Is it possible to use heat safely on natural hair? I have been asked this question a numerous amount of times, but what’s the answer? Before we get into that, if your initial response was something along the lines of “What?! I hope that this lady isn’t about to give advice on how to heat damage my hair. It is my mission to preserve every ringlet that I was meant to have and anyone who’s ever used heat on their natural hair has sacrificed the health of their hair”, then you will want to skip this blog post. It takes an open mind to realize that every hair type isn’t the same and no one should be bullied into a certain type of hair care.
There are different porosity types, strand densities and personal tolerance levels that will determine how easy it is to style and care for your hair. A huge element that’s missing from any hair typing system I have come across is the ability of the hair to tangle. What if I have a busy life that doesn’t allow for frequent 1+ hour detangling sessions? What if I had to trim my hair more frequently per year NOT blow drying compared to blow drying due to single strand knots and broken hair that come with trying to style and maintain my hair? It would be great if everyone could style their hair with great ease, but when something interrupts with that dream, it’s important to know your alternatives and the best way to utilize them. Continue reading with an open and receiving mind to discover the best ways to use heat on your hair if you’ve been considering doing so or have been too scared to use heat due to negative experiences in the past.
All hair before heat usage should be washed and conditioned with a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner. Moisturized hair and damp hair prevent overheating, allowing appliances to distribute heat evenly throughout the hair. Product buildup will prevent you from achieving a bouncy blowout and also can cause breakage, buildup on your heat appliances and smoking/overheating of your heat appliances.
Who shouldn’t use heat
Hair that is visibly broken and damaged will worsen if heat appliances are used. In damaged hair, the protective outer layer (cuticle) is either stripped or lifted. When the cuticle is stripped, your hair “wets” easily and typically no matter what you do to it or put in it, it won’t hold moisture. When the cuticle is lifted, usually a product with a low pH, no lower than 4.0 can act to seal your hair’s protective layer. Damaged hair is positively charged and negative ions from a ceramic flat iron will shift your hair to a neutral charge and the hair will appear healthier, but unfortunately over time its condition will worsen and you will need to trim or cut depending on how severe the damage is.
The safest way to use heat for styling
Before deciding to use heat on your hair the most important thing to consider is what your long term goals for your hair are. If your long term goals are to wear curly styles frequently and you don’t want to change the size of your curls, then it would be best to stay away from heat. If you fall into this category but you’d like to straighten your hair for a very rare and special event then opting for a blow dry with an ionic blowdryer with even heat distribution and very thin sections are your best bet. You can follow up your blow dry with a higher end ceramic flat iron on a setting that exceeds no more than 300 degrees Fahrenheit. An ionic blowdryer will break up the size of the water droplets on your hair strands allowing your hair to dry more quickly, and thin sections will decrease the chance that you overheat one section of hair — which often happens when large sections are blow dried at a time. Something that most people aren’t aware of (and I wasn’t aware of until starting cosmetology school), is that the stoves used in salons to heat tools such as a pressing comb or Marcel curling irons are designed to reach temperatures up to 1000 degrees. Hair will burn off way before reaching a temperature that high, and the heat produced by these stoves are not as even or predictable as a ceramic iron, with the ability to change temperature settings.
The safest way to use heat for manageability
If you want to use heat to speed up your day-to-day styling and make your hair easier to manage it’s important to understand that the texture of your strands and ends will differ from your new growth to some degree. But that’s the goal after all. Note: It’s also possible that your hair texture can become looser from frequent wet detangling or brushing, particularly if there’s a section of your hair you brush more than others. While your hair texture will be looser than new growth, the degree to which will vary depending on the density of your hair, the size of your strands and the temperature and frequency of the heat you use. To achieve the most minimal damage when using heat for manageability, you must:
• Prevent your hair from overheating by blow drying your hair on the cool setting
• Make sure your hair is detangled and you are able to comb it from root to tip prior to blow drying. This prevents spot over heating when you encounter tangles. If you do come across a knot or tangle turn off your blowdryer, detangle with a comb and resume blow drying once you have removed it
• Avoid surpassing 400 degrees Fahrenheit on your ceramic flat iron and for hair that’s mildly (but not visibly) damaged avoid surpassing 300 degrees
• Blow dry at least 5 inches away from your head
• Use moisture shampoos and conditioners as a preparatory step before using heat
• Partially air dry your hair (50% or more) to reduce the amount of contact time the heat makes with your hair
• If you have a goal of long hair and you care greatly about retaining your hair pattern, I don’t recommend using heat more than once every 2 weeks
• If you notice that your hair is pretty manageable except for the roots don’t use heat on them as they will continue to loosen over time
• Realize that your texture should never change overnight and if it does, the heat setting you’re using is too hot. The hair won’t curl back and will have to be cut off
• Take small sections so that you distribute heat evenly through your hair
My Heat Regimen
I have found that I can go at least 1 year without requiring a trim if I flat iron once per year on 330 degrees Fahrenheit and blow dry no more than 12 times per year (once per month). I have over 60% shrinkage when I allow my wet hair to air dry and when my damp hair is blow dried, it’s still approximately 30% shorter than my hair flat ironed. I still have my natural curl pattern and no straight ends or areas that have loosened. I consider hair that is bone straight to be heat damaged because even hair that is properly relaxed is only intended to remove 85% of the natural curl pattern, not 100%, which is what heat abuse will do.
It is possible to have great results, maintain most of your curl pattern, grow your hair long and have more styling options using heat, if you desire.
Have any of you incorporated heat styling into your regimen? Do you use heat mainly for styling or manageability?
Check out our list of recommended ionic blow dryers and ceramic flat irons: