If you have wavy, curly hair, you can get sleek, pin-straight tresses if you crank up the dial of your straightening iron so that it generates maximum heat. However, intense heat, when used on an everyday basis, can lead to damaged, fried-looking hair -- and ultimately hair loss due to breakage. Limit heat straightening to special occasions and use your hot tool wisely to keep your hair healthy and intact.
When you run the tongs of a straightening iron or similar heated styling tool over your hair, you achieve only temporary results. The heat beaks down the hydrogen bonds deep inside of the hair cuticle, effectively altering the inner structure of the hair. Over time, the hair's protective cuticle becomes damaged, resulting in crispy ends, flyaways and ultimately, hair breakage.
Dangers of Heat
The straightening tools available to consumers, such as ceramic flat irons, can be used at extremely hot temperatures -- as hot as 410 degrees Fahrenheit -- which can damage hair even thick or coarse hair. Wet ironing causes even more extensive damage. Using a straightening iron on damp hair causes the hair cuticle to bubble and buckle; if you looked at the hair under a microscope, it would appear to be peppered with tiny "blisters."
Proper Use of Heat
Keep heat straightening to a minimum -- no more than two or three times a week. Keep the temperature on your flat iron or heated styling tool at or below 347 degrees Fahrenheit, or set to "low/medium." If you dye or bleach your hair or use other types of chemical treatments, use an even lower heat setting. Use styling products that provide heat protection for your hair. BeautyBrains suggests using a styling product that contains a lightweight conditioner that penetrates the hair, such as cetrimonium chloride.
Chemical treatments can make your hair more vulnerable to heat damage. But so can frequent blow-dryer use -- the hot blast from this styling tool boils the water in your hair, making it brittle and prone to breakage. Too much shampooing, using too many styling products and over-brushing or combing can also leave wear and tear on your hair. Wearing tight hairstyles, such as braids, cornrows, ponytails and buns, puts stress on your hair follicles at the hairline, resulting in a type of hair loss called traction alopecia.
Seeing a Doctor
If you're not sure why your hair is thinning or breaking and suspect that heat damage may be only one factor, see a dermatologist. After taking a medical history, your doctor will inspect your hair and scalp to examine the pattern of hair loss and look for any signs of a contributing illness. Once the cause of your hair loss is identified, take measures to prevent and treat it.
Lisa Sefcik has been writing professionally since 1987. Her subject matter includes pet care, travel, consumer reviews, classical music and entertainment. She's worked as a policy analyst, news reporter and freelance writer/columnist for Cox Publications and numerous national print publications. Sefcik holds a paralegal certification as well as degrees in journalism and piano performance from the University of Texas at Austin.