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Natural Hair Shrinkage: What It Is, Why It Happens & Why You Should Embrace It

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Natural hair shrinkage is the one thing that those with natural hair don’t like.  Some people would even go as far as saying that they hate it.

I get that because I can understand why.

You work really hard to grow your natural hair, so it makes sense that you would want to enjoy the benefits of the length that you have grown.  Unfortunately, natural hair has other plans and there’s not a whole lot that you can do about it. It likes to shrink.

Some would say that it is an extreme disadvantage to being natural but I don’t look at that way and I’ll tell you why.

Having natural hair makes you very versatile.  You can choose to have your hair look short or you can choose it to make your natural hair look long.  You can freely choose within reason.

You can look different in the mirror each time if you want too.  That is the benefit of versatility.  How many other hair textures can say that?

Let take a look a little more into hair shrinkage and how you can prevent it if you want to.


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What is hair shrinkage?

Hair shrinkage is when your hair looks shorter than what it actually is.  Most people with natural hair experience shrinkage of some sort.

It usually tends to happen when your hair gets wet through washing, sweating or if you live in a high humidity area.

If you were to pull a few strands of your natural hair you would see that it can stretch much longer than what it appears to be.  It’s completely normal.

Generally speaking, the tighter your coils are the more shrinkage you could experience.

Those with type 4 hair will usually see the most shrinkage over those with type 3 hair.

Some people have seen shrinkage of up to 75% in their natural hair!



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Why does wet hair shrink naturally?

When you wet your hair the cuticles are ready to absorb water.  When this happens your hair will naturally curl into its natural state and your curl pattern becomes obvious.  This is the way that your hair likes to be even if you don’t like it this way.

Although it might seem like a bad thing when your hair shrinks it’s actually not because lots of shrinkage means that your hair is very healthy.

The more your hair shrinks it means that water is being nicely absorbed which is what it needs because natural hair is naturally dry so you always have to be on the lookout for ways to combat dryness.

If you have natural hair and when you wet it your hair does not shrink then it is likely that you have some heat damage going on.

One the other hand if it doesn’t shrink a lot when wet it could be that your hair is not able to absorb moisture well enough.

This is usually that case if your hair has low porosity issues.

Don’t be afraid of shrinkage it’s a very healthy sign for your hair and one you should want to keep.


How do I keep my curls from shrinking?

While it is nice to see that your hair can shrink and absorb water its nice to also see it stretched so you can enjoy some of the length that you have.

Keeping your hair stretched is a good way to prevent lots of tangles and breakage.

Natural hair that is kinky or curly tends to twist around itself causing tangles and single strand knots.  Stretching your hair is a good way to prevent that from happening too much.

There are those that believe that having your hair stretched regularly helps it to grow more as it needs to be detangled less.

Many naturals use different methods in order to get their hair to stay stretched.

Below are a few methods that you can do.


7 Ways to prevent natural hair shrinkage



Banding is a great way to keep your hair looking lengthy.  The best way to achieve banding results is to part your hair into smaller more manageable sections and then place the bands all the way down your hair in order to keep it stretched.

Some people use rubber bands to do this which I personally wouldn’t advise as rubber bands can cause breakage.  I would opt for hairbands without the metal closures like these ones.


2. African threading

Not everyone may be aware of African threading but it is becoming more popular nowadays.

I still remember very clearly my mum threading my hair on a Sunday afternoon ready for school the next day.

Whist my hair remained much longer than many of my counterparts because of this good habit it wasn’t so good in the playground for me.  I would often be teased because of it.

Thankfully such things are becoming a thing of the past now as more and more people begin to embrace their culture.

Threading is great for stretching hair it does take a little getting used to though.

Take a look at my attempt from a few years ago

African threading to help stop hair shrinkage


3. Twist outs/ Braid outs

Twist outs are probably the most well-known method for stretching natural hair.  Its very simple to do and most people can do it and achieve great results.

You might find that you get better results with a braid out than with a twist out.

Well at least I know I do, perhaps I need to practice my twist out game a bit harder.

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4. Roller set

Roller sets are another great way to achieve a stretched out look.  You can use actual rollers, Flexi rods or curlformers for this.  You can choose if you want to do them on wet hair or hair that is blow-dried.

The choice is yours to make.


5. Blow drying

A lot of people tend to opt for blow-drying as a means of getting their hair looking perfectly straight but you must be aware of some of the risks of doing so.

Always blow-dry your hair on a low heat setting so you don’t suck out all the moisture from your hair.  It’s a very good idea to use a heat protectant as well to make sure you don’t get any heat damage.

This is a good heat protectant that you can try.


6. Bantu knots

I have personally tried Bantu knots in the past but they have always been a massive fail for me.  I could never get them right so I just gave up trying.

Some people have been able to perfect them so well it comes out looking amazing.

The theory behind Bantu knots are pretty simple but you may find that you have to give yourself time to perfect the art.

You basically take sections of your hair and twist them in the same direction until they can twist around into a knot. When you take down the knots your hair should be nicely stretched.

Hopefully, you will have better results than me.


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7. Bun

Putting your hair in a bun is another great method for stretching your natural hair in order to prevent shrinkage.

Tie your hair up either high or low depending on what you prefer and wait for it to dry.

You can choose to put the ends of your hair in bands like the banding method if you wish.


How much does hair shrink when it dries?

As explained above hair can shrink up to a whopping 75% once it comes into contact with water. Not everyone will experience this much shrinkage though.

A lot will depend on your hair type as well if your hair has low, low or medium porosity.


Hair shrinkage products

There are many products in the market that will help you experience less natural hair shrinkage.

Flaxseed is a good example of this.  You can make your own flaxseed gel by boiling the seeds with water until it becomes a gel.  The thicker the gel the harder the hold will be.

If you don’t like your hair feel very hard then make sure your gel is more watery.

A few products that can help stop shrinkage are:


SoftSheen-Carson Dark and Lovely Au Naturale Curl Defining Crème Glaze

Dark and lovely anti hair shrinkage product

Aunt Jackies Flaxseed Mane Tenance Defining Curl Whip

Aunt Jackies hair shrinkage product

ORS Curls Unleashed Curl Defining Crème

    Curls unleashed hair shrinkage product


Final thoughts on natural hair shrinkage

Whilst natural hair shrinkage may not be what you always want for your hair you have to learn to embrace it.  Its a part of your hair that will never go away no matter how many different ways that you try to stretch it.

You must always look at it as being versatile rather than being a hindrance to you.

Look at it this way you could turn up to work looking like a completely different person every single day if you so choose.  Not many people have that option.

The sooner you learn to embrace your natural hair shrinkage and start working with it the better results you will have with your hair.


Related posts:

7 Tips to get you started with your natural hair regimen

Transitioning from relaxed to natural with 11 tips

Learn how to retain moisture with the LOC method


Natural hair shrinkage tips

Natural hair shrinkage