Blow out on the left and finsihed flat ironed hair on the right

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Many naturals with beautiful heads of hair promote stretching hair as a way to manage shrinkage, cut down on tangles and knot formation and all importantly promote length retention. Stretching by and large is regarded as helpful, but could it be harmful?

The Short Answer
Yes, stretching hair excessively could be harmful but low levels of stretching are perfectly fine and can be useful in hair maintenance.

stretching_natural_hair

The Long Answer

1. Hair recovers very well from low level stretching with the help of water
Scientists have demonstrated that hair can recover very well from a 20-30% extension of the strand (Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, pp 13-26, 1996). The stretched strand will recover its full strength once the stretching force is released and the hair is dipped in water. Why the dip in water? Water has a key role in making hair flexible and strong as it slightly changes the protein (keratin) in hair. Do note that for styling, you do not have to do the dip as it may reverse the stretching process. However, when you are done with the style, a little water will help you have stronger hair to handle the next styling or maintenance process.

2. How can you tell if you are in the safe limit of stretching?
It is pretty easy to read a 20-30% stretch in a lab but not really possible in a real life situation. As a general guide, if you retain some texture in your hair while stretching, you are probably in the safe region. Aiming to completely smooth out a curl or kink with stretching has the potential to over-stretch the hair. As a general rule, if your hair shrinks to 4 inches and is actually 10 inches in length, attempting to stretch it to 6-8 inches is probably better than trying to get to the full length.

3. What happens if you stretch hair over the safe limit?
By now, most of us will know hair has a cortex and a cuticle. The cortex is the strength bearing part of hair and it will generally not suffer too much. However, the cuticle of hair can undergo a dramatic fail with whole scales lifting and separating from the cortex. This can progress to sections of the hair having no cuticle and therefore the cortex in these parts gets exposed to the full brunt of damage that the cuticle would normally protect it from.

4. Should you stretch hair when it is wet or dry?
You should avoid stretching hair when wet, it can easily break (Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, pp 449-467,1978). However, when it is completely dry, it lacks flexibility. Stretching hair which is around 70-80% dry is likely to be a good mix of flexibility and strength.

Ladies, have you ever witnessed damage from hair stretching? How do you stretch safely?

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79 Comments on "Can Stretching Natural Hair be Harmful?"

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Miki

I ended up over stretching my curls. I discover puffs and I didnt realise how damaging it was. The very front ofmy hair is justa big fluffy mess, it doesnt even clump together. And the same goes for the hair directly over my ears. πŸ™ iuts gonna be a while before I can get it where it needs to be

mary

My hair is a virgin hair. I stretched my hair on 1st of february and it makes me feel good cos I av a very stubborn hair. Hope it won’t have any side effect?

Kellee
Since I accidentally stretched my hair back in April 2012, I have been doing so ever since. It has been my Godsend! Not only does it allow me to display length with my twists, but it has proven to eliminate the knotting of my highly textured strands…I don’t really do the hair-typing thing, but for a visual reference, I would definitely say its in range of 4 lol – anywho, I realized that I lose a whole lot of hair when I style it while wet…so I no longer do that under any circumstances. It is time consuming, but well… Read more »
Faustina

I twist my hair after i’ve washed it to help it dry, its my loop hole to blow drying my hair as i hate heat. But how long does hair remain stretched? Coz some of my hair strands a really loose and some have tight coils.

Just me

I appreciate this post and the science research. I am sure some of the length obsessed over stretchers and tape measurers and all those in between appreciate this post as well.

reese

Hurt people, hurt people!

It’s just an informational natural hair article. To the author, thank you for taking the time to research and post. Smile πŸ™‚

hind

Streaching hair is damaging but shrinkage is also damaging ….

