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The Natural’s Guide to HEALTHY Heat Styling

Avatar • May 21, 2013

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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.

In Conclusion
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:


 

For more of Domineque check her out on Instagram: lhdc2011 and YouTube, Longhairdontcare2011.
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MsKat
MsKat
7 years ago

You know something else aside from heat that can alter the curl pattern? Rough shampooing. Not meaning letting it get tangles in it from scrubbing, but I have actually had a shampoo at a salon once, and the shampoo girl scrubbed SO HARD on my hair that when I looked in the mirror almost all my curl was gone! Luckily I was a stylist at that salon at the time and I used a reconstructor and moisturizer, along with a much gentler hand, before I styled it and let it dry. When I first looked in the mirror I was… Read more »

Deb
Deb
7 years ago
Reply to  MsKat

OH NO! You just gave me flashbacks to the violent shampoo sessions I had during the last 2 times I got a relaxer. What is THAT about?!

Jessica
Jessica
7 years ago
Reply to  MsKat

oh wow! With you being a stylist, I will take your word for it, but I would have NEVER thought that a heavy handed shampoo job could mess up your curls…they can be so temperamental lol

Antrelise
7 years ago

Good article. Question. How do hooded dryers play into this equation? I’m currently not using any heat, but in the future I would like to roller set from time to time. So if I set my hair and sit under the dryer for an half hour with medium heat am I at risk for heat damage? There’s a lot of info on flatirons and blow dryers, but not so much on hooded dryers. suggestions anyone?

BTDT
BTDT
7 years ago
Reply to  Antrelise

I haven’t used hooded dryers in ages but I imagine you’re talking about the old fashioned type, right? That type is more diffuse and never damaged my hair, direct heat (straighteners in particular) has always damaged mine & broke it off. Hope this helps 🙂

imani
imani
7 years ago
Reply to  Antrelise

Recently tried the roller set followed up with a flat iron to my roots(I can never get my rollers tight no matter how hard I try.I get wavy roots!) Anyway it comes out FAB- U ‑LOUS!and I use plenty of heat protection spray & leave-in. I think I’m minimizing heat damage with this method…can’t prove it except to say the curls lasted a good while& I had less shedding & frizz.

msboogee
msboogee
7 years ago

I’m glad you cut off those thin ends before you wrote this post. Why are you pushing heat they’re are plenty of naturals who never use heat. And because you were lucky and able to use heat I should listen to you ?

ambi
ambi
7 years ago
Reply to  msboogee

why did you even read? I don’t say this often but you sound like a hater she is doing what WORKS for her and just giving info for THOUGHT to others, i am one of those who found out the hard way that I need heat at my roots if nothing else others trying to detangle style breaks off my hair at the root also if you have several types of hair or even just really long hair ( i do) tangling is NO joke and when I finger detangle after a braided wash it takes about 3 hours, not… Read more »

Naturalpolicehater
Naturalpolicehater
7 years ago
Reply to  msboogee

Me over read it cause she is captain of the natural hair police.…. Just cause u don’t like heat doesn’t mean other don’t. This is a site to provide a variety of options for naturals, just bc it don’t work for u and u don’t like it doesn’t mean no one wants information about it. Keep ur bitter angry attitude to ur self righteous judgmental self.

venus
venus
7 years ago
Reply to  msboogee

she wrote it bc not everyone has the same regimen or needs for their hair and the POINT of a hair page is to cover every aspect. and it’s not about luck it’s about knowing the proper way to doing it. I have been using heat once a month on my mother and my hair and not a curl has been lost..and I retain way more length bc It reduces tangles..not saying it works for everyone but for those who could use it will be glad to read it.

Rachel
Rachel
7 years ago
Reply to  msboogee

You’re being a moron; she clearly stated at the start of her article that people like you who have a closed mind when it comes to heat should simply skip the post as it wasn’t for them. She’s not pushing heat, simply sharing her knowledge in case some want too use heat. Life doesn’t revolve around you, sunshine, so if you don’t wanna use heat, keep it to yourself and move on.

Cass
Cass
7 years ago
Reply to  msboogee

although there are many naturals who never use heat, like me, there are a lot who do. This article is for THEM and those who are curious about using heat but are afraid, LIKE ME. This will come handy to those who finally want to rock their hair in a blow out and do so w/o the detriment of excessive heat. If you actually took the time to read the article from top to bottom she clearly says to skip this blog post if you are uninterested in what she has to say. Either you don’t know how to follow… Read more »

dawn
dawn
7 years ago
Reply to  msboogee

PLEASE do us all a fave and show us YOUR waist length hair. til that moment arrives, DO hang up the criticism.

Noire
Noire
7 years ago

Good article! Where’s the list of recommended flat irons and blowdryers.. I couldn’t find it above. Thank you!

