Stretching is like the holy grail of healthy hair practices for those who relax. If you are able to do it successfully, you'll be rewarded with thicker, more resilient hair. It's no wonder you see hair boards loaded stretching superstars able to extend the time between touch-ups up for up to a year. Remember the days when relaxing every 6-8 weeks seemed like a long time? Well those days are long gone so stretching correctly is now a must.
Like a two sided coin, stretching can produce two very different results. A couple of wrong moves and your hope of retaining length from the process is destroyed. I received an email from a Relaxed Hair Health reader asking me "when is a good time to say when" while stretching. I figured I would further elaborate my answer here for everyone's benefit.
So let me start by saying that when you're deep into your stretch, it's a whole 'nother ball game. By the way, for the purposes of this discussion, I will not be talking about specific weeks post relaxer because terms like "deep in your stretch" are different for everyone. When I say deep in your stretch, I'm referring to a period of time when you have adequate new growth.
So as you begin to deal with two distinct textures, you've got to be able to adapt fairly quickly. What is your hair asking for now? Are those watery leave-in conditioners still cuttin' it? Is rollersetting still the best method of styling? I don't have those answers for you but these are the types of questions you should be asking yourself during that critical time. This is do or die for your hair and you must be able to react quickly.
A couple of things you should consider while stretching. First, don't be a superhero and try to stretch 30 weeks if your longest was 9. I only recommend super-extended stretches if the hair is protected and little manipulation will occur. A stretch should be just as the word implies, waiting just a little longer than last time and building your resistance gradually. So your last stretch was nine weeks, why not set a goal for 10 or 11? It's all about progressive improvement and keeping the hair healthy at the same time.
So let's talk about breakage. Part of the reason I have such a supped-up moisture regimen comes from trying to maintain elasticity while dealing with the two textures. Your hair has to be able to withstand breakage so keeping the hair moist is key. I'm pretty proud of my last stretch where I was able to reach new heights both in duration and in how manageable the hair was throughout. It was from my days of stretching that I began adding conditioner boosters and seeking out the benefits of steam. These are the times where your hair requires more and if you're willing to respond, you may find yourself with some ultra-healthy habits that can benefit your hair long after your stretch is over. Your goal should be to fine tune your regimen ever so slightly to incramentally improve upon your results.
With every stretch, you should acknowledge your hindrances and address them the following stretch. For instance, my last experience was bitter sweet as I had to spend nearly a full day babying a bazillion tangles out of my hair. So my lesson was that I couldn't just leave my new growth alone and see what happens, I had to be proactive and take the time to fully detangle on a regular basis. Lesson learned and I'm making sure I don't run into that problem ever again.
Your stretch is also a good time to figure out if you're using the right products at the right time. In general, you want to start heading for the thicker, more nourishing products that act as extra reinforcement to the hair. Thicker oils, creams, and moisturizers are wonderful especially during times when you manipulate the hair. You can opt to dilute those products if you wish but they are certainly worth including in your regimen.
One last piece of advice I would give you is to not be afraid of "giving in" and touching up if necessary. Again, this is not about being a hero, it's about doing what's best for your hair. The minute you find yourself completely overwhelmed with breakage, tangles, etc, and you're losing more ground than you're gaining, it's time to relax. But don't just relax for the sake of relaxing, I also want you to identify what the barrier was to you reaching your goal, then address it next stretch. The end game of it all is all about retaining length. So make sure you do what's best for your hair during that time.