One of the very best things about curly and coily hair is the versatility that comes with it. These hair types can literally be transformed into any style of choice, from sleek ponytails to beautiful Bantu knots to big twist-outs. A lot can be done with Types 3 and 4 hair.
While many naturalistas love to rock their natural tresses, others like to wear their curly/coily hair straight and/or curled. Rocking bone-straight hair can be detrimental to the health of the hair if it is done too frequently or improperly. This is because the styling tools to achieve these styles need to be heated.
If your hairstyling tool involves heat, then you probably know what heat damage is. It has probably happened to you before. Now, I’m not trying to say that you will only damage your hair if you use heat.
No. There are aesthetic benefits to using heat on your hair. The use of heat on hair causes the cuticle (i.e. the outermost layer of hair) to:
- release moisture
- hold a different shape
- lie flat
- release natural curl
Heat, as a hairstyling agent, is an absolute game-changer because it can literally transform your tresses and make them look sleek, defined, shiny, and easier to style. But it can also dry out your hair cuticle and change the structure of your hair proteins. And you absolutely DO NOT want that.
Getting your hair damaged by heat is one of the most frustrating things you can experience. Sometimes, it gets to a point where you just feel like your only option is to cut it all off.
This is why you have to take steps to prevent and treat heat damaged hair before it gets to the point where you have to chop it all off.
How Can I Know If My Hair is Heat-Damaged?
The significant signs of heat-damaged hair are pretty glaring. After one too many blow-dry and heat-styling sessions, your hair may begin to show signs of overstyling. Your tresses generally become harder to manage and it does not hold its shape as well when you style it.
Some signs that your hair is heat-damaged include:
- dull, coarse hair
- hair breakage
- split ends or ends that easily break off
- very dry hair
- hair that tangles and knots easily
- difficulty styling or brushing the hair
- white nodules at the ends of the hair shafts
- rough/stringy hair texture
If you have naturally curly hair, you may notice that your hair is losing its curl definition and becoming straighter than before.
How Exactly Do Hot Styling Tools Affect My Hair?
Another great question!
To answer it, I have to be a bit science-y here. I’m sorry in advance.
You see, a blow-dryer, curling iron or flat iron temporarily alters the style and shape of your hair through the water-set process. These heated styling tools remove water from the hair, allowing the hydrogen bonds and salt-bridges structure the hair internally.
When you wash or re-wet your hair, you lose the style because the hair reabsorbs the lost moisture and returns to its normal shape.
Even if you do not wet your hair, you can still lose the style when your hair absorbs a lot of moisture from the atmosphere (environmental humidity). The moisture impacts the temporary ionic and hydrogen bonds and make you lose the set or style slowing.
To extend the style or set, you can apply higher temperatures to the hair which drives out the water quicker. The more heat you apply, the faster the moisture (water) in your hair evaporates and the more internal structuring occurs.
Note that all heating devices use temperatures above the boiling point of water (over 100 oC) to ensure a rapid water evaporation water to get that perfect style, reduced frizz, and increased shine.
Unfortunately, the accumulated hair damage from continued thermal assault may counterbalance the temporary hair benefits we get from heat styling.
Thermal assault affects the hair cuticle and cortex, changing the aesthetics of the hair and the mechanical and structural properties.
Using a procedure known as differential scanning calorimetry, chemists have determined the changes in the hair at various temperatures. Below are a summary of their findings:
- at 230C (or 445F), they noted the thermal denaturation of the alpha-helical structure of the hair’s protein to B-sheet structure.
- At 240C, they saw the total decomposition of hair protein.
This means that you can still experience hair damage even if you style your hair at temperatures below the protein denaturation threshold.
One study conducted showed that all hair types (emphasis on ALL) weaken within 5 minutes of heating at 155C. When I say ‘weaken’, I mean decreased tensile strength and increased hair breakage.
Think about that in relation to the fact that most styling devices use temperatures far above 155C. As the temperature increases, fiber strength and elasticity decreases.
Hair strength is derived from the internal structure of the hair most attributed to the disulfide bonds in the hair cortex. Hair strength declines and split ends or hair breakage occurs when these bonds and internal structure become compromised.
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Okay, So What Can I Do To Treat Heat Damaged Hair?
The part you’ve been waiting for, no? I’m sorry it took so long to get to the good, good stuff.
Well, here we are. Let’s get down to it.
Depending on the severity of the damage, there are certain steps you can take to treat heat-damaged hair.
- Clarify Your Hair
This is the first step.
The last thing you want is to fry debris, product build-up, oil and dirt on your hair. Cleansing your hair is very, very important for the straightening process so make sure to start the process off right.
Use a clarifying or moisturizing shampoo to cleanse your hair. A clarifying shampoo can help smooth and soothe your hair when it is dry.
If you can’t find a clarifying shampoo, just use a gentle shampoo and then rinse your hair with apple cider vinegar.
If your hair is severely damaged, don’t use a clarifying shampoo as this could make the damage even worse. If you are not sure whether to use it or not, ask a hairstylist.
