Heat Styling Basics

Blow drying hair
Blow drying - Photo: Shutterstock
In your great-grandmother's day, washing and styling your own hair was a long and often cumbersome process. You had to wash and condition the hair, set it in rollers (or whatever tool you chose) if you wanted curl, and let it airdry. Depending on the density of the hair, this could take hours, or in some cases all day and night. Often women had to try to sleep with a head full of rollers.
But technology brought us appliances over the years to make doing your own hair easier and more convenient. The first advance to come our way was portable bonnet dryers which made drying a roller set a piece of cake.
I personally remember ads for the model which featured the convenient shoulder strap. It showed the model with her roller set tucked neatly beneath the plastic bonnet, the hairdryer hanging from one shoulder and the power cable trailing behind her as she vacuumed the carpet.
The next advances were the blow dryer, electric curling iron, and hot rollers. The blow dryer gave the styles of the period that blown-back fullness that was so popular and dried even long hair in record time, while the curling iron and hot rollers were ideal for adding curl in a hurry without the hassle of a wet set with conventional rollers and the time spent under the bonnet dryer.
Finally, as straight styles became fashionable, and everyone want smooth sleek locks, flat irons hit the scene. Ethnic women who wanted straight hair had been having their hair pressed for years, and now they could maintain their relaxed locks at home.
However, as convenient and helpful as these appliances are, they can be damaging to your hair if you don't use them properly. In my experience of dealing with my clients in their homes, I've noted a number of common mistakes people make when using these various appliances.
Usually, many of the complaints they have about styling their own hair can be traced to one or more of these mistakes. So in order to help resolve these issues, let's have a look at the basics of heat styling, one appliance at a time:
Blow Drying
Common complaints regarding blow drying include:
•   It leaves my curly hair too frizzy.
•   I have short hair and blow drying just makes it harder to style, it goes everywhere.
•   I have long hair and a lot of it, and I can never get the hair underneath dry.
•   By the time my long hair is dried, it's tangled and I can't even run my fingers through it.
These are just a few of the complaints I've heard from women over the years. There are a lot of other complaints, but they tend to be repetitive and have common causes.
The biggest mistake most women make when using blow dryers is over-drying the hair. The whole point of a blow dryer is to use the directed flow of heated air to force the excess moisture from the hair. The trouble is, when the blow dryer heats up the hair, you have difficulty being able to tell if the hair is dry or not, and so you continue drying the hair unaware that you are drying it too much. Over-drying the hair leads to frizz in curly hair and often tangles in long hair.
And just because your dryer has a high-heat setting doesn't necessarily mean that's the one you should use. High-heat settings are for heat styling procedures like blowing the hair out straight, and using a round brush to add curves. For general drying purposes, the medium (or lower if there are only two settings) heat setting is recommended.
The same goes for air-flow speeds. With shorter hairstyles especially a higher air-flow speed simply means that you have less control over the hair. You want to direct the hair in the style you desire, and you can't do that if the air coming from the dryer is consistently pulling the hair out of the styling tool. Use a medium (or the lower setting if there are only two) setting for the air flow to allow you more control of the hair.
You also need to know how to deal with the kind of hair you have. I'm amazed at the number of women with curly hair who still don't use a diffuser attachment on their blow dryers. Yet these same women complain that they can't blow dry their hair because it takes out their curl. The diffuser creates a soft flow of air that is perfect for drying the hair and leaving the curls intact.
The diffuser is also a must for women who have fine or thin hair. The full blast of the blow dryer is often too strong to allow for any control when dealing with these types of hair, and the hair is very easily over-dried.