Since featuring Brittany, an avid heat training enthusiast, on the website a few weeks ago, I have had few emails and comments suggesting that I give a more balanced view on the subject so here it is!
So what is heat training? From my research online, I have found two definitions for it.
- Using heat often to straighten natural hair so that it does not revert easily in response to atmospheric humidity. Pretty self explanatory and this is probably the more common understanding of heat training. Virgin black natural hair is notoriously difficult to keep dead straight and will normally start poofing up within hours of being straightened. People however have found that the more they straighten, the longer they can wear it straight without it reverting.
- Using high heat to straighten natural hair with multiple passes to both assist with preventing easy reversion but more importantly to change the texture of the natural hair. This is heat training as I have come to understand it recently and probably the source of all the controversy.
Ok, right off the bat let’s address the fact that heat training is not a new technique. We are all familiar with the hot combs and Marcels used by our mums and aunties back in the day to straighten their hair, they obviously noticed that their hair did not look quite the same when they next washed it, results that were only more pronounced the more they visited the stylist. I have written before about a friend who would brag about her leave out hair that she used to blend with her straight weave. ‘It doesn’t kink up any more’ she would say happy as Larry! I might add that her hair never grew past shoulder length.
Looking at heat training by the second definition I will use Brittany as an example as many of you have probably watched her videos on the subject but just in case, here she is in her own words on what heat training is and what it is not. My take on it is below the videos.
The main take home message from the videos is her definition of heat training which is that is it a process of gradually loosening the texture of your hair. Using really high heat to straighten e.g. very hot comb/marcel which leaves your hair fried and breaking is heat damage. A very subtle difference but a difference all the same.
Let’s be honest here for a minute, just like choosing to texlax or texturize your hair instead of relaxing it bone straight, heat training is just an alternative way of dealing with natural hair to make it more ‘manageable’ or for some, to avoid knotting hence retaining length. All these methods are ‘conrolled damage’ to some extent in order to achieve a result. The difference mainly lies in the type of bonds being broken. There are four bonds in your hair which are peptide, disulfide, salt and hydrogen bonds.
- Peptide bond: This is the strongest bond and does not get altered even during normal salon processes e.g. relaxers, perms or colour. This is the bond that makes up the structure of your hair and whey your hair becomes weak the bond breaks.
- Disulfide bond: Also known as a sulfur bond, it is the second strongest bond in you hair and this bond is not affected by heat or water. This is the bond that gets altered by salon chemical action on your hair. A relaxer will break the bonds then rearrange them to the hair’s new shape.
- Salt bond: This bond is slightly less resistant than the disulfide bond and is affected by changes to pH making your hair swell and lift the cuticle. This is the gist of what happens when you colour your hair. The cuticle is lifted by the pH of your chemical to allow it to penetrate the cortex and deposit or remove colour.
- Hydrogen bond: This is the weakest bond in your hair and is easily changed by water or heat temporarily. This is why you can set wet hair in rollers and your hair will take on the new shape when you remove them and by the same token you can also either curl or straighten your hair with a heated styling tool.
So now we know that a relaxer/texturizer will change the second strongest bond in your hair and that explains why relaxed hair is weaker than virgin natural hair. However we also know that the disulfide bond is not changed by heat so which bond is being affected during heat training?
There hasn’t been much research done on the subject but I hypothesise that hydrogen bonds are the likely candidates. Although hydrogen bonds are usually only temporarily changed by heat, high heat is usually also accompanied with loss of protein from the hair strand and this loss of protein is what changes the shape of the hair permanently. This may explain why many natural ladies who have experienced heat damage are able to restore their curls to some extent by doing protein treatments. If very high heat is used the loss of protein from the strand is likely to be extensive beyond the capabilities of any protein treatment and with the hair so weak, it will eventually break.
If it’s in fact the hydrogen bond (weakest bond) that is altered during heat training, It may explain why some ladies are having better length retention with heat trained hair over their previously relaxed hair. There are also some who have better length retention with heat training over their previously virgin natural hair but this can simply be explained by less mechanical damage during combing as well as less knotting.
I can certainly see why heat training is a more attractive prospect than using a chemical which will alter your second strongest bond however there are also disadvantages. Heat training is a technique that not many stylists offer so it is more than likely something you will have to attempt yourself and unless you are very well versed with your hair and are able to recognise the subtle changes knowing when to pull back etc, you may very well be left with an uneven texture with some pieces of hair that remain straight even after a wash. It is also possible that you may take it too far causing major damage that leaves you with hair breaking in a similar fashion to damaged relaxed hair.
Ok, sceince lesson over but I will leave you with this;
- If your hair is natural and you straighten your hair on occasion, you are probably ‘heat training’ but to a lesser degree than someone who does it regularly.
- Heat styling tools will and do alter the way our hair behaves whether it’s through loss of protein or some other mechanism. Take from that what you will.
- Not everybody will be able to grow their hair long with a chemical and as such YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary) if you decide to heat train instead.
As always, proceed with caution if at all!