Knowing how to straighten African American hair can be challenging when you are new to it.
It is really easy to go about it in a way that is damaging or unhealthy for your hair. That is of course, if you don’t know the steps to follow.
Luckily, we have put together a guide for straightening your hair that will have you rocking a great hairdo and protecting your hair health at the same time.
Know Your Hair Type
The first step to follow if you want to straighten African American hair is to make sure you know your hair type.
There are generally 4 categories in which hair types can be classified for all people. These numbered categories are also divided into subcategories based on texture and curl pattern.
African American hair typically falls in the type 3 and 4 categories. This means African American people will typically have hair that is 3a, 3b, 3c, 4a, 4b or 4c type.
All type 3 and 4 hair is curly due to the hair being coiled. As you move from type 3a to 4c, the hair becomes more and more coiled. And the texture of the hair also changes.
Typically, type 3a is not very coarse and 4c is the coarsest. All the other types fall somewhere between.
Knowing which of these hair types yours falls under is very important before you embark on any kind of styling procedure,
This is because different hair types respond differently to certain products or methods of styling.
For instance, type 4c hair requires more moisturizer when styling than any of the other types. And type 3 hair is generally more prone to frizz than type 4, so investing in anti-frizz products for type 3 hair might be necessary.
Once you know what special needs your hair has based on its type, you can take the right precautions to make sure it is protected in the styling process.
And then you are ready to move on to the more general steps of straightening African hair.
Wash Your Hair
It is important, before you straighten African American hair, to wash it. This is because if you do not wash your hair before straightening it, unwanted substances in it can get in the way of your hair fully straightening out.
Unwanted build up in your hair can cause it to get tangled up. Or it can become a physical barrier to the straightening tool being able to fully access your hair to straighten it.
Before you straighten your hair, you will want to give it a thorough cleansing to prevent this. The best way to do this is to shampoo it, preferably with a shampoo that contains sulfates.
There is often a lot of debate surrounding whether or not sulfates are good for your hair. But a key advantage to sulfates in shampoo is that they are really good at removing unnecessary substances and dirt build up.
The important thing to remember before you shampoo, however, is not to do it right before you straighten your hair.
It is more ideal for you to wash your hair the night before you straighten it. This gives your hair enough time to fully absorb the moisture from the wash.
Moisture is important because African American hair needs moisture to stop it from getting brittle and becoming susceptible to breakage.
Given that you will be introducing heat to your hair later in the straightening process, allowing it to retain moisture is vital to make sure you do not damage it.
Once you have thoroughly washed your hair, you can then move on to the next vital step of hair straightening.
Condition Your Hair
This step is one that is so often missed in haircare and styling routines. Conditioning is so essential to African American hair.
This is because conditioners give your hair something it cannot receive from simply washing it.
Firstly, conditioners are typically very good for encouraging hair growth and strength because they are rich in nourishing ingredients.
While many shampoos now incorporate ingredients such as essential oils and vitamins, conditioners contain these ingredients and have even further benefit.
On top of nourishing your hair, conditioners make it softer, reduce frizz and generally make your hair smoother and easier to style,
This is vital when you are aiming to straighten your hair.
This is because, due to the potential strain and damage you are risking for your hair by applying heat to it, you will want to give it all the strength is can have to combat this damage.
Conditioning your hair before you straighten it will give your hair this extra boost.
It is ideal for you to condition your hair right after you shampoo it the night before your straightening.
You can use either a rinse-out conditioner or you can opt for a leave-in conditioner. Leave-I. conditioner is good because it gives your hair to fully absorb the product overnight.
However, with leave-in conditioner, you run the risk of using too much of it.
This would not be good because it can undo your previous efforts with shampooing your hair and cause build-up or unnecessary substances in your hair.
The key is to use conditioner generously but not too excessively.
Dampen Your Hair
On the day of straightening your hair, you will want to dampen your hair.
It’s not advisable to fully wet or wash your hair. This is because doing a full wash can cause your hair to shrink and coil up, which would hinder the straightening.
