October 12, 2015

Heat Damage in Natural Hair

Photo Courtesy of Natalie Live
 by Amanda

When embarking on your natural hair journey, everything has to start with a healthy foundation for optimal results. The best way to think about your foundation is the virgin hair growing from your scalp. Whether you were a straight-haired natural, "heat trained", or straightened your hair six times a year, anyone who uses heat tools is susceptible to experiencing heat damage. Still uncertain (or in denial) that you have experienced heat damage? Consider this.

Read On!>>>

Hair is dead

Hair is keratin that grows from follicles in the scalp. The hair shaft is considered dead and is not an organ like that epidermis. Hair does not undergo mitosis and heal when damaged like an organ would. To restore extreme damage requires simply growing your hair out. Therefore, all hair care products are designed  with the intention of preserving or altering the hair through maintenance and style manipulation. Hair products only create temporary fixes not permanent ones.

Whether you are washing, combing, styling, using heat tools, chemically altering, or even relaxing in the sun, the hair’s cuticle is always receptive to being damaged but certainly at different rates and intensity depending on the cause. This does not mean that you should not care and enjoy your hair, but it is important to establish what hair is in order to fully understand how to care for it. There are no rules. All hair care tips are merely suggestions to better educate and equip you take make informed decisions about your hair. Now, let’s move on to heat damage. 

Heat damage can be cumulative

I get it. You stopped straightening your hair three months ago after straightening it consistently for two years.  Well, there is a strong possibility that you have accrued heat damage. Heat damage does not have to manifest after one experience with heat tools (e.g. blow-dryer, flat iron, curling wand). Hair care is all about preservation. The hair’s cuticle is being chipped away little (or a lot) at a time, which usually requires to trims. The more heat tools you use, the more damage your hair is experiencing. Should you not straighten your hair? You can if you want to! Have fun! Do what works for you, but be familiar with the damage that you will likely experience.

Heat damage can happen in just one use

Temperature matters. According to chemist JC from The Natural Haven, “If you heat keratin to around 215-235°C ( 419-455F) the alpha helix starts to melt.” Heat setting should be determined by the width of your strands. Coarser strands (wider in diameter) tend to withstand hotter temperatures, while finer strands are less likely to experience damage with lower temperatures. That one time you used a CHI flat iron with no temperature setting is enough to ruin your curls once. When shopping for heat tools always invest in stylers with controlled heat settings. No one wants to be five-years natural and permanently destroy their curl pattern with one pass. Most do not exceed 375-400 F.

Heat damage manifests in different ways

Heat damage is not always straight hair. Heat damage can manifest as a looser curl pattern, frizz, or even excessive brittleness. It is possible to completely strip away the cuticle, making the hair unbearably porous. If you have noticed a difference in the texture of your hair (i.e. aesthetic and tactile), then that could be an indication of heat damage. 

There is no guaranteed way to avoid heat damage

Again, using lower heat temperatures decreases the likelihood but does not guarantee heat damage will not occur. Everyone’s hair is different, even if you do share the same curl pattern and width. All you can do is take the proper precautions.

Heat damage is irreversible

You can reduce the severity of your heat damage by using safe practices, but there is no magical product, technique, temperature, tool, or regimen to completely prevent heat damage, and when it occurs it is irreversible. You should always deep condition and do a protein treatment after using heat tools. This can improve your hair’s elasticity and provide a temporarily repair of the hair’s cuticle. Deep conditioners and protein treatments will not guarantee curl reversion and there is a strong likelihood that your hair will not feel or behave the same.
The only way to remove heat damage is by cutting the damaged ends or transitioning. Remember that the best way to prepare for heat styling is to clarify (not co-wash), deep condition, apply a leave-in conditioner, and a heat protectant. There is nothing wrong  with enjoying your curls and exploring your options, but remember that too much of anything is never a good idea.

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