Ask a Hairstylist: Can Heat Styling Damage Your Natural Curl Pattern?

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If you've pressed your natural curls for years (or even just styled them a few times with an iron or comb that was too hot), you might find some sections don't snap back anymore, even after you wash your hair. The fact of the matter is when you use too high of heat over a prolonged period of time, your hair might lose its ability to curl or revert back to its natural texture. Hair that's suffered considerable damage may display a few telltale signs: loss of curl pattern, brittleness, and breakage. If this sounds like the current state of your strands, you might be wondering how to get your curls back—or if it's even a possibility.

"It’s not possible to completely reverse heat damage," Taylor Tugman says. "Every case is unique and depends on lots of factors (is the hair color-treated, did the heat damage come from a flat iron or blowouts). Sometimes it is possible for the hair to regain some movement, however, it will never be the same as their natural curl pattern."

Meet the Expert

Taylor Tugman is a curly hair expert and senior hairstylist for DevaChan.

But don't give up just yet. Although the damaged portion of your strands might not be salvageable, with a few changes to your regular routine, your curls will be back to their old selves in no time. Below, Tugman shares her expert advice for restoring your curls and natural texture back to health. Keep reading to find out why your natural hair won't hold curl and what you can do about fixing the damage.

Try an In-Salon Treatment

In most cases, the first necessary step to start you down the right path to hair health is a trip to your stylist. Not only will they be able to give you a customized styling lesson on a healthy everyday hair routine, but they can also offer treatments to start the process for you. Though each salon offers its own services, Tugman recommends a four-step process called the Bounce Back, which is offered at the DevaChan salon.

First, Tugman says the stylists clarify the hair with Buildup Buster Micellar Water Cleansing Serum ($28) to safely remove product buildup that can prevent moisture from getting into the hair. Next, they follow up with an application of a strengthening mask or conditioning mask or a combination of the two, depending on the client's needs. For the conditioning mask, Tugman recommends Melt Into Moisture Matcha Butter Conditioning Mask ($36) and for the protein treatment, she likes the Deep-Sea Repair Seaweed Strengthening Mask ($64). The stylist then wraps the hair in plastic to lock in the moisture and applies heat over the top to encourage a deeper penetration of the products.

Deep Condition to Restore Your Strands Back to Health

In hopes that your tresses aren't past the breaking point, you might want to try a conditioning treatment and protein treatment in an effort to strengthen your hair and stop any breakage. But be careful not to overdo it—more isn't always better, especially when it comes to protein treatments.

Use a deep conditioner once or twice a week and a protein treatment no more than once or twice a month.

Briogeo Don't Despair, Repair!™ Deep Conditioning Mask
Briogeo Don't Despair, Repair! Deep Conditioning Mask $36

This conditioning mask from Briogeo is a Byrdie editor-favorite for its transformative effects on even the most brittle strands. Formulated with B-vitamins, rosehip and almond oils, and algae extract, this nourishing weekly treatment promises to not only revive compromised hair but also prevent future damage.

Get Regular Trims

The only real solution for hair that has lost its natural texture is to cut it off. If you're trying to grow your hair longer, this is probably the last thing you want to hear, but it's necessary for the complete health of your hair. Once you cut off the damaged parts, you can start or return to a healthy hair regimen. If you can't bear the thought of cutting away all the heat damage at once, you can have your stylist trim it as your hair grows out.

"Getting a trim every three months when transitioning is key," Tugman says. "We have to start getting the damage out. The line of demarcation (where healthy hair meets damaged hair) becomes a fragile point when transitioning. We don’t want the breakage from the aged hair creeping into the healthy strands. So the sooner we can get out the heat damaged hair, the better." Tugman adds that not only are trims necessary for preventing damage, but they also make styling your hair on a daily basis much more manageable because working with different textures on one strand can become very frustrating.

Use the Right Products

According to Tugman, the right products depend on your hair type, so consulting with your stylist would be beneficial for choosing the best line for your hair needs. In general, though, she recommends the Decadence line by DevaCurl. "The Decadence line is an excellent choice for curly or super curly textures while cleansing and conditioning when transitioning," Tugman says. "These products have protein and moisture to help strengthen and return some elasticity to hair."

DevaCurl No-Poo Decadence Zero Lather Ultra Moisturizing Milk Cleanser
DevaCurl No-Poo Decadence Zero Lather Ultra Moisturizing Milk Cleanser $24

A popular product from the line, the No-Poo Decadence Zero Lather Ultra Moisturizing Milk Cleanser ($24) is game-changing in the way that it cleanses curls without stripping them of the goods oils necessary for maintaining moisturized, healthy hair. Unlike regular shampoos, which use harsh sulfates, No-Poo relies on curl-loving ingredients like chufa milk and quinoa protein meant to softly cleanse.

Limit Your Use of Heat-Styling Tools

If you're someone who frequently uses heat stylers, cutting off your use of flat irons and curling wands completely might not be realistic, but Tugman says the less heat you apply to your hair, the better, so consider taking it down a notch (literally). "The reality is if you continue using heat on your hair while transitioning you’re simply prolonging the process and setting yourself back," Tugman says. "Occasionally, diffusing isn’t that bad, but less heat is more in this scenario."

Conair InfinitiPro by Conair 1875 Watt Hair Dryer/Styling Tool with AC Motor
Conair InfinitiPro by Conair 1875 Watt Hair Dryer/Styling Tool with AC Motor $40 $30

On days when you don't have the time to let your curls air-dry, opt for a diffuser to help speed up the drying process. This affordable blow-dryer with ceramic technology and a diffuser attachment is a Byrdie top pick, thanks to its ability to speed up drying time and reduce frizz all while being gentle on delicate strands.

Try Heat-Free Styles

While transitioning, resist the temptation to use curling wands and heat stylers to blend your straighter strands with your newer growth to preserve the overall condition of your hair. Instead, Tugman recommends heat-free styles. "Twist-outs, braid-outs, and perm rod sets can be a great way to get movement on the ends, and blend your in-coming natural pattern," Tugman says. Although these techniques don't offer as quick of results as a heat styler could, the extra time spent will be worth the health of your hair in the end.

Opt for a Wig During the Growing-Out Process

There's no denying the fact that restoring damaged curls is a long and tiresome process. Unfortunately, there is no easy fix, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy new styles in the meantime. Wigs are a great option for not only experimenting with hair color, cut, and type without damaging your own hair, but they're also a good resource for when you're transitioning. "If the damage is very severe and bothersome to the person, they can get a wig as a protective style until they’ve reached a place where they’re comfortable wearing their hair out," Tugman says.

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