Everything You Need To Know About Getting a Silk Press, According to Experts

Photo: Courtesy of Kayla Greaves

As a Black girl who came of age in the '90s and early '00s, I used to think having type 4 hair meant having limited styling options. But really, it was the beauty industry's lack of inclusivity that was failing me. Fast-forward to 2024, and with many products on the market specifically designed for oily hair and more stylists than ever specializing in natural hair, I've realized that my curls are limitless. 

One week, my hair could be in an afro. The next? Braids. A month after that, I could be wearing a silk press—ironically, my style of choice since chopping my hair back in September. But what exactly is a silk press, and how can we opt for a straight 'do without destroying the integrity of our unique textures? To find out more, I spoke with three expert hair stylists to discuss everything you need to know about the silk press—and how to maintain the integrity of your curls while working with hot tools. 

Experts In This Article

What is a silk press? 

According to celebrity hairstylist Karen Miller, a silk press is a styling method that temporarily straightens curly or oily hair without the use of chemicals, like a relaxer, for example. To achieve the look, hot tools like a blow dryer (often paired with a brush or comb attachment), hot comb, and/or flat iron are used. "This service leaves the hair straight, smooth, and shiny," explains Ursula Stephen, hair stylist to the stars and owner of the New York City-based The Salon By Ursula Stephen

How to Prepare For a Silk Press

First thing's first: You never want to use hot tools on dirty hair. While it may be tempting to skip the sometimes lengthy wash day process, a thorough cleanse is necessary to achieve a smooth and bouncy silk press. According to Nafisah Carter, celebrity hairstylist and owner of The Salon Raleigh in North Carolina, starting with a hydrating shampoo is best. However, if you have a lot of product build-up, Miller recommends opting for a clarifying shampoo beforehand and following up with a second wash. Once the hair has been thoroughly cleansed, you'll want to use a conditioner to help detangle each strand. 

Stephen recommends using SheaMoisture's new five-piece Bond Repair collection. The system works to repair signs of damage while simultaneously preventing future breakage by rebuilding hair bonds. She especially loves using the line's Bond Repair Masque ($16) to give dry hair a boost of moisture before using heat tools. "The blend of amla oil and amino acids will add strength and moisture to the hair," she explains. "Follow up with a moisturizing leave-in conditioner or heat protectant to shield the hair from heat damage [before styling]," Carter adds. 

How to Do a Silk Press

Step one: Shampoo

As mentioned, you'll want to start off on a clean slate using a clarifying or hydrating shampoo. We recommend Pattern's Cleansing Shampoo ($21)and Fable & Mane's HoliRoots Hydrating Shampoo ($30) is another great option. 

Step two: Condition 

Ensuring the hair is moisturized and free of knots is the foundation of any good silk press. Carter likes to use conditioners from Amika for this step. Some of her go-to's include The Kure Bond Repair Conditioner ($28) and Hydro Rush Intense Moisture Conditioner ($26). Once your hair is fully saturated with the product, divide the hair into as many sections as you need, then go in with a detangling tool. We recommend using the Detangler Brush by Felicia Leatherwood ($28), an editor favorite for combing natural hair. It can easily (and painlessly) detangle any texture from 1A to 4C. 

Step three: Apply Leave-In Products

The type of leave-in products you use will depend on your hair type. For example, those with dry hair may want to use a traditional leave-in conditioner or blowout cream, while others may only want to spritz on a light moisturizer. A great option for the former is Cécred's Moisturizing Hair Lotion ($38), which I recently tested. It's light, but it left my hair feeling hydrated. I'm also a fan of SexyHair's Healthy Smooth Stunner Blowout Crème ($23) and Healthy Shine Show Blowout Spray ($23). In terms of heat protection, this is non—negotiable. For years, my go-to has been Mizani's Press Agent Thermal Smoothing Raincoat Styling Serum ($25), which protects hair up to 450 degrees. 

Step four: Blowdry 

For this step, it's important to note that you want the hair to have a smooth finish. That's why Stephen recommends using a Denman brush, paddle brush, or comb in conjunction with your blow dryer. Thankfully, Pattern's The Blow Dryer ($189) comes with both a brush and comb attachment and was specifically made with textured hair in mind—meaning it gets just hot enough to straighten hair without causing heat damage. 

Step four: Flat Iron and Style 

Working in quarter-inch sections, as recommended by Miller, take a flat iron—starting from the roots—and carefully glide it along the hair shaft until it reaches the ends. To keep your hair intact, we recommend not exceeding a temperature of 400 degrees and only doing one pass to avoid excessive damage. But if you want to add extra volume to your hair, opt for Pattern's new Interchangeable Curling Iron ($250), which offers three barrel sizes to customize your look while only using minimal heat.

How do you maintain a silk press? 

Considering most people with natural hair wash their hair only once every week or two and generally want to avoid excessive heat, it's essential to keep your silk press in tip-top shape for as long as possible. 

Miller, Carter, and Stephen agree that wrapping hair in a silk or satin scarf is best. However, hair can become flat after a few days. To remedy this issue, Stephen recommends using satin rollers before bed to curl the hair without using more heat. You'll also want to avoid water and moisture so your hair won't revert. "Take cooler showers to avoid steam, and stay away from water-based products [when looking to refresh your hair]," she says. 

How long does a silk press last? 

Generally, your silk press will last until you wash your hair again or come into contact with moisture. So, let's say about two to three weeks, on average. However, it will differ depending on maintenance (i.e., wrapping your hair at night, avoiding water, etc.), and hair type. 

Is a silk press the same as flat-ironing? 

"A silk press is a type of service, and a flat iron is a tool used to achieve this service," explains Stephen. Each stylist has a unique method for achieving the look. "My approach involves using two different flat irons," explains Carter. "I use a small one at the roots and a larger one for the rest of the hair. This method saves time compared to using a straightening comb on the stove and waiting for it to cool down." 

Pros vs. Cons of a Silk Press 


"The pros are you can switch up your style, and go awhile without having to style your hair," explains Miller. "It also helps you know when it's time for a trim." Carter adds that a silk press can give your hair a break from high-tension styles like braids and twists, both of which can potentially lead to hair loss if done too frequently. 


"Cons of a silk press include potential damage from excessive heat usage," explains Carter. "This can alter your natural curl pattern, so it will be difficult to wear your hair out in its natural state." 

How much does a silk press cost?

The cost of your silk press will vary based on location and the stylist you visit. At an upscale salon, you can expect to pay anywhere from $75 to upwards of $500. 

Can I do a silk press at home? 

Yes, but it's best to chat with a licensed hair stylist beforehand about the best products, tools, and techniques to use. For example, using products designed to moisturize and repair hair is key. Also, make sure your hot tools are on an appropriate heat setting to avoid compromising your unique hair type and texture. Technique is typically learned over time, but there are a few general rules to keep in mind. "I recommend working in small sections and limiting the number of times you pass the flat iron," says Stephen. 

Final Takeaway

A silk press is an excellent styling method for anyone who prefers to wear their hair straight without chemical treatments. However, it's important to work with a licensed stylist who specializes in natural hair to ensure you get the best possible result without damaging your texture. For at-home maintenance, always wrap your hair in a silk or satin scarf every night and avoid water contact to ensure you won't have to add heat to your hair to keep your style looking fresh. 

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