“Why is my hair stretchy?” This is the question that my good friend Hailey asked me when she first realized that her hair was stretching more than usual. She looked distressed.
Have you ever gone through this? Have you ever brushed your wet hair only to feel it stretch like a rubber band? It’s kinda terrifying, to be honest.
I mean it’s always scary when something unusual happens to your hair, but stretching, especially a lot of stretching combined with some breakage, can be way too much to handle.
The thing is, everybody aims for bouncy hair with a lot of movement as they strut down the street. Imagine if you had stiff hair that had no flexibility and body. It would look dull and lifeless, right?
Stretchiness in the hair is good. It’s a way to make your hair move in that lush, healthy way that makes it look soft and touchable.
It’s also a must if you want to put your hair up in that trendy high pony or a pair of space buns for Coachella. Stiff hair could never do those.
But too much stretchiness is a tell-tale sign that something is wrong with your hair.
When you think of “damage”, you don’t really think of how stretchy hair is. Everyone tends to focus on the more obvious signs of damage – dryness, fragility, and split ends.
But when your hair gets gummy and breaks apart when you stretch it out, then we have a problem.
Worried about how stretchy your hair has become and desperate for a solution? I’ve got you.
Today, I’ll be giving you the lowdown on what stretchy hair feels like, what causes it, and how you can reverse this type of damage.
Healthy Hair Has Good Stretch And Elasticity
When talking about hair health, elasticity is one of the words that come up all the time.
But do you actually know what it means?
Elasticity is one of the ways you can pinpoint how healthy your hair is.
It has to do with the stretchiness and bounce that protect your hair from snapping off.
See, your hair strands hold moisture in the cortex, aka the innermost layer of your hair.
This moisture allows your hair to be more pliable, aka stretch, and be pulled into different hairstyles without breaking.
This ability to stretch and still be healthy is called elasticity.
When your hair has issues with moisture retention due to porosity and hair damage, your hair might release the moisture keeping your strands moisturized.
This leaves your hair with no stretch, meaning if you tug on it, it will like break or split.
That’s why fried, unhealthy hair is often said to have no elasticity.
If your hair doesn’t have good elasticity, it will be difficult to style and manipulate.
Even something as simple as brushing your hair might lead to breakage and shedding.
That’s why if a stylist at the salon assesses your hair before a service and finds that it has bad elasticity, they’ll deny you that service.
So, stretchiness and elasticity are a must for healthy hair.
It’s what gives your mane that luscious bounce and ability to be put in all kinds of pigtails and braids.
But is stretchy hair always a good thing?
Signs Of Stretchy Hair
Elasticity is good for your hair.
But sometimes, that stretchiness becomes too stretchy, if you know what I mean.
So much so that it feels “gummy” when wet and frizzy when dry.
The worst part is that when you pull your hair to see how much it can stretch, it just sort of melts and breaks in the middle.
If this is happening to you, then it’s safe to say that your hair has become overly stretchy.
And that’s no longer a good thing.
Overly stretchy hair means there’s something wrong with it – some type of damage that you must get to the bottom of.
But how can you even tell for sure that your hair has an unhealthy amount of elasticity?
Well, there are plenty of signs you can look out for.
Overly stretchy hair feels soft and mushy, especially when it’s wet.
When it’s dry, it’s limp with no volume and robust movement when you sway around.
It’s also extremely difficult to style, even if you use a flat iron or curling wand in the highest possible heat setting.
You’ll find that your hair has a looser curl pattern.
So, if your previously tight spirals now look like sad little waves (or worse, straight hair), it might be a sign that your hair isn’t in the best shape.
How To Tell If Your Hair Has The Right Amount Of Stretch
But even with all the signs listed above, it still might be tricky figuring out whether your hair has a healthy amount of elasticity or is overly stretchy to the point of destruction and gumminess.
Most people will be able to tell right away.
I mean, it’s pretty difficult to not notice your hair feeling gross and gummy every time you shower.
But if you want to assess your hair elasticity properly, you should do a quick “stretch test”.
This is a test that stylists do at the salon to check on your hair’s elasticity and health.
It’s super simple, so you can do it on your own with just your fingers.
It’s a quick and easy way to assess your hair and figure out if you have anything to be alarmed about regarding its stretchiness.
Here’s how to do it, step by step:
Step 1: Wet The Hair
Wet your hair.
You can do this by spraying a bit of water into a lock of hair, or simply wait until the next time you wash your hair to try this test out.
Step 2: Pick A Strand
When it’s all nice and wet, pick out one strand of hair.
Hold it at the root so that you don’t snap it off its mid-lengths as you isolate it from the rest of your strands.
Hold that strand of hair at the mid-lengths with your fingertips on both hands.
You should have them about two or so inches in between your hands.
Step 3: Pull The Strand
Gently pull on the hair carefully to stretch it.
A centimeter or so of a stretch is ideal.
