What is a Hair Straightener?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A hair straightener is a tool designed to remove curl and waves from the hair, and there are several methods for accomplishing this. A number of companies make straightening irons, while others make chemical hair relaxers; both irons and chemicals are designed to change the structure of the hair. As may seem apparent, this can cause damage to the hair, and many hair professionals recommend using specialized hair products on hair that has been straightened to avoid hurting it too much.

A flat iron can be used to straighten hair.
A flat iron can be used to straighten hair.

Hair irons are quite old, dating back to at least the 1700s. When many people think of these devices, they imagine curling irons, which are designed to bring curl to the hair, but it is also possible to find flat irons or tongs. As the hair is heated, the hydrogen bonds in the hair relax, allowing people to set the hair into a desired style. By heating a straightener like tongs or an iron and passing hair through or under it, people can create very straight, smooth hair.

Some salons offer hair straightening treatments that last longer than at home treatments.
Some salons offer hair straightening treatments that last longer than at home treatments.

Chemical straighteners are also quite old, although the early versions tended to cause hair and scalp damage. These chemicals also change the structure of the hair, causing the curl to relax without an external heat source. They typically work by being applied and left in for a set period of time before being removed. Depending on the chemicals used, the hair may relax into straightened look for a few hours or a much more extended period of time.

Many salons offer professional hair straightening, which is supposed to last longer than treatments used at home. The advantage of going to a salon is that stylists are experienced with the damage that sometimes occurs to straightened hair, and they can take steps to avoid it by applying moisturizing creams and other protective serums. A salon's staff will also offer tips for maintaining and styling the new look.

The most common problem with straightened hair is dryness, which can cause the hair to turn brittle. Applying moisturizing conditioners can help with this, as can washing in lukewarm to cold water to avoid drying out the hair with heat. Many companies also make flat irons that are designed to minimize heat damage, using ceramic elements and other materials, and chemical straighteners often come with specialized conditioners to keep the hair healthy.

Individuals who use a hair straightener frequently may find that their hair becomes brittle and thin. If this happens, it's best for the person to stop using the straightening method to allow your hair to recover. It also helps to use a rich, moisturizing conditioner. Some people find that it's best to cut the hair short, getting rid of the most damaged portions of hair.

Many women use hair straighteners on a daily basis.
Many women use hair straighteners on a daily basis.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Help! I'm supposed to go tomorrow and have the Silis relaxer done to my hair, but I'm reading bad things. What's your experience?


@eidetic - I do the same thing. However, my hair takes kind of awhile to air dry, so I like to wash it before I go to bed in the evening and sleep with my hair on a pillow. That way, I don't have to get up early in the morning just to do my hair!


I love my Chi hair straightener and I seriously don't think I could live without it! My hair is already straight, but using a straightener really helps me get a more polished, "done" look.

I am aware that straightening (and really any kind of heat styling) can cause damage to your hair though. So what I like to do is put some heat protecting serum in my hair after I wash it, and then I let it air dry instead of blow drying it. That way I'm not exposing my hair to the heat of blow drying and the heat of straightening!


@Pharoah - I've heard that before. When you go to buy a hair straightener, it's definitely a good idea to pay attention to the temperature settings the straightener has. Make sure to get one with an adjustable temperature!

You also might want to vary your temperature based on your hair type. What is really hot for one hair type might not be hot enough for another!


@fBoyle - This might sound counterintuitive, but is your straightener getting hot enough? It's actually better to use hair straightener irons that get fairly hot then irons that are cooler. The reasoning behind this is that you only have to make one pass over your hair with a hotter iron.

But if the iron isn't hot enough, you might have to go over the same section of hair several times to get it straight. This is actually worse for your hair than just going over it one time!


@fBoyle-- Yea, I had a similar problem with my previous hair straightener. Ceramic is definitely better than regular hair straighteners. They are less damaging to hair. But even very good hair straighteners will cause damage to your hair in the long run.

If you're not using a very good brand of hair straightener right now, you might want to consider getting a new one. The pricier, well-known brands really do work better and are less damaging. I think they are totally worth the money.

I also agree with @ddljohn, hair protecting products make a difference too. I personally use one that's a cream formula, but there are also sprays and gels like it was mentioned.


@fBoyle-- Are you using any hair products to protect your hair from the hair straightener? If not, that might be the problem.

I always use a heat protective spray on my hair before I start straightening it. This protects my hair from the heat and also prevents it from drying out too much. You should do the same.


I've just started straightening my hair regularly and for some reason, it's damaging my hair a lot. I even got a ceramic hair straightener which is not supposed to damage hair. I also make sure that I don't turn the heat up too much so that my hair isn't burned.

But despite this, my hair has become really dry and brittle. I have split ends everywhere and my hair breaks off at the ends. I had never had this problem before using a hair straightener.

Are there hair straighteners out there that don't damage hair? Or am I doing something wrong? Please help!


I have used Silos twice as well. My hair was pretty curly and thick. If I do not condition it with the deep conditioner by redken-it can be dry.

But, I am able to straighten my hair without frizz. I have liked the product for the most part. You have to take care of your hair with lots of moister or it will become dry. Otherwise, I have nothing to compare it too. I would like to dry the Kerastase reconditioning treatment. Not sure which would be better. Any opinions?


I am a hairstylist and have been straightening my hair for the past 30+ years. I have never used Silis 1. I have for the past 10 years used new era but they changed the formula and it does not work as well. I have been searching for a replacement but have not had any luck so far. My daughter has very curly frizzy hair like her me. She does not use color and we have only relaxed once 8 months ago with new era and it did not do much so I got silis1 to try. Are the thio products better than they were 20 years ago? what is the ph of this product?


My hairdresser used Silis twice and I do not like it. It has dried out my hair. I think the fact that it's a month later and my hair is still very wavy is the error of the hairstylist. But I find the product to be the most damaging to my hair in the 12 years that I've used relaxer. Framesi brand is the best. It leaves your hair very smooth and doesn't damage it.


Has anyone used the Silis Relaxer?

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