If I could name one common reason for why a lot of us struggle with going completely natural, it's because we don't want to deal with the almost inevitable hair shrinkage — because the shrinkage struggle that's out in these streets is oh so very real (there's a shrinkage challenge compilation video here and a few other women who talk about their own shrinkage journeys here, here and here).
So, what exactly is the root cause of this thorn in our hair's side? It's interesting because when our hair gets wet, it absorbs moisture that can "trigger" our strands to go into their natural curl pattern. On many levels, this is a good thing, because when our hair reverts to its natural state, that's a sign that it is healthy. On the flip side, because moisture is also something that helps to weigh our hair down and keep our cuticles somewhat stretched out, when the moisture leaves, it can be hard to elongate our strands so that our curl patterns can appear looser and our hair can ultimately appear longer too.
At the end of the day, what all of this basically means is, combating shrinkage is all about coming up with ways to stretch out our stands without damaging them in the process. While doing this requires some major TLC, there are things that you can do that are pretty great at giving you the results that you're looking for. Here are 10 of 'em.
1. Deep Condition Your Locks
One of the main things that a lot of Black people don't realize about shrinkage is, aside from your natural curl pattern, since it can be more difficult for our natural oils to make it all the way down our hair shaft, dry hair also plays a direct role into why we can experience so much shrinkage. The remedy? One of them is deep conditioning your hair on every wash day. Why is this an important step? Well, conditioning your hair provides some extra "weight" to your strands that I was talking about, so that it's able to stay stretched out for a longer period of time. Think of it like a sponge — when a sponge is full of water, it is easier to stretch out than when it is dry. So, if deep conditioning has never really been your thing, now you've got a really solid reason to incorporate it into your hair regimen.
2. Braid It Up
Something that I figured out works better for me is to blow out my hair on wash days and then keep it cornrowed on the days when I choose to not wear it out. Both methods are what stretch out my hair (so that there are less tangles and knots). Plus, the braiding is what prevents me from putting excessive heat on my tresses.
That's why I simply could not do an article like this and not mention that braiding is a top tier way to keep shrinkage from getting on your very last nerve. Even if you'd prefer not to apply any heat, you can plait your hair while it's wet, let it air dry and then take your braids down. You'll still see a good amount of stretching by going that route too. While we're here, two other heatless methods that significantly reduce shrinkage include banding (video here) and threading (video here). Check 'em out when you get a chance.
3. Roller Set Your Locks
Another way to reduce shrinkage that can also give your hair a lot of movement is roller setting it. This method makes it easier to stretch your hair while it's wet (preferably damp). Then, you can let it air dry or sit underneath a hooded dryer. Once your tresses are completely dry, your hair will remain stretched out for longer. As a bonus, if you use a leave-in conditioner before rolling it up, you can end up with a lot of bounce to your hair as well.
Basically what you'll need to pull this off is a leave-in, a light oil (like sweet almond or grapeseed) and some rollers that won't damage your hair (and yet can give you some pretty bangin' results) like Perm Rods, Flexi Rods and Curlformers. A video that I liked that offered up some cool tips and concluded with some dope results is right here.
4. Break Your Hair Caste
If you're someone who likes to rock and wash 'n go, I'm thinking that you already know that one way to give your hair a lot of curl definition is to apply some non-alcohol gel to it while it's wet (Aloe vera gel is cool too). And what if, once your hair is dry, your curls are a little "tighter" than you would like them to be? No worries. All you need to do is break your hair's caste. What that basically means is you need to loosen up the gel, so that your curls can become looser and appear to have less shrinkage.
Caste-breaking isn't hard to do. You just need to put a little bit of oil in your hands (jojoba, liquified coconut oil or avocado oil is great for this) and then gently apply it to your hair, softly tugging at the curls until they feel less hard from the gel. Again, it's a wonderful way to elongate your look and also bring movement to your hair, thanks to less gel and more oil being in it.
