As gorgeous as your natural curly locks are, we understand you might want to rock a straight style on some days. Your straightening routine probably includes spending 30 to 90 minutes with a blow dryer and a brush to tame your curls.
Using a blow dryer to straighten your curly hair might be fun and a great way to get a new and fresh look, but it carries harsh side effects for your hair.
You see, maintaining healthy hair requires avoiding activities which affect your hair in a negative way, especially when you have curls. Before you pick up a blow dryer, remember curly hair is fragile, and heat from blow drying can permanently damage your natural curls, and give you split ends and breakage.
Before discussing the reasons why you shouldn't use a blow dryer for curly hair, we want to provide you with a foundation about the anatomy of hair and the science behind your curls.
The Science of Curly Hair
You probably don't spend a lot of time thinking about the parts of your hair and the science behind your curls, and you really don't need to. But, you should know the basics, so you can understand how a blow dryer can damage your hair.
Whether wavy, straight, or curly, each piece of your hair has a shaft and follicle. The follicle is the part of your hair which lies beneath your scalp, and the shaft is the visible hair flowing away from your scalp. Both the hair shaft and the follicle help determine your overall hair type.
The shape of hair follicles falls along a spectrum with the level of curl. Straight hair has round follicles, and really curly hair has flat oval-shaped follicles.
Also, the way in which a hair follicle tunnels, or enters into the skin, also differs between straight and curly hair.
The follicle is actually a tunnel which travels deep into your skin, where the root of your hair lies. Straight hair follicles tunnel vertically into the skin, while curly hair tunnels at an angle. This angle causes the hair to grow into a curve as it grows, but it also causes dryness.
You have special glands below your scalp which release your natural oils, called sebum. Your angled follicles make it difficult for these oils to travel up your hair shaft and keep it moisturized.
Your visible tresses include strands, or shafts of hair comprised mostly of dead cells full of keratin (Yes, all this talk of dead stuff makes your hair sound sexy!), a fibrous protein in hair and nails.
A shaft of hair is comprised of three main layers:
Cuticle. The cuticle is the protective outermost layer of a hair shaft, made up of overlapping cells. This overlapping structure protects the inner layers of hair and holds the cell together. A healthy cuticle results in shiny hair because smooth cells reflect light.
Cortex. The cortex is the middle layer of hair which contains long, twisty proteins. Even straight hair will stretch before it breaks because of this structure. Your natural hair pigments are also held in the cortex. When the cuticle is healthy, it protects your hair from damage.
Medulla.The medulla is the innermost layer, or core of the hair shaft and provides the structure for the hair. The medulla also holds hair moisture, which the cuticle allows to enter and leave. When the medulla unprotected and damaged, it cannot maintain the proper moisture, resulting in dry hair.
The cortex helps determine your hair type in the following way: amino acids, which create the keratin in the cortex, bond with other amino acids on the shaft of the hair. The hair curls up between each of these bonds, creating curls.
More bonds mean more curls!
Now that you understand how your hair follicles and shafts contribute to making your hair curly, let's take a closer look at three reasons you shouldn't use a blow dryer for curly hair.
1. Heat Damages Your Natural Curls
Have you ever wondered exactly how the heat from a blow dryer damages your hair?
As explained, the amino acids responsible for creating the keratin in your hair bond with each other along the hair shaft, creating curls. Using a blow dryer on your curly hair adds heat to those bonds and breaks them in the same fashion as a chemical relaxer, but the heat also damages the cuticle.
Continued heat can expose the innermost layer of hair, causing dryness. Once heat damages the amino acid bonds, they cannot be reformed. Consistent use of a blow dryer destroys natural curl patterns, but it does so at a molecular level by changing the structure of the protein.
In fact, a blow dryer quickly heats moisture in the hair to its evaporation point. When the water turns to steam, it creates high-pressure bubbles inside the hair shaft, permanently damaging its structure.
If you've ever started to hyperventilate after washing your hair because you have straight pieces hanging out of your head and your natural curl won't return, you have witnessed the aftermath of structural damage to your hair from heat.
Now, keep in mind that heat damage to your natural curls differs from chemical damage in terms of time. You can chemically damage your hair in minutes, while heat damage from using a blow dryer for your curls comes from repeated use and it worsens over time.
Remember that your tresses are "dead hair," so once they are damaged, they stay damaged, which means you need to cut them off.
2. Blow Dryers Cause Split Ends
Each time you use a blow dryer for your curly hair you contribute to breakage and split ends. There are far worse things in life you could do; it's not like you're robbing a bank, but we know you want gorgeous hair.
Blow drying curly hair removes surface moisture and the water of hydration which is chemically bound to your hair and found in the medulla. This compounds the dryness you already experience because the elliptical shape of your hair follicles don't allow sebum to easily travel up the hair shaft to moisturize. In turn, your cuticles dry out, becoming brittle.
