If you are having difficulty stretching your relaxer, don't give up! When you are struggling with your new growth or are experiencing issues such as breakage, it is very easy to give up and just schedule your next relaxer appointment. Trust me when I tell you: When I first started stretching, it wasn't easy. At times, it was so frustrating and I had difficulty managing my hair while my new growth came in. However, I learned certain methods and basic truths about my hair that helped me stretch. I'm going to break down these methods and basic truths into three categories that are crucial to mastering your stretch: 1) Scalp; 2) Line of Demarcation; and 3) Your Ends.
- Your scalp is an extension of your lifestyle: In order to get the most out of your stretch, you are going to want to make sure you baby and nurture your scalp. Eat protein, fruits and veggies to make sure you keep your scalp healthy. (Many people supplement their hair care regimen with "skin, hair and nail" vitamins, but make sure to talk to a physician if you are uncertain about taking a new vitamin). Also consider getting a humidifier for your house if your home is dry to prevent your scalp from getting too dry (or try out this great tip for keeping the air in a room sufficiently moisturized for your scalp and hair). Also make sure to limit the stress in your body, since stress can wreak havoc on your hair. Your immune system's ability to respond to organisms (such as yeast) that cause scalp irritation is negatively impacted by cortisol (a substance that your body creates when it undergoes stress). In addition, make sure to get in enough aerobic exercise, which helps increase circulation to your scalp so your follicles' cells can benefit from the nutrients in the blood flow. That brings me to my next point:
- Massaging the scalp: Massaging your scalp is a great way to keep your scalp and follicles stimulated. It nourishes your roots and encourages new growth. Consider incorporating a scalp massage into your hair regimen a few days a week. It warms the scalp, opens up blood vessels, and the increased circulation benefits your hair follicles' cells because they will receive more nutrients necessary for hair growth and health. Some people add peppermint, lavender or rosemary oil to their scalp during their massage, which many believe to be excellent herbs for stimulating hair follicles (plus, they smell great too!). An added healthy hair bonus of a scalp massage? It's a wonderful stress reliever!
2) Line of Demarcation (the line between your relaxed ends and your new growth):
- Embrace your new growth: Many women with relaxers find stretching particularly difficult because they struggle with embracing their new growth. To truly embrace your texture as it grows in, you have to learn how to work with it while also managing the line of demarcation and the relaxed ends. If that means that you have to change your hair style as your roots grow in (switching to more protective, low maintenance styles like buns and ponytails or braidouts that put less stress on the line of demarcation), then so be it. The more you fight your new growth as it grows in, the more likely you are to stress out the line of demarcation and deal with breakage.
- Moisture/protein balance: A proper balance of moisture and protein treatments are crucial during your stretch. As your roots grow in, consider doing a deep conditioning treatment every time you wash/condition your hair to infuse moisture into your strands, especially around that line of demarcation (you don't want that area in particular getting dry and snapping off). You should get a protein treatment (like the Aphogee Protein Treatment about every six weeks) to help reduce hair breakage and increase hair elasticity. (Check out my hair journal post about using the Aphogee Protein Treatment here.)
- Combing methods: As your roots grow in, you're going to need to comb your hair out more gently and with more care. If you usually comb your hair from roots to tip, you'll notice that as your roots grow in, it will be a lot tougher to comb your hair in such a way. Change your combing method by detangling your hair in portions/sections at the ends first with your fingers, and continue detangling your hair all the way up to your roots. After you do that, then use a wide tooth comb and gently comb your hair from the ends first, and work your way up gently to the roots. Watch your comb from time to time to make sure that your hair isn't breaking off into it.
- Styling methods: In order to limit the amount of stress on your lines of demarcation (and limit the amount of breakage during your stretch), you need to consider how your heat tools may be impacting your line of demarcation. For example, if you like flat ironing or blow drying your hair, consider the impact that those tools have on a part of your hair that is literally holding together your new growth and chemically-processed ends. While I do flat iron and blow dry my hair during my stretch, I am very careful with how I use these tools, I only use high-quality tools, and I prep my hair with certain products before applying heat to it. I gently blow out my roots with a blow dryer, and I quickly swipe the flat iron through my hair once per section to avoid unnecessary heat damage. (The heat tools that I currently use: I use a Twin Turbo blowdryer [along with a Denman brush], and a Babyliss flat iron). Also consider using applying a product that can help protect your hair from heat damage. (To check out my blow dry technique video, click here. To check out my flat iron technique video, click here.)
- Watching the floor around you: I don't mean literally watching the floor. :) Wherever you style or take care of your hair, take notice of hair that is breaking off onto the bathroom floor or hair that is clogging up your bathroom drain. If you notice a lot of hair around you, look at a few of those strands and see if the hair is coming out of your scalp and shedding (if so, you'll see a hair bulb at the end of the strands) or if it is a broken hair (no hair bulb; it just looks like hair that snapped off). Taking notice of hair shedding or hair breakage issues will help you figure out what's going on (excess shedding/excess breakage) and adjust your routine/techniques accordingly (for example, being more gentle with your hair if it is breaking off too much).
- Consistent moisturizing: Since the ends of your hair are technically the "oldest" parts of your hair and have endured the most treatments and processes, it makes sense that you will need to keep them moisturized to prevent them from getting brittle, breaking off, or turning into split ends. Consider products with ingredients that don't coat the hair, but actually penetrate hair cuticles to internally strengthen your strands. I personally like using natural/organic coconut oil, since it is known to be one of few oils that can actually penetrate the hair and keep hair moisturized. (The great thing about coconut oil is that I don't need a lot of it when applying to my hair. I apply a little bit in the morning, and a little bit at night, and my hair is good to go. Check out my hair moisturizing technique in my YouTube video here.)
- Wrapping the hair up: After you moisturize your hair at night, make sure to immediately wrap your hair up in a silk or satin scarf to encourage the sealing of your hair's cuticles and also encourage the penetration of the moisture into the hair strands overnight. Wrapping your hair at night with silk or satin scarves also protects your tresses from the harsh fibers of your pillows.
- Trimming split ends frequently: I don't wait for split ends to get out of control before a snip them off with a professional set of hair cutting scissors. When I am sitting or lounging around, I occasionally look at the ends of my strands and look for any splits. If I see even one and I have a pair of hair cutting scissors nearby, I make sure to snip it off. For more information on how to self trim, check out this link here.
- Get used to uneven length: One of my biggest pet peeves about stretching is gaining a lot of new length, only to go to a scissor-happy stylist that wants to "even" out my length and give me a perfectly lined up cut. No thanks! Your hair does not grow evenly, so your stylist must be comfortable with maintaining your healthy ends (for example, helping you get rid of split ends), and not cutting inches off your 'do.
The last point that I should make about stretching your relaxer is what happens when you come out of your stretch: your relaxer! While talking about how to get a proper relaxer is a full article onto itself, I want to make a few points: 1) Don't be obsessed with getting bone-straight hair during the relaxer process. You should leave a little bit of "wave" with your roots to avoid chemically-overprocessing your strands; 2) Make sure you choose a relaxer that works well for your scalp and your hair overall; and 3) Avoid overlapping relaxers. The beautiful thing about stretching is that it gives the person relaxing your hair enough new growth to work with, and it will also be clear to them where the new growth stops, and where the previously relaxed hair begins.
I hope this article helps you along your stretching journey!
-Written by: Kris