How to accurately measure the length of your hair and your overall growth progress.

You know your hair is a decent length when it’s wet, but somehow, once it dries it loses several inches. If you’re growing your hair out naturally, this can be somewhat discouraging — especially if you took the plunge and did a big chop. The truth is, ALL curlies experience some type of hair shrinkage. However, if you’re a type 4, you’re particularly prone to a lot of shrinkage. So how can you accurately measure the length of your hair and your overall growth progress?

What is Hair Shrinkage?

Shrinkage is the difference between what your hair looks like when it’s wet and gently stretched to its maximum length and what it looks like when it’s dry. It happens to all curls, from type 2 to type 4. However, it’s definitely more noticeable in type 4 coils because type 4s have tighter curls. For type 2s and some type 3s, shrinkage is hardly noticeable, since the hair won’t look all that different dry than it does when it’s wet. For type 3s with super-coils, it’s pretty noticeable as well. Some type 3cs and type 4s have even reported losing as much as eight inches once their hair dries!

Generally, type 4s have a lot of shrinkage. In fact, type 4s can look like a type 3 when wet! As a child, my hair was more type 4 and I longed to have it look the way it did when wet (like a type 3). I had no idea how to lock in that look, but I probably would have given anything to get it! As an adult who has gone through years of relaxers, my hair is now wavy/straight when wet and type 3c/4a when dry.

How to Measure Hair Shrinkage

Step 1:

When your hair is wet, separate your “tester” section from the rest of your coils and secure the rest of your hair in a clip. You’re going to measure just a small part of your hair and you don’t want the rest of it getting in the way as you do.

Step 2:

Gently hold the tester section as straight as it will go to get maximum length, then measure the length from root to tip. You could also do two or three “tester” sections, which will give you an idea of what parts of your hair tend to shrink more/less.

Step 3:

When your hair is completely dry, measure its length from root to tip. The difference is the amount of shrinkage you have.

Why Knowing Your Amount of Shrinkage is Important

If you are new the world of natural hair, let me let you in on a little secret: a lot of us are length obsessed! We look at women like Corinne Bailey Rae, Solange and CurlyNikki and dream of one day having manes as long as theirs. In doing so, we use healthy products, eat healthy diets and take as much care as possible to not damage our coils, in order to encourage growth.

Understanding the amount of shrinkage that occurs from wet to dry on your coils helps to avoid becoming discouraged. Coils grow just as quickly as other hair types, but because they shrink up when they dry, it is often hard to tell. Continuing on the natural hair journey, and avoiding reverting back to creamy crack or heat processing, is a lesson is learning to love and understand your body the way that it naturally is. Shrinkage is part of that process, but discouragement shouldn't be!

Combating Hair Shrinkage

Unfortunately, there really isn’t anything you can do to stop the shrinkage completely. It’s pretty much just the nature of having coily hair. However, you can do a couple of things to at least slow it down or lessen the amount of shrinkage.

Try putting your hair in bantu knots while it’s still wet. Alternatively, you could put it in twists. Let it dry this way and then shake it out when it’s done. By doing so, you’ll give your hair a great new look while keeping some of your true length.