Using Direct Heat the Right Way

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Using Direct Heat the Right Way
Emeala asks: Hi Jen, I noticed that you’re transitioning, but you’re still using direct heat (referring to the two times you’ve flat ironed since your last touch up). I’m transitioning too but everything I’ve read has said to avoid using direct heat while transitioning. It seems like you’ve been able to flat iron your hair even while many many months post without any setbacks. Should I continue to avoid direct heat like the plague while I transition? How do you keep your transitioning hair healthy while using direct heat?

Hi Emeala, direct heat should be used sparingly. Frequent use of direct heat will cause damage, dry out your hair, cause split ends, and cause breakage at the line of demarcation. While transitioning, some ladies benefit from not using direct heat at all, while some ladies don’t have an issue with using direct heat every once in a while. You should always do what’s best for your hair.

I fall into the second category so I plan on flat ironing every now and again. I normally flat iron once every 3 to 4 months, but I plan on reducing direct heat use to once or twice a year; I’m going to start doing more ponytail roller sets when I get the itch to flat iron on my hair.

Here are a few tips on how I flat iron my hair without risk of set backs.

Prep Your Hair for Direct Heat

[*] Start with clean hair by shampooing with a clarifying shampoo (if necessary to remove build up) or a moisturizing shampoo.

For more on clarifying, check out these posts: Shampoo 101: Clarifying Shampoos and Clarifying vs Chelating

[*] Do a protein treatment to strengthen your hair.
[*] Deep condition with a moisturizing deep conditioner to replenish moisture. Direct heat saps moisture from hair. You want to prep your hair by giving it as much moisture as possible.
[*] Air dry your hair prior to flat ironing, or . . .
[*] Blow dry with cool air (or cold air if your blow dryer has that option) while using the tension method to stretch out your hair. Remember, you should never blow dry wet hair. Allow your hair to dry a bit before blow drying it.

For more on the tension method, check out this post: The Tension Method When Blow Drying: How To & Benefits

[*] Use a moisturizing, but lightweight, leave-in conditioner.


[*] Use a heat protectant prior to flat ironing (or blow drying) your hair.
[*] How do heat protectants work? According to The Natural Maven (I love her scientific approach to haircare), heat protectants

• Prevent breakdown of part of the proteins in hair (J. Cosmet Sci, pg 245-256, 1998)
• Prevent water loss from the hair strand (J. Cosmet Sci, pg 13-27, 2004)
• Prevent the outer hair shaft (cuticles) from cracking and allow the hair to maintain strength after heat treatment.

The Natural Maven

Currently my favorite heat protectants are: Redken Smooth Down Heat Glide (discontinued, unfortunately), CHI 44 Iron Guard, and CHI Silk Infusion.


In the past I’d hesitate to moisturize my flat ironed hair because I wanted to maintain light, bouncy hair, but by the end of the week I’d experience dry, brittle ends. I quickly learned that a set back wasn’t worth it. I now continue to moisturize my flat ironed hair, but I use moisturizers that have proven not to weigh my hair down too much, I make sure I use a small amount, and I focus on the last 5 inches of my hair.


The first wash day after using direct heat, help your hair bounce back by replenishing moisture to your tresses. I like to:

  • Pre-poo with a moisturizing conditioner or pre-poo with vitamin E oil,
  • Deep condition with a moisturizing deep conditioner,
  • Use a moisturizing leave-in conditioner,
  • Do not use a direct heat for a second week in a row. Give your hair a break.

Hope this helps Emeala! Good luck on your transition 🙂

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