Some say that variety is the spice of life. I agree. For me, the monotony of anything has the potential to become boring. That includes wearing my natural kinks, coils, and curls.
Every now and then, I like to flat iron my hair. Being that hair is fiber, over time, manipulation, constantly pulling it back, extreme environmental temperatures, hair color, hormonal changes, illnesses, and heat can alter our hair’s texture. That is why I am deliberate about my process of thermal straightening—from beginning to end.
Generally, I know when I want to flat iron my hair at least two to three weeks ahead of time. That is the best time to start preparing for a potentially damaging process. Yes, we risk thermal damage, AKA “heat damage”, every time we straighten our hair, so it’s best that we prepare ahead of time. So far, I’ve had great success with flat ironing my natural hair without heat damage.
Over the years, I’ve banked a few dos and don’ts to achieve the most quality flat ironing experience.
- Cleanse with a clarifying shampoo or use an apple cider vinegar rinse to guarantee the removal of build-up, prior to flat ironing.
- Deep condition your hair once a week for two to three weeks prior to straightening. Your hair’s condition can change your heat tolerance.
- Consider a protein treatment within a week prior to and straightening to help strengthen the hair
- Choose a moisturizing conditioner with hydrolyzed proteins, whenever possible.
- Treat your tresses to hydration therapy, while deep conditioning. Intense moisture from a hair steamer will lift the cuticle and offer a healthy dose of hydration to the cortex. Dry, brittle hair heats rapidly and is more prone to heat damage.
- Apply a liquid heat protectant prior to blow drying, preferably after the hair has been towel dried.
- Opt for silicone-based serums (in addition to the liquid) for shine, smoothness, and added heat protection.
- Keep your appliances clean. Old, hardened, debris on your flat iron can snag hairs and cause damage.
- Allow your hair to air dry at least 50% before blow drying to minimize heat exposure and chances of heat damage.
- Always blow dry hair in a downward direction to make sure that the cuticle is flat. This will set the foundation for a more quality flat ironing process.
- Work with hair in sections. It makes the process much easier.
- Apply oil, serum, or finishing sheen AFTER flat ironing, for lasting shine and durability.
- Wrap or bun your flat ironed hair at night with a silk or satin scarf to keep it from becoming dry, or reverting due to night sweating. (Throw in a few bantu knots, large cornrows, flat twists, or flexi rods overnight for added texture and fun.)
- Always patch test, first, to determine the temperature at which to set your flat iron. Each texture responds differently to heat.
- Don’t use oils and butters prior to blow drying and flat ironing, as the heat can cause oils and butters to fry your hair—especially when flat ironing.
- Don’t use heat over 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Hair burns at 451 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Avoid passing the flat iron over each section more than once.
- Do not flat iron your hair every day.
- To keep hair from frizzing or reverting, stay away from water-based moisturizers and steam at this time. We don’t want that hard work to be in vain.
- Do not forget to use a protein treatment once your flat ironed ‘do is done. Your hair will need to be reconstructed.
- Do not neglect to deep condition and treat your mane to more hydration therapy after washing away your straight style.
- Dodge styles that cause stress to the hair due to over manipulation or tension. It is important to choose styles that allow your tresses to just be, so avoid tight and high maintenance styles.
This article is based on my personal experience and research. Heat tolerance is very subjective, and varies greatly or slightly from person to person. Always do what is best for you.
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This article was originally published in February 2014 and has been updated for grammar and clarity.