And if you do another full wash, you may begin to strip your hair of the nutrients it absorbed the night before.
But dampening your hair a little is important because it gives your hair the little bit of moisture that it needs for the steps that are to follow.
For instance, one of these steps is sectioning and detangling. Damp hair is much easier to work with for this.
When your hair is dry and tangled up, it is much easier to cause damage to it in this process. Dry hair is brittle and very easily splits or breaks.
Tangled hair also means that you will have to put some level of strain, especially if it’s dry to untangle it and too much strain on your hair will definitely cause breakage.
When your hair is damp it becomes much easier to detangle as the strands slip past each other and don’t intertwine.
And because the hair is damp, it is not brittle to comb out safely.
So, once you have dampened your hair, you can safely begin this process without too much worry about damaging your hair.
You just have to know the best technique for sectioning and detangling.
Section & Detangle Your Hair
When it comes to sectioning and detangling your hair for straightening, there are a few things you will want to avoid.
For instance, you will want to avoid using excessive force and using the wrong tools.
Using excessive force when sectioning your hair is particularly dangerous because it causes strain to your strands.
The main kind of strain your hair experiences during styling is from the tugging and pulling when you attempt to remove knots.
When you pull and tug on your hair strands excessively, they can break more easily. Your hair can also become more susceptible to split ends when you do this.
It is particularly worse when your hair is dry because the dryness makes it more brittle and this will make it much easier to damage.
To avoid causing strain to your hair, you will want to section it carefully. It is advisable to start from the scalp and move upwards with a comb.
If you encounter a knot or a tangle, it is best not to tug at the hair. Using your fingers instead to remove the knot and then combing or brushing the section gently is best.
You will want to section your hair into several parts to make sure it is ready for straightening. Each section should have an amount of hair that you can easily move through a straightening iron.
Making sure you are using the right kind of comb or brush to section and detangle is also vital to make sure you don’t damage your hair as you do this.
Use the Right Tool
In order to know which kind of tool to use for sectioning and detangling, you need to know how different tools affect your hair.
Generally, many people will use either a comb or brush to section and detangle their hair.
When it comes to preparing to straighten African American hair however, not just any kind of comb or brush will do.
When it comes to detangling brushes, there are many you can choose from. Detangling brushes are good because many of them are designed to minimize hair damage.
There are a number of detangling brushes that are made specifically for 3a, 3b, 3c, 4a, 4b and 4c hair.
These brushes are made to get through knots while minimizing breakage and split ends. Typically, a good detangling brush for African America hair will have wide teeth.
When it comes to combs, you will also want to choose one with wide teeth. Wide teeth in a comb are good for sectioning and detangling because they minimizes the friction your hair experiences.
Because there are less teeth, your hair doesn’t brush against the comb too frequently. This is good because it means your hair is less likely to experience breakage.
Too much friction against your hair can also lead to it thinning out, even if it doesn’t break. This can be an issue to the health of your hair down the line that you want to avoid.
Considering all these factors, you will want to choose styling tools beforehand that will take care of these issues and ensure that you are straightening your hair safely.
Blow Dry with Cool Air
The first step of the actual straightening is to blow dry your hair with cool air. This is a vital step to follow for a number of reasons.
Firstly, blow drying your hair with cool air after you have dampened, sectioned and detangled it protects it.
Heat, especially excessive heat, can be really damaging to African American hair.
By using cool hair to dry your hair, you minimize the potential heat damage it is going to face in this process given that you will use a hot straightening tool on it later.
Secondly, blow drying your hair with cool air actually minimizes the amount of straightening you will have to do with the flat iron.
This is because blow drying your hair stretches it out. When your hair is stretched out, it loses some of its coiling and becomes a bit straighter.
It is unlikely that using the blow dryer alone will fully straighten your hair, given how coiled African American hair typically is. However, it certainly will get some of the job done.
The best way to do this step is to blow dry each section of your hair separately and with care. You will want to use a comb or a brush as you blow dry to stretch your hair out.
Once you have done this part, it is also important that you do some other preparations before you begin using the more intense straightening tool.
