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Photo of writer Allie Chilicki and her journey of dealing with heat damaged hair

What Years Of Heat Damage Taught Me About My Hair’s Health

Writer Allie Chilicki describes her journey with heat damaged hair and how dealing with damage helped her prioritize the health of her mane.

When I was introduced to the flat iron in high school, it was love at first sight. Using it to hide my natural hair made me feel confident during those vulnerable years of self-discovery. I thought the honeymoon phase of my relationship with the flat iron would last forever. Then, it turned toxic. When I experienced hair shedding caused by excessive use of the flat iron, I broke up with my unhealthy heat-styling habits. After learning how to prioritize the health of my heat-damaged hair with a new hair care routine, I gained over ten inches of strong strands and more of the confidence I was just learning to discover. 

Writer Allie Chilicki describers her journey with heat damaged hair

How I Damaged My Hair With Heat 

Understanding which parts of my routine were the most damaging helped me prioritize my hair’s health and repair my heat-damaged hair. I had been using the hottest temperature setting to expedite my morning routine so I could enjoy an extra hour of sleep before school. When I committed to this routine for a couple of years, the healthy look and feel of my hair began to fade. My thick and voluminous hair was also falling out and thinning with each swipe of the flat iron. Although sleek, the end result felt flimsy. It lacked bounce and movement. My bathroom floor was always coated with a thin layer of my hair that I had lost when straightening. 

How often I straightened my hair is what ultimately led to this damage. With a fear of my hair feeling dirty and looking curly, I washed and straightened it at least five times a week. I was guilty of touching up my hair, heat-styling it two times a day or ten times per week. 

Heat-styling my hair as frequently as I did stripped it of its natural moisture, leaving the ends thirsty for the natural oils that my strands were lacking. The dryness made it feel thin, coarse, and brittle. My hair developed white bulbs at the ends that became noticeable even in pictures. This all resulted in the left and right sides becoming asymmetrical and choppy. Feeling tangled and knotted after washing, my ends dried noticeably faster than my scalp. According to my stylist, this was a sign of severe heat damage.

Writer Allie Chilicki describers her journey with heat damaged hair

How I Fixed My Heat-Damaged Hair

My split ends drying noticeably faster than my scalp was one of the many red flags that led my stylist to recommend cutting it and starting fresh. I took her recommendation and came out with a pixie-length cut that I could barely make into a ponytail. I broke up with my previous habits and learned how to fix heat-damaged hair and prioritize its health. I learned the best practices for washing, styling, and trimming

Since over-washing and over-styling my hair ultimately led to the damage, I learned less damaging routines for restoring and retaining hydration. The over-washing and over-styling had been stripping my scalp and ends of natural oils and moisture, promoting dull breakage and shedding. To reverse this, I minimized the number of times per week I shampooed my hair. I also began to apply the proper quantity and placement of shampoo. Instead of filling both palms of my hands with a surplus of shampoo, I applied a dime-sized amount. For the placement, I focused on massaging the shampoo into my scalp instead of my entire head. Using hair masks between washes, including L’Oreal Professionnel’s Absolut Repair Instant Resurfacing Masque, also became an essential part of my routine. 

I also learned that the temperature that you should set your straightener to depends on your specific hair type. Having fine and wavy hair, I was told that setting my straightener up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit was not necessary and extremely damaging to my hair type and texture. An ideal temperature range for my hair type was between 300 to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Next, I had to understand the best practices for brushing my strands, including the number of times I should be brushing my hair daily and the correct types of brushes to use for my hair needs. To avoid hair loss and breakage, I reduced the frequency from about five times per day to two times per day. Using a brush with coarse bristles was great for my fine and damaged hair type because it was gentle enough to not pull on my strands. 

Finally, I needed to overcome my fear of scissors. Growing my hair was never easy. Any growth was an achievement, so I avoided trims. Then, I learned that trims are critical for achieving healthy hair. Although it felt contradictory to my long hair goals, these trims helped promote growth. In the process, I learned that the hand and pieces of hair that I favored when heat styling had caused the right side of my head to be one entire inch shorter than the left due to the damage heat had caused. 

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My Healthy Hair Care Routine 

After successfully regrowing my hair, I learned that maintaining my progress requires a long-term shift in my routine. Now, I integrate my lessons for how to fix heat damaged hair into a healthy hair care routine. No matter how I evolve my routine, I always follow these basic rules of thumb. 

First, I schedule regular trims at my local salon roughly every three months. Since my hair is fine in texture and color-treated, getting regular trims has been critical for getting rid of my split ends to maintain my hair’s health. Minimizing the frequency of heat-styling my hair has also resulted in faster growth. These trims have helped me maintain a blunt and even length so my ends don’t look and feel weighed down. 

Each week, I don’t exceed two heat styling sessions and three washes. In between shampoos, I take advantage of styles that show my clean ends and mask an oily scalp to give the illusion of clean hair. Half-up hairstyles and chucky headbands are my favorite ways to do this. I also use Redken’s Deep Clean Dry Shampoo to refresh and extend the lifetime of my wash, especially since I workout almost daily.

The night before washes, I apply deep conditioning masks and oils to my ends that hydrate and protect my strands from breakage. I leave the masks on overnight to maximize the amount of time my hair has to absorb their properties. Since my ends do not build-up oils and dirt that shampoo strips my scalp of, I do not concentrate shampoo on my ends. This helps me avoid drying them out. 

I also maximize the amount of time I let my hair air dry to cut down on the need for a blow dryer. Absorbent hair towels help me expedite the air-drying process. 

In between these steps, I am always sure to apply a heat protectant if I plan to use hot tools. When blow drying, I use warm air and ensure that I am keeping the dryer a healthy distance from my head. Then, I seal my ends with cool air directed downward to bond them. When straightening, I remain cognizant of the pressure and number of swipes I do per section. This helps avoid the uneven length that I experienced at the peak of my relationship with the flat iron. 

Learning how I can safely integrate these habits into my routine has been critical for maintaining healthier hair and growth without giving up on the flat iron. Thanks to using heat in these more productive ways, I can celebrate faster-growing, non-shedding hair that looks, feels, and acts healthier than it has ever been.

Interested in professional advice for fixing your heat damaged hair? Use our salon locator to book an appointment at a salon near you.

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