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Stretch and flexibility are words you’re more likely to associate with yoga classes, but have you ever considered them when it comes to your hair?
Breakage, damage, gloss, and shine are all buzzwords in hair care, but there’s another popular phrase you may have spotted on your shampoo bottle. It’s elasticity, and it refers to your hair’s natural stretch.
Elasticity can affect your hair in all sorts of ways, including how easy it is to style and manage, how healthy it looks, and how shiny it is.
Before you start tugging at your hair to try and identify its stretchiness, let’s get some intel from the experts.
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“Hair elasticity is an indicator of the health of your hair. Each strand of hair comprises multiple layers and the cortex, at the center of the hair, is where moisture is held,” explains Norris Ogario, founder and creative director of haircare company Ogario London.
“That moisture gives the hair stretch and flexibility, otherwise known as elasticity,” he says. “It’s not dissimilar to your skin. If your skin loses moisture, the outer layers of the skin become dry and rough. Worse case, the skin can break.”
It’s the same for your hair.
“If the hair is dry, the outer layer of the hair known as the cuticle can lift,” Ogario says. “When the cuticle lifts, that results in moisture loss from the cortex.”
More moisture means more stretch.
“However, when hair retains moisture, it has some stretch or elasticity,” Ogario says. “That stretch is vital to preventing breakage. Without moisture, hair loses elasticity, becoming brittle and prone to breakage.”
If your hair has lost elasticity, you might find it’s much harder to style.
“Elasticity leaves the hair in a more pliable state, so when the cuticle is sealed, the cortex can hold on to moisture,” Ogario surmises. “That leaves hair with greater flexibility, and it’s easier to style. Without elasticity, hair can become frustratingly difficult to style and manage.”
You might be wondering if your hair elasticity type falls into a particular category. Ogario says there aren’t particular types of elasticity, per se, but certain types of hair are more prone to losing elasticity.
Some hair types are naturally prone to becoming dry, like curly hair.
“Because curly hair has an uneven shape, it can have dips and lifts in the curls and curves of the hair shaft,” Ogario says. “At the higher points, the cuticle can lift and expose the hair to moisture loss.”
The environment plays its part, too.
“When I talk about environmental factors, I’m referring to the ones that might come to mind first: sun, wind, rain,” Ogario says. “But I’m also talking about heated styling. Heat is one of the biggest causes of moisture loss and subsequently loss of elasticity in hair.”
Bleach and chemical treatments
Color treatments like bleaching can impact your hair’s natural stretch as well.
“When we bleach hair, it’s treated with a chemical to open the cuticle. This process of opening the cuticle leaves the hair exposed to moisture loss,” Ogario says. “That results in loss of elasticity.”
You can test your hair’s elasticity easily at home by yourself or at the salon with your favorite professional.
“The look and texture of the hair are both things you can take note of yourself,” Ogario says.
Ogario recommends a two-step process for testing your hair’s elasticity at home.
Take a strand of wet hair and hold it at the mid-length or roots. This will prevent pulling at the roots.
Gently stretch the strand.
If hair doesn’t fall back into shape or if it breaks, hair elasticity is low.
At the salon
If you’d rather get an expert’s opinion, you can have an assessment done at the salon.
“An experienced hairstylist will assess your hair’s elasticity without carrying out a test,” Ogario says.
These signs indicate that hair elasticity is good:
free from breakage
“Hair shines when the cuticle is smooth, light bounces off the hair, and the reflected light is what gives your hair shine. That shine indicates good hair elasticity,” Ogario says.
A stylist will also assess the texture of your hair.
“If the hair feels slightly rough to the touch, then it needs moisture,” Ogario says. “Conversely, hair that has moisture has a slippery, silky texture.”
If, after testing, you’ve discovered your hair has poor elasticity, the good news is that there’s plenty you can do to improve it.
Ogario says a simple approach is often best. Restoring elasticity is all about getting moisture into the hair’s core and locking it in with a sealed cuticle.
He recommends a five-step process that focuses on “putting back what we take out.”
Always follow shampoo with a conditioner.
Use a leave-in conditioner for styling.
Keep heated styling to a minimum.
Use a deep conditioner once a week every week to maximize moisture and combat excess damage.
Give your hair a spritz with leave-in conditioner spray in between washes.
“The job of your conditioner is to add moisture and smooth the cuticle. That is critical to maintaining hair elasticity,” Ogario says.
He also suggests choosing a leave-in conditioner to get additional moisture into your hair and prevent drying from heat styling.
If you do use heat, towel off your hair first to get as much water out as possible. Use medium heat and finish with a blast of cool air.
“For my curly hair clients, I recommend mixing a little Restore and Shine Hair Masque with water,” Ogario says. “Work it up in your palms and feed it into the hair. That’s a great way of refreshing curls.”
If you have bleached hair, Ogario warns against overloading your hair with too much deep conditioner.
“Hair is more porous as a result of bleaching,” he says. “Because porous hair soaks up moisture easily, sometimes it might feel that no matter how much product you use, it’s never enough.”
Instead of layering it on, use a small amount of leave-in conditioner frequently.
Certain products and treatments may help you restore your hair’s lost elasticity.
Jaclyn Chan, a hair educator and level 2 stylist at [salon]718 recommends Joico ProSeries Bond-Protector.
While these products can only be found wholesale, you can shop for other Joico hair products online.
“This is a professional in-salon service which helps build, protect and strengthen hair bonds, before, during, and after every chemical service,” Chan says. “I’d also recommend all of the Olaplex products, especially the Professional Step 1 and 2 which can be applied in-salon at the time of color services.”
You can find other Olaplex products online and in retail stores.
Ogario recommends the Ogario London Restore and Shine Masque, a deep conditioner that he developed himself.
“It’s best for adding moisture, smoothing the cuticle, and improving hair elasticity, and leaves hair shiny, stronger, and healthier,” he explains. “It contains glycerin which attracts moisture. Consequently, it protects against water loss to prevent frizz.”
A loss of elasticity can affect your hair in all sorts of ways, from reduced manageability to lack of shine. A simple test will tell you what condition your hair is in.
The good news is you can restore your hair’s elasticity by locking in moisture and routinely following a few simple steps.
“I’ve been working with hair for over 35 years,” Ogario says. “In my experience, restoring moisture to the hair is what makes the biggest difference.”
Victoria Stokes is a writer from the United Kingdom. When she’s not writing about her favorite topics, personal development, and well-being, she usually has her nose stuck in a good book. Victoria lists coffee, cocktails, and the color pink among some of her favorite things. Find her on Instagram.