Monday, 11 May 2009

Summertime: Can you feel the heat?

It seems with summer coming, the heat questions are building up. I guess the weather must be better for straight styles. So I have decided to mish mash a selection of your heat questions. Does heat really damage hair? Yes, heat really does damage hair to an extent. To put some perspective into this, the so-called good things we do to our hair can also damage it for example

1. Combing can have the same effect as chopping your hair off (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, pg 886-888,2006)

2. Shampooing can lead to removal of protein from your hair weakening the hair (Colloids and Surfaces B:Biointerfaces,pg 7-14, 2005 )

3. Surfactants in conditioner can cause the hair cuticle to rise and therefore be more likely to chip and break off (Chemical and Physical Behaviour of Hair by Clarence Robbins).

I state all these because combing, shampooing and conditioning can actually all be good things to do to maintain and your hair. However, you have to do them correctly to be beneficial. If you want to just see the bad side, then this is easily done too.

Is heat really that bad for natural hair? (Will I lose my napps?)
I don't buy into unresearched and unproven 'theories' me the scientist who wrote that paper ;) . I don't really think that one pass of a flat iron at moderate heat will destroy your napps forever. However high heat and 20 passes, then yes it is likely that you can destroy your curls or lose your hair.

It is really a matter of opinion as to how 'bad' you think heat is. It is a cosmetic and temporary effect. I don't particularly advocate it but I am not opposed to occassional responsible use (and I mean occassional AND responsible!). I think we all get to an age when we can make our own decisions which suit our aesthetics and lifestyle.

Hey ma, I used to get dominican blowouts when I was relaxed, can I still do this natural? (I liked the 'Hey Ma' bit so I put it in:))

I have never seen a dominican blowout but I did catch a video on trusty ol' youtube and I had nightmares of my styling ventures as a kid. The smoke, the hair pulling......oh lord! The lady in the video did look comfortable, I constantly flinched because the heat was too high. I honestly did not like what I saw.

I do however think that if your hair survived the process when it was relaxed, it is mechanically stronger natural and therefore also likely to survive. I think an element of protectionism with natural hair appears because we gain a sense of pride and attachment to the hair. Bear in mind that your hair is the strongest it has ever been in a natural state (provided you are keeping it well moisturised, might I add).

Can I prevent damage to my hair when flat ironing?

Any heat process will damage your hair to some extent. However, you can reduce this damage by

1. Never apply direct heat to dripping wet hair. Wet hair plus heat means bubble hair. As the name suggests, bubbles form in your hair due to heating up the internal shaft and the steam trying to get out...........terrible stuff.

2. Always use a heat protection product. Polymers and surfactants within these products do reduce damage to the hair strand. Silicone has also been shown to protect from thermal damage (Journal of Cosmetic Science, pg 245-256 1998 and

3. A personal tip from me for the super extra curly luscious haired ladies - Don't aim for poker straight, a little bit of texture is great for volume and it means that you don't focus too much heat on those kinks which are the weakest part of our hair.

Is heat ever beneficial? What is the worst thing that could happen?
Yes actually some say low heat from a blow dryer for 5 minutes allows better penetration of coconut oil.......and we all know how wonderful this stuff is right? ( Journal of Cosmetic Science, pg 283-295,2005)

The worst case scenario is hair loss for example bubble hair does cause alopecia (International journal of dermatology, pg1319-1320, 2006.).

Are you going to flat iron this summer? Are you not going to flat iron this summer? Why or Why not, let us know!!

Image Credit


  1. I flatironed my hair once, on a high heat ( one/2 swipes) and my hair never reverted i had to chop. Awful awful!
    I am planning on rollersetting and saran wrapping my hair on saturday to get it straight( not dead straight) with a hairdryer attachment bonnet dryer.
    JC is deep conditioning with heat damaging? Is the damage cumulative??

  2. Hi SweetStar - Yes, high heat is never good. I have not found a good scientific reason to deep condition with heat. Most conditioners simply deposit conditioning agents on the outside of the hair. A few agents will penetrate through the hair shaft but mostly conditioners work on the outside. There are some professional products that require 'heat activation' but for home use, this is rarely the case.

    I have not researched if deep conditioning with heat is damaging but I would suspect if the heat is high and prolonged, then yes it would probably be. I'll have a look to see if I can find some evidence.

