Every time I go to the hairdressers to have my hair put in cornrows they whip out the blow dryer and hair straighteners. They always feel the need to straighten my hair before they can braid it. I certainly didn’t have this problem when my hair was relaxed of course. However with natural hair it seems many hairdressers are clueless and simply seek to put your hair in a state they are more familiar with before they can style it. It’s only when I learned to braid my own hair that I realised my hair didn’t have to be straightened before I could braid it neatly. It’s funny, when men get their hair cornrowed at the barbers they don’t have to have their hair straightened beforehand and their cornrows turn out perfect!
So what are the different ways you can stretch your hair out before styling it. I’m not going to lie, when my hair is in a shrunken state it is impossible to deal with. In fact shrinkage was one of the biggest obstacles to deal with when I first went natural. I wasn’t use to it and couldn’t believe how much my hair shrunk after washing, at least 75% of the overall length. When I was a kid I use to hate washing my hair simply because of the shrinkage and the harsh combing and painful detangling that followed.
So how do I stretch out my hair after washing so that it is easier to style? My hair gradually shrinks during the week if I wear it out, perhaps due to the weather or simply sleeping on it. I often have to stretch it out if I’m between washes. Well it’s very simple. First of all I find it a lot easier to wash my hair in loose twists or braids (about six big ones). This stops it from shrinking completely in the first place and when I towel dry my hair I never let it get completely dry before styling. Damp hair is much more durable and thus easier to style, this minimises breakage as well.
Braids and other methods
Then, I simply put my hair braids, adding leave in conditioner or oil to lock in the moisture from the water. If I want to do a braid out that week I will braid my hair accordingly and undo the braids the next day. If I want to put my hair in cornrows or another style I will do the same but it will not be necessary to do as many braids. I usually do medium-sized braids. After braiding my hair and allowing it to dry overnight, it will be stretched out the next day when the braids are taken out. Then it will be a lot easier to either cornrow, French braid or style however I want. Styling is a lot easier to do with stretched-out hair. I have not used a blow dryer or straightening iron for almost a year now. It was simply a personal decision for me, many people are fine with applying heat to their hair but I choose to avoid it as much as possible now.
So just to recap; to stretch out your hair I would recommend washing it in large braids or twists and braiding after washing and leaving them to dry overnight. Twists will also stretch out your hair and if you ever put your hair in rollers or curl formers, one added benefit is that they stretch out your hair as well. Perhaps after having your hair styled this way, before washing, you could use the opportunity to do a twist or braid out and enjoy the length that will result from your hair being stretched out. Simply finger combing will get rid of the waves or curls and your hair should be near its maximum length! Putting your hair in Bantu knots also help to stretch it out. Have a look at the video below:
So I hope this helps you find an alternative to heat and helps you to deal better with shrinkage. Most importantly remember that shrinkage is a good thing. It shows that your hair is doing what it is supposed to do. Healthy hair will shrink back to its original curl pattern (which is usually tightly coiled for natural textured hair) when wet. It’s all part of the fun. Unfortunately with hair that has been damaged by heat it may not return to its natural curl pattern. Till this day I still have some straight strands in the front of my head which I know is a result of heat damage. So be aware of the risks that come along with using heat. For those that want to be heat free, give it a try!
How do you stretch out your hair without heat? Share in the comments below.