Step 4: Let Go Of The Strand
Let go of the pull.
If your hair is healthy and has good elasticity, it should bounce back to its original shape and length before you tugged on it.
If your hair is overly stretchy, it won’t go back to how it looked previously.
The worst case scenario is it even breaks off in the middle as you pull.
If your assessment is that you have hair with excellent elasticity, congratulations!
Continue with your current hair regimen and enjoy the gorgeous bounce and body of your mane.
But if you have hair that is overly stretchy and has what seems to be too much elasticity, don’t fret.
There are things you can do to “reverse” this and nurse your hair back to health again.
So, Why Is My Hair Stretchy?
Of course, you can’t cure symptoms without knowing what the disease is.
The first thing you’ll want to do if you want to reverse hair stretchiness is to find out what’s causing it in the first place.
It’s the only way to solve your issue.
The thing about hair being overly stretchy is that it all comes down to protein-moisture balance.
A lot of people think of protein and moisture as two opposing forces, but that really isn’t true.
They really act like two sides of the same coin, and you need both to have happy healthy hair.
They have a unique relationship that’s more symbiotic than opposing; one needs the other and vice versa.
On the same note, having too much of one or the other is bad for your locks as well.
Luckily, overly stretchy, gummy hair boils down to two possible reasons – both related to the issue of protein-moisture balance.
The first possibility is quite straightforward – it’s because your hair is overly damaged.
When you bleach your hair too much (or frequently subject it to other chemical processes like coloring, relaxing, perming, and the like), your hair becomes so overly porous and “fried”.
This damage might also be due to heat-styling your hair without a heat protectant on a daily basis.
When your hair is this unhealthy, it can make hair look limp and matted.
It will also be super gummy because of the lack of elasticity and moisture.
The second possible reason for overly stretchy hair is when it gets a little more complicated.
You might have stretchy, gummy locks because of over-moisturization.
Yes, you heard that right.
It is very possible to over-moisturize your hair.
Moisture in general is good for your strands – it’s the lifeline of healthy hair.
But too much of anything is too much, and it applies to hydrating your locks too.
When your hair is moisturized with products or water for long periods, it’s possible to soften it so much that it becomes unhealthily stretchy.
This can happen if you leave a deep conditioner in your hair overnight when the directions specifically say to wash it off after 10 minutes.
It might also occur when you use too many layers of moisturizing products in your washing and styling routine, without strengthening proteins to balance it out.
This is the case when your hair experiences something called hygral fatigue where the hair cuticle gets damaged as a result of excess moisture.
The cuticle experiences excessive swelling from moisture overload and then has to contract as the hair dries.
When this happens, it leads to hair weakness and breakage.
Many times, overly stretchy hair is caused by both extreme hair damage and over-moisturizing.
How To Fix Stretchy Hair Caused By Heat And Chemical Damage
If your stretchy hair is caused by damage from heat or overprocessing your locks, the key is to find products to help condition and repair your hair again.
It’s important to condition your hair every time you wash it since moisture will help bring it back to life quickly.
But another thing you should incorporate into your hair care routine is a bond-building treatment.
This can help repair broken bonds in your hair that makes it fragile.
One of my favorite ones is the Olaplex Nº.3 Hair Perfector.
This is a weekly hair treatment that works to strengthen damaged hair to reduce breakage.
It’s made with Olaplex’s patented molecule that repairs the structure of overly processed strands from the inside out.
It’s great for fortifying what feels like “dead” hair to make it strong again.
Related Post: Olaplex For Hair Growth: Does It Work?
You should also avoid your usual vices that damage your hair.
Try to go as long as possible without bleaching your locks again.
And as for those heat-styling tools, keep them in the drawer for the time being.
How To Fix Stretchy Hair Caused By Over-Moisturizing
Over-moisturizing your hair happens when you have too many hydrating ingredients in your products without strengthening proteins to balance them out.
So, while your hair is extremely soft, it lacks the structure to keep it bouncy and resilient to tugs and pulls.
If your hair has a balance of moisture and protein, your hair will finally get the strength and elasticity it needs to bounce back to its original shape when you do the “stretch test”.
So, if you have a suspicion that your hair’s gummy stretchiness is due to the fact that it’s overly moisturized, it’s time to start using hair products packed with protein.
On wash day, switch to the OGX Anti-Breakage Keratin Oil Shampoo and Conditioner.
This duo is formulated with hydrolyzed keratin to strengthen and smoothen the hair.
It also has argan oil to add extra shine and bounce to your mane.
It boosts elasticity to make your hair less prone to breakage.
Once a week, treat your hair to a nice protein-rich deep conditioning mask, like the SheaMoisture Manuka Honey & Yogurt Hydrate + Repair Protein-Strong Treatment.
This mask is a cult favorite as far as protein and hair reparation go.
It’s infused with yogurt extracts, which are rich in protein to fortify weak hair.
