Photo of Hannah Faith by Christina Nwabugo
Our coils are quite fragile in comparison to naturally straighter strands and while we often fear harsh ingredients, we need to take heed to detrimental styling habits. Daily styling can be damaging if you are utilizing tools and too much tension. Even your go-to hairstyles can cause unseen damage. One common reason many coily girls stretch their hair is to combat shrinkage, but can stretching become damaging and if so to what degree of stretching is safe as opposed to causing breakage? Tarah.Bishop from Curly Q&A  inquired in is concerned about wearing buns regularly.

Question

"Can you permanently stretch your hair? I like to wear my hair in buns a lot (because I'm trying to grow my hair out) and although I take really good care of my hair (the curl pattern is consistent from root to tip) but I have this section of my hair that won't curl. I do straighten my hair (maybe 2-3 times a year) but it's not heat damage, I think I've permanently stretched my hair or at least "trained" the hair to be looser by always stretching it in that area? I was wondering if anyone else has that problem and knows what hairstyles I can do to re-train the curl."

Answer

It sounds like your problem is occurring from damaging the hair’s cuticle in that area due to excessing stretching. There are several reasons why over-stretching or wearing your hair up in the same style too often is a bad idea, but let’s get into what safe and excessive stretching are first.

Hair elasticity measures the strength of the hair strand and the ability of it to stretch without breaking and going back to its original state. Healthy hair is elastic with a healthy cortex (cortex is the strength bearing part of hair). According to The Natural Haven, low levels of stretching are just fine but excessive stretching or stretching hair over the safe limit (20-30% of the strand) can damage the hair’s cuticle. Excessive stretching can be wearing overly tight buns, ponytails, braids, or other updos and protective styles, especially with hair bands and extensions. Many are cautious about chemical and thermal damage but overlook the effects of mechanical damage.

That part of your hair that seems stretched permanently may be where your bun is pulled the most and has the most damage. Here are tips on keeping hair safe during stretching styles.

Try not to stretch or wear wet hair up

Wet hair is considerably weaker than dry or damp hair. Stretching or wearing it up while wet (stretching is still occurring) makes it vulnerable to break. Hair is more pliable when damp but dry hair lacks flexibility.

Change up your go-to style

Wearing your hair up every day in a tight bun and/or ponytail may be easy to maintain but it can cause your strands to break where they are being held or even pulling at the roots. Protective styles like buns, braids, and updos need to be changed up for a much needed break. When I had box braids I waited only one or two days in between installations, and while box braids are a protective style, the waiting period I gave my hair was not enough and my edges suffered dramatically.

Time for a protein treatment

If your hair stretches excessively when wet, then it is time to incorporate a protein treatment or conditioner. Protein treatments help rebuild the hair’s cuticle that has been chipped away from heat styling, chemicals, and manipulation from washing and styling. Protein treatments strengthen your strands to get your elasticity back on track. Do not forget to deep condition each wash day, as they temporarily strengthen the hair after the stresses of cleansing and your daily styling. Protein treatments are great but remember that healthy hair needs a protein moisture balance.

Read more: Do You Over-Moisturize Your Hair? Understanding Hygral Fatigue

Try a new style, haircut, or trim

Your hair may need some professional assistance with a new look to help get you out of that style you were stuck in. I know I needed it when I went in for my last Deva Cut and it helped me to break away from my current part down the middle and keep me from looking so dated. Fixing the problem by strengthening your strands is not enough if you are going to go back to the same style that created the problem in the first place. It is time to try a new style or try varying updos so excessive stretching does not become another headache in the future.

Read more: Top 8 Protein Treatments for Natural Hair

Follow Christina Nwabugo and Hannah Faith here:

Byafrique_ and HannahFaith_