7 Steps to Minimize Damage When Using Heat on Natural Hair

By Chinwe (pictured above) of Hair and Health

So you are interested in using heat – be it blow-drying or flat-ironing – but you are terrified of destroying your healthy hair.  You have heard too many horror stories about split ends and permanently straight strands resulting from heat usage.

The truth of the matter is that heat usage does not have to be so scary as long as you know your hair and know its limits.  Additionally, a high-moisture, high-strength, moderate-heat routine is necessary to minimize damage.

The following regimen is a good starting point for those who are ready to incorporate heat styling into their hair care routine.  However, if you can answer “yes” to any of the following questions, then I encourage you leave heat usage alone for now: Is your hair currently damaged?  Is your hair brittle or weak?  Is your hair newly colored or bleached?

1. Wash with a gentle or moisturizing shampoo.

With a heat-styling regimen, it is really important to maintain moisturized strands, even during the washing process.  Use of a stripping, drying shampoo will translate into more effort spent afterwards restoring what was lost.  On the other hand, use of a gentle shampoo will retain that moisture, and depending on the product, add more moisture and a bit of conditioning. Gentle shampoos usually contain mild (rather than harsh) cleansing agents.  Moisturizing shampoos are usually gentle shampoos that also contain light conditioning ingredients.

2. Deep condition with a moisturizing protein conditioner.

Following up with a deep protein conditioner is essential to reinforce the hair shaft for manipulation and heat usage.  However, for those who are protein sensitive or have issues with protein-moisture balance, finding the right deep conditioner can be a challenge.  A great option is to try one with the dual role of strengthening (via a protein) and moisturizing.  Such conditioners will generally contain a hydrolyzed protein (e.g., keratin, collagen) for reinforcement and humectants (e.g, glycerin) for moisture retention.

3. Quick condition with a silicone-based conditioner (optional).

This step is ideal for those who desire strands that are more manageable (e.g., easier combing, less tangly) and smoother for heat styling.  Also, if your hair is too hard after the above deep conditioning step, this quick condition may help to soften it.

4. Moisturize with a light water-based product and then seal.

This is your final moisturizing step prior to applying heat to your hair.  You can simply apply a good oil/butter-based sealant to your damp, conditioned hair OR after applying a light water-based moisturizer.  Try to avoid products containing humectants in order to delay reversion and frizz.  Also, try to avoid heavy products, which can contribute to buildup and lessen the duration of your style.

5. Air-dry in big braids.

In order to minimize heat usage, air-dry your hair as opposed to blow-drying.  Doing so in big braids will stretch the hair better than twists though it will also take longer.

6. Apply a silicone-based heat protectant and evenly.

A good heat protectant will usually contain silicones, such as dimethicone or cyclomethicone, which are very effective at reducing damage.  Applying a heat protectant is necessary to reduce the rate at which heat travels through the hair.  Be sure to apply a sufficient amount and section by section.

7. Flat iron using a moderate temperature and no more than two passes.

Read this post on “The Natural Haven” for information on the temperature profile for human hair.  If you do use a setting above 300 degrees Fahrenheit, try not to go above 350 F.  Also, invest in a quality flat iron so that little effort (including minimal passes) is required to achieve the look for which you are aiming.  Be sure to invest in one with a temperature dial, as well, so that you can control the heat level.

5. Plop the hair until damp.

It is less damaging to blow-dry damp hair rather than soaking wet hair.  Prior to heat usage, wrap your freshly washed hair with a towel or t-shirt for fifteen to twenty minutes.  (This method of removing excess water is called plopping.)  Then unwrap your hair and proceed to the next step.

6. Apply a silicone-based heat protectant.

A good heat protectant will usually contain silicones, such as dimethicone or cyclomethicone, which are very effective at reducing damage.  Applying a heat protectant is necessary to reduce the rate at which heat travels through the hair.  Be sure to apply a sufficient amount and section by section.

7. Blow dry using the tension method (no combs or brushes).

View tutorials on tension blow-drying in this post.  This method of blow-drying is less damaging than using comb attachments or brushes, which may over-manipulate the hair.  Additionally, invest in a blow dryer with a diffuser, which will help to evenly distribute the heat across your hair.


Alternate between your heat-styling routine and no-heat styles.

Wear your heat-styled hair for 2-3 weeks at a time and alternate with air-dried styles (e.g., twists, buns, braids, roller set).  Whether you choose to wear heat-styled looks twice a year or twelve times a year is up to you.  However, the lower your frequency of heat usage, the better your hair will fair in the long run.

Ladies, how do you reduce damage while heat styling?

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  • http://issa-alamo.org/ Evy

    Whenever using hair straightener its necessary to damage your hair so for less hair damage you provide great steps when using heat.

  • http://www.ocfchicago.org/ Stella

    There are so many natural way which are more preferable than the use of a chemical proudcts which are more harmful and not controll the hair damage.

  • Feli

    What is a good heat protectant to use?

  • http://www.hairstraightenerhq.com/ Rosie

    In market there are so many products available for the control your hair damage and its better that you use natural products for it.

  • Pingback: 7 Tips for Retaining Length on 4C Natural Hair Without Protective Styling | Black Girl with Long Hair()

  • Globetrotter5K

    I just got my hair colored last week. How long should I wait before straightening it?