It also has moisturizing ingredients like shea butter, manuka honey, and baobab oil to make your hair silky-smooth and conditioned.
The Goldilocks Principle
The above reasons and fixes for stretchy hair are the why I talked of a protein-moisture balance – you need to find just the right amount like Goldilocks picking out beds, porridge, and chairs.
We often focus on moisture as an essential ingredient to healthy hair, and while that isn’t wrong, it’s only half of the puzzle.
Protein is the other half, and it does more than just keep our hair from falling apart.
Protein is an important structural building block for our hair.
Hair is mostly made up of keratin, a type of protein that also forms our nails and parts of our skin.
When you add protein to your hair, especially to damaged hair, you can think of it as patching a hole in a shirt with a different type of fabric (or the same fabric if you’re getting a keratin treatment).
A lack of protein is one of two reasons your hair could experience breakage, and part of the reason your hair might be stretchy.
Adding protein to your hair fills in the gaps of your hair’s cuticle layer, which strengthens your hair and helps keep moisture in.
The second part is key to our symbiotic relationship with moisture.
Speaking of moisture, it is just as important for our hair’s health.
All hair types need moisture.
Many of the problems you will face with your hair on a day-to-day basis will be hydration based.
Frizzy hair, brittle hair, and dull hair all come from moisture-related issues.
Moisture is the second reason we might have breakage, as dry hair is more prone to breaking.
The Goldilocks problem is difficult.
Your hair could need more moisture, it could need more protein, it could need more of both, or less of either.
How Do I Know Whether I Need Protein Or Moisture?
I could go on for a long time talking about what to use and when, but we’re going to stick to one area, stretchy hair.
So, how do you know whether you need more protein or more moisture?
Well, it partly depends on how stretchy your hair is.
That’s actually one of the easiest ways to tell that your moisture or protein balance is off.
There’s a variation of the stretch test discussed above that you can do to test your hair’s elasticity and it goes like this:
- Get a strand of your hair, fresh if possible
- Dunk that strand in some water
- Stretch it
If a strand breaks without stretching very much, it may need more moisture.
If it stretches a little and then bounces back to the way it was, congrats!
You have normal elasticity and your hair is probably doing pretty well.
Normal hair is supposed to stretch a little.
If it stretches more than usual and then breaks, then it probably has too much protein.
If it KEEPS stretching and stretching, and it feels gummy or mushy, it has too much moisture.
My friend Hailey’s hair apparently had too much moisture. This was a result of hygral fatigue.
She has been leaving on deep conditioning treatments overnight, which was causing her hair to suffer from over-moisturization.
How To Improve Hair Elasticity
If your hair is not permanently damaged by over-processing, then there is a lot you can do to rescue it.
If your hair is too elastic because of too much moisture all you need is a simple protein treatment.
One should do the trick.
Recommended Post: Top Protein Treatments For High Porosity Hair
If your hair is stretchy because of too much protein you’ll have to put in a little more work.
First, you’ll want to use a clarifying shampoo to clarify your hair.
Then you’ll need to use a deep conditioner once or twice a week.
The third step is to get as much moisture as you can.
Use moisturizing products every day, and focus on your ends.
If your hair is damaged beyond repair by overprocessing, I’ve got bad news.
This kind of damage is not only irreversible, but it can also spread like gangrene.
Even when you grow new hair, every time the old damaged hair absorbs moisture it will damage the healthy hair above it, splitting the double sulfur bond like a broken zipper always unzipping upwards.
The only solution is the same as the only solution for gangrene, remove the affected hair.
It might be painful to part with your hair especially if a lot of it is affected, but it’s the only way to return to normal healthy hair.
On that same note, please don’t cut off all of your hair just because you read my article, go see a hair professional to confirm whether this extreme step is needed.
Don’t worry too much though, this type of damage is pretty rare nowadays.
Hair elasticity is a tricky thing.
If you have too little of it, your strands might break even with the slightest tug of a brush.
If you have way too much, you could stretch it out and pull it apart that way, if it’s too gummy and stringy.
There are two basic reasons why stretchy hair is happening to you.
It could either be because your hair is so fried and unhealthy from chemical and heat damage, or it’s simply over-moisturized and drowning in hydration.
What you want is a nice balance in your hair’s elasticity.
It should be stretchy enough to be flexible when you pull on it lightly, but strong enough to bounce back to its original form right after.
You can do that by avoiding things that can damage your hair (like bleach or frequent heat styling) and feeding it a lot of protein (especially when it’s over-moisturized).
Practice my tips above and use the right kinds of reparative products, and your hair will be well on its way to healthy elasticity again!
Don’t fret too much about stretchy hair, talk to your stylist or local hair wizard to make sure your hair is doing what you think it’s doing, and then apply the steps above.
Your hair will be back to its more hydrated, or less hydrated, or more full of protein, or less full of protein self in no time.