Flat irons can be used to create countless styles, from perfectly sleek ponytails to big bouncy curls, and that’s why many women use a flat iron in their hairstyling routines.
Yet, hair gurus and cosmetologists everywhere will tell you that flat irons damage hair. Is there any truth to that claim? Do flat irons damage hair? Are flat irons bad for your hair?
By the end of this article, you’ll know once and for all if flat irons damage your hair and how to minimize any negative effects you may encounter. Let’s jump right in!
Table of Contents
- 1 Do Flat Irons Damage Hair?
- 2 Are Flat Irons Bad for Your Hair?
- 3 How to Flat Iron Your Hair Without Damaging It
- 4 How Often Can You Flat Iron Your Hair Without Damaging It?
- 5 How Often Should You Replace Your Flat Iron?
- 6 What Type of Flat Iron Is Best?
Do Flat Irons Damage Hair?
Unfortunately, flat irons can damage your hair. They use direct heat to smooth and straighten your hair strands, which has the potential to create heat damage. Your hair’s cuticles become damaged at temperatures over 300 degrees (e.g. too much heat), and most women use flat irons at extremely high temperatures.
Are Flat Irons Bad for Your Hair?
Flat irons are bad for your hair when they’re used incorrectly. When your hair is exposed to high heat, the keratin in your strands is converted into a weaker form of protein. Then, holes and gaps start to form in your hair’s cuticles. As a result, your strands have a harder time holding onto moisture and weaken over time.
Common signs of heat damage include:
- Hair that is weak and prone to breakage.
- Hair that lacks shine and elasticity.
- Dry hair that is prone to tangling.
- Increased split ends.
- Hair that is suddenly difficult to style.
How to Flat Iron Your Hair Without Damaging It
Though you can’t completely eliminate the chances of heat damage, there are steps you can take to keep the risk as low as possible. Here are some things you can do to keep your hair healthy before and during flat ironing.
Don’t Use Cheap Flat Irons
When it comes to minimizing damage, investing in a quality flat iron is one of the most important things you can do. Lower-quality irons can snag on your hairs and rip them from your scalp.
They might also heat up unevenly and get much hotter than you intended. Also, low quality irons often don’t have heat settings to extreme temperatures.
On the other hand, if you use a flat iron that’s well-designed you will limit the amount of heat you have to put on your strands. They also prevent you from having to go over any areas multiple times.
We’ll give you some tips on which type of flat iron to choose later on in the article.
Be Mindful of the Heat Level
Some flat irons have a knob or buttons that allow you to adjust the temperature. If yours does, keep the temperature as low as possible.
Keeping the temperature low helps reduce your chances of experiencing damage.
Although it might feel like your hair isn’t getting as straight as it could have with high heat, the proper flat ironing technique will help you get your hair bone straight.
Take Your Time
When you straighten your hair, do it in small, even sections. If you rush and attempt to straighten thick chunks of hair (or too much hair at once), you’ll probably have to go over each section multiple times to get it perfectly straight.
Sectioning your hair also makes the straightening process easier and leaves you with much better results when using a flat iron.
Don’t Pass on Thermal Protection
Stay far away from flat irons if you don’t have a heat protectant (also called a thermal protector). Heat protectants create a heat-proof protective barrier on your strands to greatly minimize the chance of heat damage.
You should apply a heat protectant to clean damp hair for maximum absorption and ensure it’s evenly spread by combing it through your hair.
Many heat protectants use silicones to create a barrier. Silicones are highly effective at protecting your strands, but silicone-free alternatives are available if you’d prefer to avoid the chemical.
Do One Pass Only
When you pull the iron down a section of hair, that counts as one pass. Doing multiple passes on a single section will dramatically increase your chances of facing severe heat damage.
If you have to do multiple passes to get an area straight, other factors could be in play. Here are some reasons why your hair might not be straight after one pass.
- The temperature of the flat iron is too low.
- Your hair has too much product on it.
- The section is too large.
- You need a better flat iron.
- You aren’t clamping the iron tight enough.
Pass the Iron Down Your Hair Continuously
One of the most critical steps to minimizing heat damage is to keep the flat iron moving at all times. Any time you hold it in place, you exponentially increase the damage you’ll incur.
Try not to keep the iron in one spot for more than 3 seconds. If you have to go over an area again, wait for a couple of minutes to let that hair cool and reduce your chances of heat damage.
How Often Can You Flat Iron Your Hair Without Damaging It?
To keep heat damage to a minimum, you shouldn’t flat iron healthy hair more than once or twice a week. When your hair is compromised, you should flat iron it even less.
If you have one of the following hair types, you should flat iron your hair once every two weeks or less.
- Curly or kinky
How Often Should You Replace Your Flat Iron?
How frequently you use your flat iron will determine how often you need to replace it. Ideally, you should replace your flat iron every 2 to 4 years. Over time, both the electrical components in your iron and the coating on the plates wear out.
Using an expired flat iron might lead to more damage and make straightening your locks more time-consuming. It’s worth investing a new flat iron periodically if you frequently heat style your hair.
Some of the signs that you need to replace your iron are:
- It’s taking longer to heat up.
- You have to go over each section multiple times to get it straight (or to create a smoother finish).
- The plate coating is wearing off.
- You have to crank the heat higher and higher to get the same results.
What Type of Flat Iron Is Best?
When deciding between flat irons, there are a few things to consider. Getting an iron with the right plates can help keep damage to a minimum and leave your hair looking silky straight.
This section will break down some of the best types of flat irons for damaged hair.
- Ceramic – Ceramic flat irons are largely considered the safest option for damaged hair. Although they heat up slowly, the heat is gentle and evenly spread down the plates. Ceramic plates heat your hair from the inside out using infrared technology. Infrared irons are much safer than irons that heat your strands from the outside.
- Tourmaline – When tourmaline is heated, it releases cuticle smoothing negative ions. These ions create smoother strands that are less likely to get frizzy, so you’ll be able to extend the life of your straightened hairdo. Tourmaline flat irons have coated plates that don’t last as long as other materials. Replace your iron once the coating starts to wear away to keep your hair safe.
- Titanium – Although they got hotter than other types, titanium flat irons are best for type 3 and 4 coarse hair. They heat evenly and can hold the heat for an extended period of time. That decreases the likelihood that you’ll have to go over a section more than once, which means you’re less likely to damage your hair with multiple passes.
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Because of their versatility, flat irons are one of the most popular styling tools around. The unfortunate news is that they can definitely damage your hair.
The good news is that you can keep the damage to a minimum by following the tips and tricks that we’ve gone over in this article!
Kenneth Byrd holds a BS in Accounting and Management Information Systems and an MBA from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He is a serial hair blogger that has been writing about hair care since 2008, when he co-founded Curl Centric® and Natural Hair Box. Curl Centric is a website operated by a husband and wife team that encourages healthy hair care. At Curl Centric, we aim to help our readers take control of their hair care journey and make good decisions about products, hairstyles, and maintenance techniques. We also have strict editorial integrity; here’s an explanation of our editorial guidelines and how we make money.