What should we do then? Live without hair ? SMH

mariah b

damn what’s all the fuss about??? I liked the article, and I’m glad to know that I’ve been stretching my hair safely and correctly. I’m an afro puff girl so i blow occasionally and i found this very helpful. πŸ™‚

Sherice

I thought this article was about stretching your hair. I stretch my hair whenever I wash because my hair cooperates better in a stretched state. I have not learned how to embrace my shrinkage and I probably never will, so stretching is something I will continue to do. I appreciate getting advice from women that have actually experienced what they are talking about, so this article is right on time.

mlank64
Charlotte had a point and a good one at that. So sorry to see her go as no one is an expert on anybody else’s hair or experience with her hair. Why, I thought she made some good points was because I identified with her statement. I classify myself in the 3-4 range of hair type. I had to back off of twist because it was wearing down my ends. I won’t even entertain braids, but, like most things in the natural community, what works for some does not work for everyone else. Why would anyone have a problem with… Read more »
stephanieb
I agree mlank64, some folks on this site overreact to me and it’s straight up dumb, giving all of these thumbs down and such when often times people are just expressing their opinion. It’s very silly and childish to me to see grown folks acting like kids. IT’S ONLY HAIR PEOPLE, CALM DOWN!!! Honestly, do you see other races get all bent out of shape over some damn hair, NO! Ultimately, at the end of the day, hair is hair, obviously, you can manipulate it differently depending on texture, length, type, etc., but guess what, white folks hair can get… Read more »
Nooni

I made a couple of comments and people took it way to seriously. This is a hair site. I never meant to cause this much fuss. People need to relax way more, its just hair.

Nooni

I don’t think that’s true. If people wanted only type 4’s to comment then surely they would only go to a type 4 website. Not everything comes down to jealousy or something like that, which is what you seem to be implying

Cami

Yeah, some of y’all were acting like a pack of bullies in regards to Charlotte’s commentary. So not cool.

Djanira

Agreed

Ariel

Charlottes comments were thumbed down over 50 times, tht was a bit extreme and over the top to me. Like I said she agreed with the article and was writing about her own hair experience. And the word hate can be used in many forms. Whatever form was used over 50 times if you were one of the 50 then pick one lol.

Nooni

I really don’t see how anyone was bullying.

Antrelise
Nooni u were pretty harsh. Maybe you should watch her YouTube channel and you would see what she was saying (the video she mentioned in her first comment). It seemed to me that you became unnecessarily defensive. There was nothing wrong with what she said. I too noticed that my hair doesn’t handle braiding too well…..and I’m Black. Unfortunately, it took me a few months to realize that (not that i am Black, but the braiding part :)It just never occurred to me that the loose braids I did at night was ruining my ends!! If I had read Charlotte… Read more »
fluffy-in-flight
You’re fortunate that it took you two months to realize that, but it took me almost 3 years, in fact it took Charlotte’s comment to make me realize why i was constantly losing my ends, I’m anemic, have thyroid problems and a host of other problems and I attributed my hair loss to everything except what Charlotte said. I tried treating it with everything but nothing worked. by the way, i’m taking care of the problems i mentioned earlier, but after reading her comment and then handling my hair differently I noticed that my loss was next to nothing. In… Read more »
fluffy-in-flight

@ Antrilese — got to see the video, much thanks to you.

Antrelise

Hi fluffy-in-flight. Not sure of her channel, but I linked to it through her first comment (she gave the address). It’s the comment with her pic in it and the address is in the first sentence or so. Good luck!!

shayshay

Unfortunately, “common sense” is not common. People come to this site to learn. People come to learn what they didn’t know before, or learn different ways of doing something. Sometimes people come here to get a different perspective because “common sense” isn’t working the way “everyone” says it’s supposed to. It’s not fair to make fun of anyone trying to learn in good faith.

