Everyone loves the look of a sleekly styled mane, but unless you’re already blessed with naturally straight, shiny hair, achieving this look can be a hassle. And no matter how simple our stylist may make it look, it seems like we can never quite reproduce the same effortless results at home.
This article will guide you through some of the available options including flat irons, straightening brushes, and more. We’ll also discuss some of the best products to help you avoid thermal damage while you straighten!
Once upon a time, curly-haired ladies had to resort to using a clothes iron and a damp towel to achieve stick-straight locks. Fortunately, thanks to the advent of more sophisticated at-home styling tools, those days are long behind us. Now it’s easy to straighten your hair at home using a straightener or flat iron. These handy tools are available in a variety of sizes and made from a wide array of materials, making them versatile enough for use with all hair lengths, textures, and styles.
Before you get started on straightening, we suggest familiarizing yourself with some of the common techniques, and having all the styling accessories you’ll need close at hand. These include:
The straightener itself
Experts recommend straighteners with ceramic plates over those with metal plates, as they help distribute heat more evenly and pose a lower risk of damage to your hair with long-term use. Your straightener should be the appropriate dimensions for your hair’s length and texture: a larger plate for longer, thicker, or coarsely textured hair, and a smaller plate for thinner, finer, or shorter hair. Preferably, your straightener or flat iron will also have adjustable temperature settings. It isn’t always necessary or desirable to blast your hair with the hottest possible heat setting, particularly if your hair is already prone to dryness or breakage, or if it’s color-treated, so this function is especially important.
As the name implies, this product helps insulate your hair against thermal damage, a common consequence of long-term heat styling. Most high-end heat protectants not only create a barrier between your hair and your flat iron, but they also help to fortify it with moisture and enriching nutrients to help keep it healthy and shiny. Some ingredients to look for when selecting the perfect heat protectant include keratin, argan oil, and Moroccan oil.
A wide-toothed comb.
Any comb will do in a pinch, but a wide-toothed comb not only helps you create the perfect part and divide your hair into sections, but it also helps to prevent breakage, especially if you’re using it on damp hair. Hair is at its most vulnerable when wet, and wide-teeth allows you to detangle without inflicting needless damage. It also lets you comb larger sections at once than a fine-toothed comb.
You won’t be flat-ironing your hair all at once, so the simplest way is to go one section at a time. Use your wide-toothed comb to separate your hair into multiple sections (we recommend starting with four, but you may need to do more if your hair is especially thick or long) and then focus on only one section at a time. Use clips to keep the rest of your hair up and out of the way until it’s time to straighten it, too.
When you’re done styling, you’ll want to give your hair a final spritz with a good finishing spray to help preserve your style longer. You may even be able to find a heat protectant that doubles as a finishing spray to save on cost!
The easiest way to achieve beautifully straightened hair is to thoroughly detangle it, divide it into sections, clip those sections out of the way, and begin by straightening only one section at a time. Spray each individual section with a heat protectant before applying your flat iron. Begin as close to the root as you safely can (avoid letting the plates touch your scalp to help prevent painful burns), then slowly drag the flat iron down the length of your hair all the way to the ends.
Depending on your hair’s length, thickness, and texture, you may have to repeat this step more than once per section to achieve the desired look. When you’re satisfied that your hair is as straight as you want it, move on to the next section, unclipping each section as you go. When you’re finished styling, give your hair a generous spritz with your finishing spray and voila!
For the more visual among you, here’s a handy video tutorial that puts these steps into action.
If you’re in a hurry, it may be tempting to set your flat iron to the highest possible heat setting to get faster results. However, for your hair’s sake, this should be avoided. Ideally, you should always use the lowest setting that gets results to avoid causing needless thermal damage to your delicate hair.
More importantly, you should never, ever use a flat iron on damp or wet hair. You may think you’re saving yourself some pointless steps when you apply a hot flat iron to damp hair, but in reality you are creating lots of microscopic cracks in the cuticle (the protective outer coating) of your hair shaft, which over time will lead to a dull, brassy appearance and a brittle, breakage-prone texture.
While flat irons are some of the most popular tools for straightening hair at home, they may not be ideal for everybody. Particularly if you expect to straighten your hair every day, a straightening brush may be more suited to your needs. These appliances tend to have lower heat settings, making them gentler for everyday use and less likely to cause damage to your hair. And because of their design, they’re incredibly effective at straightening even very thick and tightly coiled curly hair.
For best results, we recommend having all the same products and accessories mentioned above at your disposal: a wide-toothed comb, clips, heat protectant, and finishing spray.
Because a straightening brush will pick up any oils or products already in your hair, we recommend that you thoroughly shampoo and condition your hair before use. This will help to keep the brush cleaner longer and avoid unwanted transference of product traces back into your hair.
Because you’ll be brushing from root to tip, we advise you to thoroughly brush and detangle your hair with a regular brush or comb before applying your straightening brush. This will make the process much quicker and easier than if you’re having to stop and detangle your hair as you straighten.
After dividing your hair into sections and clipping them out of the way, apply your heat protectant to the first section and then begin to brush at the root of your hair. Your straightening brush should be set to the lowest heat setting that yields the results you’re looking for. Go as slowly as you can and brush as deeply as you can, to give the brush’s heated bristles more of an opportunity to come in contact with your hair. You should notice results after the first pass, but because straightening brushes put out less heat than flat irons, you may need to go over each section a few more times to achieve the desired look.
