Straightening African American Hair
One of the most frequently asked questions we get involves straightening African-American hair. there are better ways to do it and worse ways to do it. If you straighten the hair incorrectly, you can cause permanent damge. We're going to tell you what you need to know to decide what's best for you or for the person whose hair you're caring for. We will give you options for safely and effectively straightening your hair. We are not going to go into the socio-political and psychological reasons why you might or might not want to straighten your hair- at least not here. Before we begin we should probably define some terms (as we are going to use them here).
- Permanent (as in a permanent change to the hair texture)- we're defining permanent as a change that will not go away until the hair is actually cut off or breaks off. Permanent changes to the hair will grow out. But, permanent changes cannot be removed any other way.
- Temporary- a change that will either gradually wear off over a period of days, weeks or months or that can be easily reversed.
- Pressing- using a hot comb pulled through the hair to temporarily loosen the curl pattern. Depending on how much heat is used can gently loosen the curl pattern or completely straighten the hair.
- Flat-ironing- using a device with two flat plates to temporarily loosen the curl pattern. Depending on how much heat is used can gently loosen the curl pattern or completely straighten the hair.
- Relaxer- a chemical process applied to the hair to loosen the curl pattern- causes a permanent change (see above for the definition of permanent). Depending on the strength and how long it is left on may make the hair completely straight or just loosen the curl pattern.
- Permanent/Perm/Relaxer (as in a chemical process)- term used interchangeably with relaxer. Sometimes you will hear of a permanent that adds curl to the hair. This is just the opposite effect of what we're talking about. Depending on the strength and how long it is left on may make the hair completely straight or just loosen the curl pattern.
- Texturizer- a mild relaxer. Causes a permanent change to the hair. But, by definition, the hair is not taken to straight.
- Reversion- the process of temporarily straightened hair going back to its natural curl pattern.
When it comes to straightening the the hair, there is a range of what people are interested in doing- both in terms of permanence and the degree of straightness. In terms of time, you might want to wear your hair straight just for a few days or a couple of weeks, as a break from your naturally textured hair. Or you might want to wear your hair straight permanently. You might want to get your hair completly straight and wear it hanging down or add some loose gentle curls. Or you might want to simply relax the curl pattern opening it up to make it more manageable or make the natural kinks into coils.
Two Basic Ways of Straightening African-American Hair
Curly hair can be straightened in a couple of ways. Heat is the simplest, quickest and most temporary way of straightening hair. Using a pressing comb, a blow dryer and a comb or a flat iron hair can be straightened at home in just a matter of minutes. However, a shower or even a humid day will immediately revert the straightening, causing the hair to curl up again or get frizzy. On the other end of the scale, a permanent (also called a perm or a relaxer) can take the hair to completely straight- permanently. We always recommend that perms be done by professional beauticians because of the potential damage that can be done by a relaxer put in the wrong way. There is another way of straightening the hair known as a Keratin Treatment or Brazilian Keratin Treatment. This is a semi-permanent straightening of the hair normally done by a professional in a salon setting. It gives straight hair for several weeks or months. However because of the harmful chemicals found in most (if not all) of these treatments we cannot recommend them in good conscience.
Other Ways of Straightening The Hair
is a fairly unique way of straightening the hair. Certain compounds present in nature when applied to the hair with gentle heat can cause a temporary relaxation of the natural curl pattern. This does not straighten hair but it does loosen the curl pattern and makes the hair more manageable. Natural-Laxer MIX contains a blend of natural herbs and clay from the African Sahara desert. This unique combination of ingredients works, over time, to gradually make the hair more manageable by loosening the natural curl pattern. It can also be used in conjunction with heat (pressing, blowing out the hair or flat ironing) to reduce the amount of heat needed to do those procedures and make them last longer (delays reversion). Besides the potential results and consequences of the various straightening methods, there is another very important consideration- your natural curl pattern and hair type. People with a loose curl pattern and smoother, more round hair will get easier straightening results than someone with kinkier, coarser hair. Many biracial people are simply trying to eliminate fuzziness or want to wear their hair relatively straight temporarily. This can often be easily achieved using a warm comb (rather than hot) and some styling products. The less heat you can use on your hair the better. The milder the styling products you use, the better. Keeping your hair closest to its natural curl pattern is less stressful. However, if you are applying heat to your hair on a regular basis , you could be doing more damage than just getting a perm. If you're wearing your hair "natural" but are pressing and/or flat ironing it several times you mighte actually be doing permanent damage to it. If you have your hair taken to bone straight by a perm then hit it with a curling iron every day, you could be causing severe stress to your hair.
Here is a chart showing the technique used to straighten the hair and the considerations of using each method.
