What is Heat Training for Black Hair?

natural afro hair tips: Gina Knight with straight afro wig
@ gina_thewigwitch

When people talk about "heat training," they're typically referring to the process of repeatedly straightening natural hair with heat. Most often, training is achieved with a hot comb, old-fashioned Marcel iron or, most commonly, a flat iron. Repeated heat styling can loosen hair's curly texture over time by breaking down bonds. Anyone with highly textured curls knows that trying to straighten them, especially in high-humidity climates, is usually, if not always, an exercise in frustration. Your hair might look fabulous right after ironing it, but once you step outside the door (or even stand in a steamy bathroom), your work might just go, "poof."

Some women, therefore, turn to heat training, doing it on a regular basis. They might do this anywhere from once a week to once every few weeks. Over time, the hydrogen bonds in the hair weaken, so hair becomes less and less likely to revert. However, with the right routine (and stylist) heat trained hair without damage while maintaining your curls (even if they're more relaxed) is possible. Ahead, see what our hair experts had to say about heat training natural hair.

Meet the Expert

  • Abra McField is the founder of Abra Kadabra Hair & Healing. 
  • Keka Heron is an Atlanta-based celebrity hairstylist with over 15 years in the beauty industry. 

What Is Heat Training For Natural Hair?

"Heat training for natural hair is when heat softens the outside cuticle layer of your hair shaft," says Abra McField, founder of Abra Kadabra Hair & Healing. "When your hair is heat trained, your hair becomes resistant to humidity and more manageable for you to maintain. [This] is a benefit to women who enjoy diversity in their looks and want life to be a little easier."

What Are the Benefits of Heat Training Natural Hair?

Heat training natural hair comes with quite a few benefits. If your hair is prone to those pesky single-strand knots or detangling feels like an extra chore, heat training when done right can help. "Heat training natural hair is a great way to have diversity in your styling. Many clients don't want to get relaxers anymore. However, they want to wear their hair straight with the option of wearing it curly as well on various occasions."

How to Heat Train Natural Hair

Heat training without damage starts with your shampoo and conditioning regiment, a solid heat protectant, and a good blow-dried foundation. "A good blow-dry is the key to having healthy heat trained hair," says McField. "Blow dry heat does not trap heat within your hair; however, a flat iron does. So you want to do more work, in the beginning, to blow-dry your hair straight so that less work is needed from the flat iron."  

Does Heat Training Damage Natural Hair?

"Too much of it can damage the hair shaft, permanently disturb your authentic curl, and possibly make it vulnerable to damage," says McField. However, Atlanta-based hairstylist Keka Heron says everything you do leading up to heat styling is the key to healthy heat trained hair. We'll continue that part of our conversation below.

Wrap your hair at night to preserve the style and reduce the need for "bumping" with heat during the day.

How to Care For Hair While Heat Training 

"[Start with] shampoo and conditioners that are super hydrating and control frizz. [Followed by] a leave-in conditioner," advises Heron. Heron says scheduling monthly trims along with steam, protein, and hydration treatments retain your curl pattern and prevent heat damage. When it comes to flat ironing your coils, Heron recommends making sure you invest in a high-quality iron to avoid passing the hair with heat more than two times.

Whether you're seeing your stylist weekly or washing your hair on your own, McField recommends deep conditioning every time you shampoo for at least 10 minutes. "It takes on average 10 minutes for conditioner to penetrate depending on how coarse your hair is," she says. One final tip McField recommends is protecting your hair at night. "Always sleep with a satin bonnet or on a satin pillow which helps reduce friction and excessive shedding and breakage." With these tips, you're on your way to heat trained hair that doesn't compromise your natural curl. 

Flawless-Gabrielle-Union-Repairing-Conditioning/
Flawless by Gabrielle Union Repairing Deep Conditioning Hair Masque $10
Shop

When your hair needs a little extra TLC, use a masque with restorative oils like shea butter, avocado oil, and rice oil complex that nourish and strengthen thirsty coils. 

25 Miracle Milk Leave in Treatment
Mizani 25 Miracle Milk Leave in Treatment $34
Shop

This leave-in treatment is a favorite of Heron's, as she says, "[The treatment] is hydrating, gives strength, and is a thermal protector."

Kim Kimble Vapor Infusion Iron with Silk Argan Oil Shine Beauty Treatment
Kim Kimble Vapor Infusion Iron with Silk Argan Oil Shine Beauty Treatment $129
Shop

Most natural hair responds well to argan oil, making this vapor infusion, argan oil-infused flat iron an excellent investment if you're hoping to seal in moisture while eliminating frizz. 

Related Stories