What is shrinkage and why do natural hair types experience it? In a nutshell, “Shrinkage is the amount in which the hair shortens or compacts in length from the wet to dry state. It’s a natural, healthy property of healthy, tighter texture,” tells us Pekela Riley, celebrity hairstylist and founder of Salon PK and True & Pure Texture Extensions. The next time your length disappears on you, look no further than the following techniques, suggested by Riley, on how to reduce hair shrinkage.
What Hair Shrinkage Is
Shrinkage happens with highly textured hair because its ability to stretch or elongate is significantly higher when wet. When that water or moisture evaporates, the natural curls and pattern return without the added weight of the water. When you’re dealing with hair that has a high tendency for shrinkage, you’re dealing with highly porous hair. Specifically, highly textured hair becomes very porous. When water or product fills in that porosity, it weighs down the hair. It’s almost like the weight at the end of a fishing line dragging it down, which is why you get that elongation. If you remove the weight, it wouldn’t have the ability to stay down. Because of the zig-zig pattern when water weight is gone, the hair retracts on its own and resumes its natural buoyancy.
Shrinkage and Porosity
All natural hair types have a tendency for shrinkage but as the scale goes up in the texture, the higher porosity and shrinkage becomes. Type 1 and type 2 textures with high porosity would indicate damage. For type 4 hair, shrinkage is a natural property of the hair. Just like someone with an olive complexion having the ability to tan more in the summer without getting red, it’s a natural property of the skin. Shrinkage of hair doesn’t indicate anything is wrong with the hair. A great fear of heat damage is present in the natural community. When hair is damaged and you wet it, it won’t shrink. But some of the rules are the opposite. Take type 4 hair for example. If that hair doesn’t display shrinkage, it means it’s damaged. Shrinkage is a natural, healthy property of healthy, tighter texture.
Heatless Techniques to Reduce Hair Shrinkage
One of the key heatless techniques is to utilize twists, which can be done individually but they prefer elongation on the scalp. Scalp twists allow the base of the head to become a smooth surface to elongate and attach the pattern of the hair so it dries in that formation. Whatever you do to the hair in the wet state becomes a communicated direction for the hair. If you want to do a heatless stretching, then do scalp twists along the scalp. When they dry in that pattern, that’s what the hair will look like. Wet and go hair is left as it is, allowed to dry in that state without specific instructions.
Because you’ve now stretched the hair by scalp twist or braid outs, you can opt to do a wet and go, or take the time to do a twist-out. To set your wet and go, use Mizani Twist and Coil Jelly or Curl Enhancing Lotion.
Another easy way to stretch that hair is to bring it up into a pineapple. There are two reasons we utilize pineapples. One, it protects hair from frizzing out at night because most of the hair is in the interior. The other primary reason for a pineapple is that when you direct that hair up, you are giving the hair additional instructions to stretch. In the morning you’ll notice that all the hair is elongated. Fear not if you decide you have time for wet and go today, but you still want to stretch it out throughout the week. Put it in a pineapple that night and you will wake up to beautiful texture because the roots have been stretched out.
Pre-stretching is one of my favorite methods because I think there is some benefit to applying low heat on highly textured hair. I blowdry the hair on low heat to stretch it out to an elongated state then I might use flex rods. Sixty percent of the textured hair you see on social media is pre-stretched hair. Pre-stretching isn’t about blowdrying the hair for the straight aesthetic—it’s about stretching the texture out to put in additional texture. To break out the shrinkage and shake it out from that state. It’s a less deliberate blowdry. It’s not about smoothing. Depending on the degree of stretch you want, a person may blowdry 50% of the way. It’s very rarely 100% dry but anywhere between 40-75% dry would fall under the category of pre-stretching.
Before pre-stretching, apply Mizani Thermasmooth Sleek Guard Smoothing Cream to prepare the hair for the moderate amount of heat you’re about to expose it to. It helps fill the porosity which gives elongation and aids in reversion of a pre-stretch twist out.
You can use a gentle frictionless brush as you pre-stretch. I recommend using an afro pick attachment, the one developed by Willie Morrow years ago. The pick is the most gentle, effective method for blow drying it without tension breaking from round brushing.
Using Heat to Elongate
Flex rods use dryer heat, but it’s low-impact heat. You can use flex rods and direct hair down the length of the rod to create elongation after it’s been pre-stretched.
The Misconception About Curly Cuts
There is a misconception that all textured hair can be cut wet and that is because of the degree of shrinkage. Tighter textures not only have a greater propensity for shrinkage, but then that head of hair will vary in how the hair shrinks. Pre-stretching hair or blowdrying is useful in creating consistency in that strand. Having that dialogue with your client on what areas of their hair shrink the most, you can create a more thorough, polished cut; and elongate the parts where shrinkage happens most. A stylist will be better able to manage the hair before the cut and see that it’s done in a proper way.
It can get impossible at times to control tangled ends on a wet fro. Once we get into type 4 hair, it will require some type of stretching to have any certainty of precision and accuracy in cutting. So much about what we do in hair begins with control. If you don’t have control of the hair, you can’t expect a professionalized outcome. Type 4 hair definitely has to be pre-stretched to have any control of it before cutting. I say that with humility. I want it so that type 4 hair can be cut in its natural state, but it’s not the case.