-processing it with chemicals:

This means coloring! Sure, the box says four to six weeks but that doesn’t mean you should be coloring your hair that much. Four to six weeks in the salon means four to six weeks until returning to touch up your roots, not coloring your entire head a completely different color. Over-coloring your hair weakens it and can cause some serious damage as well as excessive hair loss. If you want to make a change to your look, this is something you should splurge on and go to the salon for.

Over-washing and under conditioning:

Washing your hair every day strips it of the natural oils it needs to stay moisturized and healthy. I wash my hair every other day and sometimes every three days (unless I’ve been to the gym). Every time your hair gets wet you need to apply conditioner. Water can rinse away those natural oils, and conditioner is a way to moisturize and nourish your hair. I also like to apply a deep conditioning treatment or a hair mask once a week. I like to use coconut oil or Organix’s Hydrating Macadamia Oil Intensive Moisture Mask. You can buy each of these for about $8 at most discount department stores.

Hot water:

Hot water can damage your hair. Use lukewarm water when rinsing out your hair. At the end of your shower, rinse your hair in cool water to seal it and add shine.

Microfiber towels:

Don’t wrap your hair up with your heavy body towel ever again. The towel pulls on your hairs and breaks them. Instead, use a microfiber towel. They are fairly cheap and won’t cause any damage.

Brushing:

Never brush wet hair! Wet hair is particularly fragile and breaks easily. Use a wide tooth comb or better yet, finger through your hair when it is wet. When your hair is dry, try minimizing the amount of times you tease your hair. This can create knots and cause hair to break.

Heat damage:

When using blow dryers, curlers, straighteners or any other heated mechanism, make sure to use a heat protectant. My favorite is Not Your Mother’s Beat The Heat Thermal Shield Spray for $6 online. Also, opt for air drying your hair (make sure you don’t leave with wet hair on cold days or your hair can freeze and snap), wearing your hair natural more often than not or style your hair in a way that won’t damage it, such as braids.

Trims:

Going to get your hair trimmed won’t make your hair grow faster, but what happens is you cut off those dead, split ends. If you don’t get the split ends cut off, then they’ll split higher and higher until breaking off. This will make your hair appear shorter and your ends thinner.

Use silky pillowcases:

Silky pillowcases keep bedhead under control, which reduces split ends by providing less friction than a cotton pillowcase.

By changing up your hair care habits, you should be able to grow your hair out without having to opt for pricey extensions. And remember—patience is key. Hair typically only grows about six inches per year, which is about half a millimeter a day. Give it time and you will get there. Happy growing.