How To| Prevent Heat Damage When Flat Ironing Natural Hair

by West Parsons on July 13, 2011 · 44 comments

in hair care, straight hair

Heat is one of those things that gets a bad reputation in the hair care world, and it should! Heat can take a perfectly beautiful head of textured hair and completely destroy it in one bad pressing or drying. Once heat has damaged your hair, there is nothing you can do to permanently repair it. Sure, conditioners and reconstructors work miracles for improving the appearance of heat damaged hair, but heat damage is there to stay. This article will provide an overview of strategies for beating heat damage, and teach you how to responsibly use heat to prevent heat damage.

READ MORE: How to Prevent Heat Damage + What Ingredients Minimize It

How Hot is Too Hot?

Before we can prevent heat damage, we need to know the temperature ranges to work within. Healthy hair burns at roughly the same temperature as paper: 233C (451.4F); however, burning or scorching can occur at lower temperatures in hair that has been subjected to other harsh treatments. McMullen and Jachowicz describe how the removal of water in the hair occurs at approximately 50C-120C (122F-248F). Milczarek et. al found thatat near 155C (311F), the hair’s keratin begins to break its linkages and become disordered. At approximately 233C or 451.4F, the hair’s keratin begins to melt. Most thermal styling tools operate in the 100-170C (212-338F)range. Those with thicker coarser hair tend to operate their irons and devices in the 150-170C range, or approximately 302-338F. Although these temperatures are still well below the burning threshold, your hair’s condition can change your max heat tolerance.

Prepare Your Hair for Heat Styling

Heat protection starts well before your flat iron, hot curler, or blow dryer ever hits your hair. Hair is best protected from heat damage when it is properly conditioned with both moisture and protein. Black hair should always be cleaned and deep conditioned well prior to applying any heat source. Prepping the hair with a moisturizing deep conditioner prior to using heat is crucial. Moisturizing deep conditioners with hydrolyzed proteins reinforce the hair by creating important cross linkages deep within the hair fiber. The moisture not only helps maintain hydrogen bonding between keratin proteins, but it also helps absorb and dissipate heat through the hair fiber. Moisture increases the hair’s specific heat capacity, or the amount of heat needed to increase the hair’s temperature, Dow Corning scientists say. Poorly moisturized hair heats rapidly and is damaged more easily. Here, water serves a protective function. Protein allows the hair to retain much of its internal moisture, and keeps the hair’s own keratin structure fully supported.

READ MORE: Results of Pre-Pooing Natural Hair Before Flat Ironing

Beat the Heat! Selecting Heat Protection

A heat protectant should always be used whenever a heated appliance comes near your hair. Not only do they protect against heat damage, but they reduce hair friction ensuring a smooth glide through the plates. What you want is something that will absorb most of the direct heat from your device, yet still conduct enough heat to temporarily transform your hair’s keratin. Silicone based produces like Biosilk fusion, Redken Smooth Down Heat Glide, and Chi Silk Therapy, are great for protecting the hair against heat damage. Silicones have low “thermal conductivity” which is the measure of how fast heat is able to pass through them, according to experts at Dow Corning. “The higher the thermal conductivity, the faster a material will transmit heat” they add. Water and mineral oil have higher thermal conductivities and will allow heat to pass through hair pretty quickly. Low thermal conductivity is needed on the hair’s outer surface, but water’s high heat capacity is needed internally to complement this process and protect the hair fiber. Silicones and water work together to protect against heat damage by slowing the rate of overall heating in the hair fiber. Heating the hair at a slow, uniform temperature is much easier on the hair. Dimethicone is slated to be the lowest conducting silicone (best), followed closely by Cyclomethicone- so look out for these two “cones” in your heat protectant [see article for list of other ingredients found in good thermal protectors].

west straight hair 2013READ MORE: My Most Recent Straightening Regimen (Nov 2012)

Blow Drying

After applying your heat protectant, allow your hair to dry slowly to prevent heat damage. The point of a blow dryer is to dry the hair quickly, but drying from wet to 100% with a blow dryer can be damaging. Water from washing swells the hair fiber; drying shrinks the hair back to normal size. But rapid drying, especially via blow drying, stresses the cuticle and causes cracking to the cuticle surface. While your hair is at its wettest, blowdry it a little more than half way dry. Next, air dry your hair to complete dryness. Always use a diffuser to avoid direct heat to the hair.

Flat Ironing

Make sure your flat iron Has Temperature control. Temperature control does not mean “on and off,” or “high and low. ” You want to make sure that your device has a dedicated temperature dial so that you can control the heat. Ideally, you want actual temperature ranges displayed in either Celsius of Fahrenheit. Though there is some contention about whether these temperatures are even accurate to begin with, you know on a mental scale that 200 degrees is a heck of a lot less than 300 degrees, etc. so you can work accordingly on this relative scale. Some flat irons have dials with numbers like 10, 15, 25-and there you’d be using a relative scale which is not too helpful. It is still better to have actual temperature ranges to work with. A setting of 25 could be 250C or 500C for all we know!

