The Importance of Stretching Natural Hair
What does "stretching" your hair mean?
Natural hair tends to have a lot of shrinkage, meaning that due to the coils and bends in your hair, it draws tighter to your scalp. When you pull your hair, or straighten your hair, it stretches the texture to show its actual length.
Stretching your natural hair means that you are styling your hair in a manner that you eliminate some of the shrinkage in your hair, thus eliminating a lot of knots and tangles. More importantly-- stretched styles eliminate a lot of dryness with your texture because you are able to smooth products into the cuticle of the hair from roots to ends and allow it to set vs just plopping some product on top of your fro and neglecting all of the coils and curls underneath.
Many naturals neglect to understand the importance of stretching for their texture and want to take the easy way out: a wash and go. My general rule of thumb is that if your hair shrinks down to even 25% less than when you pull it, you should wear stretched styles more often than wash and go styles. Let me provide you with ways that you can stretch your hair in each step of your regimen.
Stretching your hair during shampoo routine:
When your hair has enough length (at least 4 inches), it is good to keep your hair stretched during the shampoo process. Starting with 4 sections (5 or 6 max if needed), when I shampoo my hair (biweekly) I use an applicator bottle to apply majority of the shampoo to my scalp as the main part of the hair that needs cleansing is the scalp.
With one hand, I massage my scalp, without twirling the hair at ALL, to get it clean while I'm pulling with hair out with the other hand to keep it stretched.
The product doesn’t need rigorous manipulation to cleanse. I will apply a light amount of shampoo to the rest of my hair and stroke it through from root to end to remove any residue from the hair.
I shampoo twice if I feel my hair has a lot of buildup. I then coil my hair into a bantu and apply a butterfly clip to keep it out of my way. I continue this routine with each section. Shampooing your hair in stretched sections allows you to make sure that your hair is truly cleansed, but more importantly allows your hair to stay in YOUR control vs it tangling and knotting on you.
This is very important for avoiding the creation of split ends.
Stretching your hair during conditioning/deep conditioning routine:
When it is time to apply my conditioner/deep conditioner, I release one of my 4 sections and apply product throughout the entire section. Using subsections (I do 2, but use as many as you need for your density) I then stretch each section releasing any tangles from end to roots with my fingers. If I have a lot of tangles I will detangle with a wide tooth comb from ends to roots. I then coil it back into a bantu so that it will stay stretched during the conditioning process and not shrink back down (which would eliminate all of my hard work of detangling). I will continue this until I have all conditioned bantu sections.
After I sit with heat and plastic cap under dryer or no cap under steamer, I then rinse the conditioning with no manipulation, section by section and coil them back up. If you keep the hair stretched during the entire shampoo/conditioning process, it will make it easier to handle and eliminate a lot of hair loss due to tangles and knots during your styling process. It will also help you to complete your styles QUICKER!
Stretching your hair during styling:
If you have successfully kept your hair stretched and detangled during the shampoo/conditioning process, it should be easy to then move on to your style with ease. No matter what style you are doing, work on it a section at a time, leaving the sections coiled so they do not dry out until you are ready for them (Dry, tight hair breaks).
At this point, it is important to stretch each section you are styling and further detangle before smoothing the product down the cuticle. I often recommend using the Felicia Leatherwood Detangle brush at this point as it further detangles, stretches, and smooths each section.
If you opt to wear an occasional wash and go, doing this in sections and gliding the product down stretched sections will allow for more healthy ends vs applying product throughout the whole head at once. This neglects allowing the moisture to slide into all the loops and coils of the hair, resulting in dryness and tangles.
Because twisting doesn’t stretch as much as braids, I recommend clients do a braid out for maximum stretch or twist nightly to avoid tangles forming in the bed and to allow the hair to stretch more each day. My ends stay the healthiest when I do braid outs or twist nightly with gentle finger manipulation vs twisting once and allowing it to tangle throughout the week. If my hair gets too stretched, I mist with water before twisting to bring definition back or transition into a stretched bun or up-do.
Should you stretch for trims?
I am not the stylist that believes that you HAVE to flat iron for a trim, but if you are ok with occasionally wearing your hair straight, straight hair does not camouflage your ends, so you will always get the most accurate trim. For clients who simply do not wear flat ironed styles, I at least recommend trimming from a blow-dried state if you have a lot of shrinkage as you will truly focus on trimming visible ends and eliminating them from traveling up the strand vs only creating shape.
I only recommend trimming in a natural state for looser textures. Often times, when clients see their hair in a blow dried or flat ironed, stretched state it motivates them to utilize my stretching technique throughout as they are truly able to see if their hair is in a good or bad condition that they typically cannot see in a wash and go state.
What are some stretched styles you can wear?
Stretched styles are any styles in which your hair is not allowed to dry in its natural texture, but is allowed to dry with a somewhat stretched texture. This does NOT mean that you have to apply heat to your hair or blow dry it out.
Twist outs, braid outs, twist and rod sets, corn rows, updos, blow outs, flat ironed styles etc. are all examples of stretched styles that will eliminate a lot of tangles and dryness for your hair. (Be careful with any styles that involve heat). Bantu knots and rod sets protective styles but technically not stretched as these styles typically tighten the texture of the hair.
Thanks for reading and happy stretching!