Whether we want to flatten or coil our mane, the path to hair texture manipulation typically involves heat—and inevitable heat damage. So when exactly does the temperature become too hot to handle on your flat iron, curling iron or blow-dryer? Heat styling wizard Omar Lopez shares his tips for a scorch-proof beauty routine.
Change Your Mindset (and Your Dial Settings)
The siren call of higher heat is alluring, but the resulting damage is not. “We live in a society that always wants instant results and gratification,” Lopez explains of our extreme heat fetish. But higher heat doesn’t necessarily equal a speedy finish. He uses the example of a baking recipe to prove his point: “If a recipe calls for 350 degrees for an hour, increasing the oven to 600-plus degrees doesn’t cut down the cooking time. Instead, it scorches the exterior and ruins the rest of the dish.” Apply this same thinking to your hair and you’ll be well on your way to healthier, glossier locks.
Hair Type Matters
Your hair type directly correlates with the temperature you should use. “Fine and damaged hair can use anywhere between 270 and 370 degrees,” Lopez says. “Thick, coarse hair can handle 395 degrees to 450 degrees, depending on the thickness and amount of curl, wave or texture.” For normal hair types, he suggests keeping the dial turned between 370 and 385 degrees.
Hair History Matters, Too
What stresses have you put your tresses through? The more damage you’ve logged by way of bleach, chemicals or heat, the lower the temperature number you should use in your hair type’s degree range, Lopez says.
Never Go Above 450 Degrees
“Regardless of hair type, no irons should ever be used in excess of 450 degrees,” Lopez warns—even if the iron’s dial can be cranked up higher.
Can you go too hot with blow-dryers? Lopez actually doesn't think so. “Hairstylists tend to use dryers with higher wattage, which are believed to produce higher temperatures and cut down drying time. This is totally safe for home use,” he says. "Also, a blow-dryer that is ionic can be used at home. Professionals use these all the time, too, to help shorten drying times."
Where There’s Smoke…
Most likely you’ve seen “smoke” tendrils rise from your hair during a heat styling session. Don’t be alarmed: “If you see smoke rising off the hair while blow-drying, the heat of the dryer is producing steam when it comes into contact with the cool water,” Lopez explains. The same is true of irons. “The iron is simply sealing in moisture and heating off excess product,” he says.
Give Cool Shots a Shot
While you may be focused on heat, Lopez encourages you to turn your attention to that handy cool shot button found on most blow-dryers. “In order to set hairstyles that last, it’s important to heat the hair and cool it down," he says. "Cooling down the hair helps to increase shine and manageability while allowing a style to truly set. Once you’re done styling, a cool shot is a great idea for all-day hold and super-lustrous shine.”
Whenever you use heat tools (even if you're using them correctly at the right setting), it's imperative that you safeguard your strands with a heat protectant. A heat protectant regulates the amount of fiery temperature that comes in contact with your hair, enabling it to stay strong and avoid damage and breakage. When wielding straighteners, try Garnier Fructis Style Flat Iron Perfector Straightening Mist, which uses argan oil to save hair from heat while sealing in smoothness and shine for up to two days. For women who prefer the curling iron, try Carol's Daughter Macadamia Heat Setting Foam, which is made to both guard hair against thermal damage and softly define curls without any sticky residue. For those fond of blowouts, try Redken Satinwear 02 Ultimate Blow-Dry Lotion, a heat protectant that helps reduce friction for a speedier, more stress-free blow-dry.