Noire
Noire
7 years ago

I’m looking for a blowdryer that has an actual cool setting. I’m only finding ones that have a “cool shot” button. You have to hold the button down if you want to use the cool setting for the entire blowdrying session. Thanks for any suggestions you can provide.

ambi
ambi
7 years ago
Reply to  Noire

mine has a cool that runs like the low and high it was one of the first ionic craze ones almost 12 years ago it’s a porcelain ceramic babyliss pro…so look on the babyliss site for dryers they make

Dominique
Dominique
7 years ago
Reply to  Noire

I have the conair silverbird, a professional dryer. I use that for my clients who are concerned abt heat damage. I got it from Sally’s beauty supply. It can be difficult to use on yourself but it may be worth a shot if u don’t want to hold the cool shot button for so long. 

Take care, thanks for reading!

Domineque
Domineque
7 years ago
Reply to  Dominique

My phone edited the spelling of my name lol

imani
imani
7 years ago
Reply to  Noire

I have a conair infinit that I LOVE! I think I got it at kmart. Its got hi/lo settings with cool/warm/hot Temp settings as well as the cool shot (which I never use) .this model came with a diffuser nozzel AND a concentrator nozzle & its got a retractable cord. Price-wise it was less than $40!

Noire
Noire
7 years ago
Reply to  imani

Thank you for the suggestions ladies!

clewis
clewis
7 years ago
Reply to  Noire

I have the old fashion yellow bird blow dryer. Had it for about 15 yes and its still working. It has cool, warm, hot and very hot setting. I’ve seen newer version at the bss with the same settings.

Cece Danielle
Cece Danielle
7 years ago
Reply to  Noire

My yellow bird blow dryer does. It’s great I’ve had it for at least 5+ years now.

Missohhno
Missohhno
7 years ago
Reply to  Noire

I purchased a FHI Heat Nano Salon Pro 2000 handheld dryer. Had it about 1yr. Greatest handheld I ever purchased. I did some research and learned that certain types of hair need hair dryers of a specific wattage. Do your research and see what comes up for you. The dryer has 3 settings: Cool, Warm and Hot. But, I love it because it STILL has a cool shot button…AND it does not have to be held down. Cut my normal blow dry time from like an hour to 20mins. My hair has a lots of shine, which is rare for… Read more »

Maya
Maya
7 years ago

When I use heat I always steam my hair and it helps so much! I straighten my hair twice a year, and (blowdry three times — two of the times to straighten and one time for braids). Essentially, I apply heat to my hair 3 times a year. I always deep condition with the shea moisture mask under a steamer. My curls have always reverted back. Moisture is the most important part, we often fail to realize that heat literally dries out your hair! I recommend deep condition the day of or day before heat application. Also drink lots of water!

venus
venus
7 years ago
Reply to  Maya

yes! the technique I use is grapeseed oil and water in a spray bottle..i lightly mist the hair and when I apply the heat it steams as it straightens.…the steam locks in the moisture simultaneously while the grapeseed oil is the heat protectant..i love the result..and I haven’t lost a curl yet

Rachel
Rachel
7 years ago
Reply to  venus

Great technique, I’ll use it in the future 🙂

venus
venus
7 years ago
Reply to  Rachel

yes try it out! just make sure to do a VERY light mist! not enough to saturate just lightly dampen and comb it through..i promise you’ll love it!

Alwina
Alwina
7 years ago
Reply to  venus

I use grapeseed oil as well. After all the washing/deep conditioning, I apply a leave-in with grapeseed oil and add more grapeseed oil on top. My hair is damp at this point. I haven’t lost a curl either.

Olivia
Olivia
7 years ago

Every time I have a “hair day” I straighten my hair. I haven’t really worked with it when it’s curly, and I guess I just like the look of a big full blow out. Of course when straightening my hair I take precautions. I pre-poo with coconut oil, wash and condition. Then I’ll braid my hair in like 5 or 6 big braids and go to sleep to let my hair stretch a little bit. I take the braids out the next day and then blow dry and then flat iron with my CHI iron and put my hair up… Read more »

Jenny
Jenny
7 years ago
Reply to  Olivia

Hi, that’s interesting. I’ve contemplated heat training but haven’t seen many on youtube advocating it or with success. How long have you been doing it and is it someithing you see yourself maintaining for the next few years? If you don’t have heat to deal with your hair, let’s say you travel,would it affect your new growth?

Keikimummy
Keikimummy
7 years ago

This is a great, well-written perspective, and her points are on target, but I think there’s one other thing that needs to be mentioned. There are some of us curly girls who have the shrinkage and tangling problem, and would probably have better retention if we used heat wisely, except for one thing… 

If your hair is fine or especially fragile, and you KNOW that it doesn’t like heat AT ALL (like mine), then blow drying or flat ironing even ONCE, even on a low setting, WILL be likely to damage your hair.

