How to Reduce Heat Damage from Flat Ironing your Hair

Girl with flat-ironed hair

Flatirons are an extremely popular styling device that helps you achieve a straight and glossy look, without leaving your home. However, the same styling tool that gives you that glamorous look can cause irreversible damage to your hair if used in an inappropriate way, or when used on hair that is not adequately protected. Hair straighteners utilize extremely high temperatures (up to 450 F), causing serious adverse effects on hair when proper precautions are not taken.

Since straightening irons use your hair’s natural internal moisture, frequent heat straightening can deprive your strands of the vital moisture that keeps them elastic and nourished.

Application of high temperatures during flat ironing can weaken the hair’s internal protein structure, leaving your strands inelastic and more prone to breakage.

Applying extreme heat disturbs your hair’s cuticle layer, making strands porous and leading to excessive frizz and split ends. Heat damaged hair is less smooth and can appear dull and lifeless. Such hair is hard to comb and the number of broken fibers is visibly increased.

Heat damage is hard to undo, and most of the time it’s not possible to get rid of the damage without cutting.

How to Prevent Heat Damage to Hair

Since heat-induced structural damage to the hair is irreversible, it’s much easier to take proper precautions to prevent heat damage from occurring in the first place. Here are some tips on using a flat iron without compromising the structural integrity of your hair.

Make Sure Your Hair is Completely Dry

Your hair is very fragile and susceptible to damage when it’s wet. Flat ironing wet hair can lead to “bubble hair” unless you use a wet-to-dry flat iron. To reduce the amount of heat you have to apply for styling let your hair air dry instead of blow-drying it prior to flat ironing.

If you must blow-dry your hair, make sure to thoroughly dry it with a highly absorbent towel. Use an ionic hair dryer that helps lock in moisture, reduces drying time and eliminates frizz. Blow-dry in a downward motion to make hair as straight as possible before the ironing process.

Wet & dry flat irons are specifically designed with the option for styling damp hair. The plates have holes or steam vents that remove water from your hair, eliminating the need for blow-drying prior to flat-ironing. Drying and styling your hair at the same time is less time consuming than the traditional heat straightening method.

Do not Flat Iron your Hair on a Daily Basis

Flat irons should be used in moderation. Using a straightening iron less often will reduce the opportunity for heat damage and give you healthier hair in the long run. For very fragile hair like fine, color-treated, or relaxed hair it is not advisable to use a flat iron more than once a month.

Flat Iron Clean Hair

Make sure your hair is clean and adequately moisturized before you start heat straightening. When you apply heat to unwashed hair, styling product residue and dirt could fry on your hair. Before you begin the straightening process, wash your hair using a shampoo and conditioner that claim to be moisturizing and/or smoothing. Moisturizing ingredients in shampoos help bind moisture in the hair while smoothing components seal the cuticles and makes it easier to achieve a straight, sleek style.

Choose a Quality Appliance

It’s worth investing in a quality appliance that will give you sleek hair without causing much damage. High-quality flat irons require less effort (including fewer heat passes) to achieve the look that you are aiming for.

A professional-grade flat iron with tourmaline-infused ceramic plates is designed to evenly distribute heat and provide faster styling. Tourmaline plus ceramic surfaces produce negative ions that seal the cuticle and protect hair from drying out. Be sure that your chosen device is equipped with a temperature dial, so you can control the heat level according to your hair type.

Vibrating Flat Irons utilize a combination of heat and vibration to keep hair gliding smoothly through the plates. Tiny vibrations reduce pulling and snagging, allowing for easier release of hair. This makes the heat straightening process faster and reduces the possibility of heat damage. This type of flat iron works best on thick, coarse hair.

Steam flat irons release steam from a built-in water tank to moisten the hair during straightening, so they are less likely to burn your hair.

Make sure to clean your appliance regularly to remove dirt and product buildup from the plates.

Select Appropriate Heat Settings

Use your flat iron as infrequently as possible and don’t apply more heat than necessary. Adjust the heat level according to your hair texture and condition. Fine hair requires lower temperature settings than thick or coarse hair. If your hair is fine, select a temperature below 325 F. For those with medium hair texture and fairly healthy strands the temperature should be between 300 to 375 F.

Color-treated and chemically processed hair is more likely to experience heat damage than healthy hair. Thicker hair can handle temperatures ranging from 360 to 410 degrees. For curly hair, it is advisable to stay below 375 F to prevent damaging the curl pattern.

Use Heat Protection Sprays

To minimize heat damage, always use a heat-protectant before straightening your hair. These products are formulated to prevent moisture loss and to add a layer that keeps the hair shaft from overheating during heat styling.

A heat protector should be applied to clean, damp hair to absorb into the hair shaft. Comb your hair using a wide-toothed comb to remove tangles and to evenly spread the product from the roots to the ends of your hair. This will allow the plates to glide smoothly and prevent the hair from getting caught.

A leave-in conditioner fortifies the hair with moisture and forms a protective layer to defend hair against heat damage. These products keep hair tangle-free and provide easy styling while adding softness and shine. Select a product formulated with natural and organic ingredients, as it will stay in your hair. Apply to freshly-washed, damp hair prior to styling.

If you have fine or oily hair, select a lightweight heat defender spray that allows your hair to feel non-greasy and weightless. The quality of the nozzle is important because it enables you to spread the product in a wide range and you will only need a little to cover all of your hair. This helps avoid product build-up and the bottle will also last longer.

Thermal protecting sprays infused with natural oils are designed to penetrate the hair shaft instead of just coating hair strands, like silicone-based thermal protectors. They help retain hair’s natural moisture and protect against damage caused by heat styling. Natural oils also revitalize your hair, restore sheen, provide frizz control, and help reduce heat-induced breakage.

Thermal protectors with Argan oil are especially suitable for those with dry, curly, or frizzy hair. Argan oil penetrates the hair shaft and provides deep hydration for soft and silky hair. It helps restore vitality and shine, tames frizz, and keeps flyaways under control.

Silicone-based thermal protectors coat the hair strands with polymers masking the rough surface of hair fibers and providing a protective barrier between your hair and straightening device. Silicone seals the hair cuticle and provides other short-term benefits such as easy detangling, reduced breakage, and improved hair manageability.

Sectioning your Hair

For an easier and more efficient straightening process, divide your hair into at least four sections and twist them up using large clips. Divide those large sections into smaller, easy to manage portions, based on the size of your plates. Clip up all the sections of hair except the one you have released to work on. Begin from the lower sections of your hair, sliding the iron down the section, and continue to the top focusing on one piece at a time. The section you work on should be small enough to pass between the plates easily without missing spots. Straightening too much hair at a time may require extra passes which will increase the chances of experiencing heat damage.

Keep your Straightening Iron Moving

Keep your appliance in constant motion. Don’t let the appliance sit in one spot for more than 3 seconds, as keeping the iron in one spot or running it too slowly will increase the likelihood of heat damage. Try to straighten each section in a single pass. If you need to go through the same section more than once, take a small break between passes to keep heat damage to a minimum.

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