So you have just chopped off your relaxed ends after several months of transitioning. You are excited about finally getting to wear your hair all-natural. However, there is something new that you now have to deal with – hair shrinkage. And then you begin to wonder: what causes hair shrinkage anyway?
Well, the simple answer is that that’s the nature of kinky, coily and curly hair. The only people who don’t go through this are those with naturally straight hair.
What causes hair shrinkage?
Shrinkage is the decrease in length when hair goes from wet to dry. The thing is, when your hair is wet after washing it or exposing it to moisture or humidity, it’s basically weighed down so the natural curls stretch and fall to their maximum length. However, as the hair dries, there is a noticeable difference as the inches of length start to disappear.
If your hair strands are naturally kinky, coily and curly, your hair will shrink by a certain percentage depending on how loose or tight your coils are. This means that once you wash your hair or expose it to moisture or humidity, it’ll appear much shorter than it actually is when it’s stretched out.
One of the reasons that a former high school classmate went back to hair relaxers was because she couldn’t take the hair shrinkage and the resultant tangles anymore. Her hair would have like 85% shrinkage and end up looking like she had cut off a considerable chunk of her hair. But was her action really necessary?
Embracing natural hair
In the last decade, a lot of black women have ditched hair relaxers and embraced their natural hair. Each person has their own reasons why they chose to go natural but the most common reason is that black women had dismissed the (unfortunate) widely-held belief that the only hair that was considered good enough was straight hair.
There are other ladies – like a certain popular singer – who have had nasty burn incidents in salons while getting their hair relaxed. That kind of experience can discourage some people from ever wanting to use hair relaxers again.
A lot of black women from all over the world are now wearing their hair natural and debunking the myth that kinky hair cannot be considered professional.
Black women in the US, UK, Africa, Caribbean, Europe and other parts of the world are embracing their natural curls and realizing that type 4 hair can grow just as long as that of people with naturally straight hair.
But why is shrinkage a big deal?
Maintaining type 4 hair is a journey. I say it’s a journey because you have to understand your hair type, know your hair porosity, as well its density. This will then help you to figure out how to take care of your hair and know what kind of products will work for you.
After a big chop, especially after months of transitioning, you want to grow out your hair and see how long it can get. More importantly, you want to show off the actual length of your mane!
Because of this, it can be very frustrating for a newly-natural lady to have to deal with much shorter hair than they are used to, all because of major shrinkage.
Just a few weeks ago, I rocked a wash and go to my place of work and I had a few colleagues asking me if I had cut my hair! They were relatively new at the organization and had only ever seen me in braids and stretched out hair.
Is shrinkage a sign of healthy hair?
Yes, it is! Hair shrinkage is actually a good thing! Shrinkage is the best indicator of healthy hair. Lack of shrinkage can be one of the signs of heat damage and other issues such as protein deficiency.
Heat damage manifests itself when someone straightens their natural hair but when they wash it, it does not revert back to its curly/coily state. It only stays straight or reverts slightly.
Our hair’s ability to shrink, coil and curl after exposure to moisture or humidity is an assurance that the hair on our heads is healthy. This shrinking nature of kinky, coily and curly hair is a unique characteristic of textured hair.
Since my first big chop in January 2015, I quickly realized that my hair tangled a lot when it’s in a shrunken state. I was perpetually dealing with single strand knots. As much as I love wash and gos, I soon came to accept that it was not easy to retain length when rocking this particular hairstyle.
Over the years, I turned to a few methods of stretching my hair so as to prevent the major hair shrinkage.
You can opt to stretch your hair with heat or without heat.
Stretching natural hair without heat
I prefer stretching my hair without heat to avoid over-exposing my strands to hot tools. Don’t get me wrong; there is nothing wrong with flat ironing or blow-drying your hair, I just like to minimize their use to avoid incidents of heat damage, like the one I wrote about here.
There are various ways you can stretch your hair without putting it into direct contact with heat. These include:
- African threading
- Bantu knots
- Twist outs
- Braid outs
- Roller sets
Stretching natural hair with heat
Use of heat is the best option for maximum stretching. Always use a heat protectant to prevent heat damage.
You can safely use heat to stretch your hair by doing it once in a while and always using a good heat protectant that contains silicone. Read this article I wrote here to understand why silicone is an important component in heat protectants.
The most common ways of stretching natural hair using heat are:
- Blow drying
- Using a regular flat iron, including steam straighteners
- Curling irons and curling wands
I understand that women had relaxers for many years and never really had any type of relationship with their own natural hair. There are many ladies who had never handled their own hair prior to going natural. So getting frustrated by having to deal with major hair shrinkage is understandable.
Going natural gives us the opportunity to really understand our hair and know how to handle things such as tangling and shrinkage. We should embrace our coils, kinks, and curls. Let’s appreciate that this is how our wonderful hair grows from the scalp. Let’s strive to better understand and know what routine would work best for our type of hair.
There are many ways we can prevent hair shrinkage by using various methods such as those that I’ve listed here.
We should not have a phobia for stretching hair with heat. We just need to be very careful about how we go about it. Don’t make it a habit to apply heat on your hair because excessive heat can weaken and damage the hair shaft.
Repeated heat stretching of your hair can get to a point where the curl bond is permanently broken until your hair no longer curls, and eventually breaks off.