When you’re brushed through all sections of your hair, apply your finishing spray and you’re ready to go! Make sure to wipe the straightening brush clean with a damp cloth once it’s turned off and fully cooled, to help prevent the build-up of hair oil and product over time.
Here’s a video tutorial that shows you what a straightening brush looks like in action.
You may think a straightening brush can double as a standard hairbrush, but we recommend you avoid using it for detangling purposes. It will hasten the process of straightening if you brush through your hair with a regular brush first, and there’s less of a risk of damage to your hair. Think about it: If you try to brush tangled hair with a straightening brush and you hit a serious snag, you could do irreversible heat damage before you manage to get it out. And you can’t very well reach in to untangle the snag with your fingers without burning yourself.
We also recommend using your straightening brush on newly washed hair only. Some styling tools can stand up to “second-day” hair, but the heat bristles of your styling brush can trap any oils or leftover products still in your hair, which are then transferred back into your hair the next time you style. Keeping your tools as clean as possible will help to increase their efficacy and keep your hair looking clean and healthy.
This is the oldest technique on our list but still one of the most popular, and for good reason! The combination of a good quality hair dryer and a round brush is unbeatable. That’s why it’s your stylist’s go-to when she’s giving you a blowout.
There are many different kinds of hairbrushes that can be used to style long hair, including the paddle brush, the barrel brush, and the boar bristle brush. All serve different, valuable purposes, but for the sake of this article, we’re going to concentrate on the vented brush, simply because it’s designed for use with a hairdryer.
For best results, we suggest using the combination of a vented brush and your blow dryer’s straightening nozzle. ( Most hair dryers come equipped with one or two attachments including a diffuser, and a second attachment with a narrow mouth that attaches right to the barrel of the dryer. This is the straightening nozzle, and it allows you to apply a more focused, horizontal stream of air to your hair as you brush.)
Unlike our previous straightening strategies, you don’t need to ensure your hair is fully dry before you begin straightening with a hairdryer. However, it shouldn’t be sopping wet, either. For best results, you should thoroughly towel-dry and detangle your hair before you begin. Use your wide-toothed comb to divide your damp hair into sections, apply clips to get it out of the way, and then spray heat protectant onto each section.
Then, using your vented brush and hair dryer with the straightening nozzle, begin slowly brushing through your hair one section at a time. The advantage of the vented brush over some other varieties is that it’s designed specifically to allow heat to pass through it, allowing for more even heat distribution and faster drying. Begin near the root, lifting the brush as you drag it through your hair to give yourself some volume. You can even bend over and brush your hair upside down for some added body.
Continue until you have brushed through and thoroughly dried each section, and your hair is as straight as you want it to be. Apply your finishing spray and you’re done.
Here you can see a very curly-haired lady blow her beautiful locks straight!
Because you can style your hair while damp, straightening with a blow dryer has some unique pitfalls. One is that if you take on sections that are too large, they may not be thoroughly dried all the way through, which can affect the look of your finished style. For that reason, it’s important to divide the hair into smaller sections and ensure each one is thoroughly dry before moving onto the next. If your hair is still damp underneath or at the root, you may find your hair reverting to its natural curl pattern as the day wears on.
Another common error is using the wrong kind of brush for straightening. While a paddle brush offers more surface area and a barrel brush gives you more control over making big, blown-out waves, a vented brush is really the ideal tool for use with your hair dryer, and the one likeliest to give you the best results.
Finally, while it’s tempting to want to get the job done as fast as possible, we always recommend using lower heat settings over higher ones, not only because it’s less damaging but because with a hairdryer it’s less likely to cause unwanted frizz and a brittle appearance.
Once you’ve achieved the perfect style, you may wonder what you can do to preserve it longer. Here are some of our favorite tips:
Any wavy- or curly-haired lady will tell you that moisture is a death knell for your perfectly straightened hair. If you’ve ever been caught in a sudden rainfall after spending an hour styling, you know how frustrating it can be to see your curls spring back to life. We can’t control the weather, but we can be attentive to weather conditions, dress appropriately, and carry an umbrella to help protect against sudden precipitation.
Keep that styling spray close at hand.
You’ve already applied some finishing spray at the end of styling, but there’s no harm in a little reapplication now and then to keep your hair looking sleek. Some women like to carry a pocket-sized can of styling spray in their purses for this very reason, and most manufacturers make smaller sizes for your convenience.
Pin your hair up before bed.
Grab a handful of bobby pins, separate your hair into sections, and pin them in a circular formation around your crown before you go to sleep. This will help prevent tangling and preserve the straightened pattern of your hair until morning.
Consider sleeping in a bonnet or silk scarf.
Curly-haired women have used this technique for years to keep their locks tame and frizz-free in their sleep, but they’re equally useful for women who want to preserve their straightened styles. You can find satin sleeping bonnets in the haircare section of most local supermarkets. After pinning, you can slip one on to help keep your hair from rubbing against your pillowcases while you sleep.
You can also purchase a silk scarf and wrap it around your pinned hair, securing the ends by tucking them in at the base of your neck. If you want to go the extra mile, you can even invest in a silk pillowcase, which creates less friction than most other materials.
You now have all the tools, recommendations, and techniques you need to produce your own perfectly straightened style at home. If you need a refresher, review the video links we’ve included here. As with any skill, learning to straighten your own hair will probably take a little practice before you get it exactly right, so don’t get discouraged and keep experimenting. You are likely to find that you prefer certain tools or techniques over others. With time, patience, and diligence, you’ll be a straight hair styling pro!
Be sure to also check out our roundup of the best flat irons on the market.