Hair straightening works by rearranging the hydrogen molecular bonds that hold keratin, the main structural component of hair, in place.
The heat temporarily changes how these bonds are arranged, causing the hair to remain straight or become curly for a short amount of time.
While in most cases the hair is able to go back to its original shape after a few hours or days, it’s not without damage.
The heat gradually weakens your hair’s cortex layer, causing your hair to get brittle and susceptible to further damage. Excess heat from a straightening iron or curler quickens this process and can result in more severe hair damage.
With time, your hair gets weaker, becomes frizzy and gets a dull lifeless look. Its ability to hold moisture is reduced, causing it go dry. It may even start breaking off.
How often can you straighten your hair without damaging it?
There is no specific straightening frequency that is recommended for everybody. This is because everyone’s hair is different.
Someone with naturally sensitive hair will benefit from less frequent styling while someone else with thicker hair can do it a bit more often without much damage.
The secret is to know your own hair type.
If you have to style your hair every day, do not use a flat iron more than once a day. And even then, make sure you are using a heat protectant and generously moisturising your hair. Also don’t forget to keep the heat setting at low or medium.
Let your hair rest on weekends to give it time to heal the little damage that has occurred over the week.
For most people however, 2-3 times a week is plenty enough to keep your looking good without damaging it.
If you have particularly sensitive or weak hair, once or twice a week is safer.
Whatever frequency you choose, keep an eye on your hair. If it start looking dull or feeling dry and brittle, straighten it less often or look for a way to straighten it naturally.
How to make your hair straight naturally
Straightening your hair naturally is not as easy as using a flat iron. But if you don’t want to risk any heat damage to your hair, there are a few natural alternatives that might work for you.
1. Using hair bands
Start by washing and shampooing your hair. If you hair tends to be frizzy, look for a shampoo specifically formulated to reduce frizz.
Squeeze dry your hair using a microfiber towel then use a wide-toothed comb to detangle your hair. Comb one half of your hair to the left and the other to the right.
Use wide rubber bands to create two pigtails. You’ll need to use at least two rubber bands for each pigtail; one near the end and one around the middle.
You can also cover the entire length of the pigtails in rubber bands.
Just make sure the rubber bands are not too tight as this can create unsightly dents in your hair.
Sleep with the rubber bands on and a silk scarf tied around your head. In the morning, use a wide-tooth comb to finish styling your hair.
2. Wet brush your hair
If your hair is not very curly or frizzy, you can straighten it simply by brushing it. But you need to brush it while wet to ensure the new straight shape sets as the hair dries.
Continually brush different sections of your hair until all the hair is straight and dry. Do this outside or in front of a fan to speed up the drying process.
3. Use hair rollers
Rollers are often used to create curly or wavy hair. But you can also use them to straighten your hair without heat.
Start by washing your hair and using a towel to squeeze excess water out. Then take the largest rollers you can find and wrap different sections of your hair tightly around them.
You’ll need 2-3 rollers depending on how thick your hair is. Don’t use small rollers. They will create curls or waves rather than straightening your hair.
Next, you need to air-dry your hair completely. Any moisture left will cause the hair to curl. Go outside or sit next to a fan to quicken the drying process.
You can also use a blow dryer that has a cool shot (no heat) setting.
Wrap a silk scarf around your head and let the hair set overnight. Gently remove the rollers in the morning and comb out your hair using a wide-toothed comb.
4. Use a natural straightening mask
There are many hair straightening mask recipes you can try. You may have to try a few before you find the one that works best for your hair.
One of the most popular one consists of coconut milk (250ml) and honey (1 tablespoon). Apply the mixture on your hair and let it rest for an hour before rinsing it out.
Another popular recipe involves mixing two cups of milk with an egg. Add a few drops of coconut oil to reduce frizz. Apply the mixture on your hair and let it rest for 30-60 minutes before washing it out.
How to repair hair damaged from straightening
If your hair constantly feels brittle, frizzy and dry no matter what you do, it might be heat-damaged. If you’ve been using a flat iron frequently the last several months, that is most likely the culprit.
The first step to restoring your hair is to stop using heat styling or reduce how often you do it. Also make sure you use a low heat setting and apply a heat protectant whenever you are straightening your hair.
Look for a good quality shampoo and conditioner formulated specifically for damaged hair. These products contain ingredients, mostly proteins and vitamins, that help to revitalize and strengthen your hair.
Keep your hair well moisturised all the time using natural oils (coconut oil is especially good for hair), a hydrating mask or a moisturising leave-in conditioner.
In extreme cases where the heat damage is severe, you may need to cut your hair off. Usually, it’s the ends that will be most affected. You can just trim them off to allow new growth.
If the damage has reached your hair roots, you’ll have to cut further up. You may have to spot a short hair style like a bob or pixie cut for a while.