Curl Care 101: Flat Ironing Natural Hair without Heat Damage

Curl Care 101: Flat Ironing Natural Hair without Heat Damage

This is it -- the final article! Curl Care 101 has been really fun for me on my end -- I love an opportunity to cut through the crap and get straight to the point. Hopefully, you all feel the same way and have gained something valuable in the process.

Today's topic is one I have touched on several times throughout the history of my blog -- heat styling. Some curly and natural hair "gurus" will tell you that you should never, ever straighten your hair. To them I declare the swerve. Although I transitioned from severe heat damage, I do still like to straighten my hair on occasion. If anything, having terrible (and I mean terrible) heat damage has taught me what not to do when it comes to protecting my hair from the wrath of the blow dryer and flat iron.  

Just for fun, here's my heat damage for ya:

Curl Care 101: Flat Ironing Natural Hair without Heat Damage
July 2013 - 1 year and 4 months in!
Now that you're done laughing at me, let's talk basics of heat straightening. At minimum (and I mean minimum) you'll need 3 things: a shampoo, a deep conditioner, and a heat protectant. See? Bare minimum. Here's why:

The Basics (Bare Minimum)

You do yourself no favors by co-washing prior to flat ironing or blow-drying your hair. Although conditioners and co-washes are great cleansers for natural/textured based styling, they leave buildup and oils behind on the hair that can really do a number on a flat ironing job. Have you ever flat-ironed a dirty piece of hair before, or a section of hair that had entirely too much product on it? I bet your iron sizzled, smoked, and you had gunk on the perimeter of the plates. I mean, I've never tried it, but I had a friend who did and umm....she said that's what happened. Yeah. But on a more serious note, shampoo is a necessary step to cleanse the hair and scalp, remove buildup, and prepare the hair to receive the deep conditioner, which is your first line of defense against heat damage. I highly recommend TGIN Moisture Rich Sulfate-Free Shampoo and Lawrence Ray Concepts Complete Cleanse Shampoo for this.

Deep Conditioner
As I mentioned previously, a good deep conditioning is your first line of defense against heat damage. Deep conditioning is an absolutely pivotal step that cannot be missed. Just in case you missed it, do not skip deep conditioning. Not only will deep conditioning soften and smooth hair, it will also impart and help the hair retain moisture that will be critical later on. Blow drying (if you choose) and flat ironing are drying to the hair, so your best bet is to get ahead of the curve with a great deep conditioner. I'll talk a little bit later about what ingredients to look for in a good deep conditioner prior to using heat. Two heavy-hitters I will always recommend are Hydratherma Naturals Amino Plus Protein Deep Conditioning Treatment and Eva NYC Therapy Session Hair Mask.

Heat Protection
Whether it be a spray, serum, balm, lotion, or cream, having some form of heat protection prior to hot plates coming into direct contact with your hair is an absolute must. Double that if you blow dry beforehand. As you'll learn a little bit later, heat protectants are specifically formulated to perform a few critical functions that reduce the likleihood of damage. It's important to note that no product can guarantee heat damage prevention, but they can deliver protection to reduce the potential for damage. Here's a list of solid heat protectants that won't break the bank.

My Regimen

Curl Care 101: Flat Ironing Natural Hair without Heat Damage

Like I mentioned previously, these 3 types of products represent the absolute bare minimum. But if you know me (and I think most of you do pretty well), I don't do anything concerning products at the bare minimum. In fact, I am completely guilty of doing the absolute most when it comes to heat protection. I like to be quadruple sure that I'm doing the absolute best I can to prevent heat damage. So the night before I plan to straighten, I pre-poo with a hydrating regular or deep conditioner (something like TGIN Honey Miracle Hair Mask or ApHogee Curlific Texture Treatment) to soften my hair, prep for detangling, and begin the process of installing as much moisture as possible. The morning of, I shampoo twice (once with TGIN Moisture Rich Sulfate-Free Shampoo, and the second time with LRC Complete Cleanse Shampoo), and then deep condition with Eva NYC Therapy Session Hair Mask or Hydratherma Naturals Amino Plus Protein Deep Conditioning Treatment.

After deep conditioning, I do one of two things -- grab a heat protecting spray and foam (likely from ApHogee -- like their Keratin Green Tea Restructurizer Spray and Style & Wrap Foam Mousse) and roller set my hair to begin stretching it, or I apply a clear cellophane (like Ion Color Brilliance in clear). With either option, I'm under the dryer for 30-45 minutes. Why do I cellophane? We'll get to that in a second. After removing the rollers or rinsing the cellophane, I apply a blowout cream or spray (like LRC Shake & Go) and finish off with a silicone-based serum (like Garnier Frizz Defy Marvelous Oil). Finally, I begin blow drying. 

After my hair is all blown out, I flat iron in small sections using the chase method to ensure smoothness. To get that silky straight look, I wrap my hair up as soon as it's done. This little step I borrowed from back in the day when I was in high school, and used to go to the shop to get my hair done. The second I got home from getting my hair done, I would wrap it up and sit under the hooded dryer, to help "seal in" the job. So many years later, I find myself doing the same thing. After flat ironing, I distribute a little bit more of the above mentioned serum throughout, and wrap my hair with a satin scarf. Once I am sure all my hair is completely covered, I sit under my hooded dryer for 20 - 30 minutes.

You can see my regimen at work in the video below:

I'll be doing a 2015 routine soon enough (I'm OVER those rollers), and I'll be sure to feature the results with the clear cellophane. Of course, it goes without saying (but I'ma say it anyway) that if you feel at all uncomfortable handling your own hair with heat, see a professional. LA area ladies, I definitely recommend Mr. LRC himself, Lawrence Ray Parker. I had my hair done by him in December and he did an amazing job with no heat damage. 

