Straightening curly or wavy hair can be tough, but follow our easy guide and your locks will be perfect in no time. Here’s how to straighten hair, with heat and without.
One of the great joys of having textured hair (from the slightest beachy wave to beautiful kinks) is versatility. No matter how curly your hair, sleek strands are just one styling session away. But the question isn’t if waves can be straighten, but how. How to straighten your hair? How to use a flat iron? Is there a way to straighten natural hair without heat? We asked hair stylist and Hair Rules creator Anthony Dickey for the answers to those questions and more.
How to Straighten Hair With Heat
Learning how to straighten your hair isn’t a one-size-fits-all process, says Dickey. “Texture determines how to straighten,” he explains. Techniques vary by hair type, roughly divided along the line of straighter textures like waves and very curly and kinky hair.
Step 1: Shampoo and Condition
That said, all great straight styling begins in the shower. “The thicker, curlier and kinkier your hair is, the more you want to avoid shampoos with suds," says Dickey. "Use cream shampoos that are sulfate-free, which won’t dry out your hair.” Then apply a moisturizing conditioner. He adds that “flatter,” softly wavy strands (without an s-shaped curl or z-shaped kink) or hair that’s nearly straight can use a sudsing shampoo, but it should also be sulfate-free. Condition only the ends of this hair type, he advises, so it doesn't get weighed down.
Step 2: Dry
Curly to Kinky Hair: Squeeze the water out so it’s not dripping, but don’t towel-dry the hair, advises Dickey. “Towel-drying creates frizziness in textured hair,” he said. Apply a heat styling lotion, like Hair Rules Blow It All Out. “The lightweight mist has components that add a protective buffer between hair and heat and help prevent the negative effects of humidity," says Dickey. "That way, your hair doesn't revert back after you’ve spent all this time styling." Use a dryer with a comb attachment and work your way up from tips to roots, in 3- to 4-inch sections. “It’s really about making sure the sections don’t feel overwhelming to you, which, if your hair is thick, could mean working on a smaller section of hair,” said Dickey. Gently detangle with the comb as you work your way up the section of the hair. Dickey likes Conair blow dryers for curly hair, which often come with comb attachments.
Wavy Hair: First, remove excess water with a microfiber towel then add a volumizing spray or mousse, like Pantene Pro-V Style Series Volume Body Boosting Mousse, to the roots. Flip the head over, which creates volume while you dry, said Dickey. Then freely blow-dry hair. His go-to tool for textures that are naturally straighter is the Dyson Supersonic. It comes with both a diffuser and smoothing nozzle. When your hair is 80 to 90% dry (after free drying), it’s time to straighten with a brush and blow dryer.
Step 3: Straighten
Curly to Kinky Hair: Once the hair is completely dry, flat ironing is the next step. “I love Solano irons. They’re ceramic, come in a range of sizes and work really well,” said Dickey. Effortless glide is one of the first things he looks for in a hair straightener—it’s the key to not damaging or burning the hair. Start at the hairline, using a small ¼-inch iron to smooth the edges. “I like to use an edge control product before using any thermal heat styling tool," he says. "It protect the delicate hair along the hairline and makes it smooth out more easily." He rubs a finger-scoop sized amount between his hands then massages it over the edges and ends of the hair. For the rest of the hair use a 1 to 1½-inch flat iron. Take a half-inch or smaller section of hair, clamp at the roots and slide the tool down the hair shaft immediately. “Never hold the flat iron on the hair. That can damage it. And do not go over the same section repeatedly. It will cause heat damage and eventually ruin the natural texture,” warned Dickey. He cautioned against rushing the process by flat-ironing in large sections. Excessively large sections don’t straighten as easily. People then tend to go over the section multiple times. “My favorite finishing product right now is Phytospecific Nourishing Styling Leave-In Cream Shea Butter,” said Dickey. This leave-in helps keep the style moisturized. He also suggests pin-curling hair up at night to maintain straight hair throughout the week. He says curly and kiny hair should only be straightened once a week. Anything more frequent may permanently alter the coil, dry it out, or both.
Wavy Hair: Dickey recommends blow drying with a round brush that has a mix of boar and synthetic bristles. “It will smooth the hair without tearing it out in the process." Attach the air-focusing nozzle to the dryer, and set it medium to high heat. Using the brush to straighten hair, blow dry one 2-inch section at a time. Gently twist your wrist toward your head while pulling the hair through the brush, keeping the blow dryer about 1 centimeter away from (but not touching) the hair. “Touching the dryer to hair can singe it,” warns Dickey. When hair is completely dry, work in a finishing product. “I love finishing with a cream, like Kiehl’s Creme with Silk Groom. It controls flyaways and keeps hair frizz-free.”
How to Straighten Your Hair Without Heat
For those wary of heat styling, you can smooth out your strands with the right tools—and the help of time.
Curly to Kinky Hair: People with naturally curly hair often avoid heat—it can be damaging to curls, which by nature are fragile. But very curly, natural hair can’t be straightened without heat. “All the techniques I’ve seen, for example, on YouTube, are stretching the curls out. But the hair isn’t really straight,” said Dickey. Curls and kinks can be elongated without heat by twisting and braiding, but getting curly strands actually straight without heat is unrealistic.
Wavy Hair: Dickey says start with sulfate-free shampoo and condition only the ends. Gently towel dry the hair. “Leave in some moisture, but you don’t want it to be soaking wet because it will take too long to dry,” said Dickey. Add a leave-in cream, like Living Proof No Frizz Leave-in Conditioner. Brush hair up into a top knot and secure loosely with a fabric scrunchie. “Let this dry overnight and you’ll wake up with hair that’s straight but still has volume and movement,” said Dickey.