Jul 30, 2021

How To Flat Iron Natural Hair

Two different ways to straighten natural hair

Formulate user CJ wants to know how to keep her tresses silky smooth without damage:

I have natural hair and I'm always really worried about damage to my curl pattern when I straighten it. How can I flat iron my hair in a way that will keep it safe, or at least not damage it very much? I also really don't like it when I have to redo my hair the next day. How do I keep my hair straight for longer, like while I'm sleeping?

Thanks for your question, CJ. We consulted a few different natural hair experts to find some answers to help:

How to flat iron natural hair with minimal damage: Method 1

Courtesy of Brittany Johnson, licensed hairstylist & manager at Mayvenn:

Flat ironing natural hair can be intimidating, but it doesn't have to be a challenge. Properly preparing your hair and ensuring that you're protecting it from unnecessary heat damage is key for a beautiful and long-lasting press.

What tools do you need?

  • A quality blow dryer with a nozzle or comb attachment
  • A wide-tooth comb or wet brush for detangling
  • A medium-tooth, heat-safe comb for flat ironing and styling 
  • Butterfly or alligator clips for sectioning
  • Leave-in heat protectant product
  • Leave-in and heat-safe serum or oil
  • Silk or satin scarf

Step-by-step instructions:

  1. First, air dry or gently towel dry your hair to remove excess water. (Use a microfiber towel to help decrease frizz and remove moisture) Then, detangle while applying a leave-in heat protectant product and be sure to evenly distribute throughout damp hair. 
  2. Section hair with clips in a way that's manageable for you - 4 sections often works well.
  3. Starting from the nape of your neck and working your way up, blow dry your hair in sections.. For thicker hair or those with a tighter curl pattern, use smaller sections to achieve more stretched, smoother results. 
  4. Use a heat-safe brush or blow dryer comb attachment to stretch your strands.
  5. After your hair is 100% dry, apply a light leave-in oil or serum - there are great ones that are made specifically for heat styling.
  6. Then, flat iron your hair in small sections. Use a medium-tooth, heat-safe comb (I love carbon combs) with your flat iron to help smooth out strands and make sure all tangles are completely removed. Don't go above 400℉ on your flat iron, and use a significantly lower temperature for finer strands. 
  7. If time allows, wrap your hair with a silk or satin scarf to help your style set and last.   

How you can make it last longer:

To give your flat-ironed style more longevity, wrapping it at night is super important. Use a silk or satin scarf to wrap your hair and keep it in place while you're sleeping. If that's not available, use a pillowcase of one of the same materials to reduce frizz and friction. 

Keeping your hair protected from water is also key - wrap your hair and use a shower cap while you're showering, and quickly blow dry any moisture that manages to work its way in. 

Hair that is healthy also retains a style longer, so keep up with regular trims and deep conditioning to support your natural hair, no matter which style you choose to rock.

How to flat iron natural hair with minimal damage: Method 2

Courtesy of Ghanima Abdullah, licensed hairstylist and expert at The Right Hairstyles:

To avoid damaging natural hair, you'll need to stretch the hair first with rollers under a hooded dryer.

What tools do you need?

  • Velcro rollers 
  • A bonnet attachment for your hairdryer
  • A flat iron
  • A leave-in conditioner
  • A silicone-based hair protectant serum.

Step-by-step instructions. 

  1. After deep conditioning, apply a leave-in conditioner and a heat-protecting serum or straightening balm. Use a light hand! Loading product in your hair means your curls will revert quicker.
  2. Roll your hair onto velcro rollers. You'll need 24-36 of them because the rule of thumb is not to let the section be bigger than the diameter of the roller. Allow your hair to dry under a bonnet dryer, or use a bonnet attachment with your hairdryer.
  3. For extra bounce, blow dry your hair with a round brush and a little extra heat protectant after it's fully dry from the rollers. This step is optional, however..
  4. Only once your hair is fully dry from the rollers apply the high heat of a flat iron to fully straighten it. 
  5. Don't use water-based products at this stage. The high heat will cause your hair to literally boil from the inside, causing irreversible damage.
  6. Don't use a product that contains oil or butter at this stage. This will only fry your hair.
  7. Your heat protectant should be silicone-based to protect your hair, give it sheen and make the style last.

How you can make it last longer:

At night, apply a little extra silicone-based serum throughout your tresses. This acts as a humidity barrier. Then wrap your hair around your head and secure it with bobby pins. Sleep in a silk scarf or bonnet.

Bonus: How to keep straight hair securely wrapped overnight

Courtesy of hair journalist Maria Eliza Pineda

  1. Completely dry and detangle your hair.
  2. Apply a serum or oil to smooth down your strands and keep them hydrated.
  3. Take sections at the front of your hair and comb them over. Do it until the whole piece of hair is wrapped tightly around your head root to tip.
  4. Keep taking sections and doing this until the rest of your hair is wrapped around your whole head like a turban. Pin things down along the way to secure.
  5. To reduce friction, you will need a silk hair wrap. After you've wrapped your hair, wear a silk cap over it to preserve the style.
  6. Wake up, take your hair wrap out, and you've got non-frizzy, super smooth straight hair.

Editor's note: if you'd like to see a video demonstration, this one is a great example.


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