Flat Iron Styling
While hairstyling techniques have been found from every culture in recorded history, the latter part of the nineteenth century brought us the development of thermal styling techniques, beginning with Marcel Grateau's heated rods for curling the hair. Later, heated combs and flattened irons were used to straighten naturally curly or wavy hair. These techniques were effective, but often led to hair damage. Fortunately, the advances have continued.
Today, we have specialized thermal styling tools, designed to change the hair's wave pattern with less risk of damage, as well as product to protect the hair during these processes. Not only are there curling irons of varying size and shape, but there are flat iron tools as well that can take you from curly and full to sleek and silky in minutes.
But you need to know a few important rules before you begin using these appliances, both to give the best possible results and to make sure you do the least possible amount of damage to your hair. For thermal styling, always follow these simple rules:
Rule Number One: Always start any thermal styling process with clean, DRY hair. Whenever possible, your styling session should start by shampooing and conditioning the hair with a moisture-rich formula in both your shampoo and conditioner. In addition, follow up with a leave-in conditioning spray to protect the hair during the drying and thermal styling process.
A build-up of gel, mousse or hairspray from previous styling will only result in stickiness, clumping, and possible damage, so cleansing the hair before thermal styling is essential. In addition, the hair must be COMPLETELY dry. Even slightly damp hair will not only respond poorly to the thermal styling, but applying the heated appliance to damp hair will cause the hair to literally "cook" in the resultant steaming, swelling the hair shaft and forcing the protective moisture from the cortex of the hair.
Rule Number Two: Use the right sized tool for your hair. Unless your hair is well past your shoulders in length, you should choose a flat-iron appliance whose heating plates are approximately 1"-to-1-1/2" wide. Wider irons are certainly available, but are only necessary for those individuals with longer hair. For the average woman, the smaller tool offers better control, is lighter in weight, and therefore much easier to handle.
Rule Number Three: Work with the hair in manageable sections and use only as much heat as necessary to straighten the hair. Many women buy a flat iron, and complain that they don't work well. Usually it's because they are overloading the iron. If you try iron too much hair at once, you end up with an uneven application of heat, as the hair against the heating plates gets most of the heat, while the hair in the middle isn't heated enough. In addition, if you try to straighten a section that is too thick by heating the hair longer, you only end up overheating the outer layers of the hair, and potentially damaging it.
There is also the danger of damaging and burning the hair if you use too high a setting on the iron. You should always test the heat level of your iron if you are unsure of how hot the iron gets. Take a piece of tissue paper that has been misted with water and place it between the heating elements. The proper setting will quickly evaporate the moisture without marring the tissue. If the paper shows any sign of scorching or discoloration, then lower the heat setting of your iron before you apply it to your hair.
Divide your hair into sections no wider than the heating plates of the iron, and straighten slices no thicker than half the width of your heating plates. By working with small sections and slices, you can apply the heat evenly, and will get the desired straightness with fewer passes of the iron.
Rule Number Four: Use a light amount of styling product to maximize the life of the style. By lightly misting the slices you are straightening with a bit of hairspray and allowing it to dry fully (or by using a small amount of gel or mousse as you dry the hair) you will get a straightening result that will last longer than styling the hair without it. This is also another reason for beginning with shampooing and conditioning, since applying the product to hair that already has product on it from previous styling would most certainly guarantee a build-up of product.
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