November 26, 2021
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Simply put, heat damage is a change in the hair’s appearance and feel that was caused by heat styling on a high temperature, usually over an extended period of time.
Heat-damaged hair symptoms in kinky, curly and wavy hair types are usually identifiable when you wet your hair. Heat-damaged hair will have a different, often unpredictable curl pattern. It will also feel brittle or dry, tangle more, have more split ends, feel rough when you try to run your fingers over your cuticles, may have more frizz than usual, and may break off more than usual when being styled.
Well, as we previously mentioned, heat damage is caused by styling your hair with excessive heat. The most common culprit for this is flat ironing, but methods such as blow drying and curling (using a curling wand) have also been known to damage the hair.
The hair structure is made up of protein called keratin. Keratin forms certain bonds that determine several factors about the appearance and feel of your hair, including your curl pattern. What happens during heat damage is that the excessive heat causes these bonds to break down permanently, therefore altering the structure and feel of your hair.
These are the same protein bonds that are affected by permanent procedures such as relaxing or texturizing your hair.
Luckily, this is pretty straightforward. You’ll drench your hair with plain water, and then give your hair 5 minutes to shrink/revert. You may also rake through your strands to encourage your hair to form curls or coils and shrink. At the end of the 5 minutes, observe your hair in the mirror and note any changes in curl pattern and overall feel.
If your hair has a much looser curl pattern than usual, often in random spots, then you probably have heat damage. In tightly coiled hair, for example, heat damage may look like having sections of the hair that are now wavy or straight while the other sections of your hair have maintained your original curl pattern.
Other signs you are looking for are how long it takes your hair to absorb water into the strand and how fast it loses this water. If you notice that some sections of your hair now absorb water faster and also dry faster than the rest of your hair, then that may be cause for concern. Hair that follows this pattern would be classified as high porosity hair. High-porosity hair is almost always a result of some kind of damage to the strand.
We go into more detail on porosity types, how to identify your porosity type and the best products and routines for your specific type in our All Things Hair Porosity guide, which you can get a copy of when you sign up for our newsletter.
Other telltale signs are hair that feels brittle, hair that appears more frizzy, breaks easier and has more split ends. However, note for this to be heat damage, you’d have to observe these signs on hair that had recently been heat styled.
The most effective method? Avoid heat styling altogether. Avoiding these methods altogether means that you will never be exposed to any of the tools that if not used properly could damage your hair. Rather than blow-drying your hair, you can air-dry your hair or use other methods to stretch your hair without heat.
That said, it’s hard to completely avoid heat styling, so if you must, keep them to a minimum, and try to avoid any styles that need your hair to be almost silky straight, as these tend to require more heat to achieve.
Sticking to temperatures between 200 to 300°F, not doing multiple passes on the same section and not holding the tool too long in one place are also great ways to minimize the risk of heat damage.
Another important tip is to use a heat protectant. A heat protectant is a product that when applied to the hair reduces the likelihood of your hair suffering heat damage. Heat protectants work by creating a barrier between the hair and the styling tool. This barrier slows down how fast your hair heats up and spreads the heat more evenly throughout your strand, reducing your chances of heat damaging your hair.
Because heat damage breaks down the protein bonds in your hair, unfortunately, it is permanent and can’t be reversed. So eventually, you will have to cut off the sections that are damaged and find new ways to manage your hair and prevent more damage from occurring.
The easiest way to deal with damage is simply to cut off the heat-damaged sections. You may opt to do a big chop or simply get trims often to gradually take some length off of those sections. This may be a bit more difficult to do if you have heat damage on many different sections of your hair. If that’s the case, then your best bet would be to big chop.
If you want to recover from heat damage to your natural hair without cutting it off though, do protein and moisture treatments on your hair often, do low-manipulation styles and protective styles and once your hair starts to grow out a bit, get regular trims. Also, handle wet hair carefully and avoid any procedures such as coloring or relaxing your hair that can damage your hair even more.
Seeing as heat-damaged hair is extremely fragile, it’s important to give it some TLC. Protein and moisturizing deep conditioners should be used to maintain moisture levels and boost the integrity of your strands. Our Rhodiola and Baobab Oil Protein Conditioner is a one-step solution that does both, helping you maintain a protein-moisture balance and keeping your hair from either protein or moisture overloads.
Opt for low-manipulation hairstyles as well to minimize breakage. Protective styles such as box braids, passion twists, cornrows, etc, will give your hair a chance to grow out and save you the hassle of trying to blend two very different curl patterns together.
If you opt to still wear your hair out, then look for hairstyles that people also work well for those transitioning from natural to relaxed hair. A good example of this would be a perm rod set.
Even with this setback, the proper care will see your hair recover in no time, and you’ll soon have the same old mane that you loved so dearly. If you haven’t suffered from any heat damage, then this post will help you know what it is and how to prevent it.
Have you ever suffered from heat damage? We’d love to hear from you. Tell us how long it took you to recover and what styles were your favorite during that time.
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