(changing curl pattern back and forth)
|Blow Drying/Flat Ironing/Pressing
||Can be done in a few minutes at home. Easily repeated or stopped.
||Can wear hair straight one day, natural curl pattern the next. Or, can wear anywhere in between.
||Very short term. Days or weeks at best.
||Not great if done with care. Can be done by lay people. Done too much though can permanently damage hair.
||Anywhere from just improving manageability to completely straightening hair.
||Easily applied at home in a few minutes. Only needs to be done monthly (or so).
||Does not straighten hair (by itself). Flexible in that you can temporarily straighten the hair using blow dryer or flat iron.
||Medium term duration. Wears off in a matter of weeks.
||Actually strengthens and conditions hair. Prevents breakage.
||Makes hair more manageable. Does not straighten.
||Recommend be done by a professional.
||Permanent. Requires "transition" phase to go back to natural.
||Less than a permanent since it is milder and does not stress hair as much with a drastic curl pattern change.
||Loosens curl pattern quite a bit. But, leaves much of natural curl pattern in. Usually only done on hair up to a certain length (for styling purposes)
|Brazilian Keratin Treatment
||Normally done by a professional.
||Not flexible. Hair can be temporarily curled.
||Semi-permanent. Lasts weeks-months
||Doesn't seem to be harmful to hair. But the chemicals involved can be very harmful to the stylists and/or people getting their hair straightened
||Recommend be done by a professional
||Not flexible. Hair can be temporarily curled.
||Permanent. Requires "transition" phase to go back to natural.
||Great potential damage to both hair and scalp.
||Often done until the hair is bone straight (causing a great deal of stress).
What is the Best Way to Straighten Black Hair?
With the move away from chemicals and towards being more natural, many of our customers are women who have already gone away from chemical relaxers, are in the process of going away from relaxers or are considering giving up the "creamy crack". I know this is both an exciting and scary time having gone through it myself just a couple of years ago. Many of you have also worn your hair straight for years and years and are having a difficult time imagining yourself wearing your hair in its naturally curly/kinky/nappy state. So, a question I get quite often is "What is the best way to straighten my African-American hair?" Often when I get the question the customer will say she knows too much heat isn't good for her hair. At the same time, she doesn't want to use chemicals. So, she wants another way of getting her hair straight. You know I always shoot straight with you. Besides going back and changing your genetics, I don't know of a way to accomplish straight hair without breaking down some bonds either temporarily (through heat) or permanently (using a relaxer).
There are trade offs to each method. Straightening hair with chemicals leaves the hair permanently thinner. Chemically treated hair is more likely to becoming dry and to break off. That is not to say that some women have not had success with relaxers. Many do. I had my ups and downs with them for years. But, many women find that they struggle with keeping their hair and scalp healthy when they are getting relaxers. If your hair is chemically treated, it is going to be more fragile than if you left it natural. To avoid this, some people go natural but decide they are going to straighten their hair with heat. Depending on your hair type, the climate where you live, the activities you engage in (that might cause you to sweat) and what products you use, keeping your hair straight will require a different amount of heat applied at different intervals. You might get away with pressing or flat ironing every couple of weeks when washing. Some will require some amount of heat daily. The more heat you put on your hair, the more you risk damaging it. Damage from too much heat can be just as permanent as damage from chemical relaxers. Too much heat can actually permanently straighten the hair (again, until it's replaced by new growth). Going natural and keeping the hair straight by putting heat on it is not necessarily any more healthy for your hair than using relaxers.
I recommend if you're going to go natural, try
to live with your hair as close to it natural state as possible. If you have 4b or 4c hair (like I do), wearing your hair straight is not "natural" even if it's being kept straight by heat instead of with chemicals. The secret to keeping your natural hair healthy is to use heat sparingly and occasionally
. If you're planning to use heat to keep your hair straight all the time, I cannot tell you that it will necessarily be healthier than if you had not given up the perms. For women who are in a situation where the factors I listed above (climate, hair type, activity) cause them to have to use a lot of heat, sticking with the perm may be the way to go until you decide you can live with not having straight hair all of the time. If you are going to straighten your hair using heat, use good products. A good flat iron like this tourmaline flat iron
helps. This pressing comb
is one you can use safely and easily at home. You don't have to spend a fortune. But, the technology in a good flat iron can help minimize the damage from the heat. Natural-Laxer MIX
can help temporarily elongate the natural curl pattern- making hair easier to straighten and holding the press longer. This reduces the total amount of heat you have to put on your hair. And, Treasured Locks Thermo Shield
can help protect against heat damage and minimize how often you have to put heat on the hair.
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