Get to Optimally Straight SAFELY
Whether you straighten your hair regularly or once in a while, it's always vital to protect it as best as you can before you break out the heat. Knowing the best order to use products to minimise heat damage is as crucial as knowing which ingredients can actually shield your hair from high temperatures. If you want to straighten your hair and keep it in good condition, you've got to do both.
Many people are surprised to find their hair can be damaged from just one straightening session gone wrong. It certainly can. Particularly if you straighten your hair at high temperatures (as most people with naturally tightly-curled, heavily textured hair – which includes most Afro hair varieties – tend to do), it takes very little exposure to literally melt your hair, irreversibly damaging your hair's structure.
The tightest heat protection approach is like taking out an insurance policy for the wellbeing of your hair. The process is definitely multi-step; don't even think about breaking out the heat styling tools without making sure your hair has every layer of protection in place first. As always, the products you use are a key part of this process. There's no point in working with products which offer poor heat protection or - even worse - encourage heat damage, even when you're getting everything else right.
How to start:
Pretreat the night before
For best results, treat your hair to a good deep-conditioning pretreatment before you heat style it. Products rich in olive oil and coconut oil, or the pure oils themselves are good for this. These oils are rich in the right fatty acids – that is, the ones that are small enough and the right shape to get into your hair. Once in there, they work to strengthen your hair, making it more able to resist damage to its natural protein structure. They also take very long to penetrate – upwards of eight hours – so it's best to apply overnight, on dry hair. Wash out the next day, mandatory: leaving these two in your hair and applying heat is like putting your hair in a frying pan with the burners on full blast. The reason to use them as a pretreatment is that their strengthening effect lasts a while beyond the time they are in your hair.
Shampoo your hair
Once should do it. Shampoo is better than co-washing here, to fully cleanse away all the debris that might be on your hair, some of which might make your hair harder to straighten and which are hard for conditioners to remove, like certain common hair gel and hair spray ingredients.
Condition your hair with the small stuff
Look for penetrative ingredients here, especially cetrimonium chloride or cetrimonium bromide. The small molecules these substances are composed of absorb easily into the strand. Once the heat hits, they work to cross link proteins in the hair shaft, increasing the tensile strength of your hair. Great news when you're tugging a brush through it under the blast of a hot dryer or stretching it straight with a flat iron. Another ingredient to look for is hydrolyzed wheat protein polysiloxane copolymer, a silicone protein hybrid which helps prevent your cuticle from cracking. Macadamia oil can contribute one very specific benefit - its super high heat capacity (the amount of heat required to change its temperature). If the oil is absorbed into your hair, it will take longer for your hair to reach higher temperatures, a factor which minimises damage. And, as ever, silicones are superior heat protectants because of their low thermal conductivity, which allows only some of the heat from your dryer, comb or iron to pass through to your hair.
Leave in like you condition
Look for the same ingredients as in the conditioner. Make sure you allow the product to absorb completely before applying high levels of heat.
Seal the deal with serum
Truly your last line of resistance, this product is usually formulated with silicones, known for the heat-protective barrier they form around your hair. For a serum to do its job well, it needs to be allowed to work unobstructed. Use a concentrated serum that doesn't include a lot of ingredients that could degrade the silicone – several oils do this – or otherwise interfere with the good work it does. For best results, look for serums that contain only silicones plus fragrance. Dimethicone should top the list as it has the best (i.e. lowest) thermal conductivity. Apart from one or two other silicones and a fragrance (which is usually at such low concentration it affects neither the product nor your hair, apart from making them both smell nice), there need be nothing else in the product. Under no circumstances should it contain water.
Once you've applied your serum you're good to go; turn up the iron, dryer or comb to the lowest level at which your hair can be straightened. And begin, ensuring that you don't continuously pass heat over areas you've already straightened. Once you're done, smooth and brush through a final layer of serum to seal your hair against humidity in the air, making your style last longer so you're not tempted to retouch.
DHA Hair Care Experts
Dominican Hair Alliance