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:

1. Cleansing

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.

2. Conditioning

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.

3. Styling

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, flexi rods 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, roller sets 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?

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37 Comments on "3 Ways To Decrease Shrinkage in Natural Hair"

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Ugh I’m so frus­trat­ed with my hair, I live in a very humid area and the min­ute I step out of the house my hair soaks up all the water in the air, shrinks up and as a result looks super dry ????
All I do right now is throw it in a high bun which I’m real­ly get­ting sick of


She’s right glyc­er­in is great for mois­ture but when it’s humid and you want to keep a stretched style stay away.…The glyc­er­in will attract the mois­ture from the humid cli­mate and cause your hair to shrink BUT you hair will feel like butter(literally).

When it’s humid where I live I stay away from prod­ucts with glyc­er­in and I use more but­ter based pro­duct to help keep the extra frizz/shrinkage away.


I hear Glyc­er­in is the way to keep the mois­ture bal­ance in your hair when you live in humid areas.


Glyc­er­ine. Is a humec­tant. The cul­prit that attracts mois­ture from the hair and ruins your stretched styles. Its a good thing nor­mal­ly. But I don’t assume peo­ple want to put effort in to stretch their hair into a huge fro and then 6 sec­onds lat­er it’s half of what it used to be. For stretched or straight­ened styles try not to use prod­ucts with glyc­er­ine or oth­er humec­tants in it.


Accord­ing to this arti­cle http://hollistics.com/2013/08/07/5-ingredients-to-avoid/ Behent­ri­mo­ni­um Chlo­ride is not a good thing to have in hair prod­ucts.

[…] I love receiv­ing ques­tions and have no prob­lems answer­ing inquiries about my nat­u­ral hair jour­ney.  I prob­a­bly have more ques­tions than answers.  This is why I love my fel­low nat­u­ral hair enthu­si­asts like Black Girl With Long Hair. I often stalk her page because she always has the best and most infor­ma­tive mate­ri­al per­tain­ing to the world of nat­u­ral hair. One of the ques­tions the lady at the gym asked was how do I han­dle shrink­age. This is a great arti­cle by BGWLH who gives great advice on ways I total­ly agree with con­cern­ing this same issue. Check out “3 Ways… Read more »

My issue is more so tan­gling than shrink­age. My curl pat­tern is fair­ly loose, so my curls tend to drop any­way. Espe­cial­ly the ends, where the flat iron has run the most. Now i am off the heat and have been sub­sti­tut­ing with curl­form­ers since it achieves the same end with­out the dam­age

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Gen­er­al­ly, I wash my hair, let it air dry for most of the day, and then before bed, when my hair is still a bit damp (some­times I have to redamp­en my hair with a spray bot­tle), I put my hair into twists. I also put coconut oil on my twists at this point. I usu­al­ly wear the twist for a cou­ple of days as a pro­tec­tive style, and then when it starts to get frizzy, I wear my hair out and it’s pret­ty well stretched. I don’t wor­ry too much about shrink­age though. I like my hair at all… Read more »
I am find­ing that in order to pre­vent break­age once I’m pass a cer­tain length, I have to keep my hair stretched. Just a few months ago, I washed my hair loose and it was a dis­as­ter. I had knots all over the place and was just bare­ly able to sep­a­rate my hair and do 8 twists for my curly fro (my go-to style nowa­days). And just last week, dur­ing my month­ly wash, I got the last knot out of my hair! I now keep my hair sec­tioned, twist­ed and pinned with duck­bill clips through­out the entire wash­ing, con­di­tion­ing and… Read more »

I have nev­er been able to suc­cess­ful­ly pre­vent shrink­age when I was nat­u­ral. Now that I’m “return­ing to my roots” I’m hop­ing to uti­lize all that I’m learn­ing for a suc­cess­ful tran­si­tion and a def­i­nite nat­u­ral hair love. Great arti­cle and advice.


What’s the advice for some­one with fine hair that tight­ly coils?

The Natural Haven
The arti­cle was writ­ten for all nat­u­rals includ­ing myself (fine hair, tight coils). There real­ly is noth­ing else to add to it (except the band­ing which was men­tioned in the com­ment sec­tion). To answer your ques­tion, I would have to ask anoth­er ques­tion — What exact­ly do you want to achieve with your hair? If your hair has high shrink­age (like where 6 inch­es shrink down to 1–2 inch­es) then fol­low­ing the­se tips will help you pos­si­bly get to about 4 inch­es shrink­age. For most hair it is not pos­si­ble to ful­ly show­case the full length with­out heat straight­en­ing. If… Read more »

This is such a issue for me. Because it seems like the most sen­si­ble thing for me to do is do a twist-out after i co-wash to keep it some­what stretched out. BUT I LOVE HOW MY HAIR LOOKS WHEN I WASH AND GO! Then, also, some­times, my twist-outs look a mess.

The Natural Haven

So just switch between them! You do not have to pro­tect your hair all the time. Do the wash and go when you want to and have time to deal with the shrink­age after. When you need to be effi­cient and quick, go for the twist out. If you have a length goal, why not pro­tect for 3 weeks and then do what­ev­er you like for the next week.……it is all about bal­ance and hav­ing fun!


I min­i­mize shrink­age by band­ing my hair with elas­tic bands.


This was very help­ful because my hair is always stuff in the same twa but my hair is actu­al­ly so much longer than it seems but bc the curls are so tight as soon as it gets any wet or mois­ture it’s back to the twa!! Thank you for the info! I’ll def try this out!


Band­ing seems to help many. I tried it once but you have to remem­ber to not make the pony­tails too close to your scalp. I think I was rip­ping out my poor edges. Braids work bet­ter for me than any­thing else. Twists are good too but my hair is at a stage where twists unrav­el by them­selves. I don’t have time for that non­sense. Lol.


