Everything You Need to Know About Straightening Natural Hair

Photo: Getty Images/ Westend61
From ages 6 to 18, I got my hair chemically straightened every six weeks. Then, in college, I started my natural hair journey, finding refuge in big, curly wigs and sleek box braids. I'm loving the journey of embracing my natural texture, but sometimes, I still like silky-straight hair.  And if you've ever tried to straighten kinky curls, you know the struggle of maintaining the look without also frying your hair—but it can be done. Here's how.

Choose a stylist and method—carefully

The first step, says Anu Prestonia, a hair care consultant and the founder of natural beauty line Anu Essentials, is finding a stylist who has extensive experience with various hair textures. That stylist can help you choose between two straightening methods: a blowout or a silk press. Both straighten the hair, but one can work better for you depending on your hair texture. "A blowout usually works best for someone with naturally straight hair or hair that straightens easily," says hairstylist Ursula Stephen, who's touched the heads of stars like Rihanna and Laverne Cox. Prestonia adds that blowouts are also appropriate for people with super-fine hair, since the less-intense heat is better for hair that's susceptible to damage.

But a blow dryer alone isn't enough to get thick, kinky curls pin-straight. For people with naturally curly, coarse hair, Stephen suggests a silk press. "The hair is blown out, then flat-ironed to give it a sleek, shiny finish," Stephen says. This style could turn into more of a commitment, Prestonia notes. Repeated silk presses can also alter the molecules of your hair, she says, so your hair might not revert back to its normal texture when washed until the silk-pressed hair grows out.

"Heat damage is one of those things that happens over the course of time, and you won’t notice it until it’s too late." —Ursula Stephen

Shield your hair from heat damage

Your stylist should also apply protective products like primers, blowout creams, and serums to keep your blowout or silk press looking flawless longer. "When products like these are applied on wet hair, it makes a great foundation," Stephen says. She also says that getting a deep condition can help maintain straight hair, as it makes the hair softer and more manageable.

You'll also want to get a trim, especially if you're regularly applying heat. "Because it's being exposed to a lot more heat, [there's] a lot more opportunity for hair to get damaged," Prestonia says. Also, she adds that straight hair is less forgiving when it comes to raggedy ends. She recommends getting trims every six weeks.

Care for your style at home

A good blowout or silk press can last up to two weeks, Stephen says. But for that to happen, you have to take good care of it. "Taking cool showers and properly maintaining your hair at night by protecting it with top knots, silk scarves, etc. are good ways to maintain these styles," she says.

But if you live in a humid climate or love a good sweat sesh, you'll have to accept that your hair isn't going to stay straight as long. "Trying to maintain pin-straight hair while going to the gym five days a week will not work," Stephen says. "Flat-ironing daily will cause damage to your hair … Heat damage is one of those things that happens over the course of time, and you won’t notice it until it’s too late."

Applying heat one to two times a week is fine if you are trying to maintain straight hair, but Stephen also recommends trying alternatives like heated rollers, as they are less harsh on your hair. If you do choose to use a straightener at home, Prestonia recommends that people with finer hair keep it around 300 degrees. But if you have thick, coarse hair that isn't color-treated, Stephen says you can let it get up to 450 degrees. And if you want to continuously wear your natural hair straightened (as Michelle Obama often does) Prestonia stresses the importance of taking care of your hair. Be sure to regularly moisturize, deep-condition every two weeks, and schedule your trims.

I'm absolutely guilty of taking a flat iron to my head daily when I wear my hair straight—but now, I'll try my hardest to stop frying my hair.

Read why writer Kara Jillian Brown appreciates protective styles, then read about why Hair Love's Oscar win is so important.

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