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3 Ways To Decrease Shrinkage in Natural Hair

• Nov 13, 2011


By Jc of The Natural Haven

Shrinkage is an important issue in caring for natural hair. I am all for embracing shrinkage but this does not mean that I will allow my hair to fully demonstrate just how good it is at doing  this.  Controlling shrinkage does not mean hair has to be stretched out to full length all the time. It actually means learning when hair will shrink, how much it will shrink and how you can reduce this to a manageable level.  Controlling shrinkage has three main benefits:

1. Easier time detangling

2. Easier styling by being able to control the amount of stretch.

3. Breakage reduction i.e learning when your hair will stretch without breaking and when it won’t

Here is how to minimise shrinkage during each of the three basic steps of a simple hair routine:

1. Cleansing

The starting point of most hair routines involves dissolving oil on the hair so that it can be washed off with water. In order to do this, you require a shampoo, shampoo bar or soap of your choice.

 Controlling Shrinkage:  Shrinking during this step is generally expected but can be controlled by loosely braiding or twisting hair in large sections (between 8 and 15). This will generally prevent hair from fully coiling and tangling once it is in contact with water. It is best not to fight shrinkage beyond what braiding or twisting can do at this stage as although hair tends to feel more elastic when wet, it is actually weaker.

Optional Add-ons: Prior to washing, using a penetrating oil such as coconut oil can help control the amount of water that gets into hair. However, remember that it may not be easy to see a visible impact as when hair is soaked in water, there is no oil that can fully prevent its entry into hair.

2. Conditioning

This is the backbone of most natural hair routines. After cleansing, a rinse out hair conditioner (this includes deep conditioning) is used to repair, soften and moisturise hair. Post wash,  a leave in conditioner can be used to give added softness and control moisture loss.

 Controlling Shrinkage : In this step, the hair conditioner selection does matter. The reason many people with natural hair like thicker conditioners is in part because of the weight of the conditioner. The extra weight allows hair to ‘hang’ a little more than it would if the conditioner was lightweight. Additionally, if you choose to detangle hair while it has conditioner on, select one with good slip to allow you to reduce the time spent detangling and handling wet hair (slip means hair can easily slide through the tool of your choice — fingers, combs or brush).  Twisted or braided sections as described in the cleansing section can also help.

Optional Add-ons:  Some ingredients in hair conditioner can help in an indirect way to controlling shrinkage. Surfactants such as behentrimonium chloride make the hair softer and therefore curls and coils can be gently stretched out with minimal force. Proteins  repair defects in hair and therefore  help the hair control  how much water can exit from the shaft.  Trying out and finding an optimal hair conditioner is definitely worth the effort.

3. Styling

This is the step where you can apply ultimate shrinkage control as hair is moving from a wet state to a dry state.  Do you know why your hair takes on the shape of rollers during a roller set or twists during a twist out but once you spray water on it, it goes back to its original shape? The answer is shape memory.  Hair can be stretched out and take on the shape of whatever is causing the stretch as it dries. This shape change is temporary and the hair will return to its normal conformation provided it has not been damaged (i.e not too much force used to stretch or high/prolonged heat).  Therefore the stage where you are drying is the point at which you can impact shrinkage the most.

Controlling shrinkage: This section focuses on heat-free methods (i.e excluding blow drying and flat ironing).  If you want  to showcase your length, you can braid or twist your hair to stretch it while it is about 70–80% dry and then allow it to dry  fully before undoing and combing out or twisting/braiding out. The shape changer/stretcher in this case is the braid or twist.  You can also use rollers, flexi rods or curlformers (which are super easy to use!) to stretch out your hair. If you are intending to do a protective style with stretched out hair, you can stretch with any of the previously mentioned methods (braid/twist outs, roller sets or curlformers).

Optional  Add-ons:  Shrinkage control only lasts as long as moisture is not added to hair.  This includes environmental moisture like natural humidity or artificial (from your bathroom).  For free hair, maintaining a set style, will usually require you to keep your hair quite dry. Oil applied prior to styling will help reduce moisture take up from the air. However, remember that the drier your hair is, the less elasticity it has, therefore avoid stretching it any further once the style is completed.

You can also opt to use products to set your curls (works best with hair that can clump/form spiral curls).  Styling gels and conditioners can add weight to hair and help hold/enhance natural curls. This method relies on allowing quite a lot of shrinking to occur as the curl should not be disrupted as it sets.

Ladies, have you tried any of these methods? How do you decrease shrinkage?