I sit under a hood dry­er for about 30 min­utes on low then I use my shea but­ter mix and put my hair in about 6 to 8 braids…this method for me has pre­vent­ed shrink­age real bad…plus I don’t like going to bed with damp hair…in the morn­ing when I take my braids down my hair is full with very lit­tle shrink­age…


Inter­est­ing, I gen­er­al­ly don’t wor­ry about shrink­age, but it appears that shrink­age con­trol is in con­trast to hav­ing mois­tur­ized hair. If water is our friend, then shrink­age con­trol would sum­mar­i­ly be bad for our hair.

The Natural Haven
I agree with BJ and AJ. It is all about bal­ance. Con­stant­ly wet­ting your hair with­out stretch­ing it can lead to more knots and tan­gling. So what good is the water if it leads you to cut­ting your hair? I think that there is a real­ly big dif­fer­ence between wet hair and mois­turised hair. Mois­turised hair is com­plete­ly dry to the touch but retains flex­i­bil­i­ty and elas­tic­i­ty because the inter­nal water absorbed by the hair has been trapped and there­fore feels more sup­ple and often soft­er. I think that it is quite dif­fi­cult to explain what mois­turised hair is in words,… Read more »
I don’t think that this assump­tion nec­es­sar­i­ly fol­lows. I wear my hair in twists pri­mar­i­ly, and I twist on wet hair. I then braid the twists and let them dry, which stretch­es the hair. I re-spritz my hair every night and rebraid to keep the hair stretched. I con­stant­ly keep mois­ture in my hair, but I don’t let my hair just shrink up to my ears, which is what will hap­pen if I leave it alone (I’m APL stretched). I think it’s real­ly depen­dent on the type of style you choose to do to stretch the hair, and whether it’s… Read more »

I think this is true to an extent. How­ev­er, in my case, if I don’t try to pre­vent shrink­age, I won’t be able to retain length because of all the lit­tle fairy knots I’ll have to cut out. I just make sure that after I wash my hair, I use a pro­duct to help to seal the water in for as long as pos­si­ble. Then when it gets dry, I either decide to wash it or wet it and go back to prepar­ing it for a stretched style.

Amma Mama

I LOVE Amaka’s afro puff!


Done all of the­se suc­cess­ful­ly!

Here’s some­thing that I was remind­ed of this past sum­mer: Keep­ing hair stretched in humid weath­er requires the use of some kind of anti-humec­tant. After try­ing sev­er­al dif­fer­ent leave-ins with no suc­cess, what final­ly worked for me and my water-lov­ing hair was petro­la­tum (aka Vase­line). When I could, I bought some min­er­al oil-based grease (for the first time in YEARS) and got the same result. Score one for the old school!


Dit­to for me. Peo­ple side eye old-school vase­line and min­er­al oil, but I got (and still get) very good results.If any­one can rec­om­mend a nat­u­ral alter­na­tive, I’d try but coconut oil, olive oil, and shea but­ter are not the ones.


Ani­ta Grant does a “no petro­le­um jel­ly”. I bought a sam­ple size like a mon­th ago because the harsh weath­er in the UK had my hands bleed­ing and cracked. It’s real­ly good at cre­at­ing a bar­ri­er. It looks and feels almost exact­ly like Vase­line. HTH.


Have you tried Cas­tor Oil? It has the con­sis­tan­cy of a heavy, rich sil­i­cone so may­be it would give you the same results?

I use it to seal after con­di­tion­ing but before apply­ing any gels or styling prod­ucts. Aids in keep­ing my hair soft and crunch free while help­ing to pro­tect my ends.


I agree with Maz­er­atie… Cas­tor Oil is the only oil that has a com­pa­ra­ble weight and hold to Vase­line…


Yeah but cas­tor oil isn’t good for me if I want my hair to stay stretched espe­cial­ly in the sum­mer. It is a humec­tant so my hair just poofs up with it since there is more mois­ture in the air. A non­humec­tant oil that is heavy would be bet­ter. I would use a light oil, petro­le­um, or shea but­ter.

Tonya Juanise

I like to keep it sim­ple, I decrease shrink­age with braid outs. I will start let­ting my hair air dry for a bit before I actu­al­ly style after wash­ing my hair.


After wash­ing and seal­ing, I usu­al­ly braid my hair before I twist it so it can stay stretched longer.


Band­ing is also a good method to stretch hair.

The Natural Haven

I did for­get to add band­ing in the last sec­tion, it is def­i­nite­ly an option for some wom­en.

I think the rea­son why I for­got it is because it is not real­ly a con­sis­tent­ly suc­cess­ful method. Some­times it gives hair indents which you do not want and then you have to rewet and braid/twist all over again. 

How­ev­er, all that said, it is indeed a valid option!

Lacoya S. (thesupercoya)

Great arti­cle!!!!! Very help­ful to me, as I use many of the meth­ods men­tioned here, just real­ly helped to read some of the sci­en­tific parts behind it.



I tend to twist my hair in twists or braids to have it stretched out. I find that it real­ly helps with the tan­gles and knots as well.


I twist my hair (usu­al­ly 6 large twists) when I wash my hair to min­i­mize shrink­age, tan­gles, knots, SSKs, etc. It has helped my hair retain length because I have much less break­age than just let­ting my hair “go”. Its bra strap length at this point and stretch­ing help with the care and man­age­ment of my hair.


Do you twist the hair before sham­poo­ing or imme­di­ate­ly after? Do you apply an oil after sham­poo­ing and before twist­ing? Thx for the input.