Sunday, March 21, 2010

Touch ups: Stretch it out but don't hurt your hair


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.




  1. Excellent article as usual. I am in my 11th week of stretching, so this is where it gets tough.

    fefe

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  2. This truly great info. I am normally a super stretcher stretching anywhere from 14-26 weeks. My normal time being 18 weeks. I have been so overwhelmed and I have a sudden lack of patience that I just can't take it and decided to relax at 10 weeks, this time. I knew this stretch was over when I got to about 7 weeks because I just didn't have it in me to detangle and the extra time and care that it takes to nurture the two different textures. I think the key to successful stretching is to keep going until the risks outweigh the benefits and then get a touch up. If you are losing more hair and patience with each wash, you are probably getting close to your stretch point.

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  3. This post was very helpful. I'm currenly 9 weeks in my post and had originally decided to t/u at 11 weeks. However, my stretch is going so well I've been debating if I want to stretch past 11 weeks. I think I just might extend my stretch longer.

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  4. This article is exactly what I needed. My last stretch was 11 weeks and today marks 12 weeks exactly since then. I recently bought the Lustrasilk Mango conditioner but after reading this article (and using it yesterday) I don't think that its thick enough. I'll probably go back to ORS Replenishing Pak for now until I get a touch up. My hair is manageable enough to shoot for another 2weeks.

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  5. Relaxer stretching is very addictive. Unfortunately I lost quite a bit of hair before I realized how to make it work for me. My key products for weeks 8 and beyond are Paul Mitchell Supercharged, Keracare Hydrating Detangling shampoo, and a Mason Pearson detangling rake. I have now successfully stretched to 12 weeks for the last few relaxer cycles--any longer than that and I had problems. Of course now that I am transitioning I will be entering a whole new realm, but I am excited because I know what works when stretching...

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  6. I'm currently stretching my hair as well using braids and i have no idea when i'm going to relax. I've been on it since the 3rd of October. I just gave you a sunshine award on my blog and you can get it there :)

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  7. "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" <--- This is me!! At 10-12 weeks post I'm at this stage. Thanks for addressing this. It was well needed. I am still working on perfecting my stretches.

    ♥ Sunshyne

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  8. Thanks timely piece.. my last touch up was right before thanksgiving.. that's what 20 weeks or so.. and we are going strong.. i usually touch up my hair 2xs a year.. lots of shedding but very little breakage.. thanks! great info..

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  9. Such a great post! I learned from my last stretch that I need to know when to say when. I stretched for 6 months at that time!!! Right now I'm about 8 weeks into a 16 week stretch. I think I can do 16 weeks after having stretched for 6 months and inevitably learned what NOT to do!!!

    -Khalia


    www.glamourandlove.com

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  10. Thanks for posting this. :)

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  11. This was great info. I am currently 6 weeks post relaxer. I was natural for three years before just relaxing in April. My original goal is to stretch the full 8 weeks but I think I will try to stretch to 10 weeks.

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