BGLH Marketplace Blog

Is Using Heat Worth It?

By Fran of

The most frequently asked question in my inbox would definitely have to be which product repairs heat damaged hair. I’m rarely asked which steps would repair the damage or if the hair could be repaired, but which product. And I hate having to be the bearer of bad news, explaining that not only does this product not exist but that there is no such thing as repairing heat damage.

I view the hair follicle as an investment. Let’s compare it to our savings account. Every time you apply moisture, you’re depositing money. Every braid, twist and protective style is a dollar. Finger detangling, sealing, trimming and satin pillowcases are all deposits as well. Now, let’s bring flat irons, blow dryers, hooded dryers and diffusers into the equation. What does direct high heat do to protect or help your hair follicle, your investment in this case, grow? Nothing. In other words, it’s usage is a withdrawal from your account. Every time you swipe those ceramic plates across your strands, you’re removing the moisture you’ve worked hard to retain; you’re taking money out of your account. This doesn’t mean you should never use heat. We all have to withdraw money sometimes, right? But what it does mean is that you can’t be surprised to find yourself broke if you’re only withdrawing and not depositing. You can’t use heat regularly without the balance of deep conditioning, moisturizing daily, sealing and trimming those ends and not expect major damage. And even if your regimen is flawless, you can’t expect your hair to fully thrive with regular usage of heat. If you’re depositing as much as you’re withdrawing, your account is going to have a hard time getting anywhere!

We also have the naturals who keep their hair straight but want to start wearing it curly again. They tend to admit to “not taking very good care” of their hair and are completely clueless when it comes to natural hair products and regimens. They too would like to know which product will “make the curls come back”, though! The truth is, when you apply continuous direct heat to hair that is already malnourished, your cuticles are more than likely fried beyond repair. There’s no natural oil or applied moisture for the heat to absorb so it literally burns right through the cuticle. And once it’s fried? It’s forever altered. There’s no way to “un-fry” the cuticle. This results in breakage, frizz, brittle and stunted hair. There’s no shampoo, conditioner or protein treatment that will help you regenerate the structure of the cuticle overnight. If you burn your skin, there’s nothing you can put on it to make the skin “un-burn” right? You just have to keep it moisturized and wait for the new skin to push from under it. This is the same thing for your hair strands. Once the damage is done you have to wait for the new hair to grow in before you can see any real changes. Some will even have to restart their entire natural hair journey. Most people run out and buy protein treatments hoping to “fix” the damage, but those are more like fillings for cavities. They fill in the gap but don’t exactly do anything to fully replenish it. And the unfortunate truth is that nothing will.

Most heat protectants aren’t thick or lubricating enough to fully protect the cuticle. And even when they are, our faulty DIY techniques of heat that is usually too high or passing the iron over the hair strand one too many times will burn right through that protective coating. And most naturals use oils like grapeseed or olive as heat protectants because they are told these oils can withstand high heat, not realizing there are no studies actually supporting this in regards to our hair types. Not to mention ignoring how many strokes of heat until this “high heat” resistance is no longer accurate? My advice? If you absolutely must straighten your hair, try to find a professional salon that specializes in natural hair and hair health to ensure the safest results.

I forgot the disclaimer of no two heads being alike. For some of us, it takes a lot to fry the cuticle. These are the naturals who can straighten often and their curls will continue to revert back with no problem. They have thicker, stronger follicles that aren’t easily damaged. Even when using those cheap irons from the beauty supply! So, yes, there are exceptions. For me? You just walk by me with a flat iron and I swear my hair will start sizzling. I’ve made the decision to not use heat because it doesn’t contribute to the preservation of my strands. I didn’t find it fun having to get what looked like 100 inches cut off of my hair, at every salon visit, because I wanted to have the silky sheen for a few days. It just wasn’t worth it after awhile. I preferred having curls that looked plump and healthy, since that was my actual everyday hairstyle. I’ve been heat free for 4 years. Now that I’ve officially eliminated it from my styling, I only have to cut my hair once a year. This is because there’s little to no damage that actually needs to be trimmed off. Natural hair is simple; you either damage the strand or protect it. You either deposit or withdraw. This post isn’t to try to deter you from straightening your hair. I understand versatility is the beauty of natural hair. But I also want you to keep in mind that every stroke of that heat is pulling from your overall investment.

Fran is the author of She dispenses hair advice on Black Girl with Long Hair every Monday. Follow her on Twitter @heyfranhey.

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