The main thing to do before you apply the intensive heat is to make sure your hair gets more hydration so it can withstand it.
The best way to hydrate before you straighten African American hair is to use some kind of moisturizing product.
In the previous steps, you would have relied on water alone to provide moisture for your hair. Water is very reliable for hair hydration and has no risks to it.
Except of course that when you wash or dampen African American hair with water it can easily shrink and coil up.
This is a problem if your goal is to straighten African American hair because the coiling undoes all the previous efforts done through blow drying.
So, in order to make sure your hair has enough moisture to combat heat damage without shrinkage, you need to use another kind of moisturizer.
Moisturizing lotions are good products to use in this case. Applying them to your hair after blow drying or as you blow dry is a good idea.
These products are good because they give your hair hydration while also giving it a bit of a boost in nutrients that encouraging hair growth and strength.
You can also use spray-in moisturizers as you blow dry your hair. These are good because they are so easy to apply and because they are sprays, you won’t likely use too much of the product by accident.
Having too much moisturizer can be an issue because it can lead to a build-up of product in your hair that will then hinder the straightening from going smoothly.
Making sure you are using a healthy but not excessive amount of moisturizer is the key.
Use Heat Protectant
A step you definitely don’t want to miss as you are about to straighten African American hair is applying heat protectant to your hair.
Heat protectants are essential products. This is because they safeguard the health of your hair.
Heat protectant acts as a barrier between your hair and the hot straightening iron.
Without heat protectant, your hair is exposed to a lot of potential damage during the straightening process.
When the hot straightening iron presses on your hair, it can dry your hair out because of the excessive heat. It can also weaken the hair strands and thin them out.
You want to minimize the effect of this very powerful tool by adding a product that will keep your hair even further hydrated and protected.
Many heat protectants come in the form of some kind of serum. Many are very easy to apply.
You can get heat protectant products in the form of leave-in serum that you have to rub into your hair.
These serums will typically be filled with a lot of rich and nourishing ingredients.
Or you can get heat protectant in another form, such as a spray.
Whatever kind of heat protectant you get, you want to make sure it is full of helpful ingredients and you apply it thoroughly.
Some common ingredients in heat protectants that are good include natural extracts such as lavender, sunflower oil, olive oil and others.
Once you have identified which heat protectant looks good to you, you need to make sure you apply it periodically as you straighten sections of your hair.
One thing you want to avoid doing is using pure oils as heat protectant as you straighten African American hair.
Pure, natural oils are generally good for your hair. They nourish it with rich nutrients and provide a lot of moisture.
Most of the best African American hair products contain some form of essential oil. Common ones you will find are olive oil, argan oil, black castor oil, jojoba oil and more.
When it comes to choosing a shampoo, conditioner or moisturizer, you can’t go wrong choosing one that has any of these ingredients.
However, the reason to avoid using pure oil as a heat protectant is that oil heats up a lot when exposed to a flat iron.
This excessive heating up will lead to the oil burning your hair, making it dry, brittle and thus more susceptible breakage.
This defeats the whole purpose of you any of the other products you would have invested in before. And it means your hair will get very damaged by the time you finish straightening it.
Instead, opt for a heat protectant that is not just purely oil. One that contains oils as part of its ingredients is fine. But make sure the primary base of the product is something else.
Typically, opting for a water-based product is a good idea. Because water is such a good moisturizer, and it does not heat up nearly as much as oil.
Once you have made the right choice on which heat protectant to use and you know which to avoid, you can move on to the flat ironing.
Take Care with the Flat Iron
When it comes to flat ironing, there are a few techniques you can apply so that you straighten African American hair safely.
Firstly, you need to make sure that you hoose a good quality flat iron.
This is essential because when you invest in a good flat iron, you avoid running into some potential problems that will hurt your hair in the process.
A good flat iron doesn’t necessarily need to be an expensive one. There are many out there you can choose from at a range of prices.
Finding out what the best brands are and what different flat irons can do for your hair is the best way to discover which one is right for you regardless of your budget.
When you have chosen a good flat iron, you will want to straighten your hair section by section.
