3 Tips To Prevent Heat Damage To Black Hair

Heat should be used with care on hair but especially black hair, as the hair is prone to be dry anyway. Heat from styling equipment such as curling irons, hooded dryers, pressing combs, and blow dryers are very damaging to our hair. If smoke can be seen coming from the barrel of a hot comb or curling iron then the appliance is too hot and will cause hair breakage. The lowest possible heat should be used on any appliance and a heat protectant should be placed on the hair before applying heat.

Heat works by breaking the hydrogen bonds in the hair, this is why hair will curl around the barrel of a curling iron or straighten with a pressing comb or flat iron. After the bonds are broken the cool air in the atmosphere will allow the hair to be set in the shape that was created. Women with processed hair are especially prone to over-processing their hair when they use heat. The hair’s protein bonds are already broken down and when the hair is further broken down it is more susceptible to breakage. Natural hair ladies are also at risk especially if they straighten their hair all the time. Straightening hair is still a process albeit one that can revert quickly but it allows for some breaking down of the hair’s structure.

Here are three tips to prevent heat damage to your precious tresses:

1. Using natural heat from your body to steam hair is far better than sitting under a hooded dryer or to blow dry hair. This process will take longer but it works just as well. If your hair is contained under a non-porous surface such as plastic it traps the heat to your head. The added benefit of not going under the dryer is that your hair bond is not broken down. Too much hot air will blow the hair cuticles so far open that even the best conditioners will fail to make a difference. If this application of heat happens on a regular basis then the cuticle layers will get damaged over and over again and the hair will lose its tensile strength and will break.

2. Use a heat protectant. Heat protectants prevent the breakdown of the proteins in hair, they prevent the hair cuticles from cracking, and prevent the hair from losing water in the hair strand and they allow the hair to maintain its strength after a heat treatment. Using heat that is too high though, can and will negate the effects of a protectant. The best rule of thumb is to use the lowest heat setting on your heat appliances when styling or drying hair.

3. Never use heat appliances on wet (dripping wet) hair . Towel dry or give your hair a chance to air-dry before you head under a dryer with medium or even low heat, or attempt to flat iron hair.

Why? Because using heat when the hair is wet can create what is known as the bubble effect. This means that the excess water on hair practically boils on your hair shaft when direct heat is applied, this causes the dreaded “bubble hair” effect. In essence what this means is that the heat causes the water particles on the wet hair to literally boil and steam, causing the hair cuticle to burst and leaves the hair with a sponge-like consistency. This leads to knots on the hair and this can eventually lead to hair breakage or cause split ends, and even alopecia. 

Source: Persadsingh Neil, The Hair in Black Women, XulonPress.com, 2003.


  • uba said:

    I’m in nigeria,a nigerian actually.I’m really into long hair and I’ve been trying different methods.I relaxed and heat styled my hair today with a hooded dryer.but I’m scared I’ve damage my hair cos I did these with the raw injuries from dandruff on my hair.please help what shout I do to correct my flaws?

  • Shauneese said:

    Hi Brenda,

    I know you suggested using a heat protectant, do you have any suggestions? I am curious to ones that can be purchased or made from natural ingredients.

    Thanks for you help,


  • Ciara said:

    Hello ms. Brenda! I’m ciara and I’m 14 years old. I am half white and half black. My mom is white and has relaxed my hair since I were 4 years old and has continued to every six weeks. About five months ago I looked at videos on YouTube about going natural and decided to do it. My natural hair is now a little passed my ears and I’m thinking about doing the big chop. I’m scared to cut it that short because I’m not used to that length. I’ll be going to highschool in august as a freshman and am scared that people will think my hair doesn’t grow and will make fun of me. Should I still get the big chop over summer vacation so that my hair will be easier to manage than the two different textures?

    • Alesha said:

      Hi Ciara! I know your comment about the big chop was a long while ago, but I’d definitely say that dealing with the natural texture is easier to deal with than two textures at once. I just started as a freshman in college; about two years ago I decided to start transitioning my hair. I big chopped in February of 2013, so I’ve spent about a year and a half dealing with my natural texture. I would say it was definitely so much easier to deal with my natural hair over my transitioning hair, I’m glad that I cut my hair even though at the time, it was extreeeemely short and I felt vulnerable and self-conscious because of my hair’s shortness. What did you decide to do, cut your hair over the summer or continue to transition?

  • solange said:

    Hi:) I went to the hair dresser to relax my hair. I haven´t relaxed it in 2 years then. When she was doing it she said i needed another box of it as she didnt have enough for my ends. so it took a while for my cousin to get buy it.
    The result is that the roots are thin and in about the middle of my hair is curled. after straightner i cant tell much the difference but i was thinking on washing it 1 day before ( to see which part is curl) and relaxing for 10 min just the curly bit. i was also thinking on using petroleum lotion/ vaselin in the roots and relaxed part to protect it from over relaxing.

    what do u think.

    please help me. i dont know what to do…..thanks

  • Bonnie said:

    Hi Ciara. You MUST SPRAY HAIR with water to expose curls 1st. My (previous)dresser relaxed the whole shaft. Hair was so straight it would be greasy from conditioner. Had to use thicken gels and next to no oil to get any volume. Quarterly I cut 3 to 4 inches off. Took 2 years to grow out and get my texture back.

Add your comment

You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.