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 the 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 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.” I spoke to McKnight and trichologist Sophia Emmanuel to find out more about the process.
Meet the Expert
Keep reading to learn more about silk presses.
What 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.
Benefits of a Silk Press
- Does not use straightening chemicals or relaxers
- Easy to rock a curly and straight hairstyle
- No long-term changes to your curl pattern
- Can last for up to two weeks
How to Prepare for a Silk Press
Starting with a clean, hydrated canvas is key for a silk press with shine and bounce. Try a scalp detox "to eliminate any dead skin cells or build-up that may be more noticeable once natural hair is straight," says Emmanuel. You can also "use a scalp massager or other pre-shampoo product to eliminate buildup before a silk press," she adds.
"When shampooing, it's great to start with a mild clarifying shampoo to remove clogs, dirt, and oils," says Lee.
Then, follow with a sulfate-free hydrating shampoo to hydrate your hair without drying out your curls.
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 I have been impressed by both. First up is Tgin's Honey Miracle Mask ($16). With over 5000 reviews and a 4.5-star rating, I think this mask is worth a try. Ouidad's Curl Immersion Triple Treat Deep Conditioner ($12) is another one of my latest additions that have made my coils feel smooth post-conditioning.
What to Expect During a Silk Press
Before we started the blow-drying process, Lee applied a leave-in conditioner followed by Chi's alcohol-free Silk Infusion Silk Reconstructing Complex ($18). "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 leaves 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.
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."
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).
Potential Side Effects
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, as 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 degrees F; for medium hair, 310-390 degrees F, and for coarser hair types, 400-420 degrees 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 that comes highly rated by consumers.
The cost of a silk press varies widely between your location, the salon you choose, and the prices your stylist decides to set. Some stylists even add on additional fees depending on the length and state of your hair when you come into the salon. Overall, you can expect to pay anywhere from $50-$200, not including tip.
"For someone who's never received a silk press, the style may last a week. But, for someone whose 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."
The Final Takeaway
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.