Whether you use a flat iron, blow-dryer, curling iron, or curling wand is irrelevant, high temperatures (and "high" is a relative term for many women) and frequent usage cause the hair to break down. You may not realize it yet, but if your hair is limp, excessively dry, or experiencing breakage then you may have heat damage. Going natural is all about shifting your perspective of what is beautiful and healthy, and if heat is a part of your hair routine then it may mean a shift in your relationship with heat. Still not convinced? It might be heat damage denial.
Heat damage occurs when the protein bonds in the hair have been permanently altered to the point that the hair does not return to its natural curl pattern and your hair struggles to retain moisture as it once did. This is what the scientist from The Natural Haven has to say:
“If you heat keratin to around 215-235°C (419-455F) the alpha helix starts to melt. This is a physical change and it is irreversible, your hair will retain the shape of the melted keratin at a molecular level. Your hair shows you this molecular damage by not getting back into its natural curl or wave and staying straighter.”This is a physical change and it is irreversible... Your hair shows you this molecular damage by not getting back into its natural curl or wave - The Natural Haven
"I don't straighten my hair that often"
Most naturals who predominately wear their hair curly, only straighten once to twice a year. To many newly naturals, straightening their hair 3-4 times a month may not seem very frequent, but unfortunately that frequency is enough to damage the hair. If you desire to start wearing your hair curly, then straightening less is important to protect the integrity of your curl pattern, and really the overall health of your hair. And less does not mean once a week, it means a few times a year.
"But I use a heat protectant"
Relying solely on heat protectants to protect your hair will not suffice. Heat protectants are usually formulated with oils and silicones to coat and protect the hair when in contact with hot air or hot surfaces, but this does not eliminate the potential for damage to occur, it only reduces the potential. There is no guarantee that you will not damage your hair.
"My hair doesn't look heat damaged"
Heat damage can manifest itself in many ways depending on your texture. Sometimes the damaged portion can appear to be a looser curl pattern or completely straight. Type 4 hair tends to experience more of loose, frizz ball effect, which can be observed in the photo above. Sometimes heat damage happens in sections like the crown or front portion; this often occurs to many women who wear partial closure wigs or weaves with leave-outs. Other times heat damage occurs throughout the entire hair or only the ends. Also, it can manifest differently throughout your hair. Like the woman in the photo above, it appears that her nape hair is a looser curl pattern than the rest of her hair so you see that the texture is different.
"This is just my curl pattern"
If you have never chemically straightened your hair, but you have consistently heat straightened it, then there is a high possibility that your hair has undergone heat damage. Similar to a person who recalls their hair only being relaxed during their childhood, you may not be familiar with what your healthy waves, curls, or coils look like. Even if you did not wear your hair straight during your childhood, habitually straightening your hair wreaks havoc on the overall health of your strands and you may have grown accustomed to your curls being in a damaged state. Just imagine their potential if they were healthy!
"My roots are puffy but my ends are pretty"
For years women have approached me wondering why their roots are puffy but their ends are wavy or “nice” or “pretty” (yes, it hurt me to write that just as much as it hurt you to read it). I cannot tell you the countless times people have mistaken heat damaged hair for Type 3b curls. If you are a seasoned natural, this may sound like a stretch but it is not. Want to restore the health of your hair? Big chop or exchange the flat iron for a twist out to help blend the healthy, virgin hair growing from your scalp with the damage along the length of your hair.
Disclaimer: Some people frequently straighten their hair at high temperatures without heat protectants and never experience damage. My suggestion? Do not test the waters to see if you are that anomaly.