How To Prevent Heat Damage While Styling Your Natural Hair by Felicia Leatherwood

Updated: Apr 27

As a rule of thumb, you should always use a heat protectant before you apply any type of heat to your hair. A protectant is a product that helps coat, and strengthens the cuticle, to protect it from exposure to the heat source. There are many products on the market (including leave-in conditioners) that can sometimes serve as a protectant.

Getting Started

After you’ve detangled and applied your protectant, it is best to blow dry your hair with a comb attachment; make sure the temperature setting is appropriate for your wet or dry hair. Moisture stays at the base of the scalp after your shampoo, so that area is going to be wetter. You’ll notice your ends tend to dry quicker. You can use a medium to high heat setting at the base (root area), but as you move the blow dryer down toward the end of the hair, you want to use the cool down button so you don’t overheat the hair. Use the cool down button at all times on hair that is already dry.

If you wear your natural hair straight, it is safe to have it flat ironed every other week (not to exceed twice in one month). In between, you must shampoo and condition the hair. Use curlformers, flexi rods, rollers, or a wrap for your overnight styling technique.

You don’t need to straighten your hair beyond a blow dry for length check. A blow out with a dryer is sufficient to complete this task. You just want to check where it’s growing the fastest and longest using the least amount of heat.

When a trim is required, it does not have to be completely straight to get a precise cut from a professional. A blow dry without flat ironing the hair would be enough to reveal your true shape.

When using a hot comb, only hot comb the roots of your hair. Don’t pull the comb through the entire length of your hair strands. Only use a flat iron on the body (or the rest) of the hair for straightening. When going to a professional, feel confident in making this recommendation to your stylist.

If your hair is fine or soft, be very careful not to over flat iron, or apply to much repetitive heat to the hair; it may not revert back to the curly or kinky curly state.

Flat iron temperatures. Your flat iron temperature is safest on a lower setting (between 375 to 400 degrees, depending on how thick your hair is). Everyone should test the heat of the iron on a napkin first, if the napkin turns brown, then it’s still too hot to apply to your hair. Adjust the settings appropriately. 400 to 450 degrees would be OK on thicker hair; people with medium to fine hair should use 375 to 400 degrees. But don’t forget to test first.

When You Smell Burned Hair

There are only two reasons why you’ll smell something burning while flat ironing your hair:

  1. You could have actually burned you hair.

  2. If the towel or napkin used in checking the temperature of the iron is burned with a black or brown residue, the odor from the towel will get into the iron and transfer onto your hair — which causes the odor.

Recovering from heat damage. The bad news is that heat damage can only be healed by cutting off this now dead hair. Even after a protein treatment, there may not be enough improvement to salvage these strands. Because of the heat, your hair may become thinned out … and there is no recovery from that damage. You can use argon oil on the ends of the hair left after trimming to protect from further damage.

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