First, some of you may be thinking what the heck is stretching? Stretching is simply the art of having longer periods in between your relaxer touch ups. Most relaxer manufacturers advise on doing a touch up at least 6-8 weeks after a previous relaxer service. Most stretchers do their relaxers after 12 weeks, but some may stretch for up to a year.
A major advantage of stretching is that you will do your relaxer touch up when you have plenty of growth. This will prevent overlapping (getting relaxer onto already relaxed hair). This helps to keep your hair stronger, and it will be less likely to break off. This will aid in retaining your length, and you can grow healthy relaxed hair to unbelievable lengths.
Like anything else, too much of a good thing can cause harm. For example, stretching for too long without handling your hair right will lead to breakage, and matting. This may actually lead to a setback, so what you really need to do is stretch wisely. If you are a newbie to stretching, just add an extra week to the time you normally wait before getting your next touch up. If you normally wait for 4 weeks, wait for 5 weeks then you can do your next relaxer. Keep on adding a week until you get to what you view as your ultimate stretching period. This will ensure that you learn how to look after your new growth, and the line of demarcation (the area on your hair strand where your different hair textures i.e. relaxed and new growth meet).
So my tips for stretching (from my experience) are:
1. Moisture (water) is your new best friend. I usually up my moisture when I am at 8 weeks post, because that's when my new growth goes all crazy. Deep condition at least once a week, moisturize and seal almost every day, and baggy/GHE. One of my faves for when I am deep into a stretch is letting a hot, damp towel sit over my hair and just steam my hair for a few minutes. This gives my hair a moisture boost, and I can manipulate it without fearing breakage. Co-washing is also a good way to get moisture into your hair.
2. Heat should be an acquaintance. I use direct heat more frequently when I am 12+ weeks post relaxer. The first time I did a 16 week stretch, I ended up with hair that was matting. So I went to Hairlista, and got advice from fellow Listas to use heat a bit more often to stretch out the new growth and keep it smoother. And by heat, I don't mean break out your flat iron every day. Just do a blow dry n the cool setting at most once a week. I normally blow dry every 2 weeks. Don't forget to use heat protectant.
3. Less use of combs. I reduce the use of my wide tooth comb when I am deep into a stretch. I finger detangle during the week using coconut oil, and only use my comb when I'm doing my major wash day once a week to just get rid of all the shed hair. This helps to protect my fragile line of demarcation and reduce the amount of breakage I get, allowing for more length retention.
4. Protective style, protective style and protective style. Its the easiest way to stretch your relaxer. Hiding your hair means there is a lot less manipulation, and therefore little harm to your line of demaracation. But you have to remember that hiding your hair doesn't mean neglecting it. Moisturise and seal, clean your scalp and deep condition, so that you can retain your length. Also watch how the protective style is installed. It shouldn't be too tight as it might lead to traction alopecia . And the protective style shouldn't break off your hair either. Remember not to leave it on for too long as it might lead to this