Do you believe that your hair will revert back after sustaining heat damage? This topic has been debated for years on natural hair forums, but most people who have experienced heat damage know the truth. Heat damage is not reversible.
Once your curls are truly damaged they have reached a point of no return.
The Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists wrote a research paper called “Hair Damage and Attempts to its Repair.” The research paper focuses on how changes to the physical properties of hair fibers incurred as a result of weather, handling, and cosmetic treatments such as applying heat to the hair can be significant.
In many instances, these cosmetic treatments may lead to premature fracture of the hair, longitudinal fibrillation or separation of the hair cortex, and other potential problems like an increased absorption of moisture. In an article called Tips For Straightening Natural Hair, I explained the concept of heat capacity.
The example that I used was as follows: “the process of burning green, wet wood is slower than the process of burning dead, dry wood. The reason for this is that wet, green wood has a higher heat capacity or tolerance when compared to dead, dry wood.”
So, to conceptually mitigate the potential of heat damage, it’s important to increase the heat capacity of the hair prior to straightening natural hair. Even with your best efforts, there are no guaranteed protections against heat damage. Candidly, the scientific studies that I’ve read, including the study titled Hair Damage and Attempts to its Repair, discuss how efforts to restore the hair to its original state – even after mild degradation or to protect undamaged hair against structural weakening have been numerous but largely unsuccessful initiatives.
So, it’s important that you understand the risk. By using heat on your hair, there is a risk that you may cause irreparable damage to your hair strands. Now – to be clear – hair damage isn’t only caused by heat. Hair damage occurs in various ways – including by washing, combing, relaxing, dying and straightening the hair.
If you’re more gentle as you deal with your hair, you will generally cause less damage. This is why the concept of protective styling shouldn’t be limit to hairstyles. It’s much broader than that when you actually read through the research studies. Protective styling should refer to the overall “protection” that you incorporate into your natural hair regimen.
It’s also worth noting that weathering is an important factor to consider. As your hair ages, it will have fewer cuticle layers and generally incur damage more easily. So, how can you mitigate (not repair) hair damage?
Build more protection into your natural hair regimen by understanding the purpose of your hair conditioner and by utilizing the proper conditioner for your situation.
Conditioners typically contain various agents that mitigate hair damage. For example, conditioners that contain silicones are commonly used to temporarily repair split ends. There are other ingredients – like surfactants – in many hair products that are avoided that have a real purpose in the right situation.
A full blown discussion on ingredients is outside the scope of this article, but it’s important to note that you shouldn’t avoid ingredients solely because “you read” about them being bad on a hair forum. It’s important to understand why certain ingredients are included and that starts with doing a little research on your own.