7 Steps to Minimize Damage When Using Heat on Natural Hair
Believe it or not, there was a period of time that I just did not think it possible to go beyond the “blow-out look” on my 4C natural hair to sleek and straight. It just didn’t happen for me when I tried using a couple of the more popular flat irons out there. Moreover, after spending an hour or so on straightening, my hair would revert within minutes. For a period of time, I saw no point in flat ironing my hair if the results did not look like I had used the tool at all and only lasted seconds. What was the point? I might as well have just stretched my hair using conventional methods.
However, that all changed about two years ago when one of my sisters (who is also natural) convinced me to let her flat iron my hair. (In the back of my mind, I thought that I would prove to her that my hair just couldn’t get that straight, but I was wrong.) After forty-five minutes or so, my hair was “bone straight” and with less than 370 degrees Fahrenheit (F)! (My natural kinks bounced right back after washing a couple weeks later.) From that day forward, I became a firm believer in this level of versatility – the ability to go from shrunken kinks to super straight strands and back again. If you have been having challenges in successfully experiencing this kind of versatility, here is a compilation of what I’ve learned from my sister as well as my own experiences over these two years.
1. The GREATEST importance is the type of flat iron and quality of the plates
It was not until that flat ironing session two years ago that I learned the MAJOR importance of the tool quality itself. My results with $40-50 tools versus those of double or quadruple the price were like night and day. I have to say that GHD’s Gold Professional and MK-I Halo’s Ceramic (being a close second) are the flat-ironing tools that get my hair salon straight and sleek for weeks. None of the other tools that I have tried do this even when using “tried and true” techniques, such as the comb chase method. Of course that means paying more for more quality, but quality means smoother, better plates and technology that translate into smoother, straighter results with less heat. (In 2012, I purchased the GHD flat iron for $200+. The MK-I Halo sells for $100+.)
With both of these irons, I stay in the 300s (Fahrenheit) for heat while my other irons would require more heat (in the 400s) to get close to the same results, if at all possible. The MK-I Halo has an adjustable digital temperature setting, which ranges from 140 to 450 F. This is ideal for those who want to monitor the temperature they are applying to their strands. (I only need 360 to 380 F.) The GHD does not have an adjustable temperature setting, but according to the company website, the gold professional iron ranges from 347 to 365 F.
2. Then cleansing and a moisture-infusing deep conditioning session
The few (very few) times I have flat ironed on dirty hair, my straightening results never looked as sleek as doing so on clean hair. This reality makes sense given that washed hair is free of the dirt and product buildup that may inhibit the styling process. Thus, I make sure to thoroughly wash my strands (from root to tip) to allow for a successful flat iron session.
In addition to freshly washed hair, I find that moisture-infusing deep conditioning sessions give me the smoothest flat-ironing results. My conditioners of choice are a protein-based one (ORS Replenishing Conditioner or Aphogee Intensive 2-Minute Keratin Reconstructor) on top of a moisturizing, slippery conditioner (Tresemme Naturals or Suave Naturals). My hair feels like butter after rinsing.
3. The straightening technique – size of sections, passes, and tension
I think by now, many of us are aware that the size of the sections of hair you flat iron and the number of passes are both key to a successful straightening technique. For a sleek straight look, I find the most success with sections that are about 2” x 0.5” and using two passes. Bigger sections make a successful flat iron job difficult, and three or more passes are unnecessary with the right straightening tool.
Another important component is applying tension while flat ironing, which can improve your results greatly. Some naturals use a comb-chase method, but I get better (and faster) results using the Wigo brush. I essentially take a small section of hair, clamp it between the brush, and chase with the flat iron. It is honestly gentler than it sounds when used on thoroughly detangled stretched hair.
4. How you stretch your hair, including the product(s) used
The more stretched my hair is prior to flat ironing, the sleeker the results. I prefer big braids or roller sets when it comes to this; roller sets obviously give me the better results. (Blow drying is obviously another option, but I rarely do it since it dries my hair out like crazy.)
As for products, a good post-washing sealant (for me, that is a homemade shea butter mixture) and a silicone-based serum are key. Additionally, the less product I use, the sleeker my results. I find that using too much product leads to stiffer hair.
What challenges have you faced when flat ironing your hair? Do you have any tips to share?