Contrary to popular opinion, if you straighten your natural hair, it is still natural. That’s the beauty of natural styles: We have a ton of options. But direct heat from blow dryers and flat irons, the quickest ways to straighten hair, can cause a loss of your natural curl pattern and leave your hair damaged and suffering from breakage. So if you choose to go straight using a heat method every once in a while, you’ll need to protect your natural hair from damage.
You can protect the health of your hair with these tips:
Know your hair. Your hair isn’t like your sister’s hair or your best friend’s. For this reason you should know your hair and how much heat it can tolerate. Do a hair assessment to help determine whether or not you should introduce heat to your regimen. Examine your hair’s softness, texture (finer textures are more easily damaged by heat) and elasticity (how much your hair can stretch without breaking).
Know how much heat is too much. Hair burns at 450F. If your hair is fine or already damaged, that temperature is less. If you’re using heat for the first time, invest in a professional styling tools with accurate temperature gauges and use medium to low heat settings.
Prep your hair. Moisturize and deep condition your locks before applying heat. This helps strengthen natural hair and ensures the cuticle is closed and coated for a smooth look. Choose a deep conditioning product that builds the natural proteins of your hair (think coconut oil or mayonnaise).
Use a heat protectant. Create a barrier between your hair and the heat source. Silicone-based products are great for this purpose. They coat hair and prevent moisture for reaching the shaft, causing reversion. The downside? Silicone doesn’t let your hair absorb moisturizers well, so moisturize with a light moisturizer before applying a protectant.
Limit exposure. Don’t put direct heat on natural hair more than once a week—less if your hair is already damaged. Start with a small amount of heat to see how your hair reacts or use only medium to low heat when styling.
Go to a professional. If all of this seems like too much work, get a referral from a friend for an experienced stylist. Don’t skip your deep conditioning prep before your appointment, and talk to the pro about using heat protectant.