Shrinkage in very curly or black hair can be a friend or a foe. Depending on the size and degree of curl, shrinkage can be 50% or even up to 75% of its true length. Hair that falls to the mid back when straightened could shrink up to just below the ears when it dries naturally after a wash!
The hair industry is currently length obsessed as evident in the success of the hair extensions market today but shrinkage doesn’t have to be a bad thing. There are plenty of stylish ways that curly hair can be worn in its natural state without resorting to heat or chemicals to straighten it out.
Heat every once in a while is certainly not a bad thing but applying heat on the hair too often and especially when the hair has not been freshly washed and deep conditioned can be detrimental to the health of the hair.
Another positive aspect about shrinkage is that it allows for versatility that straight hair does not have. You can go from long flowing locks on one day to a short bob style the next without chopping your hair off!
There are a variety of techniques that some people use to stop or reduce the shrinkage of the hair.
1. Twist or braid the hair in sections when it is wet – This is the most common technique for reducing shrinkage. The braids or twists are undone once completely dry imparting a beautiful texture on the hair or leaving it relatively ‘stretched’ out and ready for the next step of the styling process.
2. Hair treatments – There are various treatments that you can give your curls to leave them elongated when dry. The most popular of these are the dairy based ones like yogurt treatments, sour cream treatment or plain milk treatment. The common denominator in these 3 is the lactic acid that seems to stretch out the hair and some have reported up to 40% less shrinkage after using the treatments. Like anything else, this is a process of trial and error. Some people’s hair seems to respond to different treatments better than others. The fact that these are only temporary effects (lasting until the next wash), is also appealing to most as there is no damage to the hair. The caramel treatment is also worth a mention. It involves the use of molasses, honey*, bananas and some vinegar blended together to a caramel consistency. This is an excellent moisturizing treatment and it also leaves the curls hanging lower even after the hair is dry.
3. Banding – this involves sectioning hair when it is wet then tying a series of hair bands from root to tip hence the hair remains stretched as it dries. The bands are then taken down and hair is styled as usual.
4. Natural oils/butters – Avocado butter is quite effective in stretching curly hair. When hair is twisted or braided with the butter, it will generally have much less shrinkage than without it. Shea butter is another good example.
5. Stretching and blow drying – This can be done after the hair has been styled when wet then air dried which will leave the hair shrunken. To get back some of the length, a section of hair is taken and pulled (stretched) to the desired length then a warm hair dryer is blown over the length of the hair until it remains at that length when you let it go. To avoid any possible heat damage, the hair dryer should never be on a hot setting and should not be applied too close to the hair.
With a good hair care regimen, you can grow your hair to a length that you are comfortable with when it is shrunken to increase your styling options. When styling naturally curly hair, work with the shrinkage rather against it. It is the way the hair was meant to be!
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