I encounter a lot of women who are wearing their hair natural and are on a quest to extend their curls, change their curl pattern, create a different texture or prevent the shrinkage.

Curl pattern, texture and density are all characteristics of the hair that are determined genetically. Therefore, it is important for women to get to a level of love and acceptance of the uniqueness of their hair. The definition of “prevent” is to stop or keep something from happening. You cannot “prevent” shrinkage. It is a natural occurrence for people with curly hair. Yes, it may be frustrating if you desire hair that hangs longer in its natural state or a bigger, more voluminous look. In that case, there are ways to extend your curl temporarily through blow drying (always using a heat protectant), braiding or creating bantu knots in the hair as the hair dries. The key word is “temporary.” The moment your hair comes in contact with any form of moisture your curls will begin to shrink—and that is OKAY!

There are popular methods of stretching the hair that can create a lot of damage. Stretching techniques such as wrapping and threading can cause mechanical damage to the hair shaft. The more you manipulate the hair in these ways the more trauma you can cause to the hair shaft and in some cases the hair follicle. I have seen cases of traction alopecia when women incorporate this technique into their hair styling regimen. They are so intent on creating a longer curl, they are pulling the hair too tight.

Lastly there are the “smoothing treatments” that are promoted as a solution to shrinkage. The claims include smoother, shinier hair, and a reduction in frizz. After wearing the hair straight temporarily, you can shampoo your hair and return to a head full of looser curls. Smoothing treatments gained popularity after Keratin treatments received bad press from the use of formaldehyde in some of the formulas. If you are considering this alternative be sure to check the ingredients. Most of these products contain glutraldehyde (or glutral) or glyoxal which are another form of formaldehyde and a part of the aldehyde family. These chemicals assist in the process of straightening the hair. These chemicals are carcinogens and are not good for humans to ingest or have repeated or long term exposure to through touching or breathing. Some companies may not use these specific chemicals but other compounds in the aldehyde family of chemicals. When these chemicals are heated past 420 degrees they have a similar chemical reaction, as would traditionally based formaldehyde. In addition, the heating tools used to seal the product into the strand are so hot; alone they can cause damage and breakage to the hair strand.

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