Heat Training Black Hair

Woman getting hair styled
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When people talk about "heat training" or sometimes "training the hair," they're usually referring to the process of repeatedly straightening the natural hair with heat in an effort to make their tresses less textured over time. Most often, training is achieved with a hot comb, old-fashioned Marcel iron or flat iron. Repeated heat styling in this way will loosen the curly texture over time; it can be considered "controlled damage." The reason it's controlled damage rather than just the usual damage is that heat training black hair is a gradual process.

What you don't want to do is simply apply too-high temperatures at one straightening session. Yes, the hair will probably not revert back, but it will also be brittle and dry and will break off on its own.

Anyone with highly textured curls knows that trying to straighten their tresses, especially in high-humidity climates, can often be an exercise in frustration. Your hair may look fabulous right after ironing it, but once you step outside the door (or even stand in a steamy bathroom), all your work often goes "poof," literally.

Some women, therefore, turn to heat training, and they do this on a regular basis. This may be anywhere from once per week to once every few weeks. Over time, the hair's hydrogen bonds weaken, so that the incidence of reversion becomes lower and lower. Extremely high heat isn't really necessary; it's the repeated act of heat application that wears these bonds down.

How It Works

If you only occasionally straighten your natural hair, this isn't a method you want to try, as the effects are usually permanent. In some cases, you may treat hair with weakened hydrogen bonds with protein, but if the bonds are damaged beyond repair, you'll usually know. One of the most visible signs of heat-damaged hair is over-porosity.

Look for:

  • Hair that dries very quickly when water is applied
  • Curls that don't "snap back" readily when you gently pull on them
  • Hair that has lost the ability to hold its natural curl

Women who want to train their hair are usually not bothered by these signs, but it's definitely not the healthiest state for the hair to be in. Although the prevalence of modern relaxer formulations and newer straightening methods like keratin treatments are widely available, many women opt not to place chemical straighteners on their tresses. They may have medical issues that make relaxing dangerous or they may simply prefer a relaxer-free 'do. At the same time, they choose to wear their hair straight, either for ease of manageability or simple style preference.

To Heat Train Or Not

So, should you do this? If you choose to train your hair, remember that it's called "training" for a reason -- naturally textured tresses don't easily succumb to attempts to change its curly nature unless strong chemicals are involved. You can lessen the chance of damage, although you won't be able to escape it entirely, with such frequent heat exposure. Make sure to:

  • Condition and deep condition your mane on a regular basis; weekly deep conditioning is recommended
  • Use a high-quality heat protectant at every straightening session
  • Wrap your hair at night to preserve the style and reduce the need for "bumping" with heat during the day
  • Alternate thermal styling with heat-free straightening methods

Even with all these precautions in place, repeated heat styling will weaken the hair's hydrogen bonds, so only heat train your hair if you're positive you can live with the results.