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PICTURED: NAPTURAL85

Let's face it. At some point, you are more than likely going to stretch or straighten your natural or transitioning hair.

Whether it be a regular part of your wash day routine (like stretching your roots for a super voluminous wash and go), blow-drying your hair to prevent tangling during protective styling, prepping for a knock-out bantu knot-out, or even flat ironing for a sleek look, protective measures are always necessary to prevent damage. This is how to get the most out of your heat stretching without compromising the health of your hair.

Step 1: Heat Protection

Always, always, ALWAYS protect your hair when it comes to manipulating it with heat. Protecting your hair from dryness, cracked cuticles, breakage, and heat damage starts on wash day. A moisturizing shampoo or cowash, a great deep conditioner, and stellar heat protecting/leave-in products are a must. Making sure hair is properly moisturized and protected will guarantee a better finished product. These products are all great heat protectants that will help moisturize, strengthen, and prevent heat damage:

MORE: Naptural85's Heatless Blowout 

Step 2: Check The Method

Once you've got your product arsenal together, it's time to discuss methods for heat stretching. There are 4 popular methods for heat stretching to choose from (okay so one of them is a little unconventional, and I totally stumbled upon it on accident one day).

Tension Method

The tension method is one of the least damaging ways to go from dripping wet to dry hair. All you need is a blow dryer with a concentrator nozzle. With hair parted into however many sections works for you (I do 5-6), apply your protection products of choice. With your hair detangled and smoothed between your fingers, gently stretch it downward. With hair in the stretched state, gently move the concentrator nozzle down the shaft of the hair repeatedly until dry. The downward motion provides a better stretch. Medium or low heat with high speeds are recommended with this method.

Blowdry with Comb/Attachment

This is your regular, run-of-the-mill blow drying session. It has the propensity to cause the most damage, but it is also the most effective if you are looking to get super straight stretched hair. This method involves applying protection product, and either with a wide-tooth comb or comb attachment, moving through the hair with the blow dryer at medium or low heat and high speed. You can use the high setting if you choose, for a straighter look. However, the hotter the blow dryer, the faster it zaps moisture from your hair.

Band/Braid Then Blow Dry

Because blow drying can literally zap the moisture out of the hair, some naturals and transitioners prefer to let their hair air dry partially first. The most effective way to air dry is with the hair completely loose, but this lends itself to massive shrinkage, tangling, and breakage. To ward off those natural hair horrors, banding the hair or putting the hair in loose braids works well. Once hair is about 75% dry, you can then use either the tension or comb/attachment blow drying method to finish the job.

Steamer Blowout

This one I stumbled upon on accident. Way back when I got my Q-Redew, I began using it to refresh, moisturize, and detangle my hair. One random evening, I decided to ditch the conditioner to detangle, and see what 100% steam-only would do to my hair. The end result: a massive blowout that was super moisturized! This is surely the way to go if you are terrified of the blow dryer. There is gentle heat, but the water infuses moisture deep into the strand which prevents drying. Will it give you better results than a blow dryer? Maybe. Will your hair be dry afterward? Absolutely not! Check out my Instagram to peep the blowout picture!

Flat Ironing

*cue horror music* This is the one straightening/stretching method that sends chills throughout the natural hair and transitioning community. After doing so much hard work to get curls healthy, everything could be for naught in one fell swoop. But if you do it right, the results are gorgeous and your curls will revert 100%. You need clean hair (shampoo clean, not cowash clean) that has been deep condition, and dried via one of the above methods (except steaming). Heat protection here is SUPER important! I recommend a heat protectant before blow drying, and a serum before flat ironing. Garnier Fructis Sleek & Shine Moroccan Sleek Oil Treatment is my favorite flat ironing serum to use. Using a flat iron with a visible temperature gauge (no high, medium, low!), make 1 or 2 passes (no more than 2) over super small sections of hair. It is CRITICAL that hair be 100% dry before flat ironing to prevent bubbling within the shaft. Also, while temperature tolerance varies head-to-head, it is generally a good idea to keep flat iron temperatures below 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Ideally, under 380 degrees. Click here for more in-depth information about flat ironing hair.

Step 3: Moisturize and Maintain

Maintaining moisture levels in heat stretched hair can be difficult. Water-based anything will cause immediate reversion. But at the same time, water is the one true moisturizer. Talk about a paradox! One of the best ways to combat this is to regularly moisturize the hair with an oil that is known to penetrate the hair shaft. Easiest, most accessible, and affordable is coconut oil. Applying it sparingly throughout your stretched hair stint will help keep the hair moisturized, and protect the ends which are incredibly prone to drying out. Other oils that penetrate the hair shaft (although not as effectively as coconut oil) are: grapeseed oil, argan oil, palm kernel oil, and flaxseed oil. Ucuuba butter is also known to penetrate the hair. At this stage, it is super important to avoid silicone-based serums. They don't penetrate the hair, and they can have a mild occlusive effect and prevent other moisturizers from getting in as well. Although it may be more expensive, 100% pure oil is best. Cold pressed, virgin, and unrefined is even better. Follow more of my tips for transitioners and curly girls on my blog, ManeObjective.com & stay in touch with me through my Instagram, @ManeObjective.


This article was originally published in February 2014 and has been updated for grammar and clarity.

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