The best way to do this is to hold each section of hair and begin from the scalp moving down to the tips of your hair.
You will want to pass over each section of hair only once, maybe twice at most. This is because ironing the same section too many times will cause your hair to thin out and dry out, which can lead to breakage.
A good way to make sure you don’t have to go over each section too many times is to use a comb or brush.
Going over the hair with a comb or brush right before you pass the flat iron over it will make it much easier to straighten.
It is preferable for you to use the kind of comb or brush you used earlier in the sectioning and detangling of your hair.
Cover Your Hair At Night
When you have successfully flat ironed your hair, there are a few things to do to make sure the styling lasts and your hair stay protected from damage afterwards.
Firstly, you will want to make sure you cover your hair overnight. This is important for keeping the straightened hairstyle in place for longer.
When you don’t cover your hair overnight, your hair can easily get tangled up. The tangling will undo the straightening and cause your hair to coil up all over again.
Sleeping with your hair uncovered also can lead to your hair being exposed to a lot of friction.
Having your hair directly in contact with your bed or your pillow is the source of the friction. This is especially worse if your pillowcases are made out of a material that isn’t very smooth.
This friction is bad because it leads to your hair thinning out or breaking. And given that your hair may have already experienced some thinning out during the flat ironing, you will want to avoid this.
A good way to protect your hair overnight is to wear a headscarf or wrap. You will also want to make sure you have pillowcases made of smooth material.
Silk headscarves and pillowcases are highly recommended because silk is very smooth and doesn’t easily cause friction to your hair.
The next thing to take care of post flat ironing is rebuilding your hair health.
In order to rejuvenate your hair, you will want to give it the right nutrients. Using hair products that need to be directly applied to the hair is not the best idea, however.
This is because when you apply products like hair lotions and other serums directly on your hair, you risk dampening it and causing it to shrink and coil up again. This would be undoing the straightening you have done to your hair.
What you can do, however, is take hair supplements. These can be found in the form of tablets and they are very easy to access and are affordable.
The best hair supplements to look out for are those that contain hair growth or strengthening vitamins. Vitamin E is a good one to look out for in supplements.
This vitamin targets hair loss and breakage and gives your hair a boost after it has been weakened. Vitamin E is key to combatting damage caused by strain or styling.
Another good vitamin to look out for is vitamin B. B vitamins are known for encouraging hair growth and thickening.
This is good after straightening your hair because the flat ironing can very easily cause your hair to thin out.
Vitamin B will give your hair the nutrition it needs to rejuvenate and regain its volume.
You can also look out for supplements that contain natural oils such as avocado oil, olive oil, jojoba oil, rosemary oil and more.
These ingredients are good because they also encourage hair growth and strength. And since you cannot apply these oils directly to your hair after straightening, it would be good to find a supplement that contains them.
Straighten Your Hair At Intervals
One question that may remain after you straighten African American hair is the question of when you can safely straighten it again.
Typically, African American hair will stay straight for between a few days and a week, or until the next time you wash it.
This is a very short lifetime when it comes to hairstyles. But because African American hair is naturally curly, it doesn’t take it very long to return to this state.
The temptation after your hair has gone back to its natural state would be to immediately straighten it again.
This is not a good idea, however. Because straightening your hair too often will eventually lead it to damage and breakage.
It’s generally not advisable for you to straighten African American hair more than once (or twice at most) a month.
Straightening your hair at intervals is key for making sure it gets enough recovery time in between straightening.
Between intervals, it is advisable to keep your hair in some kind of protective hairstyle. Or you can wear your hair out in its natural state in between straightening.
Make sure that whichever route you choose, however, you are styling your hair with care and caution.
How to Straighten African American Hair, Conclusion
Figuring out how to straighten African American hair can be daunting it you are not used to this kind of hair styling.
There are a number of precautions that are important to take before you do anything to your hair.
But by following this guide, you can hopefully take the right steps to make sure your hair is well protected and prepared beforehand.
And hopefully, you will be rocking a great new hairdo at the end of the process.