How to: Stretch your relaxer

I mentioned earlier that 2012 was my final year of a phd program and so taking care of my hair came a number of places below writing and revising, wiping tears and snot off my face, writing and revising some more, remembering to take a shower and brush my teeth, and writing and revising. During this same time, I was committed to my decision to extend the period of time between relaxers and keep it to 4-5 months. So I lived in french braids, (bad weaves! I am trying to forget that), and box braids.

So I want to be really wonderful and tell you that I had this great regime and I was super awesome about moisturizing and sealing. In truth, I can not remember much of the last year outside of school and life drama. I know I focused on moisturizing and ran into problems with that. So then I implemented the use of protein and apple cider vinegar into my regular regime. I will say that I have noticed some pretty significant length retention even though I got my hair trimmed twice last year.
My hair in October 2012
So how to stretch your relaxer:
Stretching a relaxer is as simple as it sounds, it means letting more time pass between relaxers but it is not that easy and a lot of people have noticed major breakage due to stretching because the point that connects the different textured hairs (relaxed and non-relaxed) is fragile. I have read that the different types of hair require different care but in my case I have not found that to be true. This may be because I treat my hair like its natural anyway and focus on moisturizing and minimal manipulation. You heard right the key to chemical stretching is minimal manipulation of your hair. I SUCK at this. I love to play in my hair. I pass the day running my finger in my hair, feeling the coily bumps of my new growth, playing with tendrils as I convince myself that I have glorious healthy hair and planning my next hairstyles.
So if you are considering stretching here are some things to think about:
1.) Lack of knowledge/experience leads to breakage
The lack of knowledge or experience with dealing with relaxer stretched hair might cause a person to inadvertently inflict damage on the tresses. The individual can get overwhelmed with what seems to be an unmanageable amount of hair that just doesn’t behave like normal, relaxed hair should. It might not like your products, or your attempts to make it flat. Handling the hair roughly, or just having a bad attitude about your hair in general can cause you hair problems. Expecting unrealistic goals and keeping that same relaxed hair regimen going is not going to work well for hair that is well out post-relaxer– and it can ultimately lead to breakage.
2.) Over-manipulation causes relaxer stretch breakage
The thing I see most often in stretching is breakage from over-manipulation of the strands. Because relaxer stretched hair is fragile near the line of demarcation (where the relaxed hair meets new growth), combing the hair frequently can cause unnecessary breakage at this fragile point. During a relaxer stretch, you should try to wear styles that reduce your combing rate and simplify your styling. Seek out long term styles like braids, protective weaves, and simple curly sets or buns. Finally, the opposite of over-manipulation: neglect, can also lead to breakage during a relaxer stretch. Always keep your hair fully detangled to avoid matting/dredding– another key contributor to relaxer stretch damage and breakage.
3.) Hard demarcation lines can result in relaxer stretch breakage
When you have a significant hair texture differential between the new growth and relaxed portions of the hair strand, you create a hard demarcation line that causes your hair to be more susceptible to breakage at this fragile point. This differential occurs if you normally relax your hair bone straight. The difference between your natural growth coming in and the chemically altered portion is too stark and is highly incompatible. When the demarcation line is strongly defined, stretching can prove more difficult. I always advise people to texlax, or relax their hair to about 80% straightness. This allows the hair to remain processed straight, but preserves a significant amount of natural elasticity and critical protein bonding within the hair shaft for natural strength. With a softer demarcation line, you are able to stretch the hair with greater ease because the difference in textures is not so significant.
4.) Massive heat use can trigger relaxer stretch breakage
The other major cause of breakage during a relaxer stretch is hair breakage from massive heat use. Many people think that cutting back on the relaxer means they can get a little leeway in the heat styling department. Not so! Relaxer stretched hair usually requires more heat to style than hair that has been freshly relaxed. Because the new growth is close to the scalp, whenever the scalp perspires- the new growth is first to frizz. You can end up with a situation where you are flat ironing the new growth on a daily or weekly basis, and this can unfortunately defeat the whole point of relaxer stretching to protect hair and nurse it back to health. You are simply trading one detrimental styling tool for another.
Often, the relaxer stretched new growth hair is also naturally drier than what the relaxed hair tends to be. Applying heat to this delicate hair, so close to the line of demarcation is asking for trouble in the long run. Use heat during your relaxer stretch in moderation!
5.) Protein/Moisture imbalances can lead to relaxer stretch breakage
Protein and moisture needs may vary significantly between hair textures. Incoming new growth tends to crave considerable moisture, while chemically relaxed ends tend to waiver between moisture and protein conditioning from week to week. During a relaxer stretch, it is imperative that the needs of both textures be monitored and addressed separately if need be. “One size fits all” treatments rarely work for relaxer stretched hair.
6.) Excessive shedding can cause relaxer stretch breakage
Shedding is perhaps the first reason most people end long term stretches and transitions. The cause for shedding during a stretch is really not known and has been hotly debated. Shedding tends to occur in phases and can coincide with the time that the relaxer would have been applied which for most people is every 6-10 weeks or so. Shedding does eventually subside, but often the tangling, breakage, and stress it can cause as those hairs fall– rushes many folks back to the relaxer before the end can be seen. The best approach to shedding is to simply wait it out. Some shedding is normal, and occasionally we all enter periods of heavy shedding as our hormones fluctuate and the seasons change.
For Long Term Stretchers (16 weeks + )
7.) Stretching too long can cause relaxer stretch breakage.
For everything thing there is an end point, or a point of no return. This is true with relaxer stretching as well. Your hair is at the point where your relaxer stretch is looking more and more like full on transitioning to natural hair! Once you’ve gotten significantly far out from the last relaxer service, say 5, 6, 7, 8+ months plus, your new growth starts to become a dominant texture. Breakage problems may increase at this juncture, and this is simply the natural course of things. (No pun intended!) Relaxed and natural new growth are not compatible with one another and simply aren’t designed to be maintained on the same head together for long periods of time. If you are having considerable breakage at this point, it may be time to start making some hard decisions on next steps. You may decide to end the stretch by relaxing the hair, or simply removing the relaxed hair completely and wearing your hair natural.
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As an aside, I have found Audreys’s articles particularly insightful and they have helped me better understand how to deal with my hair. I relied on her articles for learning how and why to add protein to my regimen.
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