Stretching between your relaxer touch-ups
Some time last year, my cousin asked me, “why do you stay such a long time before you retouch your hair? I retouch my hair every 2 to 4 weeks”. I was really amazed! I then took some time to explain to her why I stretch the time between relaxer touch-ups and she realized why her hair was thin. She has since started taking better care of her hair and it looks so much better.
So, what is stretching between relaxer touchups and what is the purpose of stretching?
Stretching is delaying the time between relaxer touchups for as long as possible. Stretching your relaxer makes it possible for there to be an obvious demarcation between the new growth and the previously relaxed hair. That way, the relaxer is applied only to the new growth.
When relaxer is applied to hair, it breaks up protein bonds in the hair. This means that when relaxer is applied to hair that has already been relaxed, more protein bonds are broken leading to further damage on those sections, resulting in thinning. This is why it is important to limit relaxer application only to new growth. What this also means is that stretching the time between relaxer touch-ups can result in fuller-looking hair.
According to Audrey Davis-Sivasothy, the author of the The Science of Black Hair Book, “each time the hair is relaxed, the potential for overlapping onto previously relaxed hair is high. Unfortunately the points where the relaxer has overlapped create new weak points along the hair strand. These points of weakness present challenges for protecting the hair fiber and curbing breakage. The more often hair is chemically relaxed, the more stress points there will be along the strand. When relaxer applications are stretched out, the stress intervals along the fiber are further apart and breakage potential decreases along the length of the fiber“.
What this simply means that if you have retouched your hair four times in a year, you have created four stress points. On the other hand, if you retouch your hair 6 times, you have created 6 stress points that year on each hair strand. This means that there are at least 6 possible point for your hair to break off from.
What’s the ideal duration to stretch between your relaxers?
I would say a minimum of 8 weeks. Since monthly hair growth averages about half an inch, retouching your hair every 2 months would give you a new growth of about 1 inch.
If you could go as long as 12 weeks, that would be even better. This would give you a new growth of about 1.5 inches.There would therefore be a clear difference between the new growth and the previously relaxed hair and it would be easier to apply the relaxer only on the new growth. Some people however go even longer than 12 weeks…some even up to a year. Although I think that 3-4 months is ideal, I also think that the duration of stretching should also be decided by each individual’s ability to manage the new growth and the condition of your hair. For example, if my cousin I referred to above did her next relaxer touch-up at 6 weeks, I would consider it stretching for her.
How do you take care of your hair while stretching?
I’ve found that 6-8 weeks after retouching my hair, it starts becoming difficult to comb the new growth. It also becomes difficult for my hair to look as smooth or for my edges to lie as flat as it did when I first relaxed it. This is the point many people retouch their hair. To prolong your stretch, you can do the following:
1. Deep condition your hair with heat once a week. The line of demarcation is the weakest point of your hair. Deep conditioning helps to even out the difference in textures and makes it easier to comb through this point with less breakage. After washing my hair, I usually apply my deep conditioner to my hair, especially the new growth like I would a relaxer and smooth it in just like I would a relaxer. Sometimes, I detangle my hair under the shower. Sometimes, I don’t. If your conditioner doesn’t make it easy to comb through your hair, don’t attempt to detangle under the shower: you will only cause your hair to break. Come out of the shower and detangle it carefully. You can also use a detangling spray to make it easier.
2. Co-wash your hair once or twice a week. In addition to deep conditioning my hair after shampooing, I co-wash once or twice a week. I apply my co-wash conditioner to dry hair the same way I apply my deep conditioner and I smooth it in. Sometimes, I moisten my hair a little before applying the conditioner. I cover my hair with a shower cap and leave it in for about 15 –20 minutes with or without heat. I get into the shower, pour some water on my hair and massage my scalp and hair as though I were shampooing. I detangle in the shower sometimes. Then I rinse off the conditioner very well and apply my leave-in conditioner and air dry like I normally would.
3. Moisturize and seal your hair as needed.
4. Tie a scarf to keep it flat:
When you have gone far into the stretch, it’s easier to just pack your hair into a bun. When going to bed, part your hair and style it the way you would like it to be in the morning. Tie a scarf to make your hair flat. In the morning, take off your scarf just before you step out the door. Your hair will look nice and flat.
5. Reduce the number of times you comb your hair. If possible, only comb and detangle your hair on days you wash your hair. Finger comb your hair and use a small comb or brush to smoothen the top of your hair. Afterward, tie your scarf as described above. If you must comb your hair, apply an oil or any hair product that you’ve found to soften your new growth. In my personal experience, coconut oil and Strong Roots Pimento oil helps soften my new growth. I honestly think that although Castor oil helps thicken hair, it doesn’t help soften my new growth when I’m stretching longer than 8 weeks.
6. Detangle your hair CAREFULLY: When detangling your hair, start from the tips of your hair and work your way upwards. If your new growth is not soft enough, you can try using a detangling spray.
7. Opt for braidouts, twistouts and other curly styles to blend the new undergrowth with the previously relaxed hair.
8. Fix a weave-on or braid your hair. Please, do not leave your weave or braid on for more than 4 – 6 weeks.
9. Wear a wig.
Underneath the wig, you can weave your hair flat to reduce your frequency of manipulating your hair during the week.
So, happy stretching to you ladies. What’s the longest time you’ve ever stretched between your relaxers? The longest I’ve ever done successfully is 16 weeks. I’m now 7 weeks post-relaxer: I’m wondering how long I can stretch for this time!
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