A few years ago, I found myself becoming addicted to the blow-out. Once my monthly blow-out became weekly, I started buying into the heat myths about afro-textured hair, worried that all this hot air would ruin my curls. So, I took what I thought would be a permanent heat hiatus. Heat gets a bad rap in the kinky hair community because, historically, straightening techniques on black hair have left us with long-lasting negative effects like hot comb alopecia and heat damage. Horror stories and myths have kept me terrified of the heat — and no one knows my thermaphobia first-hand as much as Ouidad, founder of Ouidad hair salon. I turned to her to clear up which of my fears were legit and which were overreactions.
To understand why some of these myths have merit, it's important to think about what heat appliances do to the actual hair follicle: As SELF reported, heat messes with your cuticles, causing them to become dry and brittle. Whether you're applying heat to dry your hair or maximize length, there is a risk for damage inside the hair shaft which ruins texture and the stunts growth potential. Dry hair, limp strands, split-ends, and curls that are completely void of texture are all signs of heat damage — and they are all terrifying, IMO.
I'm not recommending you go crazy with a blow dryer, but there are definitely times where a little heat can maximize a protective style or give you a 'do that you never thought possible. Before you reach for that hot tool, read what Ouidad and Ouidad Curl Expert Melanie Fahey have to say about these common heat myths.
1. All Hair Responds The Same Way To Heat
Surprise, surprise: Afro-textured hair responds to heat differently than other textures. According to Fahey, the tight/kinky curls respond differently because they are more fragile in general because of the texture. "The texture can be very fine whilst the density is quite coarse and thick," she explains. "The texture is actually the diameter of the curl strand...it is susceptible to damage when placing undue stress on the curl [like] a heat styling tool."
Plus, Ouidad explains that the distribution of lipids through the hair shaft cause afro-textured hair to grow less than 1/3 of micrometers a day less than other hair textures, so heat damage that could cause breakage is even more worrisome.
2. Natural Hair Textures Are More Prone To Heat Damage Than Relaxed Strands
If you wear your hair relaxed, it doesn't mean that your hair will isn't prone to the same heat level of heat damage. In fact, relaxed hair tends to be even more fragile because of the chemicals used to "relax" the curls. Even those with looser curls that don't experience as much shrinkage and tangles as tighter curls are not free from heat destruction. According to Ouidad, fragile hair can be damaged regardless of hair type.
3. Blow Drying Dry Hair Is Always Unsafe
A blow dryer may seem aggressive as a flat iron, but according to Ouidad, it's all in the way you use the tool. A blow dryer should never be on high-heat because heat will fry your fragile tresses. Fahey suggests using a diffuser when working on dry, textured hair. "Have the airflow on high, but the heat on medium," she recommends.
Prepping for a heat-styling adventure is also important, whether you hair is dry or wet. Oils that are rich in Omega-6 and vitamin E for nourishment and repair are ideal: Jojoba oil, grapeseed oil, coconut oil are all great ways to protect and prevent damage.
4. All Heat Is Equally Damaging
According to Ouidad, stand-up blow dryers have the least amount of risk for damage because it isn't directly on the hair and the heat setting are easily adjusted. While Ouidad does not recommend using heat on afro-textured hair, her no-heat philosophy does not include steam treatments. "[Steam treatments] add moisture to the curl pattern without hygral fatigue which wear and tears on the curl due to expanding and contracting when soaked in water and dried," she says. I never shy away from a little steam in my life when using a deep conditioning treatment; this form of low-heat tends to increase the effectiveness of treatments by penetrating the hair shaft by warming up.
5. There Are Benefits To Using Heat On Afro-Textured Hair
While it isn't necessarily the end of the world, there are no specific benefits to heat styling your hair, according to our Ouidad experts.
6. Heat Straightening At Home Is The Best Way To Avoid Heat Damage
I'm a huge fan of doing everything at home, but even I would never bring a flat iron into my DIY life. While Ouidad and Fahey agree, there are ways to limit damage if you must straighten at home. "It is very important to use the best hot tools for any type of iron work on kinky curly texture," Fahey says. "Be certain there is a temperature adjustment, only use it on a moderate heat, and always use a heat styling protectant prior or during use of [flat iron]." She also recommends putting a light cotton handkerchief between your hair and the flat iron to protect your hair from singeing. If you are about that at-home straightening life? Fahey recommends Ouidad Climate Control Gel to use throughout iron-straightening.
7. Heat Damage Can Be Reversed
I have friends and family members that are in extreme denial about their own heat damage (you know who you are) and there really is no mistaking the look of heat damage due to the physical change in the hair pattern and structure throughout the hair. According to Ouidad, "The hair will be lifeless and inconsistent spots will be curly, spots will be wavy, and spots will actually be completely straight."
Why is it important to face the reality of heat damage? It can never be reversed. "You have to grow it out and little by little cut the damaged hair out," explains Ouidad. Of course, if you keep applying heat to your already fragile hair, a big chop could be in your future. Treating damaged hair with deep treatments and certain protective styles can diminish the appearance of your heat damage while you start trimming down the dead hair.
8. If You've Suffered From Heat Damage Before, You Should Never Use Heat
While I narrowly avoided heat damage during my blow-out obsession, I was prone to heat damage during my relaxed days further perpetuating my fear. According to Fahey, "A person usually encounters heat styling damage because they may be working with a hot tool that does not have a temperature gage on it, or the heat is turned up too high. They may not be using a primer with a heat protectant in their hair...or they may be simply placing heat on hair for too long a period causing hair to overheat and essentially cause damage." So, while the exact hair strand may never fully recover from heat damage, it doesn't mean that when you have new growth and have cut off that damaged hair, you can't have a second chance at heat styling.
9. Hair Grows Longer & Stronger Without Heat
OK, this myth is actually true! "The less heat the better and healthier your hair is which in return will award you with length," Ouidad says. I can attest to this: After my own summer of heat, I have kept the heat out of my life with only breath steam from my stand-up dryer and have been awarded with the length my blow-out gave me without the heat.
Images: Giphy(8), Ouidad (1), Shareefah Mapp (1)