Everything You Need to Know About Natural Hair Shrinkage

lady with hair shrinkage

Shrinkage: every natural’s constant worry and even fear for most. You spend hours, get cramps in your arms as you pull, twist, and apply every styling technique to get your curls all out – only to have them appear shorter than their actual length. Then you start to feel the frustration, maybe, get a bit mad, and even start to wish there was something you could do to eliminate this shrinkage once and for all.

Sis, while your emotions towards shrinkage are valid, I want you to know that it is part of your natural hair journey. What you need to deal with shrinkage is to have the right knowledge about it and why it happens. In this article, I will be discussing all you need to know about natural hair shrinkage so keep reading.

What is Natural Hair Shrinkage?

Natural hair shrinkage happens when your hair reduces in length from when it is wet to when it dries. This makes your natural hair appear shorter than it actually is. While this can be annoying and even bothersome, it is completely normal. As a matter of fact, it is a sign that you have healthy hair because the shrinkage means that your hair has enough moisture and good elasticity, thus, less likely to break. Here is a natural hair shrinkage chart to give you a visual aid of what shrinkage looks like on all type 4 and 3 hair:

hair shrinkage chart

What are the Causes of Natural Hair Shrinkage?

The three major causes of natural hair shrinkage are 1) The shape of your natural hair shaft 2) Your hair’s exposure to water 3) No heat application

1. The Shape of Your Natural Hair Shaft

The shape of our natural hair shaft is determined by the curve or straightness of its follicle. This means that if your hair follicle is straight, your hair will grow out straight. On the other hand, if your hair follicle is curved, your hair will automatically curl or coil as it grows, hence, leaving room for shrinkage.

2. Your Hair’s Exposure to Water

Our natural hair is made up of proteins called keratin. Furthermore, these proteins are linked together by three types of bonds which are hydrogen, disulfide, and salt and they determine the strength and elasticity of our hair. When your hair comes in contact with water, its hydrogen bonds break, causing it to be more elastic and loosen your curls. This is when you notice your hair’s actual length and it becomes easier to style.

Now, as your hair dries, the hydrogen bonds allow your hair to take whatever new shape you styled it into. However, when your hair comes again in contact with water (including humid weather and water-based products), it reverts to its natural shape – hello, shrinkage!

3. No Heat Application

As long as you do not apply heat to your natural hair to straighten it, it will shrink.

How to Reduce Natural Hair Shrinkage

Now, it is important that I remind you that shrinkage is perfectly normal and no matter how long your hair grows, you will experience shrinkage. However, if it bothers you so much, here are some things you can do to minimize your natural hair shrinkage:

1. Straighten Your Curls

There are two ways you can do this:

(a) The heat method:

heat styling tools

This is when you use heat tools such as curling irons or a diffuser to straighten your curls. However, it is not advisable that you do this often as the heat from those tools can cause hair breakage, split ends, and even damage to your hair. Also, before you use these tools, make sure you apply a heat protectant (hair product that protects your hair from heat damage).

(b) The no-heat method:

no-heat styling tools

This involves the use of elastic bands, African threading, curl formers, and more to straighten hair. You can read here for more information on how to use the no-heat method. This method is safer for your natural hair.

2. Detangle the Knots

detangling tools

When your hair has knots (which causes it to tangle and matt), there will be shrinkage. These knots are little balls of hair curled tightly together and will prevent your hair from showing its actual length. Read here to get a detailed guide on how to detangle your natural hair without breakage.

3. Use Humidity-resistant Hair Products

Shea Moisture Raw Shea & Cupuacu Frizz Defense Styling Gel-Cream

As I mentioned earlier, humid weather conditions can cause your hair to shrink. However, there are humidity-resistant hair products that can help you combat that. These include:

  • Shea Moisture Raw Shea & Cupuacu Frizz Defense Styling Gel-Cream
  • Ouidad Advanced Climate Control Heat & Humidity Gel
  • ORS Humidity Control Serum
  • Macadamia Anti-Humidity Finishing Spray

And many more.

4. Style to Bed

reversible satin bonnet

Have you noticed that your curls stretch out and your hair length is more noticeable when you braid or twist them to bed and take out the braids/twists in the morning? This is especially helpful if you want to restyle. Your braids or twists do not have to be perfect but make sure you wear your satin bonnet on your head before going to bed to help preserve the shape of the braids/twists. You can shop this exact reversible satin bonnet in the picture here.


As you now know, shrinkage is not a bad thing and is in fact, a sign of a healthy mane. So, even when you get frustrated that it does not allow the actual length of your natural hair to show, just learn to embrace it as part of your natural hair journey.