Natural hair heat damage is, by far, one of the WORST things to happen to natural hair. Talk about heat damage and watch every natural’s face cringe in fear.
One flat iron session can result in irreversible consequences. I’m talking dry, dusty and depressed hair, sis. Only once is enough to result in curls that just won’t curl.
If you’re suffering from natural hair heat damage, I feel you, girl. And I’m
here to help you reverse (and then, prevent) natural hair heat damage from now until FOREVER.
Ready to fix your natural hair heat damage? Let’s get started.
What is Natural Hair Heat Damage?
Natural hair heat damage occurs when, as the name suggests, too much heat is applied to natural hair.
At a molecular level, heat damage occurs when the keratin bonds in your hair are broken (if you don’t know, keratin is the protein in curls that gives it its inherent curly texture).
Essentially, the heat from the flat iron break the protein bonds in your hair, which results in limp, non-curling curls. Most naturals report that their hair becomes utterly straight, especially at the ends. Whew chile!
Generally speaking, certain portions of your hair are more susceptible to becoming heat damaged than others.
For example, your edges and frontal sections of your hair are finer than the rest of your hair. These areas are exceptionally susceptible to natural hair heat damage.
If you are suffering from natural hair heat damage, remember that you’re not alone. Many naturals experience natural hair heat damage (and many become full-time naturals after the experience).
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to counteract your natural hair heat damage. In fact, some of the items below may reverse your heat damage, depending on how severe it is.
Here are the top eight things you need to do to get rid of your natural hair heat damage.
Drop The Flat Iron Like Its Hot
… do I even have to explain this one?
Heat is your ENEMY right now. You may be tempted to continue to flat iron your hair, given that your ends are already damaged (and your curls may not be as poppin' as they could be).
But I’m here to tell you that you’re only making the situation worse.
For one, you’re damaging whatever protein bonds you still have in your hair. That means that you’re decreasing your chances of that damaged part of hair to thrive again, increasing your likelihood of having to do the big chop.
And secondly, your new growth may also suffer from heat damage.
Throw out your flat iron, give it to your friend, lock it up in a safe, whatever you have to do – just drop the heat!
FYI - we’re not here to shame those who prefer the look of straight hair. But if you are looking to grow your hair, especially if you have transitioning hair, heat is not your friend right now. In fact, if you are indeed learning how to transition to natural hair, the flat iron has got to go!
Okay, you may not want to hear this (don't click out of this page just yet!), but nothing will fix your problem faster than getting a cut.
Your damaged ends are causing longer-term damage than you realize. Even though you’ve stopped using heat (which I assume you have), your ends are actually magnifying the problem.
Damaged ends = split ends. And split ends are just going to keep splitting up your hair shaft until your roots are damaged, too. And then you’re going to need an even bigger chop.
See where I’m going with this?
If you have a small amount of heat damaged natural hair, you may be fine just slowly trimming off the ends (something we like to call "invisible trims".
But if your whole head of hair is damaged, you’re better off just getting the cut, sis.
Starting off on healthy, natural hair is the best way to fix your heat damaged natural hair.
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When coming across your research on how to fix natural hair heat damage, you may see some naturals insisting on ditching the shampoo and only co-washing instead.
I’m here to tell you: FAKE! NEWS!
You need to clarify. I can’t stress that enough.
The act of clarifying is as essential as deep conditioning. How can you expect your hair to grow if there’s buildup on your scalp?
Dirty hair = dry hair. How do you expect to reverse your natural hair heat damage if your hair is dry and dirty?
Having an effective wash day routine for natural hair is key here. Without a proper wash day routine, your hair is not going to be effectively moisturized for the week ahead. You then run the risk of encouraging breakage - definitely not what you want to do when you are trying to repair your natural hair heat damage.
The next thing you might be thinking about is co-washing. Co-washing is great if you need to wash your hair more than once a week (i.e. if you exercise).
But not at the expense of not clarifying. Not TODAY!
There is a cost for over-shampooing, though. If used too often, shampoo could lead to increased dryness, which would then result in more breakage and overall more damage.
