From a Curly-Haired Stylist

I didn’t always appreciate my curly hair.  It was the bane of my existence when straight hair was in style.  So I get it, when you say you want those curls gone, no matter how many times people tell you how “lucky” you are to have them.  I explored every avenue, trying to get my hair straight, and here’s what I found.

Ancient History

Back in the day, when straight, hippie hair was all the rage, the original motivation behind the long straight hairdo came from rich white kids whose hair was naturally straight and who were rebelling against society’s expectations.  They didn’t want to do the weekly shampoo-and-set the world expected of them, to conform to the grooming standards of the day.

That’s what it would have taken, if they wanted to imitate the fashionable bouffant big hair of fashion icons like Jackie Kennedy, or the super model of the era, Jean Shrimpton, who graced the cover of many a Vogue magazine.

No, they refused to have anything to do with any of this and would just let their hair do what it naturally did -- lie flat and straight.

Curly-haired people who also subscribed to this philosophy would let their hair go natural.  Hence the “afro” also became stylish during this time period.

Options for Curly Hair

There’s a lot to know about curly and super-curly hair, and we try to keep up by taking classes.  We tend to favor working with the hair’s natural tendencies, because letting the hair do its thing vs trying to force it to do something else is less damaging in the long run.

But having said that, we also understand the desire for a different look, and we’ll work with you to get there in the least damaging way possible.  

The least damaging option for curly hair is simply to go natural.  Natural styles come in a variety of choices, depending on how curly your hair is.  We do those too, including styles for super-curly/kinky/nappy hair.  Afro-shaping haircuts, dreadlocks, twists, cornrows, braids (with and without extensions), etc.  This is an excellent choice, if you want to give your hair a rest from all the styling stress it’s been through, in the quest for straightness.

Wet Sets

Back in the day, people used to use orange juice cans as giant hair rollers, rolling the hair while it was wet and either sitting under a hair dryer or letting it air-dry.  It had to get completely dry, to conquer the curl, and if your hair was very long -- which was also all the rage -- this took forever.

But people used to do it.  Anything to be in style, right?  And if you wanted people to think you were a hippie, this is what you did.

You don’t have to use orange juice cans as giant rollers.  You can also use smaller rollers.  This is known as a wet set.  And yes, we can still do those, and it’s the least damaging way to take some of the curl out of the hair.

An interesting variation on the wet set is the wet wrap.  Instead of using rollers or orange juice cans, we wrap the hair smoothly around the head, essentially using the head as a giant roller, tie it down with a net, and dry it thoroughly.  This works best with short hair, simply because long hair takes so long to dry.

Heat Styling

Another option for curly hair -- and probably the next least invasive -- is the blow-dry style.  For this method, you simply dry the hair with a blow dryer, while brushing the hair into the position it needs to be in, to conform to the style you want.

To avoid damage from too much heat, be careful not to continue blow-drying the hair after it’s already dry, or you’ll get breakage from excessive heat.  And you don’t want that.  Not if you’re trying to get your hair to be long and straight. 

For super-curly hair, heat tools like the pressing comb, curling iron, and flatiron will tame that mane.  But again, be careful with the amount of heat you use, to avoid breakage.

Chemical Straighteners

There are different types of bonds that hold hair molecules together, and the secret of re-forming the hair so that it’s not so curly lies in the type of bond you’re working with.  

The first kind of bond is the hydrogen bond.  This is the bond that breaks down when the hair gets wet.  It re-forms itself as the hair dries.  This is what makes it possible to blow-dry the hair straight.  Whatever position the hair dries in, that’s how it will stay -- that is, until it gets wet again.

To make a more permanent change, you have to re-form the protein bonds.  This can be done with chemicals, and the new structure lasts as long as the hair does.  You have to cut it off to get rid of it -- and if the hair has been over-processed, this is often what you must do to restore it to a healthy state.  

So be aware that chemical straightening carries risks, especially if your hair is in a delicate or damaged condition, or is too fine to handle the chemicals being used.  Or if your scalp is sensitive enough to become irritated from the chemicals.

But having said that, we’ve seen beautiful results from chemical straightening that make the hair easier to manage for people who have an active lifestyle -- like wanting to do a strenuous fitness workout every day without having to consider what it will do to your hair.  Perspiration will undo heat-based styling.

This is not the case with chemical-based straightening.  The freedom you get to pursue a lifestyle of your choice can be worth the risk.  You rule your hair.  It doesn’t rule you.

Be sure you have a well-trained, competent stylist to perform the chemical service, and make sure you do frequent deep conditioning treatments to correct the dryness that sometimes results from chemical straightening.  If your hair is generally in good condition, you should be fine.