If you have curly hair and have worked hard to preserve your coils, getting a blowout or silk press every once in a while, may feel like you’re taking a huge risk on a super shaky investment. And to be honest, you kind of are. The good news is that what you do on wash day — both before and after the shower — can help preserve your curl pattern, prevent heat damage, and make the time spent caring for your curls worth the gamble. And it doesn’t mean losing the flexibility to switch things up, either.
First, let’s get the most pressing issue out of the way. It is completely possible to have healthy curls and rock a blowout without totally destroying your hair. What’s most important is the level of heat protection that you use when you’re styling. That, combined with taking a few extra steps during the wash process, ensures that your strands are in optimal shape to withstand heat styling.
How heat styling can affect your curls
If you’ve ever noticed that your curls aren’t 100 percent back in tip-top shape the first time you wash your hair, you’re not imagining things. If you’ve used high heat, up to 450 degrees, the bonds in your hair need time to get back into formation. If the flatiron was really hot, like 450 degrees, then it could take a few washes for the bonds [in your hair] to reorganize, even if your hair isn’t damaged per se.
So, what happens to your curls when you straighten them that makes them not bounce back? When your curls aren’t protected and heat is applied, the structural proteins within each strand are damaged. This repeated damage essentially breaks down the strand. Once the damage is done, there’s no coming back. You’ll have to either let the limp parts grow out before cutting them off, or snip them immediately. It’s important to realize the damage that heat can do to the proteins inside of the hair as well as on the surface. You need to get the benefits of the heat without the direct contact, which can lead to damage. We suggests priming hair with silicone- and dimethicone-based ingredients to protect your strands.
Silicones aren’t the enemy
Although silicones are a bit controversial for some consumers, Wilson says that it’s these ingredients that will create cross-links on the hair strand and form a film that will essentially block out excessive heat and help reduce damage. If you just can’t get behind a silicone-based product, Wilson says that certain proteins and polymers can essentially do the same thing. Look for these on the ingredient labels: hydrolyzed wheat protein, PG-propyl silanetriol, hydrolyzed keratin, PG-propyl methylsilanediol, and hydrolyzed rice protein. Ingredients like sodium laneth-40, maleate/styrene sulfonate copolymer, sodium methoxy PEG-16 maleate/styrene sulfonate copolymer, and sodium polystyrene sulfonate also help form that crucial film.
How to wash your hair before you straighten it
It’s best to start your straightening process in the shower, but before you wash, apply a protein-infused finisher or a thermal spray to help coax your curls into formation once you get under the water. The more hydrated your hair is, the more manageable it will be, which means less wear and tear on vulnerable coils. Any type of moisture, even after hair is already straightened, can help prevent damage. What the moisture does is preserve the elasticity of each strand, which when healthy, bounce back into shape once the straight bonds are broken with water.
Next, it’s on to cleansing. We recommend using a hydrating shampoo and conditioner and then follow that up with a leave-in conditioner to ensure that your curls snap back. We recommend shampoos and conditioners rich in moisturizing ingredients like argan oil, shea butter, proteins, and safflower oil. Moisture is the key factor standing between your strands and serious damage. Also, shopping for shampoos and conditioners geared toward curly hair is a good idea since most of them are created to moisturize naturally drier hair. After the shower, generously apply a leave-in conditioner and a heat-protecting spray. The combo will work in sync to keep hair hydrated and shield it from any excessive heat.
While cleansing, use a product with enough slip so that there is less friction and pulling on the hair while you scrub and detangle. “Many shampoos and conditioners geared towards curls have the right balance of conditioning agents, humectants, and surfactants to help curls bounce back. You can see it immediately when you’re working the shampoo through your hair,” says Wilson.
Caring for your hair while it’s straightened
So, you’ve fully straightened your hair. Cool. It may be tough, but in between straightenings, avoid using heat for touch-ups. If you must, always apply a heat protectant beforehand. It’s an easy step to forget each time, but could make all the difference on the state of your strands. Also, cut down on how often you’re washing. Using too much shampoo on textured hair tends to dry it out. We would recommend washing your hair every five to seven days, especially for those girls who have color.
If your straightening sessions are seasonal and you plan to wear your hair straight for the next few months, incorporate weekly protein treatments into your routine. Protein treatments are great for people who color, relax, texturize, or use high heat on their hair. It helps decrease shedding and breakage by boosting the hair with nutrients that help reconstruct and strengthen damaged hair. But, pay attention to how your hair is responding to both protein treatments and regular conditioner. If your hair is too stretched out when it’s wet, then you need more protein. If your hair snaps too easily and is brittle, then you need more moisture. Maintain a proper balance and you’ll notice stronger curls over time.
The Post Straightening Wash
The first time you wash after you straighten is equally as important as every other step already mentioned. Blowouts can really dry out hair so try to incorporate as much moisture as possible while balancing it with a light protein treatment. You may want to swap out your regular conditioner for that first wash with something that will sink in deeper. Keep in mind that you may have also compromised hair’s ability to hold on to moisture — so you want to add proteins back to the hair that can help restore how well it retains hydration.
We recommend doing a good conditioning mask and a steam treatment right before that first wash. Also, try to stay away from heavy products that can weigh the hair down and stretch out the curls even further. Look for products that specifically say “curl enhancing” or “curl defining. They’ll most likely be lightweight and may even have some ingredients to help reshape each coil.
Now go forth, and straighten your hair without compromising your glorious curls.