10 Quick Ways to Avoid Heat Damage from Your Heat Appliances

 Are you a heat abuser–ahem, errah power user?

Have pressing and heat straightening caused you heat damage? Learn ways to reduce heat damage the next time around!

Well, you are not alone! One Cosmopolitan market research poll found that women (18-24 yrs old) are some serious heat abusers! Nearly 88 percent regularly use blow dryers, 71% use flat irons, and 64% use curling irons to style their hair. And even with so many healthy hair fanatics now opting to go “heat-free” for stretches at a time, with numbers like that, it’s still no wonder that heat damage is so rampant! 

Most of us know that the healthiest way to dry the hair is naturally in the air- and the safest way to style it is heat-free. But since going heat-free is not always possible (or fun), we’ll talk about ten ways that you can reduce damage from your heat appliances when you do decide to use them for an occasional blow dry, pressing or heat straightening.

10 Quick Ways to Avoid Heat Damage from Your Heat Appliances:

  1. Start off Smart. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot before you even begin! Only use heat appliances on hair that is already in good condition. Damaged hair will always falter with regular heat exposure, and in most cases, give you less than stellar results anyway. Start with hair that has been deep conditioned within the last day or so for best results.
  2. Know Your Status. Knowing your own heat tolerance is important. Some hair types (usually coarser, thicker, relatively straight, wavy or loosely curly strands) can handle heat styling better than others long term. Just because your sister can fire up her irons daily with very little damage, doesn’t mean that you’re cleared, too. Remember, chemically processing the hair will reduce your hair’s heat tolerance.
  3. Make it Measurable. Work with appliances, especially flat irons, that have dedicated temperature dials with actual, measurable readings—not just High and Low, or On and Off! This way, you’ll know immediately how much heat you’re working with. Healthy hair burns at just over 450F. (Notice, the emphasis on healthy hair.) This means that if your hair is compromised in any way, you can rest assured that your heat tolerance is much lower than this. If your hair is fine or fragile use temps no higher than the upper 200s or low 300s. If your hair is a medium texture and fairly healthy, 300 to 375 should work. If your hair is coarse (thick strands), you can venture above 350F to the low 400s fairly easily- but with all hair types, start low and work upward until you find a comfortable temperature zone.
  4. Be Cold. Heat damage is no fun. To prevent burnout, become one with your blow dryer’s cold shot button!
  5. Suit Up! You wouldn’t walk into a war zone without your protective gear! Always apply a thermal/heat-protectant spray, cream or serum to the hair before heat styling. Silicone based products offer the best heat protection.

    Color-treated and relaxed hair types tend to have a lower heat tolerance. Thinning ends are a sign that you may want to lay off the heat for awhile.

  6. Keep Your Distance. The more direct the heat contact, the more potential for hair damage in the long run. Hold blow dryers about 6 to 10 inches away from your head, and direct the air down the hair shaft—not at the head. Use a diffuser attachment when possible for more even heat distribution. When straightening the hair with an iron, slowly decrease your ironing  tension as you move along the hair shaft. The hair nearest the very ends is the most vulnerable to heat damage and has a much a lower heat tolerance- so ease up.
  7. Keep it Moving. Allowing heat to concentrate or linger in sections will dry your hair faster and/or straighten it better, but it’s a quick way to guarantee high, mid, and low-shaft split ends. Keep your heat source moving! Do not leave heat appliances on the hair for more than a few seconds.
  8. Let Moisture Work for You. Hair is most fragile when wet, but the moisture in our hair works as a buffer against heat damage by slowing the rate and distribution of heating. Hair that is adequately moisturized will heat more evenly and safely than dry, brittle hair- which heats rapidly and easily deteriorates the fiber. Blow dry your hair on the warmest setting while the hair is dampest, and reduce the blow dryer’s heat and speed as your hair begins to dry. You want to do the blowing when your hair’s moisture content is the highest, and then adjust the heat downward as the moisture leaves your hair. Warm, not hot air is key. It’ll take longer to dry, but you’ll have dry hair that is also quite hydrated in the end.
  9. Let Your Fingers Do the Talking. Dry your freshly detangled hair in sections and use your fingers, or a wide toothed comb, to carefully stretch, separate, loosen and remove any other tangles while your hair is drying. If you use high-tension heat styling methods such as blowing out the hair with a round brush- do so in moderation, and only if your hair can tolerate it. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself with serious high and mid-shaft split ends. The curlier your hair, the more your fingers should do!
  10. Make a Clean Sweep. Never use heat on hair that is dirty or laden with product buildup. Starting with clean, conditioned hair will give you a fresher, longer lasting style! Also, make sure that your flat iron or curling iron plates are clean before running them through your hair. Product crud can easily snag and abrade your hair.

Good luck!!! For more great tips on preventing heat damage, check out The Science of Black Hair book– or this oldie but goodie article: Heat Addict? How to Prevent Heat Damage to Black Hair.

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Comments

  1. What thermal/heat-protectant spray, cream or serum do you recommend?

  2. Great post. I use a flat iron once every 3 months and still wonder if this is too much.

    • Thanks Tendayi! You know, whether it is “too much” always depends on your personal styling goals. What is too much for one person, may be acceptable to another. One person’s idea of damaged hair may be simply having straight pieces after using heat when they are trying to stay kinky-curly, while another person may see that straightening as something they actually want to achieve, but view any breakage or dryness as the actual damage.

      I have a sister in law who uses a blowdryer and flatiron faithfully every morning, and her hair is absolutely beautiful. But my hair would falter under her regimen. I use heat (not counting hooded drying) about 3 times per year. I did use more heat when I was relaxed (once per month) and my hair was awesome. So “too much” is not a set thing! Just monitor your hair for problems like dryness, breakage or unwanted splits– and let that be your guide. At the first sign of trouble, go on a heat break and step up your conditioning. Good luck!

  3. I have mid-shaft splits and always wonder why. As I cut off my split ends and my hair grows out I see more “holes” in my hair above the ends. I always wondered how/why they wre there. I use a flat-iron to straighten my hair maybe once per year, and rarely use the blow-dryer as well. Probably only on these occasions unless there’s an emergency and I have to dry quickly before heading out. Is there any other cause for these mid-shaft splits?

  4. Thanks for the advice; I have found that CHI sells some very good anti-burn cream for the hair. I try to only straighten my hair once a week and I keep my blow dryer on the shelf 99% of the month. It only took me one time to figure out that I never want to fry my hair again! :)

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  4. […] it’s your own natural hair or extensions. If you want to keep you hair healthy make sure to take the precautions needed to prevent heat damage. If you’re more interested in ways to curl your hair without heat, scroll further down this […]

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