How Does A Hair Straightener Work? – ANSWERS To The History & Science Behind The Working of a Flat Iron

How Does A Hair Straightener Work? -A Brief History of hair straighteners

When brainstorming the topic for this article, my main concern was to provide answers to the question “How does a hair straightener work?” . But as more research was put into the article, we released that we had to talk about some history as well. You know we have used a hair iron at some point. You may not have used it yet, but the fact you are reading this, demonstrates you are about to. In fact, the first hair iron ever used was in 1872 by Erica Feldman, how crazy is that? This first “straightener” device, which was a heated iron rod was invented by Parisian Marcel Grateau (pictured).

Marcel Grateau
Image source: Iowa state farm house museum

Hair irons consist of flat irons, curling irons, and crimping tools; these are hair irons because they use high heats to restructure your hair for a style. While curling irons and crimping tools are great and effective tools to use if you want to add volume or texture to your hair, but in this article, we’re going to talk about a hair straightener.
The first instance of modern flat irons (hair straighteners) were created in 1909 by Isaac K. Shero who used two flattened clothing irons to press down over the hair from both sides.

Now, Isaac Shero is the person who is said to have created the first ever hair straightener, but a Scottish heiress, Lady Jennifer Bell Schofield, in 1912 is the first person to have started straightening her hair. So, while there is some speculation as to who actually created the flat iron, we can clearly see here that flat irons have been used for many years now.
Lady-Jennifer-Bell-Schofield. Image source: Farmhouse museum

Hair straighteners are the best option for people who are looking to create a sleek, soft, and smooth hairstyle that is simple to create. The heat that is produced and held in the metal plates of the iron break and reform bonds in your hair to give you incredibly straight and smooth hair. But you have to be careful because too much heat added to your hair can actually cause it to become fragile, dry, and easy to break.

How does a hair straightener work ? The Science

Get ready for some of the science that works around hair straighteners, because it’s really interesting. You hair cuticles (strands) are built with a protein called keratin, which is made up of chains of amino acids that can be found in your nails and teeth as well. Keratin is an incredibly strong protein that makes it hard to break without the use of scissors, but the strength of your hair is determined by a number of sulfur-containing amino acids. Now I’m not a scientist, so I’m not going to go too in-depth about the chemistry around what goes on with your hair, but we’re going to talk a little bit more about this.

keratin in hair
Keratin as shown in the hierarchical structure of hair in the cortex and cuticle, highlighting the scale which defines fibrils. Image Source

There are some incredibly strong bonds that are making up your hair strands, which just adds more strength to the keratin. They even ensure that the keratin molecules remain fixed – basically, they help to create the shape and texture of your hair (i.e., curly or straight hair). If you are interested, read more about keratin here, or watch this video below. You can also read about my best keratin treatment products
So, when a hot flat iron is passed quickly and held tightly to your hair, the heat breaks down the keratin chains to move around to change the position. So, if you have curly hair or slightly wavy hair, the heat will rearrange the keratin to get rid of the wave/curl to give you straight hair for a while. It sounds very technical, and it probably is, but using the hair straightener is incredibly easy to do and gives you amazing results.
But it’s also the keratin that makes your hair strong, and if you aren’t careful, you can actually cause serious damage to your hair using a heated hair styling tool. If you use a hair straightener too often, at a temperature that’s too high, or even if you just leave it on your hair too long, you can cause the keratin and the hydrogen bonds in your hair to be destroyed. This leads to incredibly brittle, easy to break, and overall dead hair that doesn’t look good at all. But as you’ll see later in this article, there are things that you can do to help prevent excessive heat damage to your hair if you decide to use a hair straightener.
Okay, now we have a background and history of a hair straightener, which is always a good idea, let’s talk about how to pick a hair straightener for your hair type properly.

How To Pick a Hair Straightener For Your Hair Type Properly

If you’re looking for the best hair straightener, you’ll notice that there are a lot of different types out there. You can find flat irons that have ceramic plates, titanium plates, and tourmaline plates, so how do you know which one works for you?
If you have naturally thin or fine hair, then you should look for a flat iron that has ceramic plates. Ceramic plates will hold heat without random hot spots on the plates. If you have fine hair, then you know how easy it is for you to burn your hair from random hot spots. Plus, ceramic plates naturally have negative ions that work against the ions in your hair to make it smooth and prevent frizz.
If you have thick, coarse, or hard to straighten hair, you should consider a titanium or tourmaline plated hair iron. Both of these metals heat up really quickly and hold high heats at a constant temperature to prevent cold spots. This allows you to easily straighten your hair without having to go over a stand more than once. If you’re worried about frizz, don’t! Both of these metals smooth out your hair and prevent frizz just like ceramic plates.
You should also take into consideration the shape of the hair straightener plates. While they don’t have anything too incredibly unique about them, hair straightener plates can have a completely rectangular shape to them, or they can have a bit of a curve to the edges. The regular straight edged hair straightener is a great option regardless of what you’re looking for, but be aware that if you decide to use your hair straightener to create curls in your hair, it can leave bumps in your hair from the edges. But with a curved edged plated hair straightener you can actually avoid that bump and even protect your face even more from accidental plate burns while using the iron.
Features are another thing to look into when purchasing a hair straightener. Why? Because hair straighteners come in all sorts of brands, shapes, sizes, and have different uses. Do some research to see what you could potentially get from a hair straightener (i.e., steam comb, digital temperature reader, auto shutoff feature) and figure out what brand is best for you.
Now, let’s talk about the proper way to use a hair straightener on your hair that will limit the amount of heat damage you do to your hair.

