For all of us who have naturally curly hair, shrinkage is an inevitable part of our natural hair journey. Some don’t mind shrinkage, while many of us LOATHE it entirely. If you had asked me how I felt about shrinkage at the start of my natural hair journey, I would have told you that I hate it. But, over the last couple of years of my natural hair journey, I have not only learned to deal with hair shrinkage- I have learned to embrace it totally. In this post, I will answer the question “What is natural hair shrinkage?” Then, we will explore several topics related to shrinkage.
What is Shrinkage?
Shrinkage is essentially the perceived loss of length when textured hair dries in its natural state. When hair is wet, the hair is weighed down and stretched out, showing more of its length. But once the hair dries, it shrinks. This is what shrinkage refers to.
Let’s use my own hair as an example. In the picture on the left, my hair is dried completely and unstretched. It appears to be only a couple of inches long.
But when I stretch out my curls, you can see that my hair is much longer than it appears.
As you can see, my curls are very tight, therefore my hair shrinks to less than half of my true hair length. Curly hair can shrink to even less than a third of its true length in some cases. While some naturals have hair that shrinks more than mine does, many naturals do not deal with much shrinkage (particularly those whose curls are not very tight or compact).
Why Many Struggle With Shrinkage
Many naturals struggle with shrinkage, and there are several reasons behind this. One of the main reasons that shrinkage is viewed as a problem is that many of us want our true length to show. When we wet our curly hair, it is temporarily stretched out, and during that time, we can see more of the length that we work for. However, that length is gone as soon as our hair dries. It can feel like a dirty trick.
Another reason why shrinkage is a struggle for some naturals is that at one time, maybe our hair was relaxed or heat trained and we got used to long, flowing hair. When you find out that your natural hair is curly with loads of shrinkage, this can be difficult to get used to. The transition from long straight hair to curly shrunken hair is a huge one.
Some naturals deal with single-strand-knots and tangles and find that the tangling and knots are worse when their hair is in its shrunken state. This is a valid concern and it is a common reason why naturals want to keep the shrinkage away.
Shrinkage does not have to be a source of stress for us, though. There are positives when it comes to shrinkage, I promise. Read on.
Shrinkage is a Sign of Natural Hair Health
Shrinkage is a sign of hair health. How? Well, healthy hair is elastic, meaning that it can be stretched without breaking and then it returns to its natural curly state. In the case of shrinkage, when healthy hair bounces back after being stretched out, this shows elasticity.
Hair that has normal to high elasticity is stronger and is more resistant to damage and breakage than low elasticity hair.
So, think of shrinkage as a sign of healthy hair.
Shrinkage is a Part of Natural Hair
If you want to wear your hair in its natural, undisturbed state, your hair will appear just as it was created to, with twists, turns, and kinks. Shrinkage is inevitable for naturally textured hair. That is unless you do something to manipulate your texture. We’ll look at this in detail in the next section.
Remember this: Your curls are formed by twists and turns, so without shrinkage, your curls would not exist. You would simply have bone straight hair.
How to Minimize Shrinkage
While you cannot have curly hair without some degree of shrinkage, there are some easy ways to stretch your curls out a bit.
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Stretch your curls out by:
- Using styling products that minimize shrinkage. A couple of really good anti-shrinkage products are DevaCurl Super Stretch and Aunt Jackie’s Don’t Shrink Flaxseed Gel.
- Blowdrying your curls after washing, conditioning, and applying your styler or moisturizer. You can stretch your hair as you dry it. By this, I mean that you can gently pull on sections of your hair as you blow-dry it. Once dry, your curls will be stretched out and you can enjoy more of your hair’s length. I recommend using the “cool” button on your blow dryer for this stretching method so that you don’t get heat damage. You could also opt for a heat protectant if you prefer to use heat.
- Using rubber bands or braids to stretch out your curls overnight. To prep your hair for a style or to stretch out your wash n go, start the night before by sectioning your hair into several sections and braiding it (do either two strand twists or three strand traditional braids). By morning, after you take the braids out, your hair will be stretched out. Proceed to style your hair as you desire.
Making Peace with Your Shrinkage
For most, the natural hair journey is a journey to self-acceptance. It has certainly been this way in my case.
I started my natural hair journey with a big chop (read about big chops here). I had gone from having long straight hair to having short tiny curls. It honestly made me feel uncomfortable- I had gotten used to hiding my face behind long hair.
As my hair started to grow out, I didn’t get too excited. This is because every single time I would wash and allow my hair to air dry, I’d wonder where all my hair growth went. It wasn’t that my hair wasn’t growing; it was that I wanted my long hair back as quickly as possible. And thanks to shrinkage, it would take a long time to be able to see considerable length when my hair was in its curly state.
So, I started to seek out ways to stretch my natural hair. I NEEDED to see the length that I had been working hard for. I tried all the different hair stretching techniques, like the rubber band method and the blow dryer method. Though I saw some results with these methods, I didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t comfortable with my hair in its natural state.
I realized soon thereafter that I had to figure out how to get over this disenchantment with shrinkage.
Here is how I got over my shrinkage issues:
- I changed my ultimate hair goal from gaining length to maintaining hair health. I figured that if I stopped worrying about length, and instead focused on the health of my hair, that I would stop worrying about shrinkage.
- I stopped comparing my hair to others’ hair. Yes, there are millions of pictures of huge, voluminous fros and long curly hair in the media and on social networks. Your friend might have looser curls and not have to deal with much shrinkage. But who cares? It’s important to remember that your hair and your hair journey are individual.
- I stopped focusing on my shrinkage– I washed, deep-conditioned, styled, and moved on with life.
These three things helped me embrace my curls the way that they were created. Once I was able to embrace my shrinkage, I was more confident in my own skin and I began to actually enjoy my hair journey. You can too!
Enjoy Your Hair Journey, Shrinkage and All
Every journey has obstacles that you will have to overcome to move forward, and your hair journey is no exception.
Shrinkage can be a big deal, especially to newly-natural girls and guys. But it does not have to rule your hair journey.
If you are not yet at a point where you can accept your shrinkage, that’s totally fine. Stretch your hair out using either of the methods that I went over earlier. No sweat.
If you are at a point where you are ready to accept your shrinkage, do it in a big way. Rock your curls the way that they were destined to be-springy, bouncy, shrunken. It’s all part of naturally curly life.
No matter what route you take, I wish you the best!
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Thanks for reading.