What Should I Know About Hair Straightening?

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  • Written By: Debora Ruth Hoffman
  • Edited By: Lucy Oppenheimer
  • Last Modified Date: 21 August 2019
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Ironic as life is, those with curly or wavy hair often want the straight hair they don’t have. To get it, you can go with a temporary fix, something that will last until the next hair washing, or something more permanent, at least until the new hair comes in. Temporary measures work best for those who want to straighten their hair for special occasions only, such as a wedding or dinner party. Permanent solutions are more expensive and are for those who feel they cannot live with their curls on a day to day basis.

Temporary hair straightening is done by using an appliance called a hair straightener or flat iron. Ceramic hair straighteners are considered the best type because their ceramic coating helps protect hair from heat damage. When shopping for a hair straightener, head for a beauty supply store and look for a well known brand with an adjustable temperature setting.

When using a hair straightener, you would be wise to heed a few precautionary measures. Take care not to damage the hair by using a heat setting that is just enough to do the job. You'll also want to undertake this type of hair straightening on completely dry hair because of the danger of electric shock. Finally, and this goes for any time you use a heat appliance being used on the hair, you should make sure it (your hair) is well conditioned before starting.


Before beginning, use hair clips to hold the top layers of hair out of the way. Take small sections of the bottom layer and, starting close to the roots, slide the iron through the length of hair. As you finish a layer, unclip the upper layers and straighten them too. Finish, with some light brushing, and you're good to go.

If you're up for permanent hair straightening, chemicals, also known as relaxers will be used. These can be caustic and cause hair damage. As a result, most professionals will recommend a salon treatment rather than doing it yourself at home. A well-trained hair stylist will know how to evaluate your hair and choose the type of relaxer that will work best.

There are three traditional types of chemicals used in permanent hair straightening: sodium hydroxide, ammonium thioglycolate, also known as the “thio" formula, and guanidine hydroxide, which is called the "no-lye" relaxer. There is another type of chemical straightener from Brazil which uses keratin, a protein found in hair, together with formaldehyde. This has raised safety questions because formaldehyde is not easily washed out by shampoo and can be released into the environment in hot and humid environments. It can also cause allergic reactions.

Sodium hydroxide is still the most popular hair straightening chemical in use today. Typically, a strong relaxing treatment will last up to six months depending on the hair's texture and growth. Touch ups can be done at the roots as the hair grows in, but in general, hair should not be chemically straightened more than every three months.


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