If you're not getting the results you want when you flat iron your hair, it may not be the iron—it could be your technique. Try these tips for flat ironing for a smooth, sleek finish!
Begin with Well-Conditioned Hair
Before you even turn on that flat iron, ask yourself this: is my hair well-conditioned? Is it moisturized? If it's not, turn that iron off and tend to your hair first. Sometimes, we think that a good heat protectant product is supposed to do all the work, but that's not true. You have to do your part to make sure you're only applying direct heat to hair that's in a condition where it can handle it without doing further damage. Only flat iron hair that's been regularly conditioned and cared for; otherwise, applying heat to dry, brittle hair is only prolonging the inevitable—a major cut. If you're usually kind of dry, deep conditioning once a week is incredibly important to hair health.
Flat Iron Clean Hair
The best time to flat iron your hair is immediately following a fresh shampoo and conditioning session (and deep conditioning, if necessary). You have to press hair when it's clean; applying heat to hair that has products and dirt in it is doing nothing more than baking these old products and dirt in. It might straighten it at least slightly, but the damage it does to your hair will increase tenfold. Need a touch up during the week? Flat iron once more, with minimal heat, but that's it; flat ironing is not for every day.
Use Smoothing Balm or Serum
After shampooing and conditioning, apply a smoothing balm or serum to your hair. This helps a little more if your hair is chemical-free, but relaxed ladies can benefit from it, too. Look for humidity-resistant formulas, particularly if you live in a climate where moisture-filled air makes a frizzy mess of your straightening work as soon as you step out the door.
Check out some recommended balms and serums on Amazon.com:
Use Heat Protectant
Once your hair is dry, apply a heat protectant to each section of hair before you flat iron it. Don't get fooled, though—a heat protectant helps, but even the best brand won't hold up to heat that's too high. Stick to the absolute minimum temperature you can use to get good results. Don't crank it up high. Although many flat irons reach a max of 450 degrees, you don't have to crank yours up this high if you can straighten your hair at 340.
Some recommended heat protectants are:
Avoid Oil Before Ironing
Applying a natural oil (we recommend Playa's Ritual Hair Oil, $38) after you iron is fine. Sometimes you need a little weight afterward, but don't put oil on your hair before you press it. This will heat the oil, and then oil will eventually deep-fry your hair. You won't get that lightweight, bouncy look you're after if you compound the damage on your hair.
Only Flat Iron Dry Hair
For the best, longest-lasting results, only flat iron hair that's totally dry. Again, doing otherwise just a recipe to fry your hair. Does this mean you have to blow dry it straight first? Not necessarily. You can always wet wrap your hair and sit under a hood or bonnet dryer until it's dry—this is a gentler drying method and the wrapping technique smooths your hair just like blow-drying would. You can also let your hair air dry until it's about 80% dry, and then blow dry it the rest of the way. Flat ironing hair that's not completely dry will cause it to frizz up.
Go Slow and Steady
Try not to flat iron when you're on a time limit. Flat ironing is is a technique that requires slow, controlled movement, but also avoiding letting the iron sit in one place for any length of time. Move it, but don't rush it. Begin as close to the roots as you can, and pull the iron down in one smooth motion. If you hurry through it, you may have to go over that section again (and again). Remember: the less heat, the better. Making one good pass is better than making three or four mediocre ones.
Also, the "comb or brush chase" method works wonders in helping to straighten (particularly natural hair) with just one pass. It's as simple as running a fine-toothed comb or boar bristle brush down the length of each section, right in front of the iron. This method smooths the hair and ends prior to the iron touching them, resulting in incredibly sleek locks.
Adjust the Temperature as Needed
Just because your iron heats up to 450 degrees doesn't mean every part of your hair requires that much heat. For women with natural hair, finding out that they have two or three different textures on one head may be a shock, but it's not uncommon. Your crown area may be the curliest section, which would require high heat, but the hair on the sides of your head may be straighter, so turn the heat down when pressing that section.
Iron Small Sections
Smaller irons (1 1/2 inches or less) are better for tackling small sections of hair. Try not to press pieces wider or thicker than 1 inch at a time, even if the bigger iron is cheaper. You'll do a better job of straightening the entire section when you don't have to deal with too much hair at once. Big, chunky sections won't straighten properly.
Wrap Hair at Night
Now that your flat ironing job is complete, don't ruin all your hard work with no nighttime care! Wrap your hair at night, and cover it with silk or satin before bed. This way, your morning routine consists of little more than taking your hair down and combing through it. You already have the slight curve and volume—no more heat is required.