Keeping your hair stretched is ONE secret to retaining length and achieving that long hair you want.
Why stretch your hair?
Stretched hair is less likely to tangle with other hair strands and cause itself mechanical damage, tangles, knots, splits etc.
Another (more aesthetic rather than practical) benefit of stretched hair is its appearance, on a smoother hair strand, your hair is able to more uniformly reflect light (rather than dispersing it in lots of directions) which creates a slightly shinier appearance.
How to stretch your hair
Some methods for stretching hair include: banding, African threading, plaiting, twisting, wrapping, and of course heat-based methods like blow-drying and flat-ironing. I’ve tried all but one of these at different points during my natural hair journey, and will give you my opinion of each one.
It is first of all important for me to state that for best results, hair needs to be fully moisturised and detangled before using any of these methods.
Banding: this is a method wherein, using elastic hair bands, you tightly bind sectioned hair along the length of the shaft. This method makes for fairly straight hair, depending on how close together your “bands” are. The closer together they are, the straighter your hair will be. Leaving gaps can leave you with a slightly wavy/beachy blown-out look which is also quite nice.
I find binding to be a really easy method, not too time consuming, and requires minimal skill or effort- but it does require a number of bands (which, no matter how many you buy, always seem to disappear…). Banding is also a completely heat free method of stretching.
Pro: No skill required, no heat.
Con: Max straightening requires loads of hairbands.
African Threading: My mum and Grandma (and pretty much every “Aunty” I have) swear by threading. Similar to Banding, African threading uses waxed cotton threads or rubber/plastic threads to wrap the hair, but traditionally, with little to no gaps whatsoever. There is a style called “Gaps”, which, as the name implies, allows for gaps and leaves hair wavy.
African threading requires a little bit of skill to prepare the threads (if using the waxed cotton thread) and to wrap the hair, as there is a technique to doing it which makes for quick styling and best results. It is important that if using cotton threads, they are the waxed variety, because cotton tends to wick out moisture from the hair and with such a large surface area/volume ratio as is provided by threading this is even easier to do. For this same reason, people began using rubber/plastic threads, as preparation is minimal, and the flexibility of the material means the threads would break less often while styling.
My only pet-peeve with threading is that if done too tightly, hair may break. I can usually tell my hair has snapped because I suddenly have little fly-aways along the section lines where there werent before. For this reason, I don’t use threading quite as often. Sorry, Mama. 😀
Pro: Potential for Max Straightening, No heat.
Con: Max Straightening = tight = potential to break hair, needs skill/know-how.
Plaiting: This can be done on dry or wet hair. I tend to plait my hair while wet, immediately after rinsing out my conditioner (and applying sealing oil and leave-in) as hair is the most pliable when wet. I do the same with my baby’s hair too. This can be done on dry hair too, but the effects differ.
Without going into too much detail (and probably losing you halfway haha) to stretch hair for longer, or to get it to take on a new shape, you have to maipulate the Hydrogen bonds that help create your natural curl. To do this, water (which both attracts and supplies Hydrogen for bonding) is required. The water makes it easier to make your hair move into, and stay in, the shape you want it even after most of the water has gone. This is one of the reasons why heat styling is so effective.
Pro: No heat. Simple enough if you know how.
Con: Max straightening not possible- creates waves or curls. Skill/Knowhow required.
Twisting: In my experience, twisting provides a lot less stretch than plaiting or any of the other methods, and that might just be because I do it on wet hair, but, I believe its simply because you don’t force the hair to stretch across very many “turns” (more turns/revolutions in plaiting) or a large enough space (like in wrapping) which would force it to stretch out more. (shrugging emoji).
Pros: No heat. Easy, very little skill required.
Cons: Very little stretch provided even if you do the twists super tight. Max Stretching not possible, creates curls or waves.
Wrapping: This method involves pulling your hair around your head and pinning it down flat. The tension slowly stretches the hair. Achieving maximum straightness with this method may require combining methods such as threading, banding, or more commonly, blow-drying or flat-ironing.
Pro: Can be done without heat.
Con: Maximum straightness not necessarily achievable without heat.
Blow-Drying: I know we live in an era where “heat is the devil”, but hear me out for a moment. Using the right tools, the right temperature, and the right technique, at the right frquency (ie. NOT TOO OFTEN!!!!), heat can be used effectively to stretch hair for length retention. Across my lifespan I’ve gone from ignorant and not caring at all (because I wasn’t caring for my hair myself), to being anti-heat (due to a bad experience), to being “use-heat-responsibly”, after thorough research including consultation with experts.
I’ll do a more detailed post on the responsible use of heat in future, but the summary of how I use Blow-Drying in particular is this:
- Use an ionic hairdryer. (more on that later)
- Low temperature, high speed.
- For the love of natural hair, USE A HEAT PROTECTANT!!!!
- Use a brush to make the heat application indirect.
- Blow-dry from root to tip- swiping past the tips maximum twice,
- The fewer passes the better! I aim for two.
- Bone-dry is not the way forward!!!!
My heat protectant of choice is actually a leave-in. More on that later.
Pro: Fastest method here. Easy once you know how. Leaves hair really close to maximum straightness. Fluffly blowouts.
Con: Uses heat. Using my method, you will not achieve maximum straightening. 😜 Some skill/know-how required (if doing it my way).
Flat-Ironing: I’ve used this method, each time with awful results for my heat-disliking hair. I haven’t used a flat iron on my hair in at least 7 years now, and never plan to again. This method applies a heated utensil to, as the name suggests, iron-out your curls. For pre-treated, well-protected hair (of a different type to mine) this can give some amazing results, but as I have not yet mastered a method to do this safely without heat damage, I unfortunately can’t say much. The best method, I have heard is the Dominican Blow-out method, which involves several specific products and practices, and may be quite time consuming. I’ll have to look this one up and get back to you.
Pro: Maximum Straightness achievable. Soft, shiny, silky appearance that goes with maximum straightness.
Con: Direct Heat. Slightly “safer” methods may involve (potentially expensive?) products. Might be time consuming.
Although I have mentioned it in my pros and cons, maximum straightening is not essential/necessary for healthy hair and length retention, or even to prevent damage! If I were to recommend a regimen for stretching hair for length retention, it might be something like this:
To freshly washed, deep conditioned, detangled and sealed hair, apply a leave-in conditioner (with heat-protectant properties), and blow dry gently until nearly completely dry. At this point, either: band, thread or wrap the hair. Cover with a satin scarf (for added tension) and (the next day) either follow with a longer-term style, or a short term style like the one below, which I often wear to work.
Again, these are just my opinions, but I do hope I’ve been of some help.
Do you have any favourite stretching methods that I’ve not mentioned? Or more info on your experiences with these? Please tell me below, in the comments. 🙂
See you next Fro Friday,