I recommend these clarifying shampoos:
Please, for the love of Pete, don’t wash your hair every single day. Washing your hair too much can dry it out and cause damage. Instead of hot water, use lukewarm or cool water.
Note that a clarifying shampoo is different from a normal shampoo.
- Use a Protein-based Conditioner to Strengthen Your Hair
Protein-based conditioners exist, y’all. Their job is to fill the little rips and tears in your hair and make it stronger. This way, your hair is stronger and more resilient against heat damage.
The repair is not permanent, and will only last until you wash your hair again.
Using a protein treatment/conditioner before heat styling will help strengthen your hair for the process. Afterward, use it again to rejuvenate your curls.
Some curly-haired folks, however. are protein-sensitive. This means that after using a protein treatment, their hair tends to become dry and hard. This is a result of how strong the protein treatment/conditioner is.
If this sounds like you, be careful with how much you use a protein-based treatment/conditioner.
Consider using a leave-in conditioner after you have finished showering. This will lock the moisture in and keep your hair hydrated throughout the day.
Follow the directions written on the bottle carefully. Don’t leave the conditioner or treatment in your hair for longer than the recommended time. This can make your hair brittle.
I recommend these protein-based conditioners/treatments:
- Use a Deep Conditioner as a Hydrating Mask
To do this, you have to get your hair damp first and then apply a deep conditioner to it.
If you have hair that is long enough to be pulled into a bun, do that. Pull it into a loose bun and cover it with a shower cap.
If you have short Types 3 and 4 hair and cannot pull it into a bun, you can part the hair into sections and do two-strand or three-strand twists on each section of hair. Cover it with a shower cap.
Wrap a hot towel around your head and wait for 10 to 20 minutes. When the time is done, rinse the deep conditioner out with cool water.
When purchasing a deep conditioner, look for ingredients such as protein, olive oil, keratin, or shea butter.
If you are in a rush, apply the deep conditioner after you rinse the shampoo out. Leave it in for 3 to 5 minutes and then rinse it out.
You can use hair masks once or twice each week.
- Reduce How Frequently You Straighten Your Hair
There is no set number of times that guarantees you will have heat damage, but most curly- and coily-haired folks use heated styling tools about three to four times a year.
Yeah, I know there are some mutants amongst us that can straighten and curl their hair every week, and rock a wash and go with their curls perfectly in place.
They are not you and you are not them. Don’t do it please. Don’t even try to find out if your hair can take it. You might regret it.
- Use a Heat Protectant on Your Hair
I know that many hair guides will tell you NOT to use hair products that contain silicones.
If you use heated styling devices, you HAVE TO use a heat protectant that contains silicones.
Silicones do not only reduce the potential of damage from the direct heat of the irons. They also reduce the amount of moisture in the air that penetrates your hair shaft and reverts your curls.
Apply the heat protectant while your hair is still damp and before blow-drying in order to seal in moisture.
- Lower the Freaking Temperature, Dude!
Okay, sorry I shouted, but how can you even endure so much heat?
I mean, sleep is good but drip is forever, right? I get it. Really I do, but dang, 300 degrees, really?
If you don’t know, I am SCARED TO DEATH of heated styling tools. I have never straightened my 4C hair EVER. I have use a blow dryer a couple of times though, and I always squirmed in the seat when the temperature got too high.
Just lower the temp.
The lower the temperature, the less likely your hair is to experience heat damage. The general rule of thumb is the thicker your tresses, the higher the temperature.
Most curly- and coily-haired folks try to stay under 350 or 375 degrees.
Granted, a lower temperature might make it a bit more challenging to get that perfectly sleek, relaxed look but at least, you are not risking the health of your hair.
That’s good, right?
- Use a Hot Oil Treatment to Replenish Your Hair
This one is real simple.
Just heat some olive oil over the stove. You can mix it with coconut oil, but that depends on if your hair likes coconut oil.
Allow the hot oil to cool down to room temperature. Apply it to clean, towel-dried hair. Cover your oil-coated hair with a shower cap and then wrap a hot towel around your hair.
Wait for an hour before rinsing the oil out with cold water. You can use shampoo to remove any residue if you want.
It is advisable to do this treatment 1 to 3 times a month. The amount of oil you use depends on how long and thick your hair is. The oil should be enough to completely saturate your hair though.
For a deep conditioning treatment, leave the oil in your hair overnight.
- Stretch Your Hair before Straightening It
Normally, before straightening, most people use a blow-dryer. Lately, many naturalistas have been using the banding method.
The banding method involves the use of hair ties or ponytail holders to stretch the hair gently by holding the curls in an elongated position while they dry.
If you still want to use a blow-dryer, use the tension blowout method.
The tension blowout method involves you washing your hair and stretching it using your hands and using a blow-dryer to dry your hair from a short distance.
- Blow-dry Damp Hair, Not Wet Hair
If you use the tension blowout method or a blow-dryer with a comb attached to stretch your hair before straightening, make sure your hair is damp, not wet.
