By Jc of The Natural Haven
Shrinkage is an important issue in caring for natural hair. I am all for embracing shrinkage but this does not mean that I will allow my hair to fully demonstrate just how good it is at doing this. Controlling shrinkage does not mean hair has to be stretched out to full length all the time. It actually means learning when hair will shrink, how much it will shrink and how you can reduce this to a manageable level. Controlling shrinkage has three main benefits:
1. Easier time detangling
2. Easier styling by being able to control the amount of stretch.
3. Breakage reduction i.e learning when your hair will stretch without breaking and when it won’t
Here is how to minimise shrinkage during each of the three basic steps of a simple hair routine:
The starting point of most hair routines involves dissolving oil on the hair so that it can be washed off with water. In order to do this, you require a shampoo, shampoo bar or soap of your choice.
Controlling Shrinkage: Shrinking during this step is generally expected but can be controlled by loosely braiding or twisting hair in large sections (between 8 and 15). This will generally prevent hair from fully coiling and tangling once it is in contact with water. It is best not to fight shrinkage beyond what braiding or twisting can do at this stage as although hair tends to feel more elastic when wet, it is actually weaker.
Optional Add-ons: Prior to washing, using a penetrating oil such as coconut oil can help control the amount of water that gets into hair. However, remember that it may not be easy to see a visible impact as when hair is soaked in water, there is no oil that can fully prevent its entry into hair.
This is the backbone of most natural hair routines. After cleansing, a rinse out hair conditioner (this includes deep conditioning) is used to repair, soften and moisturise hair. Post wash, a leave in conditioner can be used to give added softness and control moisture loss.
Controlling Shrinkage : In this step, the hair conditioner selection does matter. The reason many people with natural hair like thicker conditioners is in part because of the weight of the conditioner. The extra weight allows hair to ‘hang’ a little more than it would if the conditioner was lightweight. Additionally, if you choose to detangle hair while it has conditioner on, select one with good slip to allow you to reduce the time spent detangling and handling wet hair (slip means hair can easily slide through the tool of your choice – fingers, combs or brush). Twisted or braided sections as described in the cleansing section can also help.
Optional Add-ons: Some ingredients in hair conditioner can help in an indirect way to controlling shrinkage. Surfactants such as behentrimonium chloride make the hair softer and therefore curls and coils can be gently stretched out with minimal force. Proteins repair defects in hair and therefore help the hair control how much water can exit from the shaft. Trying out and finding an optimal hair conditioner is definitely worth the effort.
This is the step where you can apply ultimate shrinkage control as hair is moving from a wet state to a dry state. Do you know why your hair takes on the shape of rollers during a roller set or twists during a twist out but once you spray water on it, it goes back to its original shape? The answer is shape memory. Hair can be stretched out and take on the shape of whatever is causing the stretch as it dries. This shape change is temporary and the hair will return to its normal conformation provided it has not been damaged (i.e not too much force used to stretch or high/prolonged heat). Therefore the stage where you are drying is the point at which you can impact shrinkage the most.
Controlling shrinkage: This section focuses on heat-free methods (i.e excluding blow drying and flat ironing). If you want to showcase your length, you can braid or twist your hair to stretch it while it is about 70-80% dry and then allow it to dry fully before undoing and combing out or twisting/braiding out. The shape changer/stretcher in this case is the braid or twist. You can also use rollers, flexirods or curlformers (which are super easy to use!) to stretch out your hair. If you are intending to do a protective style with stretched out hair, you can stretch with any of the previously mentioned methods (braid/twist outs, rollersets or curlformers).
Optional Add-ons: Shrinkage control only lasts as long as moisture is not added to hair. This includes environmental moisture like natural humidity or artificial (from your bathroom). For free hair, maintaining a set style, will usually require you to keep your hair quite dry. Oil applied prior to styling will help reduce moisture take up from the air. However, remember that the drier your hair is, the less elasticity it has, therefore avoid stretching it any further once the style is completed.
You can also opt to use products to set your curls (works best with hair that can clump/form spiral curls). Styling gels and conditioners can add weight to hair and help hold/enhance natural curls. This method relies on allowing quite a lot of shrinking to occur as the curl should not be disrupted as it sets.
Ladies, have you tried any of these methods? How do you decrease shrinkage?