Natural hair shrinkage – the bane of every natural’s existence.
Let me set the scene: you’re in the shower during wash day, and you notice that your hair has not only thickened, but is past your shoulders.
You’ve been deep conditioning and protective styling, and finally, finally, you’re seeing length.
But when you get out of the shower, moisturize and let your hair dry, your curls shrink right back up to your ears.
In other words, the natural hair shrinkage struggle is real.
First things first – let’s clear the air, sis: natural hair shrinkage is GOOD NEWS!
Natural hair shrinkage = healthy natural hair. Shrinking, juicy coils means that your protein/moisture ratio is balanced. It means that your hair is absorbing the products you’re putting into it. It means that your hair is growing and healthy. It means you’ve nailed your natural hair routine!
But, if only we could achieve healthy hair AND find a way to show off our length…
You’ve come to the right place 🙂 Let’s dive in!
What is Hair Shrinkage, Anyway?
Curls of all types are inherently elastic, for many reasons. Our follicles are "z" shaped, so when our hair grows out of the follicles, the hair adopts this pattern.
What does that mean for us? It means that, because of the coily texture of your hair, your true length is not visibly shown. Every curl type will experience various types of shrinkage. Some curlies notice a 90% shrinkage rate.
Of course, to achieve "visible" length, it means that you would need to grow your hair significantly longer than someone with straight hair.
For example, if you want shoulder-length hair, you may need to grow your hair past your shoulders to achieve visibly shoulder length hair.
Before we get into these tips, I want to remind you that the reason your hair is so beautiful, so elegant, so uniquely you, is because of the shrinkage. Your curls wouldn’t be curly without it.
So yes, we can alter the look of our curls with these tips but remember: health before length. Let’s make sure we’re putting our hair needs first before the aesthetic.
Now that we got that out of the way, there are some tips that you can implement to combat shrinkage, WITHOUT compromising natural hair health.
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We’ve all heard of the bentonite clay craze – everyone and their mama is talking about the definition and moisture retention they’re seeing once they use it.
But did you know that it actually helps with natural hair shrinkage as well?
Bentonite clay pulls out toxins and impurities within your hair because of the chemical composition of the clay. Clay is negatively charged, while toxins are positively charged.
Have you heard of the saying “opposites attract” – that’s exactly what happens here. The negative charge of the clay pulls the positive charge of the impurities.
The result? Curls that drop, showing off all that length!
This is how you use it: mix in two parts clay, one-part apple cider vinegar. Apply the mixture to dry, unwashed hair in sections. The mask hardens quickly, so don’t detangle with the mask in your hair to avoid unnecessary breakage. Put on a plastic bag and let it sit on your hair for 20-30 minutes, (use your own body heat). After the allotted time, wash it out gently. Deep condition immediately after using your favorite product.
This mask is great at pulling dirt and grime out of your hair, thus replacing the need for shampoo during your wash day routine. This is why it's used on unwashed hair. You may use a conditioner (preferably with slip) after you wash out the mask, but be sure to follow up with a moisturizing deep conditioner after.
If you need more of a moisture boost after the mask, try the co wash method. The light cleansing agents found in conditioner will remove whatever dirt is left behind.
Heavier Products on the Ends
Hair buildup on our hair is no Bueno, girlfriend. When you use heavy products on your hair, especially closer to the roots, you are clogging your hair follicles and messing with your hair growth cycle.
But, to combat natural hair shrinkage, you can use these heavier products on your ends to weigh them down. This is especially helpful to retain length too, since you are providing extra moisture and support on your delicate ends.
This step is mostly geared towards coarser textures with more shrinkage (3c and coarser). Looser curled naturals may experience greasier-looking hair using this method.
This is how you do it: after your wash day, style your hair as normal. As a last step, use either a heavier butter or leave-in spritz to weigh down some of your bottom curls. Be strategic as to where you do this so that your hair doesn’t look greasy or over-done.
This method was highly popularized on YouTube amongst natural hair bloggers who want to stretch out their curls. You may not retain as much definition as normal, but your natural hair shrinkage is a goner with this method!
This is how you do it: on moisturized hair, section your hair along the sides and back of your head, and on your crown (the more sections you do, the more of an effect). Use an elastic band to tie your hair at the root of the section. Then do the same thing in the middle of the section and ends. Repeat this for every section you’ve made and wrap your hair to sleep at night. When you wake up, remove your bands gently, as to not cause breakage, and voila! Natural hair shrinkage be gone!
Braiding at Night
This is similar to the banding method, but instead you are braiding your hair rather than using elastics. This style works as a protective way to sleep at night, too!
Section your hair in as many parts as you want. The more parts, the more defined the “braid-out” will be, so if you’re looking for a gentle effect, use larger sections.
Braid your hair very loosely as to not disturb the curls. Wrap your hair and in the morning, take down the braids gently to reveal stretched out curls!
Some products are known to have curl-stretching properties. These products typically contain ingredients is known to keep curls from shrinking.
Some examples include mango and shea butter, aloe vera gel, henna, clay or flaxseed. These ingredients work to smooth out your curls without damaging the keratin bonds. Look for these ingredients in your leave-ins to eliminate
natural hair shrinkage.
Some examples of products include:
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Break the Gel Cast
Gel works wonders on defining natural hair. But a significant trade-off is that it can keep your hair hard and rigid, and as a result, keep your curls tight and shrunken.
The solution? Break the cast!
There are do’s and don’ts when it comes to breaking the gel cast. The biggest do is to lather your hands in oil before you pick at your hair. That way, your hands (with its little grooves and nails) won’t induce any breakage.
The don’t? Don’t be too hand heavy! Be as gentle as possible. To retain some definition, only pull from the bottom layers of your hair to keep the top layers defined.
The Bottom Line
Objectively speaking, natural hair shrinkage is not the worst thing that can happen to your curls. When your hair is shrinking, it means that your natural hair routine is working.
Only healthy, juicy, flourishing curls shrink. You’re doing something right sis!
What do you do to combat natural hair shrinkage? Comment down below!