We are now coming to the end of our Hot September Series, where the focus was on the impact heat has on your tresses. First, we educated you on the actual structure of the hair followed by heat-protectants. Now, we must go into the tools that we are all very familiar with. It is my duty to help you understand what is happening to your hair (and scalp) as you use these tools. At the end of the day, it is up to you to decide just how much heat your tresses can take.
Straightening Combs and Flat Irons
There are still some 'press-n-curl' lovers out there, so it would not be fair to simply dismiss the tool entirely. I decided to group the two of these tools together because they are in fact producing similar results - straighter hair.
After applying the heat-protectant of your choice, the hair is sectioned into manageable pieces (usually rather thin). Next the comb or flat iron is ran through multiple strands of hair at one time resulting in temporarily straighter hair. Okay, I know you have that down, but what's really going on?
Cuticle: Remember, heat activates the cuticle - making it open or lift. This action exposes the cortex. In some instances, the cuticle is singed or melted by the heat; which also exposes the cortex.
Cortex: Our cortex contains two important bonds. The bond that we are impacting with the application of heat is the hydrogen bond. The hydrogen bond (in addition to other bonds) is responsible for maintaining the strength and shape of the hair and can be manipulated by the application of heat or water. As the heat is applied the hydrogen bonds are weakened, stretched and reshaped into a temporarily straight form as the hair cools.
Tips when choosing to straighten the hair:
- Purchase a tool with a temperature gauge. Do not go beyond 375 on naturally curly hair.
- Straighten in moderation. Repeated straightening or straightening with extremely high temperatures, can result in straight pieces or damaged hair. Over time the cuticle is chipped away and exposes the cortex. I have heard that apple cider vinegar (or some acidic solution) has the potential to revert the straight pieces, however there is a chance that your hair may not return to its original state (damaged beyond repair).
- Go ceramic! Ceramic tools have a more even heat distribution.
A blow out will add that wispy and flowy effect that we all love, however we must still be careful. The same actions (regarding the hydrogen bonds) are taking place with the blow-dryer. You are applying heat and using some tool (usually a comb or paddle/round brush) to stretch the hair. In the natural hair community, blow drying is used to create an elongated effect without using extensions.
Tips when blow-drying the hair:
- As a general rule, try to use a blow dryer that is no higher than 1875W.
- Section the hair into manageable sections.
- Allow the hair to air dry or dry partially under a hooded dryer first. Hair is more fragile when completely wet.
- Use a comb attachment. Be aware of the distance between the teeth of the comb. For extremely curly or tightly coiled hair, you will want the teeth of your comb attachment to be reasonably spaced (not too close together).
- Nurture your scalp. Remember, the hair is like a garden with the scalp being the soil. Too much heat exposure on the scalp can have a negative impact on the hair - drying, breakage, complete loss, etc. Step away from the scalp!
- Avoid the nozzle. This little tool comes with many blow dryers. It is essentially concentrating the heat into a smaller space and forcing it onto your hair and scalp. No!
- Jewel. If you can find a blow-dryer with a 'cool-shot' - you have found a jewel! This little toggle on your blow-dryer allows you to kiss your scalp with a blast of cool hair. My clients love it!
These work similarly to the other tools, however these are used to produce a curl instead of eliminating it. Hydrogen bonds are broken with the heat as the hair is wrapped (and reshaped) around the barrel of a curling iron. As the hair cools, straight hair now has a curl. Many of the tips that apply to straightening combs and flat irons are also applicable here.
I do realize that many stylists favor the Marcel irons, which have no temperature control. It is really an experiential skill one learns and I respect that. They produce longer lasting curls due to the high heat and when used by a professional, the results are beautiful. Many stylists are now using the flat iron to produce curls.
These are my friend. Well for my clients, at least! I cannot stand to sit under one, honestly!! Sure, they take a longer time to yield results, but there is less damage. Patience is a virtue, right? I like to think of it as a manufactured warm summer breeze for your 'garden'. (Although the real thing is better - air dry). My loc'd lovelies oftentimes have no choice but to sit under the dryer because you run the risk of mildew and we don't want that!
With the hooded dryer you are breaking hydrogen bonds by first wetting the hair and reforming those bonds in the shape of cylinders or waves - this could be rollers, rods, straws, pin curls or even twists or braids (producing waves). As the hair drys, cools and those hydrogen bonds are reformed, it takes on a new shape.
I have seen a number of folks sit in my chair after enduring a massive heat session - roller set, blow dry with the nozzle from root to end and back under the dyer. Sound familiar? I can always tell who has been enduring these services. The hair feels brittle to the touch or in some cases, is not affected by water (low porosity). I have heard sob stories regarding tight and itchy scalp, hair loss, scalp inflammation and lifeless tresses.
What I want you to remember is that everything that glitters ain't gold and you get what you pay for. Now that you are aware of what is actually happening to your strands, you are officially an informed customer. Be sure to inform your stylist of your intentions when choosing to straighten your hair. Do you want to sport your true texture or are you planning to wear it straight indefinitely? Lastly, choose your stylist wisely and if it's too much heat for one sitting - say so! If your scalp burns...say so! You get the point...
Great articles about the Dominican Style blow out:
- Much ado about straightening
- Real deal on Dominican hair salons
- Black salons face competition from Dominican salons
On a personal note, you already know I cannot stand to sit under the dryer. I rarely ever use a blow dryer and flat iron my hair once or twice per year. At the end of the day, the choice is yours.