Blow-drying wet hair is the same thing as frying the hair.
- Use Straightening Alternatives
That’s what Youtube exists for!
YouTube is filled with roller wrap and roller set tutorials if you want to learn how to straighten your hair without heat.
Know that you may not have the exact finish you would get with a flat iron, but these alternatives are much healthier.
- Big Chop
I know you do not want to see this tip on any list, but it is valid. It is the best way to reverse the damage.
Just cut it off.
I highly encourage cutting the ends of your hair that are heat damaged. If you cannot cut your own hair, then I suggest you schedule an appointment with a stylist.
See, whenever hair is damaged, whether the damaging agent is chemical or mechanical, it simply CANNOT be reversed.
All the product ads you see that claim to remedy split ends are LYING TO YOU. Those products are formulated with PEC technology and they are only going to temporarily fuse the split ends together.
When hair is damaged and the ends are not trimmed, there is a good chance that they damage would travel up the hair shaft. Sometimes the damage can end up traveling beyond the point of demarcation, which will make you cut off even more hair than your expect later.
So, you can either cut now or cut more hair later. Your choice.
What Can I Do To Combat Heat Damage Based On My Hair Type?
Curly and Coily Hair
For all my folks with curly and coily hair (Types 3 and 4 hair), heat damage ain’t sweet to y’all.
When your hair is damaged by heat, it becomes frizzy and tangled. It also adopts an unpredictable texture.
To restore your natural curls, you should focus on sealing moisture back into your hair follicles.
Hair masks and deep conditioning treatments are good for this. They are rich in moisturizing ingredients like shea butter and argan oil and then can help restore the bounciness in your hair. You can make a DIY hair conditioner. They work great, too.
Related Read: 10 Ridiculously Easy DIY Leave-In Conditioner Recipes
When purchasing masks and deep conditioning treatments, look for moisture-rich ingredients like avocado, coconut oil or aloe vera to help seal moisture.
Like I said earlier, avoid shampooing your hair daily because shampoo strips hair of its natural oils. Apply shampoo to your scalp and the roots of your hair. Wash your hair once every couple of days—until your hair starts to retain its curly pattern again.
Heat damage can make straight hair dry and brittle. It can also make split ends more obvious and make it more difficult for your hair to lie flat.
To restore the glossiness of your hair, focus on restoring the natural proteins in your hair.
Leave-in protein treatments that contain yoghurt, olive oil and honey can help restore the natural bonds in your hair and make the damage less obvious.
Keratin-rich conditioning sprays can soothe broken bonds in the hair follicles.
I’m not sure if you knew this but coloring your hair with bleach or getting a perm can also cause heat damage. Your hair can be burned by salon treatments, especially when they are left on for long period of time.
If you want to help chemical-induced heat damaged hair, you may need to speak to the hairstylist that treated your hair.
A hair mask or a professional deep-conditioning treatment from the salon is the first step to restoring your hair to its former glory. Hot oil treatments that you can do at home are another option.
While you wait for your chemically treated hair to heal from heat damage, try not to wash your hair every day. Also, avoid using hot styling tools COMPLETELY. This is incredibly important in the days after you bleach or get a perm.
Conditioning sprays that contain spirulina may also help restore the bonds in your hair.
How to Prevent Heat Damage
To treat heat damaged hair is good, but preventing it is better.
The best solution for heat-damaged hair is to prevent it. That’s it. Let it just not happen.
Now, I understand that this is not always possible, but there are some proven steps you can take that can protect your hair.
- Rinse your hair with cool water. Cool water helps seal the hair cuticles after a shower.
- Use a microfiber towel on your hair after you wash it. A microfiber towel helps speed up the drying process. This means that you will spend less time under the blow dryer, while sealing the hair cuticles.
- While using your blow dryer, keep it five inches from the surface of your hair. A study conducted in 2011 showed that keeping your blow dryer this far from your hair may even be better than letting your hair air-dry.
- Spray a surface protectant on your hair before using hot styling tools to protect it from damage. Use sprays that contain silicone and keratin as they can seal your hair cuticle and make it more resistant to damage.
- Sleep on a satin pillowcase and use satin bonnets. This can make your hairstyles last longer. When your styles last longer, you fuss less in the morning, you don’t shampoo too often and you just become happier overall.
- Experts recommend that you limit the use of hot styling tools to once per week.
All right, guys!
What do you think of these ways to treat heat damaged hair? Which ones do you implement?
Tell me down in the comments below.
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Hi there! I’m Althea Storm, creator of Althea’s Alcove. I am a blogger, beauty expert, makeup artist, Pinterest strategist, freelance writer, future crime fiction author and video game programmer. I know it’s a lotta things, but a girl’s gotta get the bag, not so?
With this blog, I aim to help ALL beauty enthusiasts–male, female, queer, non-binary, etc.–achieve luminous skin, healthier hair, and advanced makeup skills.
I also help newbie bloggers achieve financial freedom through blogging by sharing my very best blog creation guides, monetization channels, and promotion strategies.