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.
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.