Make sure to use gentle, moisturizing shampoos (we like Mielle Organics' Pomegranate and Honey Shampoo).
Rinsing with apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a popular alternative in the natural hair community. ACV has a natural clarifying ability, without that drying effect of shampoo. For those wondering how to wash natural black hair, this below may be for you:
To use ACV: section your hair in fours, and one section at the top of your head. Mix two parts water and one-part apple cider vinegar into a spray bottle. Spray this mixture into each section at a time, focusing on your scalp (as this is the dirtiest part of the hair). Rub it in gently with the pads of your fingers, massaging gently to remove the buildup from the scalp. Wash it out immediately and follow
up with a conditioner with slip.
This method is great for high porosity natural hair because ACV can also help seal open cuticles. Just remember to keep this method to only once a month.
Moisture is Key
If you’re not careful, you can do serious damage with protein treatments too.
Protein overload, as the name suggests, occurs when your hair is overburdened with protein. You know you have protein overload when your hair is dry, brittle and stiff.
To balance this out, you need moisture. Moisture is CRITICAL to ensuring that your new growth is still growing healthy, and that your ends are retaining essential moisture to avoid breakage.
Make sure you are deep conditioning weekly. Use a hair attachment or hot cap to really get that deep conditioner in if you have low porosity natural hair.
Be sure to use a moisturizing leave-in conditioner after you wash out your deep conditioner.
Hot Oil Treatments
Hot oil treatments are a godsend for natural hair heat damage. With the right concoction, it can repair elasticity, promote shine and curl definition. Exactly what we need when our hair is at its worst.
Examples of hot oils include jojoba oil (which is the only oil that resembles our natural hair oils), olive oil (includes Vitamin A and E), and jamaican black castor oil.
To do a hot oil treatment, simply mix the oils together in an applicator bottle. Boil water and pour this water into a container. Put the applicator bottle into the boiling water container and let it heat up. Test the oil into your hand to make sure it is not burning hot.
Apply the mixture into your hair, focusing on your scalp and ends. Place a plastic cap over your hair and sit under your heat steamer for 30 minutes. Or use your own body heat. Nonetheless, expect shiny, strong hair (be sure to wash the oil out with cold water to close those cuticles).
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If you don’t want to do a big chop, then protective styling is a non-negotiable.
The protective style that you choose must:
Some popular protective styles include braids, wigs and weaves. With these styles, there are a few common rules of practice. You must take down the style every 4-6 weeks so that you can wash and deep condition your natural hair.
You also must allow your hair to breathe – in other words, don’t be so quick to put it back into another protective style. Give your hair a break and let it breathe, for at least a week.
Perm rods are not going to reverse your heat damage, but it will help encourage your hair to curl again.
It’s also a good way to mimic your natural curl pattern (this also works with styles such as braid outs and twist outs)!
Simply section your hair in sections around your head (the smaller the section, the tighter the curl pattern).
On clean, deep conditioned and moisturized hair, wrap the perm rod around smaller sub-sections hair and lock the perm rod to secure it. Repeat all over your head and once your entire hair is complete, wrap with a satin scarf.
The next day, undo the rods carefully as to not disturb the pattern. Fluff using an afro pick. If using your hands to separate the curls, make sure your hair is coated in oil to prevent your fingertips from sucking up the moisture.
I know that this is a trying time in your natural hair journey. There is no worse feeling than seeing your beautiful curls and kinks limp and lifeless.
But it will get better, because many naturals experience natural hair heat damage and are able to overcome it.
As a result, their hair is healthy, thick, long and vivacious. With time, patience, and the above regimen, your hair will flourish in no time. You got this!
The Bottom Line
Natural hair, as you obviously know, is fragile. There is no shortage of things that damage our hair – bad products, flat irons, chemicals. The list goes on!
The one thing we do know is that natural hair is resilient. Natural hair heat damage sucks, but it can be fixed with either a big chop or regular trims, and protein treatments.
And while you are mitigating the heat damage, remember to take care of your new growth with moisture and deep conditioning sessions, and protecting it from future damage by protective styling and minimizing heat styling.
Have you suffered from natural hair heat damage? What are your tips for healing it? Comment down below!