Straightening Natural Hair 101

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Sometimes curly girls want to take a break from their ringlets; so they smooth out their curls by straightening them. There are various ways of doing this: you can break down and change your hair texture using chemical relaxers, press the hair flat using heat, or stretch it out using various heatless methods. In this article, we’ll be focusing on non-chemical relaxer methods since we like to keep our hair as healthy as possible!

When straightening your hair, you’re essentially changing the shape of it. On dry hair, you need heat to mold it. On wet hair, you need tension to shape it as it dries–using rollers to set it, pins, or blow drying on a cool setting (this works because you are pulling the hair with the brush as its drying- there’s your tension and shaping).

Here are the most effective methods of getting straight, smooth, healthy hair:

Straightening Natural Hair with Heat

Heat styling is an extremely effective way to get straight hair. However, it can be very damaging if done too often or without adequate protection.

How to Minimize Damage with a Flat Iron

Flat ironing is the most effective way to get bone-straight hair, but it is also the most damaging. But if you do it right, and sparingly, you’ll be able to achieve this style while still maintaining the strength and integrity of your natural hair.

There are several principles to follow when flat ironing hair:

  • Never flat iron dirty hair: always shampoo and condition first.
  • To minimize heat damage, only use one pass of the iron. Realistically, to do this you must pre-stretch your hair so that it’s already a little bit straight. You can do this by either blow drying or using any of the below non-heat stretching methods. CurlyNikki says: “The straighter you get your hair in the stretching process, the less heat you’ll need while flat ironing.”
  • Another tip for using only one pass is using extremely small, thin sections of hair. It will take a lot longer, but it will be worth the heat damage avoided by only passing through each section once.
  • Always detangle using a wide tooth comb and separate your hair into clipped-up sections in an organized way–first into four sections, then separate those four into two or four more, and continue until you are able to pull out very thin sections for straightening, while most of your other hair is kept out of the way.
  • Always chase the flat iron with a fine tooth comb. Once you section off a small piece, run the comb through your hair a short distance down, leaving only enough space for the iron. Press the iron down your hair while leading with the comb. This way, each section of hair that the iron touches will be perfectly detangled before it gets there. The comb also helps create tension, giving you straighter hair with less time spent on the heat.
  • Always deep condition before any heat styling method. This ensures that your hair is in tip-top shape, ready for the oncoming heat attack!
  • Always use a heat protective spray or serum to create a barrier between your hair and the heat.
  • Heat settings: do not use above 400 degrees, aim for 300-350 degrees.
  • Use the right tools: Invest in a ceramic flat iron. They are more costly, but are better because the ceramic protects your hair from the heat. Get one with specific temperature settings, not just “low, medium, high” so you know exactly how much heat you are applying to your hair.

Basic steps for straightening with a flat iron:

  1. Wash and condition hair
  2. Deep condition hair
  3. Apply a heat protectant
  4. Stretch it by blow drying, or doing a roller set, twist out or braid out
  5. Flat iron in very small sections, passing over hair once and chasing it with comb

Blow Dryer

Using a blow dryer to straighten your hair is an effective alternative to flat ironing. While the heat is less direct, it is still important to use protective products. Blow drying can also be used in no-heat methods. Most blow dryers have a “cool air” setting and can be used on wet hair with the tension of your brush to create a straight style.

Basic steps for straightening hair with blow dryer:

  1. Shampoo, condition, and towel dry
  2. Apply heat protector product, especially focusing on ends
  3. Apply a straightening balm
  4. Separate and clip 3 sections (bottom, top left, and top right)
  5. Blow dry bottom first, then move on to higher sections

Tips:

  • It’s important to pull the hair straight while you are blow drying. The tension helps to set the shape.
  • Using a Denmen Brush is highly recommended. Otherwise, use a comb attachment on your blow dryer.
  • It’s important to focus the heat on both the bottom and top surfaces of the hair strip that you are working on, alternating between the two.

No Heat Blow Dry:

It’s possible to blow out your hair using the cool setting of your blow dryer. This will take longer than using the heat setting, but it will save your hair some damage.

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Blow Drying Natural Hair with Heat

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Blow Drying on Cool Air

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Tension Method

The tension method is one in which the hair is simply pulled straight while blow drying. This is a gentle alternative to using a brush or a comb. It’s much quicker and results in a stretched-out look. It won’t get hair stick straight, but it’s a great quick way to prep for flat ironing.

IMPORTANT: Use heat sparingly. Using heat more than 1-2 times per month will not only damage your hair but will alter the natural curl pattern so you will lose those beautiful curls you have worked so hard growing out!

Straightening Natural Hair Without Heat

The most protective method of straightening hair is using a stretching/molding method. When hair is wet, it is very pliable and will usually dry in whatever shape it is pulled into. There are many no-heat straightening methods that put this principle into action. In most cases, they are just as effective as blow-drying to prepare hair for the flat iron. They can also be used alone for a more voluminous or wavy look.

Banding

This is possibly the cheapest and easiest hair stretching method. Always wash, condition and detangle hair using a wide tooth comb before you begin. Simply section off wet hair into 4 (or more) sections and tie a pony elastic around each section to make four tight ponytails lying close to the head. For each pony, continue to tie elastics all the way down the the length of your hair, pulling and stretching it as you go. This is best used on wet hair and is a great excuse to apply a leave-in conditioner as your hair dries and sets overnight. When you take out the hair elastics, you will have smoother, stretched-out hair.

Threading

An alternative is the African Threading technique, in which a thread is wrapped around sections of the hair to stretch it out, in a similar manner to the banding method.

Rollers

Believe it or not, rollers are a great way to straighten hair. Remember to section off your hair and roll tightly. This works best on wet hair.

Some tips for using rollers:

  • The larger the rollers, the straighter your hair will turn out.
  • Don’t use velcro rollers! They tangle and damage your hair. Instead, use magnetic or plastic rollers and secure with a roller pin.
  • Don’t overload each roller. Use fairly thin sections of hair and use at least 12 rollers.

Steps for using rollers to straighten hair:

  1. Use a light leave-in conditioner on your hair before placing into rollers. This will facilitate detangling and ensure that your hair is moisturized when it dries.
  2. After setting wet hair into rollers, wait until it is dry. Most people will sit under a hooded dryer for about an hour and a half. Technically this is still a heat method, but it is fairly healthy since the heat is indirect. Another method is using a blow dryer on the rolled hair for a few minutes and/or simply waiting for the hair to dry naturally.
  3. After you take out the rollers, the hair may have some unwanted volume at the roots and/or unwanted curl. To smooth it out, wrap it around your head using pins. You may choose to wrap in saran wrap to help seal in moisture.
  4. Unwrap, brush, and style!

Sources

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