About The Natural Haven

Scientist on a hairy mission!

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38 Comments on "3 Ways To Decrease Shrinkage in Natural Hair"

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I twist my hair (usually 6 large twists) when I wash my hair to minimize shrinkage, tangles, knots, SSKs, etc. It has helped my hair retain length because I have much less breakage than just letting my hair “go”. Its bra strap length at this point and stretching help with the care and management of my hair.


Do you twist the hair before shampooing or immediately after? Do you apply an oil after shampooing and before twisting? Thx for the input.


I tend to twist my hair in twists or braids to have it stretched out. I find that it really helps with the tangles and knots as well.

Lacoya S. (thesupercoya)

Great article!!!!! Very helpful to me, as I use many of the methods mentioned here, just really helped to read some of the scientific parts behind it.



Banding is also a good method to stretch hair.


I did forget to add banding in the last section, it is definitely an option for some women.

I think the reason why I forgot it is because it is not really a consistently successful method. Sometimes it gives hair indents which you do not want and then you have to rewet and braid/twist all over again.

However, all that said, it is indeed a valid option!


After washing and sealing, I usually braid my hair before I twist it so it can stay stretched longer.

Tonya Juanise

I like to keep it simple, I decrease shrinkage with braid outs. I will start letting my hair air dry for a bit before I actually style after washing my hair.


Done all of these successfully!

Here’s something that I was reminded of this past summer: Keeping hair stretched in humid weather requires the use of some kind of anti-humectant. After trying several different leave-ins with no success, what finally worked for me and my water-loving hair was petrolatum (aka Vaseline). When I could, I bought some mineral oil-based grease (for the first time in YEARS) and got the same result. Score one for the old school!


Ditto for me. People side eye old-school vaseline and mineral oil, but I got (and still get) very good results.If anyone can recommend a natural alternative, I’d try but coconut oil, olive oil, and shea butter are not the ones.


Anita Grant does a “no petroleum jelly”. I bought a sample size like a month ago because the harsh weather in the UK had my hands bleeding and cracked. It’s really good at creating a barrier. It looks and feels almost exactly like Vaseline. HTH.


Have you tried Castor Oil? It has the consistancy of a heavy, rich silicone so maybe it would give you the same results?

I use it to seal after conditioning but before applying any gels or styling products. Aids in keeping my hair soft and crunch free while helping to protect my ends.


I agree with Mazeratie… Castor Oil is the only oil that has a comparable weight and hold to Vaseline…


Yeah but castor oil isn’t good for me if I want my hair to stay stretched especially in the summer. It is a humectant so my hair just poofs up with it since there is more moisture in the air. A nonhumectant oil that is heavy would be better. I would use a light oil, petroleum, or shea butter.

Amma Mama

I LOVE Amaka’s afro puff!


Interesting, I generally don’t worry about shrinkage, but it appears that shrinkage control is in contrast to having moisturized hair. If water is our friend, then shrinkage control would summarily be bad for our hair.

I agree with BJ and AJ. It is all about balance. Constantly wetting your hair without stretching it can lead to more knots and tangling. So what good is the water if it leads you to cutting your hair? I think that there is a really big difference between wet hair and moisturised hair. Moisturised hair is completely dry to the touch but retains flexibility and elasticity because the internal water absorbed by the hair has been trapped and therefore feels more supple and often softer. I think that it is quite difficult to explain what moisturised hair is in… Read more »
I don’t think that this assumption necessarily follows. I wear my hair in twists primarily, and I twist on wet hair. I then braid the twists and let them dry, which stretches the hair. I re-spritz my hair every night and rebraid to keep the hair stretched. I constantly keep moisture in my hair, but I don’t let my hair just shrink up to my ears, which is what will happen if I leave it alone (I’m APL stretched). I think it’s really dependent on the type of style you choose to do to stretch the hair, and whether it’s… Read more »

I think this is true to an extent. However, in my case, if I don’t try to prevent shrinkage, I won’t be able to retain length because of all the little fairy knots I’ll have to cut out. I just make sure that after I wash my hair, I use a product to help to seal the water in for as long as possible. Then when it gets dry, I either decide to wash it or wet it and go back to preparing it for a stretched style.


I sit under a hood dryer for about 30 minutes on low then I use my shea butter mix and put my hair in about 6 to 8 braids…this method for me has prevented shrinkage real bad…plus I don’t like going to bed with damp hair…in the morning when I take my braids down my hair is full with very little shrinkage…


Banding seems to help many. I tried it once but you have to remember to not make the ponytails too close to your scalp. I think I was ripping out my poor edges. Braids work better for me than anything else. Twists are good too but my hair is at a stage where twists unravel by themselves. I don’t have time for that nonsense. Lol.