5. Play Around with Some Bentonite Clay
Speaking of wash 'n gos, personally, I'm a fan of bentonite clay for all kinds of reasons (for instance, it's a great skin detoxifier if you sprinkle some of it into your bath and soak). When it comes to your hair specifically, if you want more defined curls and softer hair, apply some of it to your hair right after washing it. Put it on saturated hair, leave it on for about 10 minutes and rinse it thoroughly (preferably in the shower because bentonite clay can get messy). Then deep condition your hair (don't forget this step because clay has a tendency to make hair hard). No matter what your hair type is, you should end up being pleasantly surprised (check out some how-to videos here, here and here).
6. Try Some Silicone
Something that a lot of people don't know is sometimes, when it comes to styling natural hair, the ingredients in our favorite products can cause the shrinkage. Stuff like glycerin, glycol, hydrolyzed wheat protein or even honey can make your curls tighter because they are humectants that can draw moisture from the hair and cause your hair to draw back towards your scalp.
An ingredient that won't do this is silicone. It's cool because it's a non-toxic chemical that actually works as a sealant to protect your hair from outer moisture (the kind of moisture that can cause your hair to get tighter than you may want it to be). And since it literally weighs your hair down, silicone can help to keep shrinkage from occurring while reducing frizz and keeping your locks shiny. As far as silicone-based products that you should look into, Naturally Curly has a list that you can check out right here.
7. Or a Little Bit of Beeswax
Maybe you do or maybe you don't know that one ingredient that a lot of people use when they decide to lock their hair is beeswax. Although it literally has a waxy texture to it, beeswax is actually good for natural hair on a few levels. It moisturizes. It seals in the moisture. And it's an awesome way to straighten hair without applying any damage. The main thing to keep in mind with this particular anti-shrinkage tip is less is more. That said, you might want to apply it, along with a little bit of oil when you're braiding/banding/threading your hair or to lay down your edges after styling your hair. Otherwise, your hair could turn out to be stickier than you planned.
8. Pull at Your Roots
One of the greatest hacks for combating shrinkage is using a pick to lightly lift up your roots after you've finished doing any of the techniques that I've just mentioned. This approach can keep you from frizzing out your curl pattern while still giving your hair an inch or two of height and volume.
9. Blow It Out
Out of all of the tips that I've shared for how to deal with natural hair shrinkage, I'm thinking that this one is probably the most obvious one because you can always pull out a blow dryer and blow your hair straight (well, as straight as possible without using a flat iron). Again, the reason why I like this approach is because it provides a lot of stretch, so that I don't have to constantly pull and tug on my hair in order to style it. It also cuts down on fairy knots significantly.
The keys to this point is to select a dryer that does as little heat damage as possible, that you let your hair dry at least 50-60 percent before applying any heat to it, that you do not go above a medium setting (otherwise, you could end up frying your tresses) and that you definitely put on a thermal heat protectant (cream is usually best, coverage-wise) before you begin the process. Then, once you're done, don't forget to stretch out your hair with cornrows or plaits so that you don't have to use heat again until your next wash day. By the way, Byrdie did an article on some top dryers for natural hair. You can check it out by going here.
10. Pull It into a Pineapple (at Night)
Some stylists will say that another way to stretch your hair is to pull it up into a ponytail (if it's long enough). That's true yet you need to be careful that you don't pull your "tail" so tight that it creates tension that leads to breakage or that you get so consumed with your edges and nape (by constantly applying gel and or always brushing it) that you weaken certain parts of your hair. However, when it comes to your bedtime routine, if your hair is long enough, I definitely recommend putting it up in a loose pineapple (you can learn how to do it here and here). It's another way to reduce shrinkage while you rest and to prevent a lot of detangling, so that it's easier and quicker to style your hair the following morning. It's an anti-shrinkage method that is easy, low-maintenance and (so long as your scarf stays on, chile) can keep your hair looking just the way you want it. Enjoy!
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