Natural type 4 hair is the most versatile hair on the planet. We can easily wear our hair curly, straight, or in an afro and it is beautiful in all forms.
Although we may love our natural curls, sometimes we want to switch things up for a different look.
What we don’t want, is to cause irreparable damage to our hair in the process. Chemical relaxers, keratin treatments, and silk presses can all cause our hair to lose its natural curl.
Once that happens, the only way to get it back is to cut off the damage and start all over. Knowing how difficult it can be to grow our hair to long lengths, nobody wants to start from scratch if they don’t have to.
Shrinkage is something that every natural deals with. It affects every head to varying degrees, but if your hair is naturally curly, shrinkage is definitely a factor. Hair shrinkage refers to the difference in length between your curly hair and your straightened hair.
If your hair is very tightly coiled you could lose more than half of your stretched length to shrinkage when wearing your hair in natural styles.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with wearing your hair in its shrunken state, but sometimes you want to be able to show off your true length.
Stretching Your Hair
So how can you get some hang time without frying your hair and ruining all your hard work? There are several heatless methods of stretching your hair that will give you an endless amount of new styling options and keep your natural curls in tact.
Below we’ll cover five different ways to stretch your hair without heat. These methods work on any curly hair type from 3A to 4C, so pick one and give it a try on your next wash day.
The stretching method that you choose will depend on your objective. Do you want a one step process where you can stretch your hair into a wearable final style? Or do you have time to stretch your hair in the first step and then style it afterwards?
You also have to consider how much time you have on wash day to allow your hair to dry – i.e. do you need to be able to wear your hair out in public (or to work) while you’re waiting for it to dry? Or can you stay inside with your hair looking crazy for a day or two?
#1 Blow Drying
The first stretching method is blow drying with cool air or warm air. Blow drying is one of the most popular methods of stretching curly hair, but most people use excessive heat and then follow up with flat ironing in an attempt to get completely straight hair.
We want to keep our hair healthy by staying away from heat, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use a blow dryer at all. Just make sure that your blow dryer has a cool setting, or a warm setting that doesn’t get hot enough to damage your hair.
You can use your hand to gauge if the air from your blow dryer is the right temperature. It should be warm, but not hot. Keep in mind that the objective here is to stretch your hair, not to straighten it.
If you are using warm air, it is still advisable to use a heat protectant to be certain your hair is not damaged.
Once your hair is stretched with the blow dryer, you can style it using rollers or flexi rods. You can also do a twist out or braid out on your stretched hair.
Make sure you don’t set your rollers or twists on completely dry hair. This will result in very little definition and body. Use a styling foam to dampen the hair and to add a light hold so that your curls will stay in place. The final style will last for up to a week if you use the pineapple method and cover your hair with a silk scarf or bonnet each night.
The benefit of styling blow dried hair is that your final style will dry faster and your roots will be smoother than when you style your hair without stretching.
If you have low porosity hair that takes a long time to dry, blow drying first will save you a lot of time.
Here are the steps you will need to follow to achieve this style:
- Wash your hair with your favorite shampoo, or our Ayurvedic Clay Wash
- Condition your hair our Honey Hibiscus Deep Conditioner
- Blow dry your hair in sections using cool or warm air
- Apply a light coating of the Argan Aloe Leave In Conditioner
- Apply a styling foam for a light hold
- Set your hair using rollers, flexi rods, twists, or braids
- Allow your hair to dry fully (either air dry overnight or sit under a hooded dryer)
- Carefully remove the rollers/twists/braids by slowly unraveling – do not just pull the rollers out or pull your twists/braids apart as this will lead to frizz.
The Tension Blow Dry Method
I normally use my blow dryer with a comb attachment, but you can use the tension method of blow drying instead.
In this case, you will use a blow dry nozzle on the end of your dryer instead of the comb attachment. Then you will hold a small section of hair with your hand and pull it down to stretch it. You should aim your blow dryer up and down the section while continuing to stretch it with your hand until the section is dry.
For thick hair, this method takes longer than using a comb attachment, and the results aren’t as smooth. If you have fine hair that is easily damaged by combing, this may be a good alternative for you.
#2 Flexi Rod or Roller Sets
The second stretching method is to do a roller set or flexi rod set without blow drying first. This method takes less time since you are cutting out the blow drying step, but starting with wet hair means the roller set will take longer to dry.
Depending on your hair texture, your results here may not be as smooth as with the blow dryer. Even so, you’ll still have full, soft curls that last up to a week.
Roller sets are a great way to stretch your hair, but they do require some skill. Proper placement of the rollers, adequate drying time, and careful take down are all required to get the most out of this style. I personally find flexi rods easier to work with.
If you haven’t quite gotten the hang of roller setting, keep practicing. It does get easier, the more you do it. But in the meantime you can use one of the easier methods instead.
#3 Bantu Knots
Another method of stretching the hair prior to styling is to use bantu knots. A bantu knot is formed by dividing your hair into sections and then twirling each small section of hair and wrapping it around itself to form a knob.
The end of the hair is secured with a hair tie or a small bobby pin. The resulting take down of the bantu knots can be worn as its own style, or you can do a twist out or braid out on the stretched hair.
#4 Twist Outs/Braid Outs
Twist outs or braid outs on wet hair are probably the easiest way of stretching your hair. This is the method I use most often. While your hair will be stretched to some degree, you’ll still get more shrinkage here than with the other methods we’ve discussed.
If you want to show your maximum length, you will want to dry your hair in its stretched state and then style it with twists, braids, or rollers.
#5 Flat Twists/Cornrows
Flat twists and cornrows are also a great way to stretch your hair, and you can wear the resulting style as a braid out or twist out. The benefit of using flat twists or cornrows instead of traditional two strand twists or plaits for a braid out, is that the hair at your roots is pulled more snugly into your twist or braid. This results in more definition, less frizz, and more elongation of your natural curls. With this method, you can start with wet or damp hair and still have less shrinkage to deal with.
If you use this method it is important to take your time when unraveling the twists or braids. As stated above, just pulling them apart will lead to lots of frizz. For best results, patience is key.
The final way to stretch your hair prior to styling is the banding method. With this method, you divide your hair into sections and wrap hair ties or satin scrunchies down the length of your hair, then allow it to dry.
Do not use rubber bands as they can easily get caught in your hair and cause snags and breakage. The result of banding will be stretched hair that looks like a light blow out. Once the hair is dry you can style as desired.
I’m personally not a fan of this method because it takes too long to apply the bands, it takes a long time to dry, and you can’t leave the house with the bands in (I mean you can, but I don’t recommend it).
One benefit of banding is that it gives similar results to blow drying on cool air. If you are absolutely opposed to using a blow dryer, this is a great alternative. Banding is a great way to stretch your hair prior to getting a protective style like braids, especially if you’re doing them yourself.
As you can see, there are many ways to stretch your hair without the risk of heat damage that can permanently ruin your curls. Let me know which ones you will incorporate into your healthy hair journey and what you find works best for your curl pattern.