I often encounter natural hair beauties that have experienced heat damage; either due to their own mishandling of their hair or that of a professional. This occurs when excessive heat is used on the hair, causing it to break and the curl pattern to be altered or even lost. First, let me say I try to avoid using heat on my hair as much as possible. This is why I only straighten my hair a few times per year. Even so, I have managed to get my hair super silky straight without experiencing any heat damage and without my hair being, as some call it, “heat trained.“ Below are a few nuggets of wisdom to always keep in mind when applying heat to your hair.
1. Check the Weather!
If your hair is anything like mine, the weather conditions have to be just right (dry & below 32 degrees) in order for me to straighten my hair because I actually want it to stay straight! It is crucial to check the weather in order to protect your hair because if it is too hot and/or humid, you will find yourself having to re-apply heat much more than you should, which can lead to heat damage. You want to apply the LEAST amount of heat to your hair as possible, so check the weather before you consider straightening your hair.
2. Try Using a Smoothing Conditioner
When I am preparing to straighten my hair, I use any shampoo of my choosing and I always follow up with a smoothing conditioner. This will help calm down your tresses to make it easier to smooth everything out nicely and with the least amount of tension. Lately, I’ve been using Garnier Fructis Sleek & Shine Brazilian Smooth Conditioner. It smells amazing and is formulated with Murumuru Butter, which gives the product a dense feeling and adds to the slip. I can usually find it at most stores for around $2.99.
3. Consider Applying Blow Out/Flat Iron Cream
After I shampoo, condition and detangle my hair, I will usually apply a small amount of blow out and flat iron cream to help with the frizziness. When I say I use a SMALL AMOUNT, I mean it. This is probably the only time I actually follow the directions when they say use a dime-size amount of product. The reasoning is because these products tend to be heavy, even for our sometimes wild/thick hair, and it can weigh the hair down once it’s straight. I use the Garnier Fructis Sleek & Shine Blow Dry Perfecting Straightening Balm, which is around $4.50 and the Garnier Fructis Sleek & Shine Brazilian Smooth Flat Iron Express Leave-In Balm, which is around $6.50. Both of these products help smooth the hair while also providing protection from heat.
When using these products, I use a teeny tiny amount on 4 sections of my hair. I then comb my hair from tip to root with a wide-tooth comb to ensure the product has been distributed throughout my hair evenly.
4. Let Your Hair Air Dry Before Blow Drying
When I have the time, I like to put my hair in 4-6 braids and let it air dry as much as possible. This reduces the amount of heat that I will use to get my hair dry once I begin the blow-drying process.
5. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS use a HEAT PROTECTANT
Don’t ever apply any heat to your hair without applying a heat protectant beforehand. It is such an easy thing to do that will help you avoid heat damage. I apply heat protectant on my hair before I blow dry, before I flat iron, and again before I curl my hair. I have currently been using L’Oreal Paris’s Advanced Hairstyle Sleek It Iron Straight Heatspray. It boasts protecting your hair from up to 450 degrees of heat and also helps smooth the hair. I think my favorite thing about this product is that it is lightweight and isn’t greasy at all. I used to use a Silk Elements heat protectant, but it would often leave my hair weighed down. This product doesn’t weigh my hair down one bit, even after I spray it all over every time I use a new styling tool. I can usually find this product for about $5 at CVS or Target.
When using this product, I simply spray it over each section of hair that I am preparing to work on a couple times, and comb my hair with a wide tooth comb to ensure the product has been distributed throughout my hair evenly.
6. Blow Dry to Stretch your Hair, Not Straighten It
When I straighten my hair, I try to focus on getting my strands as stretched as possible before my flat iron touches my hair. Keep in mind I said stretched and not straight. I don’t recommend trying to straighten your hair with your blow dryer as I find that you have to pass the blow dryer over your hair a lot more than if you used a blow dryer in conjunction with a flat iron. I also don’t recommend using a round brush in conjunction with a blow dryer, as this puts more stress on your hair than you need to, which can lead to breakage.This is why, I simply blow dry my hair until it is fully stretched and then move on to the flat iron. I do, however, recommend using an attachment for your blow dryer to make the blow drying process easier. This is the blow dryer attachment I use to really get my hair stretched. The extra red teeth help keep the ends in place to allow for me to get my hair stretched from root to tip.You can find my blow dryer, which comes with the attachment for $22 on Amazon here.
7. Only Use as Much Heat as Necessary
When I straighten my hair, I set my flat iron to 360 degrees and I get it very straight. When selecting a flat iron, be sure that you can change the heat setting and always start with a lower heat. If you feel that your hair is not getting as straight as you would like with the lower heat setting, slowly increase the heat. Remember, healthy hair burns at 450 degrees so don’t go straight to the highest heat unless you really, truly need to. Your hair will thank you for it.
8. Pay Attention to the Plates of Your Flat Iron
When purchasing a flat iron, make sure that the metal plates will not cause damage to your hair. The flat iron that I use has ceramic plates, which makes it easier for your hair to glide through the plates without snagging. Always check your plates for any chipping or cracks, which could pull at your hair. If you experience this, it may be time to replace your flat iron. Also, don’t assume that your flat iron must be expensive in order for it to work well. I’ve heard of a few high-end name brand flat irons that are known to cause heat damage (Ahem Babyliss). The flat iron that I use only cost about $40 and I found it at Marshall’s of all places!
9. Stick to the One Pass Rule
Next to the rule regarding heat protectant, this is probably the second most important rule. When flat ironing your hair, only allow the flat iron to pass through your hair one time! THERE IS NO WAY AROUND THIS! I know sometimes you might get impatient and want to take big chunks of hair and straighten them at once, but this either doesn’t work or you will have to pass the flat iron over your hair multiple times. As I said before, you want to use the least amount of heat on your hair as possible. The easiest way to ensure that you are able to pass the hair once is by slowly straightening very, very small sections of hair at a time. To get the best results, start at the roots (as close as you can get to the scalp without burning yourself) and work your way down the hair strands slowly.
10. If You Go to a Hair Professional, Make Sure They Follow These Rules!
I know everyone doesn’t have the energy or capability of straightening their own hair so you may go to a professional. Although you may think it is overkill to tell a hair stylist how to do their job, it will help you in the long run and may prevent you from experiencing heat damage. Furthermore, you’re paying them and you should get what you want! So feel free to ask, “Do you use a heat protectant before applying heat?, “Can you pass the flat iron through my hair one time only?” and “Can you set the heat down on the flat iron if it’s possible?”
You can maintain your curls when your hair is straight, but you have to be careful. The tips above are all things I live by when I straighten my hair, and I hope they will help you as well! 🙂