7.27.2010

A Pressing Dilemma for Natural Hair


Proceed with caution

I recently came across this question on a website regarding issues with pressing natural hair. The person posed this question:
For about 3 months I have used my new awesome straightener which made my hair very nice and straight. My natural hair is very curly but now I sometimes want to curl my hair (like just put mousse in it) and I was wondering what can I do to get my natural beautiful hair back after straightening it so much?? PLEASE HELP!  I put mousse in it yesterday and it looked horrible because most of it is not even curly!
The "best answer" chosen to her question was to put mayonnaise in it to get the curl back.  The reality is that this woman has literally fried her hair, and it may never go back to it's original texture no matter how much conditioner, mouse, gel or condiments she uses.

There are many reasons why people choose to go natural, and one of them is the avoidance of double processing (perm + heat and/or coloring). Although they do not have a perm, they still wear their hair straight and have just removed one of several steps that is damaging to hair. However, what many people don't realize is that chemical relaxers are not the only thing that permanently alters the texture of hair. The consistent application of high heat over time permanently changes the texture via damage to the hair shaft. This is sometimes referred to as "training" natural hair* by making it easier to straighten after it has been pressed out for long periods of time.

*I cannot stand the term "train" when it comes to natural hair. It is basically saying natural hair is bad and unruly and must be beaten into submission. My hair behaves just fine, and the only thing training does is train it to play dead. [End personal diatribe]

What is actually occurring is that the heat is breaking down the natural protein bonds of the hair and subtly changing its texture (i.e. damaging the hair). True, it is not to the same degree that a relaxer alters the texture, which chemically breaks the bonds in hair as opposed to thermally. But the heat, over time, alters these bonds as well.  This results in a change to the natural curl pattern making it less curly/kinky when it is worn natural. Some say that their hair texture is uneven in places and tends to be "lifeless" after this occurs.

For those individuals who want to keep their hair straight at all times, this issue really isn't a problem. Permanently changing the hair texture to less curly may be ideal. However, for those women who either want to go back and forth between curly and straight styles, or who are in the process of transitioning from a relaxer to natural hair, this can be a very problematic issue. If your goal is to embrace your natural hair texture and eventually wear your hair natural (i.e. curly) on a regular basis, consistently pressing your new growth throughout your transitioning period can leave you with hair that is already starting out heat damaged and is not your true hair texture.

This is the primary reason I am such a huge advocate of the "Big Chop" method of transitioning because pressing damages the new growth, but walking around with a perm on top of a mini-fro doesn't look good either (not to mention that the point where perm and virgin hair meet is a weak spot that is prone to breakage). I understand and appreciate that everyone is not comfortable sporting a TWA. There are other methods of transitioning (ex. twists, braids, extensions) that won't have the same adverse consequences as regular pressing. This is not to say that any amount of pressing is bad. Some people enjoy the ability to go back and forth between straight and curly styles and there's absolutely nothing wrong or harmful in that.  When pressing is done properly and in moderation, your hair will be just fine. It is the consistent, frequent application of high heat that is damaging to the hair and could leave you with not exactly the healthy, glorious crown of curls you hoped for.

For tips on avoiding damage when pressing natural hair, please check this out.  Check this out as well for more tips on avoiding damage when pressing natural hair.

1 comment:

Yvette said...

I hate the term "training" also! I've had 2 different hair dressers press my hair and damage several spots that each took approximately 6 months to regrow. Sadly, once your hair is fried like that the only "fix" is time.