Keep your appliances Clean

This is especially applicable to flat irons. Flat ironing the hair with dirty flat iron plates can abrade the hair cuticle. Debris can harden on the plates and drag along the cuticle as you smooth the iron down the length of your hair causing the cuticle to become scratched, or worse burned. Clean your flatiron after every use.

SOURCE: Audrey Sivasothy [+] of Associated Content


nika July 21, 2011 at 3:50 am

awsome… Hey west would you say that works best for you if “While your hair is at its wettest, blowdry it a little more than half way dry. Next, air dry your hair to complete dryness.”?

westNDNbeauty July 21, 2011 at 7:36 am

I agree with part of it:

I soak my hair with my detangler (Nioxin) and then blow dry, but I blow dry til it’s dry because how well your hair is blow dried determines how well your hair flat irons. I’m sure Audrey’s point in letting hair air dry the remainder of the way was to reduce the heat exposure, but as she stated elsewhere in the article, the condition of your hair determines the tolerance to heat.

nika August 15, 2011 at 4:44 am

okay! wow i didnt even know you replied … lol
So when you say “depends on how well your hair is blow dried”, you mean just “dryness” of your hair or blow drying it till straight? thanks!

westNDNbeauty August 15, 2011 at 6:45 pm

You know I try to answer ya’ll 🙂

I am speaking of straightness. The straighter the blow dry, the better your flat iron job will be.

Beau T January 18, 2012 at 8:07 pm

I have used the Chi Iron Guard for the past year, but the Shielo Antioxidant Leave in Protectant is MUCH better. The Chi Iron Guard makes my hair sticky and dry. This Shielo spray seems so vitamin-enriched, it’s super lightweight and makes my hair smooth and shiny, plus IT SMELLS AMAZING!!!! I want to wear it as perfume. LOL. The Chi Iron Guard doesn’t smell good at all. Honestly this stuff hasn’t only protected my hair from heat, but makes my hair look so much more healthy. I’m so happy I found this!

By the way, I have wavy, fine hair. Hair that curls/frizzes when exposed to humidity or wet. So, this definitely works on my type of hair.

Zoe June 24, 2012 at 5:37 pm

What if you have natural curly hair and your bi racial . I`m a cheerleader and i like my hair to be straight when i cheer but its so damaging idk what to do!!

westNDNbeauty June 24, 2012 at 8:53 pm

There are other alternatives to flat irons such as roller setting to get your hair straight with less heat.

Sally August 17, 2012 at 11:59 am

Interesting about hair burning at 233 degrees. The original ghds and other stylers used to heat up to 230, but they all changed to 170/180 a few years ago without really explaining why at the time. I guess this explains it!

Tuesday Le August 28, 2012 at 7:16 pm

Will Queen Helena Cholesterol hair conditioning cream be effective in deep conditioning my color treated hair??

westNDNbeauty August 28, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Hi Tuesday! Like all products, it’s trial and error. Use it and determine how you hair reacts to the product.

uesday August 29, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Well the Queen Helena really improved the texture of my color treated hair. How often should I deep condition thou? Like is 1-2 x a wk. ok?

westNDNbeauty August 29, 2012 at 5:28 pm

I DC once a week because my hair is able to maintain its moisture for at least that long. Determine what your hair needs and proceed accordingly.

kristie September 22, 2012 at 10:54 pm

Best heat protectant is one called Pro Naturals moroccan argan oil, it’s brilliant on natural hair and the best flat iron to go with it is the karmin g3, for sure. Has everything you need and the most heat settings I’ve seen so far 🙂 Works like a charm for me and my sis.

Isolina September 27, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Hair is made of proteins and flat ironing hair destroys the protein. I do protein treatments with Nutress Hair protein packs every time I wash and flatiron my hair. I also use the Nutress Stop Break Leave-in-Conditioner and Foam Wrap to protect my hair before I blow dry and flat iron it. My hair always feels protected and stays healthy despite the heat! Check them out the products are so versatile and AFFORDABLE.

mary October 13, 2012 at 10:06 pm

I use the Pro Naturals heat protectant and a Karmin g3 straightener. My hair doesn’t look ONE BIT damaged 🙂 This combination is the bomb, I recommend girls with natural hair to use that heat protectant, it’s the best one you can get (it’s only available online though).

Chandra November 18, 2012 at 2:27 am

Wow this was very informative, and helpful! Thanks for posting it.

