If you watch a lot of hairstyle video tutorials, you may have wondered like I have before about how those ladies got such smooth hairstyles. You seem to have the same hair length with them, and they claim to be 4C hair types, but somehow, your hair just doesn’t turn out the same with theirs.
Where they have smooth, obedient hair that just stays where they put it, your hair just does what it likes and cannot be bothered about your styling efforts, and you just wonder what magic they are using. Like a lot of other things in life, the finished picture usually takes much more work than you may initially think.
One of the secrets to a smooth hairstyle finish is stretching. It basically is the temporary straightening of your curls to tackle the effects of shrinkage. Shrinkage is what happens when you wash your hair, and while its wet you have this lovely mass of curls that just keep getting shorter and shorter while it dries till even you begin to wonder if your hair is really as long as you thought it was an hour ago. What happened is that the water weighed your strands down, causing them to hang (for those with medium to long hair), and when it dried, your curls just snapped back in place like an elastic.
This brings me to the point where I tell you that shrinkage is actually a good thing. It shows that your hair is healthy and elastic, and this is much more evident in 4C hair types because the curls are much tighter than other hair types. Many 4C hair types report that their hair shrinks to about 70% of its actual length. Not fair right?
Don’t sweat it, there is a way to sort this out, and it’s called stretching. This basically pulls out your curls temporarily, or until it gets wet again (barring damage). There are 2 major ways to stretch hair; either with heat, or without. Heat stretching involves using tools like straighteners, hot combs, tongs, etc. to achieve this look. While this gives nice results heat is not very good for hair, and it is generally advised that ot should be used very minimally, if at all. (Remember Biology 101: Heat denatures protein? Well hair is mostly protein, so you can fill in the blank spaces…….)
This post will focus on heatless stretching, and study 3 methods;
- Bantu Knots
This should take a lot of us back to Primary School….. usually Sunday evenings…… under a tree in the neighbourhood, when some ‘Auntie’ or the other would carry your head and will it to obey her, lol. All you need for this is a comb, and thread, either the rubber kind or the one on the paper spool. It is done by parting your hair into several sections and winding the thread around each one from root to end for anything from a few hours to a weeks if you can. It works beautifully. The outcome is smooth, silky strands that conform to your styling without question. Watch a tutorial by Pure Estrogen here.
Also known to Alumni of most Nigerian Federal Government Girls’ Colleges as ‘calabarising’, this is probably the easiest way to stretch your hair. It is done by parting your hair into sections, and twisting each one into a 3 strand plait. While it doesn’t give as much of a stretch as threading, it does a decent enough job.Another benefit of plaiting is that you get a really lovely curl pattern like the one in this video by 4TheLoveof4C.
I see this as a modern version of threading. The hair is parted into sections (again…;)) and stretched by wrapping small elastic bands around it leaving little spaces between each one. This is a less stressful method for those who can’t thread, and it gives good results. You may want to give this a little more time to dry than usual, because the thick bands may not let your hair dry as quickly as usual. This is how Klassy CoilyMommy does it.
This is like plating, but with 2 strands instead of 3. It doesn’t give the same results, but you get a fabulous curl pattern that lasts for a long time.
Bantu Knot Out
This popular hairstyle is a firm favourite of mine, and usually starts out with a twist, which is then rolled back on itself. The curls from this style are soooooo fine. It is a staple solution for me., and you can learn to do it from in this video by Chizi Duru.
- It helps to use a moisturizer while stretching, and there are a number of stretching creams that claim to help, but I generally just use good old She butter, or any available Leave-In Conditioner.
- Starting out with damp hair usually gives better results, but not in all cases, you should try both damp and dry hair to see which will give you better results.
- Always finger detangle or comb the sections before stretching to avoid some nasty tangles when you are done.
- Avoid getting your hair wet after stretching as this will just take your curls back to shrinkage mode.
- Your hair should be completely dry when you take down the stretching style, for the same reason as number 4 above.
- The longer your hair gets, the less you will notice the effects of shrinkage s the weight will make it hang, so just be patient, there is yet hope!
- If you must use heat, do it sparingly and on low to medium heat settings to avoid heat damage. Cheers!