This was very helpful because my hair is always stuff in the same twa but my hair is actually so much longer than it seems but bc the curls are so tight as soon as it gets any wet or moisture it’s back to the twa!! Thank you for the info! I’ll def try this out!


I minimize shrinkage by banding my hair with elastic bands.


This is such a issue for me. Because it seems like the most sensible thing for me to do is do a twist-out after i co-wash to keep it somewhat stretched out. BUT I LOVE HOW MY HAIR LOOKS WHEN I WASH AND GO! Then, also, sometimes, my twist-outs look a mess.


So just switch between them! You do not have to protect your hair all the time. Do the wash and go when you want to and have time to deal with the shrinkage after. When you need to be efficient and quick, go for the twist out. If you have a length goal, why not protect for 3 weeks and then do whatever you like for the next week.……it is all about balance and having fun!


What’s the advice for someone with fine hair that tightly coils?

The article was written for all naturals including myself (fine hair, tight coils). There really is nothing else to add to it (except the banding which was mentioned in the comment section). To answer your question, I would have to ask another question — What exactly do you want to achieve with your hair? If your hair has high shrinkage (like where 6 inches shrink down to 1–2 inches) then following these tips will help you possibly get to about 4 inches shrinkage. For most hair it is not possible to fully showcase the full length without heat straightening. If… Read more »

I have never been able to successfully prevent shrinkage when I was natural. Now that I’m “returning to my roots” I’m hoping to utilize all that I’m learning for a successful transition and a definite natural hair love. Great article and advice.

I am finding that in order to prevent breakage once I’m pass a certain length, I have to keep my hair stretched. Just a few months ago, I washed my hair loose and it was a disaster. I had knots all over the place and was just barely able to separate my hair and do 8 twists for my curly fro (my go-to style nowadays). And just last week, during my monthly wash, I got the last knot out of my hair! I now keep my hair sectioned, twisted and pinned with duckbill clips throughout the entire washing, conditioning and… Read more »
Generally, I wash my hair, let it air dry for most of the day, and then before bed, when my hair is still a bit damp (sometimes I have to redampen my hair with a spray bottle), I put my hair into twists. I also put coconut oil on my twists at this point. I usually wear the twist for a couple of days as a protective style, and then when it starts to get frizzy, I wear my hair out and it’s pretty well stretched. I don’t worry too much about shrinkage though. I like my hair at all… Read more »

My issue is more so tangling than shrinkage. My curl pattern is fairly loose, so my curls tend to drop anyway. Especially the ends, where the flat iron has run the most. Now i am off the heat and have been substituting with curlformers since it achieves the same end without the damage


[…] I love receiving questions and have no problems answering inquiries about my natural hair journey.  I probably have more questions than answers.  This is why I love my fellow natural hair enthusiasts like Black Girl With Long Hair. I often stalk her page because she always has the best and most informative material pertaining to the world of natural hair. One of the questions the lady at the gym asked was how do I handle shrinkage. This is a great article by BGWLH who gives great advice on ways I totally agree with concerning this same issue. Check out “3 Ways… Read more »

According to this article Behentrimonium Chloride is not a good thing to have in hair products.


Ugh I’m so frustrated with my hair, I live in a very humid area and the minute I step out of the house my hair soaks up all the water in the air, shrinks up and as a result looks super dry ????
All I do right now is throw it in a high bun which I’m really getting sick of


She’s right glycerin is great for moisture but when it’s humid and you want to keep a stretched style stay away.…The glycerin will attract the moisture from the humid climate and cause your hair to shrink BUT you hair will feel like butter(literally).

When it’s humid where I live I stay away from products with glycerin and I use more butter based product to help keep the extra frizz/shrinkage away.


I hear Glycerin is the way to keep the moisture balance in your hair when you live in humid areas.


Glycerine. Is a humectant. The culprit that attracts moisture from the hair and ruins your stretched styles. Its a good thing normally. But I don’t assume people want to put effort in to stretch their hair into a huge fro and then 6 seconds later it’s half of what it used to be. For stretched or straightened styles try not to use products with glycerine or other humectants in it.

Xaia thomas

Ok so I’m 12 and I hate my curly hair. Everyone says it’s so beutiful and that I should just love it but I can’t! No matter what I do it shrinks up into a kind of fro which I hate can anyone help?

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