Q_nika December 11, 2012 at 2:48 am

I think my hair my be damaged.. I went and got it flat ironed professionally and I washed my hair.. majority of my hair went back to its natural stage but I have maybe 7 long strands with a TINY curl… What do I do??

westNDNbeauty December 11, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Hi Nika, Unfortunately once the damage is done there isn’t much we can do about it. Depending on how you normally style your hair you may be able to blend/mask the damage. When I experienced damage I wore my hair in braidouts that were curled at the end. Maybe you can try something similar, but also make sure that you are caring for your hair with regular deep conditioning treatments. Make sure your hair stays moisturized as heat damage also sometimes causes breakage.

Q_nika December 14, 2012 at 12:27 am

Thanks for the information! I’m going to attempt and try a beer rinse. I’ve just been co washing lately. I’m thinking about getting some box braids to protect my hair.

areena December 16, 2012 at 2:24 am

does ironing cause split ends n if remained 4 a long tym..??

westNDNbeauty December 16, 2012 at 8:51 pm

Excessive use of heat can cause damage which will often result in split ends and breakage. Be sure you are moisturizing your hair extensively prior to using heat.

Tuesdays January 3, 2013 at 5:42 pm

I don’t know why every one love treseme heat protectant, it make my hair dry and stick and knotted. Don’t buy it use suave professionals heat protectant instead it leaves your hair soft and shiny.

Bre January 6, 2013 at 1:13 am

So I was experimenting with my hair a few weeks ago, and I believe I have heat damage. I flat ironed a small section of my hair, and now I have a few strands that stay straight when I wash my hair. What would you recommend I do? I don’t wanna cut all of it off b/c it’s a small section that’s damaged, and my hair has gotten so long now. Do you think should just try to work with it or what?

westNDNbeauty January 6, 2013 at 11:18 am

Bre so sorry this happened to you. I would suggest working with it. Depending on how you wear your hair, it probably would not be that noticeable to you or others. Good luck!

mia February 9, 2013 at 10:23 pm

what can i use as a heat guard before flatironing my hair?

westNDNbeauty February 10, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Hi Mia. You can start HERE in your search for heat protectants 🙂

kd February 14, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Thank you! I went to a number of websites before this one and this is the only article that didn’t simply say use heat protectant but actually listed some recommendations, which is exactly what I needed!

Brittany February 19, 2013 at 10:22 am

i just need to know how to care for a flat iron because when i wake up in the morning my hair is stuck to my haed and it dosent have the volume like it did when i first got my hair done

Miss M September 13, 2013 at 1:19 am

Hi! Thanks for some great pro tips and explanations, and recommendations. I was really confused by the array of different heat-style products and wasn’t sure about my heat settings; this article was great and straightened me out (no pun intended). Thanks again 🙂

Valerie Johnson January 21, 2014 at 9:30 pm

I have all natural hair with no chemical no perm but when I flat iron my hair but when I washed my hair the crown of my head will not turn back natural it’s stay straight like I have a perm. Can you please tell me how to get my hair back to it’s natural state.

westNDNbeauty January 21, 2014 at 9:42 pm

Hi Valerie, when textured hair has been flat ironed and is later washed and does not return to its natural texture, it is highly likely that heat damage has occurred. Unfortunately, there is no way to reverse it. Your only further step of action is similar to what is called transitioning. You will have to grow that section of your hair out.

Valerie Johnson January 21, 2014 at 9:54 pm

Thanks I kinda figure that

ravneet January 27, 2014 at 1:47 am

due to ironing my hair get damage ,plz i want to back my hair healthier in two weeks. plz help me

Sharon February 7, 2014 at 1:08 pm

Oh yeah totally agree with this, I had a GHD for a while and it had no heat settings whatsoever, so of course, super hair damage. I use a Karmin now, much better and lots of heat settings. Before using that though I always put on this argan oil heat protectant called pro naturals which is amazing btw. I still get trims for any dry ends but overall I don’t get damaged hair anymore 🙂

Sarah Rashid February 13, 2014 at 12:22 am

IF I COULD I WOULD BUY IT, but im on a budget the budget of being broke. Considering im a teenager, but that shall change soon and yes I have parental permission 🙂

Sarah May 27, 2014 at 1:34 pm

I am buying my first flat iron this week and I can’t wait I will not be using any heat spray my hair is hair tamed I have never used any heat spray on my since I first started using a hot comb. The only thing I use is shampoo/conditioner and detangling spray/ and hair food/.

westNDNbeauty May 31, 2014 at 1:02 am

I think your regimen may be the exception and not the rule. For most, heat is quite damaging and when not prepped and protected, it leaves the hair susceptible to damage or what may appear to be stagnant growth. For thriving hair, the above measures should be taken.

Mary November 4, 2014 at 12:59 am

Thanks for the tips. I love it. Nice post!

Rachelle Mccormick January 20, 2015 at 12:27 pm

Now i know the reason why my hair has been damage. Of all the wrong doings i’ve done using my flat iron. It’s great that you explain so well on your post. Now i can follow your preventive measures.
Thank you so much.

West Parsons January 23, 2015 at 9:12 pm

Welcome 🙂

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