Watching silk press videos is on my list of most satisfying things. But since I went natural, it was something I swore I would never do as a way to defy beauty standards placed on me. I grew up getting a press and curl, then graduated to a relaxer, and next thing I knew I was rocking my 4c hair without apology. Making that transition wasn't easy because I was so used to seeing my beauty through the lens of having straight, reasonably long hair.
I am still asked more often than I’d like, “When are you going to straighten your hair?" I've even heard, “You used to be so pretty with straight hair,” as if once I went natural, any ounce of beauty they thought I possessed went out of the window.
As I started working on this story, I realized silk-pressing isn’t me giving into European beauty standards—it’s simply a way of trying something new, and actually, maintaining my hair’s health along the way. Le'Ana McKnight of West Hollywood’s Stylist Lee Studios, says, “One can receive a silk press every three to four months to maintain the health of their hair and to retain length without heat damage.”
So, what exactly is a silk press?
"The term silk press has been around forever, but the method received its name from a play-on-words: using a pressing comb and having the ability to see an individual's hair go from a coily to a silky look in one sitting without the use of chemicals or hair smoothers," says McKnight.
I sat down at Stylist Lee's West Hollywood studio and got my hair pressed for the first time in over five years. Below is the before, and I can't wait for you to see the after!
Step 1: Cleansing
Starting with a clean, hydrated canvas is key for a silk press with shine and bounce.
“Before beginning a silk press, you should scratch any excess skin or flakes from the scalp—this will allow for a cleaner base and healthier scalp," says Lee. "When shampooing, it's great to start with a mild clarifying shampoo to remove clogs, dirt, and oils."
Then, follow with a sulfate-free hydrating shampoo to hydrate your hair without drying out your curls.
Step 2: Deep Condition
As someone with chronically dry hair (thanks L.A.), a deep condition is always a step for me in my weekly washday, and Lee agrees. “You should always do a deep conditioning treatment for 20-30 minutes under a dryer or steamer before any heat styling, and rinse with cool water to seal the cuticles.”
There are two new deep conditioners I've added to my wash day routine to try something new, and though they're at different price points, I have been impressed by both. First up is Tgin's Honey Miracle Mask. With over five-hundred reviews and a 4.5-star rating, I think this mask is worth a try. Ouidad's Curl Immersion Triple Treat Deep Conditioner is another one of my latest additions that made my coils feel smooth post-conditioning.
Step 3: Blow Dry
Before we started the blow-drying process, Lee applied a leave-in conditioner followed by Chi's alcohol-free Silk Infusion Silk Reconstructing Complex. "The great thing about natural hair is you can approach it so many different ways," says Lee. "I use a comb attachment for my blow dryer when stretching the hair. The comb attachment helps with stretching, detangling, and drying all at the same time, but still leaving your hair with volume."
If you're looking for an at-home option, Revlon's One-Step Hair Dryer & Styler has made a big splash in the natural hair community.
Step 4: Trim
You all remember those split, dry ends I talked about? Well, we got rid of those. As Lee was trimming my ends, I told her that I do home trims with any scissors I can find: kitchen scissors, dull old scissors, or any version of a scissor that isn't made for use on the hair. "A trim is a trim right?" I said. Lee vehemently disagreed. "No, you should invest in a pair of $30 shears, not scissors, but shears because you could be doing your hair more harm than good not using tools sharp enough for hair."
Step 5: Press
In silk-pressing videos, I've always seen stylists use a flat iron, but Lee used a tiny pressing comb and followed-up with a flat iron to prevent having to do multiple passes on my hair: meaning, taking a flat iron over my hair more than once to smooth the hair. "The-Stylist-Lee version of a silk press is done with a good ol' fashioned pressing comb—the kind your Granny used to use," she said proudly (though she doesn't recommend using a pressing comb at home).
Since I haven't had my hair straightened in years, I was worried about heat damage. Lee reassured me adding, "Most heat damage is preventable, ss long as you maintain your conditioning treatments and don't use heat daily. I always like to test my irons on my hand before applying heat on hair, or you can test yours on a napkin." Since we aren't pros, she recommends using this scale: "For someone who has fine hair, use heat 275-310°F; for medium hair, 310-390 °F, and for coarser hair types, 400-420 °F.”
When I was straightening my hair regularly, by day four or five, my hair was oily and flat. Using a dry shampoo wasn't an option because the selection for black hair was limited. But thankfully, with the beauty boom, things are shifting. If you have deep-hued hair, Moroccanoil makes a Dry Shampoo for Dark Tones and comes highly-rated by consumers.
Now, that we're pressed and ready to roll, how long will this style last?
"For someone who's never received a silk press, the style may last a week. But, for someone who's hair is trained and has had several silk presses, they may have a different experience," says Lee. She also recommends what black girls already know: wrapping your hair before applying your scarf at night. Lee says, "This will keep split ends minimized, help the hair retain moisture, and preserve your style."
After my silk press was done, I loved how great my hair looked and felt.
My split ends were gone, my hair was hydrated, and I got a chance to try something I thought I'd given up years ago. The one thing this experience taught me is there is no right or wrong in how you choose to wear your hair: Do what works for you.