Proper way to use a hair straightener

how does a hair straightener work
If you wash your hair before you straighten your hair, you should ensure that you use condition and then dry your hair thoroughly with a professional hair dryer. If your hair is wet or damp while you’re using a hot flat iron, you’ll hear a sizzling sound. This is not good! If you hear this sound while using a flat iron, stop and dry your hair because the iron can burn your hair and cause irreparable damage. This video demonstrates how to properly use a flat iron to straighten your hair.

Make sure that you use a heat protectant serum in your hair before you start using the hot flat iron on your hair. You can purchase some really great heat protectant serums at the store, or you could even use argan oil as a natural alternative. This is a really important step to take because it adds moisture to your hair and creates a protective barrier around your hairs natural keratin, then as you’re using the flat iron the added moisture is sealed into your hair. this step can also help prevent split ends in hair
All you’ll need to do to apply the heat protectant is to rub a drop or two of the product in your hand and rub your hands together to get the product moving. Then thoroughly massage the product over your hair ensuring that you’re getting all strands from the top of your head to the roots. You could even take a comb and use that to comb through your hair to make sure the product has been applied evenly. At this point, you should dry your hair again with a hair dryer to ensure that it won’t sizzle as you use the hot iron.
Heat up your hair straightener to the heat that works best for your hair, if you’re unsure look at the tips above to help you figure it out. As the iron is heating up, start separating your hair into sections. These sections should be about an inch in size and as you’re making them just pin them up with some hair clips.
Now that the hair straightener is ready to go, take a strand of your hair that you just separated and took a section of that strand. Take the hair straightener and place it as close to the root of your hair as you dare to go, don’t put it right up against your scalp because you’ll burn yourself but try to get as close as you can. Then clamp down the plates and gently glide it down the strand of hair you’ve just placed between the plates.
As you’re gliding the straightener down over your hair make sure that you’re not going too slow or too fast, you should be able to feel the heat penetrating your hair, but you don’t want to feel it burning. You’ll notice that your hair is straighter after one pass.
You should continue this process until you’ve finished up that section of your hair, then gently pin it back up on your head and grab another one. You’ll just keep repeating these steps until your hair is completely finished.
After you’ve gone over every section, go ahead and look it over and if you find any areas that might need another pass go ahead and fix it up. Once your hair is done how you want it, go ahead and spray it down with a little bit of hairspray just to ensure that it will stay smooth and straight.
Viola! You’re done! I know that these steps seem really difficult, but once you use a hair straightener once you are a master at straightening your own hair.
Does it work?! || Hair Straightener Brush on Natural Hair

After care tips when using a hair straightener

Finally, let’s talk about some aftercare tips you should take into consideration when using a hair straightener. One of the most important things you can do to help your hair is to take days off from using the heated hair styling tools. While you might enjoy having incredibly straight hair, your hair can’t take constant heat being applied to it. I’m not saying you have to take weeks off at a time, just take a couple days a week where you put away the hair straightener and change up your hairstyle. You’ll look gorgeous regardless, and your hair will be so much healthier, I promise!
Secondly, you should consider treating your hair to a deep conditioning treatment at least once a month. You don’t have to go to an expensive salon to get this done; you could just purchase a kit from any store and do it at home. These deep conditioning treatments can be done in a matter of an hour or even overnight; it just depends on what you want and the time you have. Not only do these treatments help heal your hair, but it also gives it some much-needed moisture and helps rebuild any broken bonds or keratin damage. Plus, after you’ve done a treatment your hair will feel so smooth, soft, and it will be so incredibly bouncy – so, it’ll look and feel healthy.
Congratulations! You’ve made it through this article. I have answered the question how does a hair straightener work? Hopefully, you’ve learned a thing or two about hair straighteners and what they’re used for. They’re incredibly useful tools that can help you create sleek and professional looking hairstyles regardless of the type of hair you have.
Now, go forth and share your newfound knowledge about the hair straightener and even any of these tips and tricks that we’ve shared with you – hopefully, it helped you feel more comfortable using a hair straightener than you felt before!

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