When you manipulate brittle hair, it causes hair cuticles to crack, resulting in significant breakage and split ends because the cortex is no longer protected. Split ends are a result of damage to your hair, and they come in multiple shapes depending on the level of damage.
The first sign of damage to your hair is the loss of the outer cuticle. Your hair hasn't quite split yet, but as you continue to use a blow dryer, it's likely you will start to see mini-splits and basic split ends.
A mini-split is when a piece of hair slightly separates so it looks like a small "y." A basic split end is simply a larger version. Basic splits are an indication that your hair needs some TLC before it is too late.
As damage from blow drying progresses, the ends of your hair shaft might resemble a fork in the road. Eventually, the split will travel up your curl, with little "branches" resembling a tree. When you see these kinds of splits, it's an indication the cuticle has separated from the cortex. When the cortex is unprotected, its fibers fray like the end of a rope.
Even worse, your hair looks like you stuck your finger in a light socket, especially on hot and humid days. After you notice multiple breaks progressing up your hair shaft, you will need to make that emergency trip to your stylist and have them whack off your ends. The cortex won't heal itself.
If you catch split ends at the beginning stages, before you have exposed the cortex or the medulla, you might be able to stop them with a conditioning treatment or some type of sealant which protects them.
But, instead of trying to worry about catching split ends as they occur, it's better to avoid using a damaging blow dryer altogether. Your hair will thank you.
3. Curly Hair Is Fragile
You've already learned how your curly hair follicles and hair shafts differ from those of straight hair. Ultimately, these differences cause curly hair to be more vulnerable to damage, something you likely already know.
The larger structure of a piece of curly hair, including its twists and turns, cause a weaker cuticle and increase knots and tangles.
People with all hair types must deal with breakage and split ends, but those with curls have to deal with mid-shaft splits in their hair. The more kinks and coils in your curls, the more bends and twists in each hair shaft.
Each bend and twist is a point of weakness in the hair shaft, making it a likely spot for a mid-shaft split. Just like regular split ends, mid-shaft splits can leave your cortex and medulla unprotected and vulnerable to damage.
Now, keep in mind that regular split ends can occur even when you take care of your hair and don't use a blow dryer. The hair at the end of the shaft is oldest and eventually splits and requires a trim. Mid-shaft splits tell a different story!
Mid-shaft splits are a direct effect of over-manipulating hair and damaging hair with chemicals and/or heat. When you have curly hair, which is already weaker, blow drying your hair not only causes damage on its own, but it further weakens hair, progressively causing more mid-shaft splits.
Common parts of a blow-drying routine that can lead to mid-shaft splits include:
Using a brush
When using a blow dryer on curly hair, many also use a brush. Even the newest fancy detangling brushes can hurt your curls because they brush through little knots, a common weak-point and cause of mid-shaft splits.
PUT DOWN THE BRUSH AND STEP AWAY SLOWLY! Your fingers are your friend. Finger detangling won't eliminate the heat damage from using a blow dryer, but it can help avoid breaks from tangles.
Wet hair is more vulnerable to damage because it is weaker. If you are blow drying your hair in conjunction with twisting, braiding, and rolling, you are most likely causing breakage which you might not notice until much later.
As explained, heat damages your natural curls at a molecular level, but hot styling tools and heat from blow dryers also cause mid-shaft splits by damaging your cuticle. Using a proper protective sealant on your hair and making sure your hair has been properly hydrated and moisturized can help prevent heat damage from flat irons.
Avoiding protein treatments/Too much protein
Dryness remains the number one challenge for those with curly hair. One way to overcome dryness beyond a good moisturizing conditioner is to use a protein conditioner or treatment.
When you introduce protein to your curls, it attaches to the areas where the shaft is weak and the cuticle has started to break away. The hair cuticle allows the protein and moisture to travel through to the cortex and medulla, making your hair stronger.
Some who blow dry their hair regularly use protein treatments to avoid damage, but overuse of protein also causes damage; you can only do these treatments on occasion, or your hair will get damaged from too much protein. Too much protein prevents moisture from traveling between the cuticle and the medulla, resulting in dryness.
Your beautiful curls are fragile. Keep them healthy and beautiful so your hair also looks healthy and sleek when you decide to wear a straight look. Choosing not to use a blow dryer for your curly hair is one of the best ways to maintain your hair.
Protect Your Curly Hair, Visit RevAir
We know you care about maintaining your healthy hair and vibrant curls, but we also know you like to don a sleek, straight look, too. When you use RevAir, the world's first and only reverse-air dryer, you can enjoy wearing straight styles without damaging your natural curls.
RevAir uses less heat and less friction to dry your hair straight in less time than a traditional blow dryer, so your cuticles stay protected and ensure each hair shaft maintains moisture. Research has proven RevAir is faster, easier, and healthier than other hair drying and straightening options, resulting in straighter and sleeker hair with less frizz.
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