How to Straighten Natural Hair Without Damaging Your Curls

natural hair

Every once in a while, those of us who normally rock our curls want to show off a new look (because let’s face it: shrinkage is very real). However, straightening natural hair has always been a touchy subject since putting any sort of heat on it is usually a major no-no. In fact, it’s a big reason why many people have made the transition to go natural (so they can prevent heat damage and keep their strands healthy).

It also sparked a longstanding debate about whether straight hair is inherently "better." Politics aside, we say you're allowed to showcase your gorgeous kinky curls and rock straight styles, because there's no shame in switching it up (at the end of the day, it’s your hair). Whatever look you choose, just make sure you're tracking the health of your hair and understanding what works best to avoid damage in the long run.

What are the best methods to straighten natural hair?

Before picking an option and applying heat, make sure you prep your hair. Start by washing your hair thoroughly with shampoo and conditioner to make the straightening process easier. (Tip: Use a deep conditioner or treatment if you’re prone to dryness. Moisture is key to a smoother finish.)

Once your hair is clean, apply a nickel-size amount of heat protectant (we like TRESemme Thermal Creations Heat Tamer Spray, HSI Professional Argan Oil Heat Protector or Brigeo Farewell Frizz Blow Dry Perfection Heat Protectant Creme) through the damp strands. Whether you prefer serums, sprays or creams, it’s important not to skip this step as it prepares your hair for the heat and prevents future damage or frizz. It also keeps your hair shiny and soft (and who doesn’t want that?).

Now that your hair is ready, you can decide which option works best for you.

1. Flatiron

When purchasing a flatiron, look for one with customizable settings. You want to keep your iron at the lowest setting required to straighten your hair (most irons go up to 450 degrees, but reaching for at least 360 degrees is beneficial). Flatirons like Babylisspro Nano Titanium Ultra-Thin Straightening Iron, HSI Professional Glider Ceramic Tourmaline Ionic Flat Iron, and CHI Tourmaline Ceramic Hairstyling Iron all have a wide range of settings and make it easier to be in control.

How to flatiron your hair:

  1. Heat up your iron, start sectioning off your hair and apply your protectant product.
  2. Grab a section and clamp the hair tool as close to the root as you can and gently glide it down the mid-lengths and ends. (Option to use a fine-toothed comb with the iron to get a sleeker look.)
  3. Go over each section once or twice more. If you hear sizzling or smell something burning, you probably want to dial the heat down a bit before resuming.
  4. After you’ve straightened every section, finish the look with a hydrating serum or humidity-resistant gel like Ouidad Advanced Climate Control Heat & Humidity Gel, DevaCurl Frizz Free Volumizing Foam or It’s A 10 Miracle Leave-In Plus Keratin to keep the flyaways at bay and prevent frizz from forming.

It’s important to note that if your hair is already pretty damaged to start, the flatiron might not be the best choice.

2. Blow-Dryer

Using a blow-dryer to straighten your hair will give you a more voluminous look. Similar to the flatiron, you'll want to pick a blow-dryer that lets you control the heat settings. The Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer and the DevaDryer have customizable settings and come with a nozzle attachment made for achieving a straighter style.

How to blow-dry your hair straight:

  1. Prep your hair with a heat protectant and divide in to sections.
  2. Turn your dryer on a cool-to-medium setting.
  3. Use a round bristle brush or a Denman brush to avoid tangles.
  4. Hold the dryer two to three inches from your head and glide the brush (and the heat) down from root to tip. You want to brush your hair up at the crown (for added volume) and down for the rest of your hair (for optimal smoothness and shine).

3. Rollers

The best way to use rollers is to apply them to wet hair. When it comes to finding the right rollers, it’s all about the texture of your hair and the look you’re going for. The thicker your hair, the bigger the roller should be (a bigger roller means a looser curl). There are a ton of options like Conair Xtreme Big Curls Hairsetter (it heats the rollers for you), Conair Magnetic Rollers (a great preparation for straightening with the help of pins) and Drybar High Tops Self-Grip Rollers (which use Velcro instead of pins and are perfect for women with shorter hair).

How to use rollers to straighten your hair:

  1. Prep wet hair with a heat protectant and section it off.
  2. Roll up each section and secure rollers in place with pins if needed.
  3. Once you finish rolling your hair, let it air-dry or use a hood bonnet on low/medium heat for 30 minutes to an hour (depending on your hair texture and length). If your hair is on the thicker side, you might want to consider using a hood bonnet for the best results.
  4. Wait until your hair is completely dry before removing the rollers (for both techniques).

The best part about rollers is that you can use a flatiron or blow-dryer to straighten your hair even more afterwards. If not, you can leave your hair curled or brush it through to maintain volume.

A few things to keep in mind

Regardless of which straightening approach you decide on, make sure to wrap your hair with a satin or silk scarf before you go to bed. This will protect your newly smoothed strands from any friction while you sleep (which can cause it to curl back up). You can also use a bit of dry shampoo on your roots to keep your style fresh for the rest of the week.

Another thing to consider: Depending on your hair texture, the products and tools you use, and whatever the weather is doing at the moment (hello, summer frizz), a method that works well for your friend might not be right for you. Everyone’s hair is different so experiment with the hair tools outlined above to find what works best for your hair.

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Chelsea Candelario

Associate Editor, Ultimate Fangirl, Aspiring Beauty Guru

Chelsea Candelario is an Associate Editor at PureWow. She has been covering beauty, culture, fashion and entertainment for over a decade. You'll find her searching the internet...
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