Hair Damage From a Flat Iron

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Flat irons can tame the most treacherous frizz and unruly curls into sleek, silky, healthy-feeling tresses. Whenever you apply heat to your hair repeatedly, this can ultimately result in hair damage. Using your flat iron at the right heat settings–and using it as infrequently as possible–can help you avoid dull, broken, heat-damaged hair.

A Transformative Tool

Compared to chemical straightening techniques, which permanently restructure the hair, flat irons help you achieve pin-straight hair by pressing it through heated tongs, which temporarily reshape the hydrogen bonds in the hair's inner core. Once exposed to humidity, rain or your next shampooing, hair returns to its normal curly or wavy state. However, the American Academy of Dermatology states that side-effects of altering the hair with heat eventually results in damage to the outer cuticle--dry ends, flyaways, dulling and breaking that gives your hair a thin, shaggy appearance.

Heat Risks

Consumer flat irons can be equipped with heat settings that go up to 410 degrees F or more. However, the AAD indicates that such high temperatures are unwarranted, citing studies indicating that exposing the hair to temperatures of between 347 and 419 for even five minutes can harm hair. When a hot flat iron is applied to damp hair or hair that's been bleached, permed or dyed, damage can occur at even lower temperatures. The AAD advises making sure the flat iron is no hotter than 347 degrees F, if the styling tool has a digital read-out or temperature setting, or using it on the "low to medium" heat setting.

Flat-Iron Marketing Hype

Some flat iron manufacturers may tempt you with claims that their styling tool is better for your hair--and even that it can make your hair healthier. Not so, says the Beauty Brains, as any time you subject your hair to heat, this in itself is damaging. If you use a wet-dry iron, that sizzling sound is not good--this is the sound of the water in your hair turning to steam, not being "sealed" into the hair's cuticle as some flat iron marketers claim. Similarly, ceramic tourmaline flat irons that purport to exert "negative ions" into the hair to make it less frizzy are no better than standard metallic irons, says the Beauty Brains. However, using a professional-quality flat iron can be more beneficial to your hair than a cheap, drugstore iron.

How to Select the Right Hair Smoother

Professional flat irons are often equipped with ceramic heating elements that are sturdier and more reliable, allowing the plates of the iron to heat quickly and uniformly. This allows hair to be pressed through the plates only once to get the results that you desire. If you have an inexpensive model, you may find yourself repeatedly applying the tongs to your tresses without much luck. The Beauty Brains states that your hair should run through the plates easily, without snagging or tearing--or leaving a small pile of broken-off follicles on the vanity top.

Flat-Iron Dos and Don'ts

The AAD recommends using flat irons infrequently, no more than two to three times a week. The Beauty Brains also advises using a leave-in conditioner in your hair, or alternately, using a spray, cream or silicone gel. The goal is to keep your hair lubricated during the course of heat styling. Hair damage from a flat iron isn't forever, but you may have to live with it for up to two years, until new healthy hair grows out.