Curl Care 101: Flat Ironing Natural Hair without Heat Damage

Now, let's get on with those things I told you I'd explain. 

The Science of Straightening

Somewhere between the bare minimum of 3 and my overzealous use of 7+ products, there is some sound science around deciding which hair products to use when preparing to transform your hair from textured to straight. The unfortunate truth (that comes in handy 2 or 3 times a year) is that cosmetic companies spend a lot more time and energy researching ingredients for protecting hair from heat for straightening purposes. The findings in this area of study are pretty solid and well documented. If you're looking for products with a demonstrated ability to protect the hair, be on the look out for these ingredients:
  • PVP/DMAPA acrylates copolymer (oxidation reduction - slows thermal decomposition)
  • Dimethicone//Dimethiconol//Amodimethicone//PEG-12 dimethicone (buffering/reduce heat conduction)
  • Hydrolyzed wheat protein (oxidation reduction)
  • Centrimonium chloride (penetrating conditioning agent, increases tensile strength with heat)
  • Quaternium-70 (oxidation reduction)
  • Glycerin (slows water evaporation)
  • Propylene glycol (slows water evaporation)
  • Trimethylsilylamodimethicone (penetrates and binds to damaged hair)
  • Cyclopentasiloxane (buffering/reduce heat conduction)
I know, pretty much everything on this list except hydrolyzed wheat protein and glycerin look like things to avoid. But as you can see by what properties they possess, they're very necessary. Essentially, heat protectants perform 4 major functions: moisturizing, oxidation reducing, strengthening, and buffering. I can't say that one quality is more important than another, but I can most certainly help you figure out how to work all 4 properties into your straightening routine. 

Pre-Poo (optional): Use a regular or deep conditioner (water-based) with humectants and sillicones for hydration and heat protection purposes. You can use the same conditioner to pre-poo and deep condition if you like. TGIN Honey Miracle Hair Mask or ApHogee Curlific Texture Treatment are excellent options here.

Shampoo: Look for a shampoo that contains hydrolyzed proteins to strengthen while cleansing. It's also important that whatever shampoo you use cleanses your hair without making it feel stripped and fried. LRC Complete Cleanse Shampoo shines in this arena.

Deep Conditioner: Water-based deep conditioners with cetrimonium chloride, hydrolyzed protein, humectants, and silicones that lay the foundation for heat protection. The hair needs to take up as much water as possible prior to contact with the blow dryer or flat iron. Most heat damage can be prevented by simply ensuring that the hair is hydrated enough. Cetrimonium chloride is one of my favorite ingredients (dorky, I know) because it penetrates the hair, and when it comes into contact with heat (via blow dryer or flat iron) it actually improves the tensile strength of hair. Essentially, it makes your hair stronger and better able to resist breakage. Hydrolyzed proteins and humectants are important in slowing the decomposition of the hair fiber by reducing oxidative stress and helping to maintain the hair's internal hydration. Lastly, silicones help protect the hair by surrounding it with a protective layer that delays the transfer of heat. My rock, my go-to, my HG for this is Eva NYC Therapy Session Hair Mask

Cellophane & Heat Protectants: For me, cellophanes offer an additional layer of heat protection and shine. Ion's Color Brilliance contains cetrimonium chloride, hydrolyzed proteins, humectants, and silicones. Essentially, it's another layer of conditioning to help protect my hair. You don't have to take my word for it, though! Using any number of types of heat protectant without the cellophane is fine too. Sprays like Tresemme Heat Tamer Spray contains glycerin, PEG-12 dimethicone, amodimethicone, PVP, centrimonium chloride, and propylene glycol. ApHogee Keratin & Green Tea Restructurizer contains trimethylsilylamodimethicone, PVP, glycerin, and centrimonium chloride. I use silicone serums on top of sprays like these for extra protection, smoothness, humidity blocking, and shine. You don't have to have the most expensive serum in the world. A $6 bottle of Garnier something or the other will do the trick just as well as a fancy schmancy "rare exotic blend" silicone based serum. 

What Temperature Setting?

I'm sure by now, you already know about flat ironing in small sections, and not making too many passes over the same section of hair. Additionally, check out what Jc of The Natural Haven Bloom has to say about the best temperature for your flat iron to be on. I don't like to make particular heat setting recommendations, because each head of hair is different. Some of our favorite naturalistas are able to withstand temperatures in the 400s, while some barely use anything above 300. My flat irons personally sit between 390 and 413 degrees Fahrenheit depending on my straightening goal.  By the way, if your flat iron doesn't have a numeric temperature gauge -- it's time to chuck it. You need something that's going to give you a fairly accurate temperature reading in order to prevent heat damage. Low, medium, and high are not helpful at this point in the game. My super go-to and uber fabulous Long Locks Pro Hair Care Glam Iron is the best iron I've ever set to my hair.

I know this was A LOT of information to take in, but I tried to cover everything I felt it was important to know. It's better to be over-informed than under. Please please please let me know in the comments if you have any questions. Also, leave your feedback about the Curl Care 101 series overall. Let me know how I did so I can better serve you with helpful information!

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  1. I Miss The BoondocksFebruary 26, 2015 at 1:40 PM

    Maybe I haven't been keeping up, but why is this your last article?!?

  2. I liked this article. I liked it a lot! I loved the science behind every step and every product. This is also good for just trying to get your hair moisturized. Thanks!

  3. I have natural hair. I spent a lot of time in early high school flat ironing , and finally I make my hair damage. It's so much easier way to protect for my hair. Thanks.

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