I got my first pair of straighteners (called flatirons in the US) back in 2003. I was 16, and they’d been out for about a year. I had the Babyliss 4×4 straighteners, that came with 4 different interchangable metal plates – ceramic coating was a couple of years away – and the options were: standard crimpers, wide crimpers, “loose wave” (which was utterly useless) and the flat plate to make hair straight.
The straight plate took about 5-10 minutes to heat up. The temperature it reached was probably fairly low. Because the plates were made of aluminium metal, they did not glide through the hair. You had to use them like crimpers, where you spray the hair with loads of hairspray, then close the plates around a piece of hair, held it still for a count of 10-20 (depending how long you wanted it to last vs how much time you could spend on this), then opened it and moved down, closed the plates around the next part of the piece of hair, held it still again for a count of 10-20, then did it again, all the way down each piece of hair. Then you could do the next section. It would generally take about an hour to do a full straighten and even then it didn’t make the hair sit properly flat unless you used excessive amounts of hairspray, which defeated the point.
A straighten done like this would basically have the same effect as when you blow-dried your hair straight, where the heat of the hairdryer would fix the hair straight when combined with the pull of the round brush. It would take longer, because you had to dry your hair first, and generally was a bit of a waste of time.
Fast forward two years, when in 2005 the ceramic straighteners exploded onto the UK mass consumer market. GHDs had been out for around a year but nobody could really afford them. Suddenly, glossy, long-lasting, straight hair could be anyone’s. But there was a drawback. They got too hot. There was a problem in 2006 because particular high-end branded straighteners were causing house fires and property damage, because people were leaving them plugged in and they didn’t have an upper limit on how hot they would get. The best case scenario was that they would melt and you’d need to buy a new set. The worst case scenario was that they’d cause a house fire. Whilst researching this article I discovered this is still happening.
To try and improve safety, manufacturers of most straighteners fitted thermostats and many also gave consumers the option to set the temperature – my 2007 model wet 2 straight straighteners had a range of 160 to 230 degrees celsius and would stay there. The problem was, the lower temperatures produced a less lasting straighten, while the higher temperatures, as I’m sure everybody knows now, damaged the hair.
Enter heat protection spray. Nobody really knows how it works (I spent serious time on Google recently trying to find out), although manufacturing blurb likes to point to “proteins” “keratin” “amino acids” and other ingredients as the thing that prevents hair damage. I couldn’t find any research that showed how much these sprays actually protect the hair (as opposed to a placebo effect) and beauty bloggers seem to only know what they’ve been told by the companies that make them, which is the same as what the manufacturers say on their adverts. It’s all a bit circular, like so many things in beautyworld. The thing that’s most worrying, though, is that people think they can use the same high temperatures on their hair and not damage it. It still weakens the hair to straighten it, no matter what you do. If your hair is stronger to start with, you can probably get away with doing it every day and only suffering slightly more wear and tear than if you didn’t straighten. For you, it’s probably a pretty good payoff. If, however, you have the sort of hair that I have (frizzy, stands on end when cut short, prone to breakage under light stress, prone to dryness), you have a choice to make: You can either bleach your hair white or straighten it regularly, but not both. I chose to have white hair, that I sometimes tone silver or platinum. Because of this, and because my hair has grown past shoulder length, I cannot straighten my hair every day. If you have thicker hair to start with, you may get away with straightening regularly, I’m not sure. I blow dry my hair when I wash it, and wash it two to three times per week (I know I should only wash it once a week, but I still struggle with this). I find that my natural shape and frizz of hair actually doesn’t look too bad when it’s very blonde, it looks fluffy and softening rather than frizzy and harsh, which is what it looks like when I have my natural very dark hair.
All through school I used to get bullied for the unruly hair that I was born with. Growing up in a 100% white British area, having 1/4 Afro-Caribbean genes makes big hair something the other kids would seize on and be very nasty about. They weren’t exposed to other cultures enough to understand that hair was just like that for some people. They thought I didn’t brush it, or that I had “cheap shampoo” because the shampoo and conditioner adverts told them that good shampoo = sleek straight glossy locks. When I had dark hair, even last year, I was still getting told by people that I need to use X conditioner to fix my hair (when I’m blonde, they blame it on the bleach). When you get treated like this by enough people, you start to believe them, especially when there’s no-one else around with hair like yours (I’ve never knowingly met the man responsible for my frizzy genes, and as a child, I didn’t really remember what people’s hair looked like when we lived until I was 5 in the Jamaican community in South East London). When ceramic straighteners came out they were top of my Christmas list and I would use them daily (or put my hair in a bun), and have done for years until I discovered chemical relaxants aka chemical straightenings. I went for those for a while but didn’t like how much more frizzy my hair was when they wore off, or how much more breakage there was, so I stopped everything when I grew my hair for my wedding. As a result, I was very worried about bleaching my hair because of not being able to straighten it, but I have had icy white hair, generally toned silver, for about 8 months now, and I’ve never really looked in the mirror and said to myself, my hair needs straightening. So through bleaching my hair, I’ve learned to accept it’s natural frizzlike tendencies, which is great.
I did straighten my hair last week, for a Youtube video because I was playing a character, and it had been so long since I last had straight hair that I didn’t recognise myself when I did it. It felt weird, like some of my width was missing, like the very first time I straightened my hair. I could definitely get used to having straight hair, but the time; effort; money on hair products such as primer and protein sprays; and the misery of having dark hair (which actually makes me depressed, I wish I was being hyperbolic) all outweigh the benefit of having straight hair. Most of the time these days. I’d rather have unruly sproingy white hair than sleek straight dark hair. It fits my personality better. Now my styling priority goes: 1st choice: Naturally springy hair. 2nd choice: Curled with my curling tongs (for special occasions). 3rd choice: Straight.
Are you pro-straightener? Do you prefer straight hair, curled hair, or au naturel?
One response to “Beautiful Saturday: To straighten or not to straighten?”
I had those babyliss straighteners too, my mum bought me them from a car boot for 50p when I was about 15.
I straighten my hair. My hair is terrible and frizzy, if I didn’t straighten it I wouldn’t be able to leave the house. I’ve cut down on how many times I wash my hair so I don’t have to straighten as much. But I still use straighteners about 5 times a week.