The Real Reason That Heat Damage Sucks!

heat damageDo you believe that your hair will revert back after sustaining heat damage? This topic has been debated for years on natural hair forums, but most people who have experienced heat damage know the truth. Heat damage is not reversible.

Once your curls are truly damaged they have reached a point of no return.

The Possibilities of Repairing Heat Damage

The Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists wrote a research paper called “Hair Damage and Attempts to its Repair.” The research paper focuses on how changes to the physical properties of hair fibers incurred as a result of weather, handling, and cosmetic treatments such as applying heat to the hair can be significant.

In many instances, these cosmetic treatments may lead to premature fracture of the hair, longitudinal fibrillation or separation of the hair cortex, and other potential problems like an increased absorption of moisture.

The example that I used was as follows: “the process of burning green, wet wood is slower than the process of burning dead, dry wood. The reason for this is that wet, green wood has a higher heat capacity or tolerance when compared to dead, dry wood.”

So, to conceptually mitigate the potential of heat damage, it’s important to increase the heat capacity of the hair before straightening natural hair. Even with your best efforts, there are no guaranteed protections against heat damage. Candidly, the scientific studies that I’ve read, including the study titled Hair Damage and Attempts to its Repair, discuss how efforts to restore the hair to its original state – even after mild degradation or to protect undamaged hair against structural weakening have been numerous but largely unsuccessful initiatives.

So, it’s important that you understand the risk. By using heat on your hair, there is a risk that you may cause irreparable damage to your hair strands. Now – to be clear – hair damage isn’t only caused by heat. Hair damage occurs in various ways – including by washing, combing, relaxing, dying and straightening the hair.

If you’re more gentle as you deal with your hair, you will generally cause less damage. This is why the concept of protective styling shouldn’t be limit to hairstyles. It’s much broader than that when you actually read through the research studies. Protective styling should refer to the overall “protection” that you incorporate into your natural hair regimen.

It’s also worth noting that weathering is an important factor to consider. As your hair ages, it will have fewer cuticle layers and generally incur damage more easily. So, how can you mitigate (not repair) hair damage?

Build more protection into your natural hair regimen by understanding the purpose of your hair conditioner and by utilizing the proper conditioner for your situation.

Conditioners typically contain various agents that mitigate hair damage. For example, conditioners that contain silicone are commonly used to temporarily repair split ends. There are other ingredients – like surfactants – in many hair products that are avoided that have a real purpose in the right situation.

A full-blown discussion on ingredients is outside the scope of this article, but it’s important to note that you shouldn’t avoid ingredients solely because “you read” about them being bad on a hair forum. It’s important to understand why certain ingredients are included and that starts with doing a little research on your own.

Heat Damage: A Real Life Story

It was January 16th, 2012 when I made the big decision to go natural. After receiving relaxers since the age of 6, I was inspired by women that I knew had gone natural.

They seemed so confident, poised, and comfortable with their decision and their hair. I was married at the time and visits to the hair stylist were not cheap.

It cost $75 for a relaxer. I thought that was crazy when I see the same thing at Walgreens for $7 a box!

There was no way I was going to continue paying $75 for a relaxer. Plus, the chemicals in the relaxer stripped my hair – making it dry.

Also, I could never grow my hair past my shoulders. Going natural made sense. So I big chopped on January 16th.

My hair grew so fast; it was almost scary.

I was able to do a wide range of styles that were low maintenance. My favorite styles were: blow-outs, two-strand twists, and cute afros.

Other people started to embrace my new look.

Frankly, I did too.

People paid attention to my face and my intelligence.

Later that year, in October, I decided to change up my look a bit. I thought about trying a press and curl.

Why did I do that?

This lady, a younger stylist that I already knew, stated that she “does” natural hair!

I was ecstatic about the opportunity to show others the versatility of natural hair. She pressed my hair, and it was beautiful. My hair was longer than I expected and everyone loved it!

I decided to go back a 2nd, 3rd, and even a 4th time for the same press and curl.

The styles were beautiful, and I felt great!

One year later, I was so excited about my hair growth, but my curl pattern had changed.

My ends were straight as a stick, and my hair started to shed drastically. I started to cover up the straight ends by doing two-strand twists and adding rollers to the end.

Sometimes, I simply decided to wear a wig. My hair continued to shed more and more.

During the 3rd visit for the press and curl, I noticed something strange.

When my hair stylist was blow drying my hair, she put a tiny bit of “grease” or a grease-like product in my hair.

Then she proceeded to press my hair and then curl it.

“That’s a lot of heat,” I thought to myself. She’s not even using a heat protectant.

On January 25th of the next year, I saw my hair coming out in sections.

I literally had sections of my hair gone!

On February 1st, I made the gut-wrenching decision to big chop again.

I was so heartbroken, but I knew that my hair was damaged was beyond repair.

But I now understand what I can and can’t do to keep my hair from being damaged.

I have made the pledge not to put heat on it at all, and if I do, to use a good heat protectant along with my hair care regimen.

Natural ladies, do you use heat?

If so, use a good heat protectant. I’ve learned the hard way.

7 Comments

  • Thanks so much for this information, I’m 1 yr and 3 months natural, and have yet to use heat on my natural hair. I haven’t had the desire to because I’m afraid of heat damage. Everyone has been saying ” I can’t wait to see your hair after it’s flat-ironed.” I’m not giving in to the pressure because I’ve been relaxed for most of my life, I now love my curls. Thanks again!!

    • Hi Veronica,
      I am happy that you found the information helpful! Congrats on your journey, slow and steady wins the race :-) I totally understand where you are coming from about heat damage and it’s why I shy away as well- Heat Damage Sucks- LOL
      Enjoy your curls!

      Jael

  • Thanks for the very informative article! I will keep all this information in mind as I’ve been natural for a year – but am a certified flat iron junky! So far my hair has survived and reverts back to it’s natural state with each wash……..But I will be more careful and consider the natural look…..:-)

  • Thanks so much for providing great information on heat damage. I had heard about the possibility, but after 2years of being natural, I decided to have my hair blow-dryed and flat ironed. I was very pleased with my style, but when I washed it, several strands were irreversibly damaged…completely straight, particularly in the front and back, and a few coils on one side. I’ve never been one to choose damaged length over shorter, healthy hair, so I cut the straight pieces out. Fortunately, I have extremely thick, tight curls, so I don’t think a few coils will be missed. I will, however, think long and hard before I do that again, because the damage really could have been much worse! Since there’s really no rhyme or reason for why one side of my hair sustained significantly more damage, I’m not eager to test my luck and try that again!
    Thanks for providing such good, honest information!
    Blessings,
    Nicole

    • Hi Nicole,
      Yes, heat damage is definitely something to seriously consider when deciding to use heat on natural hair. I know many women feel that natural hair is the best of both worlds, but that may not always be the case.

      Thank you for sharing your experience,

      Jael

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