“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. However, I have good news for you, it’s fixable, and it might not be a bad thing. It all comes down to protein-moisture balance.
So, why is my hair stretchy?
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.
The Goldilocks principle
That’s why we call it a 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 like 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 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 an easy test 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 good. 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 as a result of a condition known as hydral fatigue, which I discussed in this article.
There is another reason that your hair might stretch, and that’s if it’s over-processed. If you’ve had your hair recently bleached and it stretches badly, then it might be permanently damaged.
It means the sulfite bond in your hair is permanently damaged. You can help prevent this from happening by using products like Olaplex when bleaching and coloring your hair, but once the damage is done so is your hair.
How to improve hair elasticity
If your hair is not permanently damaged by over-processing 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.
Get this at your local salon because you can have too much protein.
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 deep conditioner with heat 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 in 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 color professional to confirm whether this extreme step is needed.
Don’t worry too much though, this type of damage is pretty rare nowadays.
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.