Curl Talk Q & A: How Do I Avoid Heat Damage?
by Ebony Clark-Bomani
Q: I've been natural for four years and from time to time I like to straighten my hair. I know heat is "taboo" amongst the natural hair family, but I like it and I'm unapologetic about it!!! One of the reasons I chose to go natural, besides overcoming the creamy crack addiction, is that I love the versatility. To keep my hair ultimately healthy and conditioned in the midst of straightening, how should I go about it? How do I avoid those straight pieces I get over time? Please help. ~Anonymous~
A: WELL, let me say this: I completely understand. Honestly, that's one of the reasons why I chose the natural path as well. Some people will never ever straighten their hair and that's their prerogative. I, too, like to straighten---but only every now and then. You must remember that hair is a fiber and over time it can be worn down, by different elements (i.e. heat, styling, even the environment!). We must protect our hair from overexposure to these things...hence protective styling.
As with anything, your hair needs topical protection from the elements. However, unfortunately, with even the best protection, even the slightest damage may not always be avoidable. SO! You must make sure you do your part. Although some people naturally have straight hair mixed in with their curls, that's usually not the case. If you experience straight pieces, that usually comes from heat damage, color, or style repetition (i.e. pulling hair back in a ponytail everyday, etc.). I know lots of naturals like color, but if your color has been achieved using a high volume of peroxide (30, 40 volume), or lighteners (bleach) depending on hair texture and frequency of application, it can have a slight or dramatic relaxing effect. So, if your hair is color-treated, that presents an even greater risk of damaging when using heat.
To achieve the least amount of damage while straightening, be sure to keep the temperature of the flat iron below 450 degrees. Tools that are too hot can melt the hair's keratin. Start preparing your hair weeks prior to heat styling. Cleanse, condition, moisturize and wear a protective style weekly until it's time to straighten. Day of straightening, shampoo with a gentle clarifying shampoo and follow up with a good moisturizing conditioner and detangle thoroughly. If possible, sit under a hair steamer for about 20 minutes. It will lend some very intense hydration---which is key to achieving a more successful heat style. Hair with low moisture content will heat faster than hair that's properly hydrated. Apply a silicone protectant while your hair is still wet and once it's 75-85% dry, gently blow dry hair on the lowest setting to minimize damage. Once hair is completely dry, use a ceramic iron to straighen...Only go over each section ONCE! Notice I didn't mention applying oils, butters, or creams before applying heat. Doing so can fry your hair like a piece of chicken. We really shouldn't apply much of anything prior to straightening if the hair is in great condition, but if you must----use a silicone. I know, I know some are against silicone too! Look at it this way, quality silicones, that aren't watered down, help to slow the transfer of heat to the strands. They have lower heat conductivity than oils. If you must use oil, apply a very light oil, like grapeseed, to the ends after straightening for extra shine and durability. Once your heat style has expired, cleanse with a clarifying shampoo. This will remove the barrier that the silicone has formed around your strands, and make your hair more penetrable for your conditioners and moisturizers. Good luck achieving an amazing blow out!
Disclaimer: The above method is what I found to work best for me.