So, you started your natural hair journey and you’ve been painstakingly caring for your hair as it grows. It has taken time, but you’ve achieved length! You wash your hair, style it, you’re loving your look, and then… your hair dries and shrinks, losing 2, 3, 5, or even 8 inches in length. Sound familiar?
Shrinkage is normal in all curly, kinky, or coily hair; the only hair without shrinkage is pin-straight hair. The tighter your curls, the more shrinkage you’ll experience because length is lost in forming the shape of your coils. However, shrinkage is one of the most common complaints we hear from the natural hair community.
The irony of complaining about shrinkage is that shrinkage actually indicates healthy hair. If your hair shrinks up when dry, and bounces back when you stretch it, this means your hair is healthy and elastic! You can’t have your curl pattern without shrinkage, and the only way to eliminate shrinkage is to straighten your hair. In an effort to control shrinkage, many have resorted to stretching techniques that involve heat or excessive tension, damaging their hair, causing breakage, or permanently altering their curl pattern.
But, we get it! You worked hard for your length and you want to celebrate it. Plus, it’s annoying to style your hair damp but end up with a completely different look when dry. And while there are plenty of unhealthy, damaging ways to stretch your hair, you can stretch your hair in healthy ways too, with benefits you may not know about.
Stretching your hair reduces tangles and by extension, breakage. It reduces single strand knots, makes your hair more manageable, and makes your hair easier to style as well.
Just remember the difference between fully straightening your hair and controlling shrinkage. Be careful while fighting shrinkage, respect the natural coils and kinks of your hair, and take time to embrace and celebrate your shrinkage. It is part of your healthy hair journey, and a dimension of the beauty and versatility of natural hair!
Heat free stretching techniques
Before you wash your hair, loosely braid or twist your hair in sections. Your hair tends to shrink as soon as water hits it, so this will control the extent to which it can shrink.
Use heavier products (conditioners, moisturizers, and oils) during and after you wash your hair. These products will weigh down your curls slightly, preventing them from shrinking as much. Recommended: NaturAll Club's Jamaican Black Castor Oil Growth Serum, which is a thick oil mix that can help weigh down your hair.
Most stretching techniques come in at the styling stage when your hair is still wet. Hair can be stretched to take on new temporary shapes while wet, hold those new shapes when it dries, and will only revert when it contacts water. Try the following techniques when your hair is damp for best results.
1. BANDING. While wet, divide your hair into sections and tie ponytail holders around each section until it dries. Be careful about breakage and tension with this method! Remove the bands carefully.
2. AFRICAN THREADING. This method can be time intensive, but the result is similar to a blowout look without heat!
3. BANTU KNOTS. Put your hair in bantu knots while wet. Once dry, release them for a gorgeous stretched texture!
4. TWIST OUT or BRAID OUT. One of the simplest methods for stretching hair, especially if you already twist your hair before washing it. Put your hair in twists or braids while wet, leave in until dry (or as long as you like) and then untwist for elongated curls.
5. ROLLER SETS. Use a variety of tools (flexi rods, perm rods, magnetic rollers, etc.) to set your hair while it dries. Release for a stretched curl pattern!
If none of these methods work for you, you can stretch your hair with moderate heat. Let your hair mostly dry, and then use a hair dryer on low heat, not so much that you straighten your hair, but to stretch your curls slightly. Always use heat protectant when you apply heat to your hair!
Remember, shrinkage is part of the natural beauty and versatility of your hair! Try these stretching techniques, but also look for ways to celebrate your shrinkage :)