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Heat and curls do not make a good pair. Flat ironing, using curling wands, and excessive blow drying can permanently damage hair. Straightening curly hair may be a fun change, but it does come with side effects. In this article, I will discuss what straightening does to curly hair, how heat affects the hair strand and how you can protect your hair from heat.
There are several different things that can cause heat damage to hair. These include using tools with a temperature that is way too high, using heat too often on the hair, holding heat on the same section of hair for too long and failing to apply a heat protector beforehand.
According to Rolanda Johnson Wilkerson, Ph.D., a senior beauty scientist for Procter & Gamble, “When you add too much heat to your hair, you are completely breaking hair bonds the same way you would as if you were chemically relaxing your hair, and the bonds can’t be reformed again.” Though occasional use shouldn’t cause severe damage when protective caution is in use, consistent heat abuse can destroy natural curl patterns and even lead to severe breakage by ruining the structure of hair bonds.
JC, who has a BSc and PhD in Material Science, writes on her blog, The Natural Haven, that “High heat makes physical and irreversible changes to your hair at a molecular level. High or prolonged heat can physically and irreversibly change the natural structure of protein."
She further writes, "Hair is made up of a protein called keratin. Keratin in hair has a natural twist in it called an alpha helix. This twist is present in all hair — straight or curly. If you heat keratin to around 419°-455° F, the alpha helix starts to melt. This is a physical change and it is irreversible. Your hair will retain the shape of the melted keratin at a molecular level."
"Your hair shows you this molecular damage by not getting back into its natural curl or wave and staying straighter. All damage to your hair is cumulative. Remember you have no growing cells in the dead part of the hair. So if the cuticle is broken, it will stay broken. If you heat treat and damage the cortex, it stays damaged. Your hair conditioner and gentle treatment can help prolong the life of the damaged hair but ultimately it is damaged and the damage will continue to progress,” she writes.
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How to Protect Your Hair from Heat
Here are some tips to protect your hair — as much as possible — if you absolutely must use heat:
Do not let any tools get hotter than 400 degrees.
Always apply a thermal protector before using heat to help reduce the risk of damage. Three favorites are Briogeo Rosarco Blow Dry Perfection Heat Protectant Crème, Living Proof Restore Perfecting Spray, and Shea Moisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen and Restore Thermal Protectant.
Use an intense protein treatment the next wash to help mend any tears, splits, and cracks to the hair cuticle. Be sure to follow up the protein treatment with moisture. Two suggestions for protein treatments are Aphogee Two-Step Protein Treatment and Ouidad Curl Recovery Melt-Down Extreme Repair Mask.
Moisturize! Since heat depletes the hair of all moisture, you want to add that moisture back in. Deep conditioning is a must. Jessicurl Deep Treatment is super moisturizing and nourishing for parched hair.
Overall, any heat applied to the hair will cause a bit of damage, but excessive heat use will permanently damage the hair and ruin the curl pattern. It's up to each curly to decide how much risk she is willing to take.
If you want to stretch out your hair temporarily, check out this article for tips.