Never again. That’s what I told myself when I decided that heat was turning my coily curls into beach waves. After straightening my hair nearly every other day for most of my life — even with a relaxer — I decided it was finally time to embrace my hair for what it was. For me, that meant committing to a heat-free routine for at least a full year, a time span that felt unattainable but necessary. I wanted the curls that naturally grew from head, those that I had as a kid — tight, smooth, and full. Instead, after years of relaxers followed by “natural” heat damage (including the torture of botched coloring), my hair was a weird mix of waves, limp curls, and random straight pieces. After watching several YouTube videos and gaining the courage, I decided to cut off the damaged ends of my hair. I took my nearly bra strap length hair to ear length, and I immediately saw a lot more spring in my curls.
But that was just the beginning of my curl restoration process. After the chop, I had to do full heat-damage control. Many believe that a product is going to solve the problem and make their hair curly, but it’s truly about focusing on getting and keeping your real curl pattern.
After my haircut, I tossed my flat iron and curling wand into a box and invested in finding the right products: clarifying shampoos, deep conditioners, and butters & oils.
So, what exactly is heat damage?
Heat damage is what happens when you use a high temperature on your hair that compromises its natural texture. It’s not something that only happens if you continuously use a heat styling tool. It can even occur on a single application and the effects are permanent unless the damage ends are cut off.
What does heat do to the hair?
Heat can ruin any hair type, but if your texture is curly or wavy, heat damage disrupts that. If your goal is to maintain your hair’s natural texture, you potentially run the risk of losing the natural curl pattern by adding heat. However, if your hair is naturally straight, obviously, you’re not at risk for changing your natural hair texture from the heat. But this doesn’t mean that it’s still not good for you!
How can I keep my hair healthy even with heat damage?
I’d recommend minimizing your use of heat styling tools and when you do use a heat tool, coat the hair with a heat protection product. Also, be sure to deep condition the hair on a regular basis so that the hair is nourished and less prone to breakage. Another tip is to trim consistently (every 3 months or so) to get rid of any dead ends and to keep the hair hydrated.
What can I do to prevent heat damage?
The most important thing to do if applying heat to your hair is to adjust the heat settings — it should be based on your hair type. Limit any unnecessary heat application. For example, if you stay in a region where the climate is usually humid and causes frizz, try styling your hair in a look that doesn’t require adding heat, maybe a low bun.
Sure, there are days when my curls just aren’t working for me and it’d be easier to just straighten it. But most of the time, I love being able to just throw my hair in a puff or bun and keep pushing. That’s mostly because I have flashbacks of the lifeless curls that once were. It’s a continuous learning journey to embrace everything that comes with this new chapter of self-care. My hair is continuously growing and changing, as am I.