The heat is on! But what provides a good style for today – with hot curlers, dryers, and irons – could mean hair loss and breakage tomorrow. Proceed with caution.
Male and female hair loss can be caused by many factors. One might be poor nutrition, another is genetics, while traction alopecia can result from a hairstyle that pulls hair and damages the roots. One thing for certain: the local hair loss treatment clinic is always doing brisk business.
But the loss of hair can also be a result of using harsh styling tools and techniques. This is especially the case with hot styling tools, such as heated curlers, hair dryers and flat irons. The result might not include complete loss of the hair from the roots, but can make the shafts brittle and have an irregular texture. Not exactly the beauty treatment one hopes for.
The technical (biological) reasons this happens is that applying high heat to hair strips it of natural oils. Also, as hair is basically made of a type of protein called keratin, the structure of each strand is challenged when too much heat breaks down its hydrogen bonds.
Going way technical, these are disulfide bonds in the keratin; a partial reduction of disulfide bonds is what happens in the creation of a permanent wave in hair. To illustrate an extreme example, consider what happens to keratin in sheep’s wool, when heated to a high temperature. When water or a dryer reaches 190ºF, it causes irreversible shrinking. This is why wool products should always be washed in cold water and dried without a dryer.
Knowing this, it’s possible to still style hair with these kinds of tools. It just needs to be done in ways that minimize damage. That includes:
Apply heat styling to dry hair only. If hair is wet it is soaked inside as well as outside, much like a sponge. Applying a tool of any kind with heat high enough to boil water – 212ºF, by the way – can break hair due to expansion of water molecules inside each individual hair shaft. It’s like steam that literally bursts the shaft.
Use variable-temperature tools. The lower-cost styling tools (dryers, curling wands, straighteners) are sold without temperature controls; more expensive models provide those controls, and therefore you then have the ability to lower the temperature and approach styling in a gentler way.
Apply heat defense products prior to using hot tools. Just as hair can absorb water, it can also accept products that are designed to be protective. The products that contain silicone are most recommended, as that provides a protective coating to hair.
Change your style, and consider some looks as “special event hair.” Repeatedly doing the same thing to your hair on a very regular, even daily, basis has its downside. By altering your look, it not only protects your hair but it makes your own presentation more interesting. Save the curling or straightening for weddings, reunions, first dates, etc.
The bottom line is it’s good to be kind to your hair, just as you are with your skin.