Anike
Lol, why are ya’ll getting so angry, it’s not like they said never stretch your hair again. That’s some common sense that naturals especially should know that over stretching could damage the hair. Just like how we’re supposed to be careful w/ heat and pulling on it too tightly is bad or any other of these rules that are up to YOU whether or not you wanna follow. Too much of anything is bad for you, ya’ll didn’t think when it came to stretching you couldn’t overdo it? Come on now, get it together, don’t tell me you didn’t know… Read more »
Candice

Wow, where did the drama come from? I don’t think this article is saying anything controversial. If you stretch your hair to the point that it is 100% stretched, that CAN be damaging. Ok, nothing earth shattering there. When I put my hair in twists, when I pull my hair, there is still give, so I’m not doing any harm, according to this article. Please calm down, people. It ain’t that deep.

Ariel

I didn’t see anything wrong with Charlotte’s comments, she wasn’t trying to hurt anyone with what she said. She also agreed with the article and said tht she also cannot stretch her hair or it will break off. It looks to me like ppl really got upset about something else, and even thumbed down every single one of her comments which is why she left. Smh, diversity shouldn’t been welcome, but I have learned as a 30 year old black woman tht most of our own ppl are the racist and hateful ones.
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?

So you couldn’t cape for the overly sensitive one WITHOUT bashing “your people” smfh Seems you haven’t learned a thing in all of those 30 years.

Ariel

Ummm, you said I couldn’t cape, what is the meaning of that please? =) Oh and I haven’t bashed anyone, I simply made an observation, wrong is wrong and right is right. Like it or not, I stand up for the underdog regardless of race. Thank you very much. Oh and heres another picture for you. It was a protective style!!! WASNT IT CUTE GURLLL!!!!! ^__^
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Ariel

Oh and you don’t know what I have experienced in this life, you don’t know anything about my near death experiences. Or what I have learned in this life for tht matter, so you cannot judge me by one statement tht I made in defense of another person and think you all of a sudden know me or my life. Mrs or Mr Question mark since you dont have a name I will address you as tht.

Jasmine

Wow, you look 18,19, 20

Ariel

Lol, thank you and I wish. I would be able to do a lot of things over again. I will be 31 in September πŸ™‚

Nooni

What are you talking about, I made a simple point. It’s hardly racist or hateful. Maybe as a 30 year old black woman you should try to relax. If Charlotte took the comments way to personally, that’s her own problem.

Ariel

See thts what I mean right there, you obviously felt guilty because I never said any names. Lmaoo!!! So maybe you need to relax Nooni. There was no need to come at me disrespectful because of your own guilt.

Djanira

Wow

Sassy24

I see that word hateful is often exaggerated.

Ariel

Typo: diversity shouldve been welcome

Nooni

How was diversity not welcome?

Rachel

Wow. All of that was really unnecessary. So now only people with certain hair types can join in a discussion? All she was doing was giving her opinion. Way to alienate her! How disappointing, ladies.

Charlotte

Btw I am done with this site. Adios. Probably this site is for type 4’s too, eh? The definition of stretching seems a bit narrow here.

Stace

NO this site is not just for type 4 hair. Unless an administrator asked you to leave you shouldn’t.

Amelie

It’s for people who appreciate the information. πŸ˜‰

nicole

bye

Mia

Rude and ghetto. Smh

smh

I agree, they are acting like straight n***gas and think their ignorance is funny when it’s disgusting and childish how so many “women” cosigned in on this ignorance. Is this BGLH or Bossip? People can be so ignorant and cruel.

AC

Childish, that behavior was awful… All she did was basically say everything wasn’t for everybody all the thumbs down and negative comments weren’t necessary but this is the Internet so I don’t even expect people to act maturely. Now she’s leaving the site with the impression that it’s some kind of type 4 only cult when it’s clearly named Black Girl Long Hair not Type 4 Long Hair. Welcome diversity ladies, we don’t all have the same hair nor we do have the same practices.

Mia

Seriously. And these same black women will later complain that they are excluded in other areas of life. Yet they so readily exclude others who are a true asset to the knowledge that is cultivated in this blog. Oh well. Black women…. smh!