    Yes all damage to hair is cumulative. You cannot really repair the shaft. You can temporarily fix hair with protein treatments and conditioning, however the damage just can't disappear.

  3. I'm not flat ironing my hair this summer because I plan on spending it in a pool or on the beach! :)

  4. Oh that is a fantastic reason Alice!

  5. Another great, great post!
    I am straightening my hair this summer (for the first time in 2.5 years.) I'm going to do a roller set under a hooded dryer first and follow that up with a low-heat flat iron. Hopefully it works.

  6. Another great reason L - I'm sure you'll love the length that you have worked hard to gain :)

  7. Thanks so much JC!
    All the scientific evidence i'm seeing says there is no need for heat, but then most people do and i was just confused.
    Thanks again!

  8. My hair hasnt seen a flat iron in almost a year! My summer question is more along the lines of pool/beach hair. What should I do before going for a swim? How I can I protect my hair from damages of chlorine/salty water?

  9. Hi Chanel - that is a great summer question. I have some ideas just off the top of my head but let me see if I can find some research to support it!

  10. @ chanel
    from paula begoun's book, i've red that applying silicone before swimming is a good way to protect the hair. silicone resist water. you have to wash the hair after. She was not thinking about kinky hair when she said that. Is is a little more complicated in our case but i though i should share it.

  11. I'm actually getting my hair flat ironed this Fridays so I can get my ends chopped.

    And heat damage is very, very real. I broke down and went to a beautician in December who used too much heat on my hair in the past (I had a television interview to do, and I could find no other beauticians with openings in the area). During the four months after I visited her, I was losing handfuls of hair whenever I detangled, even though I haven't had it straightened for almost five months, and I was moisturizing with a heavy conditioner and three different Carol's Daughter products. My ends are so heat damaged that they are a different texture from the rest of my hair. Using coconut oil and Oyin's Whipped Pudding instead of Carol's Daughter seems to have cut the hair loss by at least 75% in the past month, though. (Thank you for the coconut oil info, JC!)

    Still, I know that when I get my hair straightened on Friday, I'm going to have to cut at least 3 inches off once we are able to assess the damage from that one incident in December. You think I would learn. (Shaking my head) After I wash my curl back in, my hair will remain curly for another three to four months; straightening hair in Mississippi during the summer is a futile affair.

    As an aside, JC, how much heat is too much heat? What is the upper temperature limit? I've read that the highest you should possibly set a flat iron is 180-200 degrees, and that anything higher than that will cause permanent heat damage. Is this true?

  12. Hi Jesmimi - I'm glad you have a routine going that is working for you!!Thanks for another great question..I've posted up the answer!

  13. thanks kadiane! i don't really know what products have silicone though...?

  14. @ chanel
    JC have a new post where she has better suggestion for our kinky hairs and for non so regular swimmers ( i guess). The book i red suggested almost pure silicone. Most hair polishers and serums can be considered pure silicone. but read JC's new post first.

  15. Great job Jc. I'm using roller setting to achieve some type of curl patern and was wondering if roller settin under a hood dryer for 40minutes once a week too much heat? Is roller setting better than flat ironing period?

  16. I am thinking maybe sometime in fall 2010 i might flat iron my hair but i doubt it will be any sooner than that. I don't need straight hair in the summer because all it will do is frizz up!

  17. im still not finding the answer as to what heat protection is best.there has to be at least one or two,can anyone tell me what ones please?also is it true that ones contaning alcohol should be avoided?


  18. I'm loving your posts!

    I don't intend to iron my hair this summer (summer it's coming here in Brazil), but I do intend to eventually use the blow drier… so I need to ask you: I have bought a leave-in from Surya Brasil** (vegan, organic etc etc) and I'd like to know if it is a good heat protector or if I should buy something with silicone… And, also, what do you use to protect the hair from sun and salty water as well (will be spending time at the beach).

    I'm sorry for all these questions!

    Maria Proietti
    **[ingedients: Water, *Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Cetearyl Olivate Sorbitan Olivate, *Virola Surinamensis Seed Butter, Tocopherol, *Astrocarym Murumuru Seed Butter, Glycerin, Dehydroacetic Acid Benzyl Alcohol, Hydrolyzed Amaranth Protein, Fragrance, *Mauritia Flexuosa Fruit Oil, *Penthaclethra Macroloba Seed Oil.]


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