Keikimummy
Keikimummy
7 years ago

Oh yes, Domenique, if you could, I also want to know about the hooded dryers, how they measure up to using a blow dryer on cool, what heat setting to use them on, and if they will do damage… especially with the 5‑inch-away-from-hair rule, and with the vents in a hooded dryer being much closer than that…

Chris
Chris
7 years ago

I started to use heat for manageability and longer lasting styles. After 3 trims in 9 months of being natural due to severe ssk and daily 1+ hour for styling, 3 hours on wash days I decided it’s enough. I have a daughter and husband and prefer spend my time with them instead of hours detangling my hair. I don’t have a curl pattern that allows me to jump in the shower and go so I need alternatives that make my hair life easyer and that’s blow drying my hair!

lon
lon
7 years ago

I use heat on my hair once a week and even though my strand are quite fine on their own i must say my hair has retained much more length using heat then without. I have had no curl pattern change nor heat damage. Its about how you look after your hair once straightened/ blow dried that counts. And like others have said when my hair is stretched moisture is absorbed better, i dont have to deal with knots and my hair remains super strong. I dont think heat is for everyone, especially those with more fragile hair strands, but… Read more »

Kayla
Kayla
7 years ago

I don’t know, I’m still wary of heat styling. I still wear wash and goes and I’m afraid that if I heat train my hair, it’ll never fully return back to its original state.

Alllsmiless
Alllsmiless
7 years ago
Reply to  Kayla

Then don’t do it.

Kayla
Kayla
7 years ago
Reply to  Kayla

I won’t. Sometimes its best to stick with what I know works for me.

Nature Girl
Nature Girl
7 years ago

Honey,

I haven’t blow dried my hair in 2yrs and 3mos. I would like too, but with summer closing in I don’t see the use, because I would have a puff-fro in nano seconds. When the fall comes I will experiment with a little heat. 

Thanks for the info!

LM
LM
7 years ago
Reply to  Nature Girl

My thoughts exactly. I live in hot, humid mississippi near the river. My stretched styles revert almost instantaneously when I step outside. Blow drying this time of year would seem like a complete waste of time. I wonder if there’s any way to combat the humidity.

Varah Potter
Varah Potter
5 years ago
Reply to  LM

OMG ME TOO! What a coincidence! I want to try heat on my hair this year but you know how Mississippi does!

Cass
Cass
7 years ago

very helpful. I want to blow out my hair for the first time next month and will keep these in mind…if I’m not too much of a punk to do it (LoL)

Chris
Chris
7 years ago

Please do a post about your post-blowdrying regimen.
Another question. Do you ever deep condition your hair or do you just condition?

Marcia
Marcia
7 years ago

Hey great article! I don’t think people should be afraid of heat. Just use it in moderation, and you should be fine. That goes for relaxed hair and natural! Just don’t go over board with the heat. There are people who use heat weekly and are fine.

Alwina
Alwina
7 years ago

I use grapeseed oil prior to blow drying. After all the washing/deep conditioning, I apply a leave-in with grapeseed oil and add more grapeseed oil on top. My hair is damp at this point. I haven’t lost my curl pattern. I realize blow drying my hair to prepare for mini-twists makes the process go so much faster (I can twist my hair in 3–4 hours). I wanted to use a no heat or low heat regimen (hooded dryer) but that didn’t work very well. I only do it 2 maybe 3 times max per month. I like this regimen and… Read more »

Crist
Crist
7 years ago

i workout heavily twice a day and i REALLY want to use heat to reduce SSKs, tangles and breakage from the two listed issues but how can i possible make a heat regime work for me when im sweating like a man-beast 2x/day? I would love and appreciate some feedback on this 🙂

T
T
7 years ago

your hair is so pretty and full. i have very dense 4b/c hair and have recently started using heat more regularly as i’ve reached BSL. my hair reverts fairly quickly when washed. having the kinks loosened saves me hours of detangling and getting frustrated at the breakage. i watched one of your videos where you lightly flat iron your hair and demonstrate that after using heat, you don’t have to pull as tightly on your edges when you tie it back and i could totally relate.

Kelly
Kelly
7 years ago

I want to use heat more often but my hair is so fine that even on medium or low settings my hair would get damaged after several times — meaning the curl pattern relaxes or my hair would just thin, the ends would split (on me, not talking about anyone else).  Plus, one of the things that frustrates me about using heat is all the care I have to take to straighten. Then after I’ve worked hours on deep conditioning, de-tangling, heat protectant, blowing out my very thick but fine hair, flat ironing, twisting, roller setting, etc., then humidity, drizzle… Read more »

Princess C
Princess C
6 years ago

I am finally ready to at least try using some heat this year — thanks for these tips 🙂 will really be helpful for me

Faye
Faye
6 years ago

This is amazing. My hair grows when I just blowdry it and moisturize it nightly instead of braidouts and twistouts. Those work too but it gets my hair too tangled giving split ends. This article proves that heat does not always equal damage. It’s a HUGE lie. Thnx u for this!

Melissa
Melissa
6 years ago

You could also blow dry using the cool blast. Sure, it’ll take longer but it blow dries hair just as well without any heat damage. I think the cold air actually closes the cuticles and is thus better. (Besides taking longer coz y’know…no heat)

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