AC

* do we.

JENNID

Wow! Home girl took a simple article away to far. Smh

Valerie

Lol

Nooni

Most natural hair advice boils down to a variety of guidelines that have helped a lot of people. Just because it doesn’t help you, doesn’t mean its bad advice or that anyone is forcing it down your throat.

Charlotte
Yeah you are right except you forgot one thing, no one said anything about having something forced down the throat. The person who gave me this advice did say that it was damaging to anyone’s hair to do wash and go’s and did clearly tell me that I should wear my hair up and in braids, and she has seen countless pictures of my hair. I never blamed her for the issue, but I am letting you know that people do in fact have black and white opinions on what makes or breaks healthy hair, and being that I was… Read more »
fluffy-in-flight
I have to agree with you that braiding wet hair is risky. At least for me personally it is.Because although I’ve never had a problem with growing my hair, yet i have to admit that every time i deal with my hair which is daily, i lose hair and i clip hair- I really would like to grow my hair out but at the same time I can’t stand to have it out because i perspire very heavy from my head, so i am forced to put it in twists, and because i manipulate it when it’s wet, i do… Read more »
Antrelise

I understand your point Charlotte. You have the right to your opinion and you did make a point to say “me” and “I”. I hope you continue to visit the sight because it is full of information and you never know when you may read something that really speaks to you. By the way, your hair looks healthy so keep up the good work!!

Nooni

When did I say anything about Dominican or mixed people? They can have type 4 hair too…….

Charlotte
Yes ! I just did a video about this on youtube called “Protective Styles Are Not For Everyone.” http://www.youtube.com/chamarieq. My hair is fine as you will see and my hair went as far as breaking and severe crinkling even from dry stretching and buns. Now even a loose braid aggravates it so I just wear it down. It is still being gradually trimmed but it is fairly healthy now, no more split ends and less breakage. I had to go back to a modified wash and go but because my hair likes brushing (after finger detangling), I do not get… Read more »
Alwina

Thank you sharing your perspective Charlotte. No one head of hair is the same. Always do what works for you and stay healthy doing so. Ignore the haters. God bless!

Marie
I did not much wrong with the first thing Charlotte said. Or how people got a patronizing tone from it. A woman gave the advice that all people should wear their hair a certain way, it lead to Charlotte finding out what worked best for her. Her hair doesn’t need protective styles and she even said she realizes everyone’s hair is different in the first comment. I was just thinking that’s how you learn about your hair through trail and error. A lot of natural hair *newbies especially* come to this website and they may say somethings that someone may… Read more »
Stace

People are getting angry why? If she didn’t have her picture attached would people be so mad?

kan

I was thinking the exact same thing Stace – I had to reread to try and understand why people got so upset…still not seeing it?? Oh well – I appreciate the post Charlotte – nice to see a different perspective. πŸ™‚

Em

I don’t get why people are taking issue with what she said. I also didn’t know that protective styling for hair growth was exclusive to type 4 hair. White women protective style their hair for length. There are forums online that aren’t specifically for black women, where women share their protective styles for optimal growth.

Anyway, it’s not that big of a deal to me that she shared her story. Either you can relate or you can’t. *shrug*

raw

Because, she sounds slightly patronizing .

Nooni

Protective styling for length has only really been for type 4 hair. You aren’t that. I personally have never seen anyone say every hair type you do the same thing. Maybe you were watching a type 4 video. It is a bit annoying when people who take advice not directed towards them go on about how bad the advice is.

Protecting styling consistently is only really for most type 4. maybe some 3’s. It’s no one else fault if you followed bad advice from a video from a person you never met.

