Heat Styling: It Doesn't Have to Hurt...

My heat styling arsenal
As I delve deeper and deeper into the realm of natural haircare, I tend to have "ephiphanies" relating to how I treated my hair prior to March 2012, and after. By far, the most damaging thing I've done to my hair is fry it to hell with heat. Needless to say, I loved heat...and I developed quite an unhealthy relationship with it. If my tresses weren't bone straight and sleek against my face, then my flat iron wasn't hot enough. Don't even ask me how many times I burned out peices of my hair because my pressing comb (for my roots) was too hot. Looking back, everything was too hot. Flat irons fired up in excess of 420 degrees. Pressing comb burning through the towel, but I dragged it through my roots anyway; because they needed to be straight. Blow dryer fired up on the highest speed and heat. I'd rock my bone straight look for a few days, then after that it was daily curling iron work, on the highest heat setting.

Thin and stringy..
After all that... it was no wonder that my hair became abysmally thin. With every pass of the comb or flat iron, I was literally melting my hair. With every heat styling session, I was making my hair thinner and thinner -- and I didn't notice it until it was too late, and I was sobbing in the shower over the gobs of hair I was losing almost daily. I thought something was wrong with me (medically). Turns out there was something wrong with me -- I was in an abusive relationship with heat.

 When I began my No Heat Challenge, I spent time learning how to care for my hair in its natural state. I also knew at some point (3 months down the line), I would be confronted with the flat iron again -- and I needed to know how to use it to my benefit, and not throw all of my progress down the drain. I've narrowed down the wealth of knowledge and personal experience I have acquired -- all which have helped me rehabilitate my relationship with heat in a substantially less damaging fashion.

Healthy Heat Engagement: Principles and Practices I Live By

1. Clean Hair: When rocking natural hair, pre-poo (oil) treatments are common, and a great way to restore penetrating moisture, softness, and manageability to hair. Some naturals even tout their use as a pre-game for heat styling. Honestly speaking, I disagree. I'm all for moisture and nourishment; but when it's time to heat style, this may not be the best idea. For oils that penetrate (like my beloved coconut), and even those that stay on the surface, coming into direct contact with heat at any temperature can start the process of "cooking" your hair in that oil. Note: I said direct contact, like the plates of a flat iron covering hair.  If you're having trouble envisioning this, imagine brushing your favorite veggie with butter or olive oil, then sitting it in a hot pan to sautee. The oil expedites the cooking process, right? That could be happening to your hair. I know we naturals advise against "squeaky clean" hair, and I still do. I just believe that the extra oils + heat may not be a great combination at this juncture. By all means, still condition (or deep condition) your hair. Just make sure you rinse well. A clean scalp and clean hair are always the best foundation for a good heat experience.

Bron is the heat (pun intended), and your protectant says "get that outta here!'
2. Heat Protectant: Because you're hair will be devoid of the routine oil-based moisture, water retention and protecting your hair is a critical step. Blow drying, flat, and curling irons reduce moisture content and lend themselves to heat damage. To curtail or delay the reduction of moisture, heat protection is a must. I utilize two products to help me achieve weightless, shiny, smooth, silky-feeling heat-guarded hair: Tresemme Thermal Creations Heat Tamer Spray and Garnier Fructics Sleek & Shine Anti-Frizz Serum. Both products contain silicones that have been scientifically proven to delay heat transfer to the hair; such as cyclopentasiloxane, dimethiconol, amodimethicone, PEG-12 dimethicone, and propylene glycol. It is important that you start with heat protection before you turn on the blow dryer, which brings me to my next point...

3. Drying: Drying on the highest heat setting (heat...not speed) sucks the moisture out of your hair the fastest. Truthfully speaking, stretching and air-drying hair is the best way to get the job done, with the least amount of damage. Unfortunately, not many of us have the luxury of laying around and letting our hair dry. The next best thing is to gently squeeze excess water out in a t-shirt or paper towel, let hair air dry about 50% (you'd be surprised how quickly it happens), and blow-dry the rest on low or medium heat.

I'm melting! Mellllltingggg... says your hair
4. Take Your Temperature: I am 137% certain that this right here is where most of us go wrong in handling heat. Flat irons, pressing combs, curling irons, all too hot and all making too many passes over the same parts of the hair. No matter how much heat protectant you use, it only delays the transfer of heat -- not prevents it. In fact, if heat tools are utilized at too high of a temperature, they can cause the water inside the hair to boil and form miniature bubbles -- weakening the fiber and leading to total fracture. With all that being said, check out Jc of The Natural Haven's post breaking down the effects of different temperatures on the hair. You can flat iron and still have your hair revert to its natural texture between 320 and 347 degrees Farenheit. Anything beyond that, you're looking at the aforementioned hair bubbling and keratin melting. These two culprits are why your hair won't return to it's previous texture, no matter what you do. Within that temperature range, it can be difficult to achieve sleek, Michelle Obama hair. Sorry, I've been watching her DNC speech. At this point you have to make a decision: work with what lowered heat gives you, or crank up the heat and suffer the consequences.

5. Protect and Observe: Once you have finished straightening, rest assured that your job isn't done. You've got to be vigilant about protecting your hair at night while sleeping, checking for breakage, and making sure your hair isn't dried out or crunchy. Also pay attention to your ends, and try to curtail as much splitting as possible.

The Bottom Line: For me, heat is a limited engagement (2 weeks max) and only done every 3 or 4 months. The more heat you put on your hair (temperature and frequency), the more damage you will potentially encounter. 

If you have questions about heat styling, or anything else hair related, e-mail tinapatrice@gmail.com.

Happy Heating!!!