Stretching your relaxer

Not relaxing your hair every six to eight weeks could do your hair the world of good. Tola Okogwu finds out more

 

As with all chemically processed hair, there comes a point where your new growth begins to make its presence felt. With relaxers, that usually happens around the fourth week depending on your growth rate. Yet as any good stylist will tell you, you can’t even begin to think about a touch up until you hit six weeks, though eight is even better. In the meantime you are left with the task of caring and styling two very different textures. So the question remains, how do you manage your new growth during this wait period? 

The biggest challenge with caring for new growth is managing the very different needs of the natural hair springing from the scalp and the older relaxed ends.  The disparity between the two textures is huge and the main cause of most styling and maintenance woes. Relaxed hair is straight, smooth and relatively easy to style, whereas natural hair is very curly, coarser and seemingly harder to tame.  There are also issues of increased tangling and breakage as natural hair tends to be dry and requires a lot of moisture and conditioning to keep it supple and soft. As the new growth increases, detangling becomes more difficult and styling more challenging. Despite these challenges, prolonging the time between relaxer touch-ups is something that is actively encouraged within the haircare community. Referred to as ‘stretching’, it can actually lead to stronger, healthier hair.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
Stretching simply means extending the period between your relaxer touch-ups beyond the recommended six to eight week limit. The average relaxer stretch hovers around the 12 week mark, though some people stretch for longer periods of between 16 and 24 weeks and sometimes more. ‘The greatest benefit of stretching your relaxers is the potential for less damage to your hair,’ says Sharifa Barnett founder and president of Kibibi Hair Care and author of the 5 Hair Archetypes. ‘Hair grows on average half an inch per month, so if someone relaxes every 6-8 weeks, they have approximately one inch of new-growth. There is a greater chance of overlapping the relaxer onto previously relaxed hair with such a small amount of new-growth. The overlapping causes the hair to become over-processed, which results in thin, limp hair. By stretching your relaxer, you are less likely to over-process your hair, which can eventually lead to thicker strands, fuller hair, and greater length retention.’

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There is however some risk involved with stretching as there is a higher chance of tangling between the two textures, and increased breakage at the line of demarcation (where the new growth meets the relaxed hair), particularly if care isn’t taken. ‘The point where the two different textures meet may cause problems for those who have no idea how to handle it, and this is where the hair can start to break or snap if pulled or tugged too tightly,’ says Andre-Marie Ettien, stylist at Sandra Webb Hair & Beauty. Some women also experience increased shedding whilst stretching, but Barnett believes that there is another explanation for this. ‘Hair does not shed more simply because of the increased time between relaxers. These women are more likely experiencing breakage at the line of demarcation or have an underlying issue that is causing increased shedding.’

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