Charlotte
Hmm, I do not think that I said it was anyone’s fault. But let me just clarify something really quickly because in fact, the person who gave me this advice did specifically give it to me, and when I say “protective” styling I am not referring to the extensive micro braiding and twisting that type 4 ladies tend to wear, I am talking about a basic simple bun, and a few braids. She did in fact tell me that I could prevent trimming by wearing my hair up all the time and doing braid out’s. Bear in mind, for me… Read more »
Nooni

You seem to confuse hair and race. Being black doesn’t equal type 4 and being mixed doesn’t equal type 3.

Amelie

Preach!
Lol +1

sa

I’m on team #dowhatworksforyourhair.
This article is ridiculous lol.

kan

I actually appreciate this article…giving scientific data to help naturals with our hair, that’s pretty awesome to me. That’s the beauty of this site – you can browse and see what info pertains to you and simply ignore the info that does not. Just a very friendly suggestion for us all to be a bit more supportive (as I see comments like this kind of often). It’s a blessing that someone even takes the time to bring us all this awesome information into one convenient place. I know for me, this site has literally saved my hair! πŸ™‚

Nooni

It’s hardly ridiculous! It’s offers good scientific advice. Its up to you about whether to listen to it.

TS

Man at this point even looking at your hair is “harmful” to natural hair. Do what works for you.

Nicole

Why can’t we continue the conversation on natural hair without all this sarcasm and ridicule?
Some people want to know. And now I know thanks.

Sassy24

I agree

Cass
I stretch regularly (weekly) with a blow dryer. I also flat iron a few times a year. In my experience, stretching my hair when it’s bone dry or near bone dry allows me to retain the most moisture. My hair is also less likely to shrink,thereafter. I’ve heat stretched my hair for the past 2+ years. I’ve had no issues with heat damage or length retention. The only time length retention becomes an issue is during the summer, when I sport the wash and go. My MBL, dense, and fine hair shrinks to above my ears. Detangling is a nightmare… Read more »
YOOHOO

OH PLEASE DO WHAT YOU WANT AS LONG AS THE HAIR IS HEALTHY

Asia
LOL! I agree, do whatever works for you. BUT I appreciate the theory in the article, it makes perfect sense – too much stretching can damage the cuticle = weak points on the strand/breakage. BUT stretching can mean a lot of things! Some pictures of methods that can cause the most damage over time would have been nice. I braid my hair 4-ish coils a lot, is that BAD? I have noticed that my ends get really brittle and crinkly when I braid sometimes. Am I stretching too much, or do I just need to moisturize?? UGH! LOL. I just… Read more »
Asia
LOL! I know right, all these “rules” do get frustrating… I agree, do whatever works for you. BUT I appreciate the theory in the article, it makes perfect sense – too much stretching can damage the cuticle = weak points on the strand/breakage. BUT stretching can mean a lot of things! Some pictures of methods that can cause the most damage over time would have been nice. I braid my hair 4-ish coils a lot, is that BAD? I have noticed that my ends get really brittle and crinkly when I braid sometimes. Am I stretching too much, or do… Read more »
The Natural Haven

lol, clearly some people cannot read a sentence to completion. If you were to amalgamate the sentiment of practically all the comments here, they would be identical to the article i.e stretch your hair but do it carefully. The ridiculous part to me is that there are arguments about that.

Charlotte, if you read this, please know that your views are valid. Hair is indeed diverse, for some people stretching and protective styling are not good. This is not a type 4 vs type 3 thing, there are some type 4s who will not thrive with a protective styling regime.

Mia

Lol… JC is so rude and defensive.

Mia

Lol… JC is so rude a defensive.

tracy

I know, right! All these rules and regulations for a fiber that will deteriorate no matter what you do. If you’ve managed to maintain length, the ends of your hair will look and feel differently from the hair just out of your scalp, no matter what you do or don’t do to your hair. It’s a FIBER. It’s not going to be perfectly preserved forever!! That would be impossible.

Basically, do what the heck you want to with your hair and do what’s best for your hair.

Kelsey

So am I good with my once weekly banded wash n go? I usually band over night but i might just switch to twisting…

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