A Breakdown of the Most Common Hair Straightening Treatments—Plus, the Best Method for Your Texture
Those with straight, wavy, curly, or coily hair textures all care for their hair using a different approach, and this includes straightening treatments. According to Psyche Terry, the founder of Urban Hydration, it's important to keep in mind that straightening techniques are not one size fits all. "Each curl type and moisture [level] will absolutely respond differently to different straightening processes," she says. "The denser your coils are the more heat or processing your hair needs. The finer the coils, the less stress your hair can take—meaning just a hot setting on a blow dryer with a low setting on a flat iron may do the trick."
In addition to using heat protectants, wrapping your hair at night, and following manufacture instructions when undergoing these treatments, you should also keep up a consistent wash regimen to treat your hair with the utmost care. "No matter which option you choose, it's important to maintain moisture in your hair and deep condition regularly," says Brittany Johnson of Mayvenn Hair. "Use the right shampoos, conditioners, and products to maintain your hair and the treatment, and get regular trims to keep ends fresh and prevent any splitting up the hair shaft." You can boost hair strength through your diet as well, Johnson says, noting that biotin, vitamin A, vitamin D, iron, protein, and plenty of water are ultimately what you need to keep hair healthy and growing naturally. Deena Von Yokes—master stylist, Redken artist, and owner of Studio Savvy Salon—says that protein is arguably the most important; you can get it avocado, salmon, nuts, sweet potatoes, tuna, almonds, sunflower seeds, and eggs. Ahead, some of the most common straightening treatments—and more steps to protect all hair textures in the process, courtesy of our experts.
While this method is widely known, and most recommended for straight hair textures, there are several steps to take to ensure hair stays healthy when under the heat of a flat iron. This technique includes gliding the tool in slow and controlled motions on small sections of hair until all strands are smooth and straight. To prep hair beforehand, Terry says to wash and condition and then moisturize the scalp and hair with a protective serum, like Honey Health & Repair Hair Grease and Pomade Balm ($8, urbanhydration.com), before blow drying.
Following this step, she highly recommends using a heat protectant, such as Honey Health & Repair Heat Protectant Serum ($8, urbanhydration.com), ahead of flat ironing. And be sure to watch your temperature settings, Terry notes. "I say no hotter than 340 degrees, and I'd start at 290 and start heating up after small strand tests," she shares. "This will ensure the hair isn't overstimulated and broken from too much heat." While everyone's hair can respond differently, she notes that finer and more porous strands don't take well to excessive heat.
One of the more common temporary straightening processes is the silk press, which "involves a special deep conditioning treatment [that] infuses moisture into the hair and creates longer lasting results after it's pressed out or flat ironed," Johnson explains, noting that with the proper care, like wrapping hair at night and skipping washes, this treatment can last upwards of two weeks. Von Yokes adds that this method—which also uses a blow dry technique—leaves the hair smooth and shiny, but is by no means permanent: Hair reverts back to its natural state after a wash. While our experts note that this technique could work well for a variety of curl patterns, they say this is the best choice for someone who prefers to wear their natural curls regularly and wants a temporary alternative every now and again.
"This process uses keratin to smooth the hair and mimics the protein found in our natural strands," Johnson shares of keratin treatments. While there are several types of these smoothing treatments, she notes that they all typically last for a few months. "After the treatment is applied and flat ironed into the hair, you shouldn't wet your hair for at least 48-72 hours (each brand is different) to ensure that it holds," she adds. As this treatment is usually formaldehyde-free and non-permanent—and is known more to loosen curls and wave patterns rather than completely straighten them—she recommends this treatment to those with a wavy texture to smoothen hair.
According to Von Yokes, keratin treatments typically follow this process: apply a clarifying shampoo, section hair, apply the solution, thoroughly blow dry to seal the product into the hair, and follow everything up with multiple passes of a flat iron. "My biggest recommendation is not to use too much heat on the more fragile ends," she notes.
Similar to keratin treatments, a Brazilian Blowout uses protein—but calls for plant-based amino acids, instead, that completely straighten hair for up to about five months. Another difference? With a Brazilian Blowout, the hair cuticle is coated, whereas keratin soaks in and seals the strand. And since the treatment does contain formaldehyde, Von Yokes says it is very important to have proper ventilation during the process and to avoid getting it too often, since it is heavy in protein and can cause hair to become dry and brittle. "The best thing to do to take care of the hair following any smoothing treatment is using a bond builder at least once a week. I personally recommend always using sulfate-free products, which don't remove the coating or strip the hair," she says. "I always tell [clients] to stay away from clarifying shampoo. Most importantly, you want to try and preserve the coating because that's what helps keep the hair smooth, shiny, and beautiful."
For long-lasting straightening, particularly for those with tight curl patterns, relaxers are the most common option. "[They] are a permanent chemical straightener that are first applied all over the hair, then later touched up at the roots as your hair grows out," Johnson says. "Thoroughly shampooing and neutralizing after a relaxer is critical, so that the chemical stops processing. As with any chemical treatment, it's very important to watch processing time and follow instructions."
Since this treatment typically contains harsh chemicals, like lye, being meticulous when applying the product on hair is necessary. "Breakage typically occurs because the hair is over-processed, or the relaxer is applied to overlap on sections that were already previously chemically straightened, instead of just touched up on the roots," Johnson says of adding relaxer to new hair growth. In addition, users need to moisturize regularly to maintain hair health—and since the process is not reversible, "relaxers can only be grown out or cut off, commonly known as the 'big chop,''' she adds.