Straightening your hair is a process that you should be cautious about because it can damage your hair – but how do you straighten gray hair the right way?
To straighten gray hair, use products that will protect it from damage, such as heat-protective shampoo, cream, spray, etc. You should also use low heat where possible, and invest in high-quality straighteners that are less likely to damage your hair.
Why Is Straightening Gray Hair Tricky?
Straightening gray hair can be difficult because if your hair is naturally gray, it will generally be a bit weaker and more brittle.
This means that it’s noticeably more susceptible to burning, and if you apply heat to it through your straighteners, it may singe.
Any kind of hair can be damaged by excessive heat and you need to be careful no matter what color your hair is, especially if you straighten your hair on a regular basis, but gray hair needs particular caution.
It is also worth noting that any damage will be far more noticeable if your hair is gray than if it is colored because the discoloration is more likely to show up. This is particularly true if your hair is white-gray.
Any appliance that is too hot for your hair will cause damage, whether it’s curling tongs, a hairdryer, or straighteners.
You need to be careful and make sure that the tool won’t get hot enough to damage your hair because no one wants to walk around with yellow tips to their hair.
Apart from looking odd, damaged hair will be more porous (which is generally a bad thing), weaker, and frizzier.
None of these are ideal, so it’s important to avoid them if at all possible.
What Kind Of Heat Damage Can Occur On Gray Hair?
There are several kinds of heat damage that you need to watch out for, including:
This is where the straighteners are much too hot for the hair and actually burn it while heating it.
Burning product onto the hair
If you have any leftover product in your hair that cannot tolerate high temperatures, this may burn when you apply your straighteners. You might see the hair turning yellow as a result of this.
Dryness happens when the consistent application of heat gradually robs your hair of its flexibility and strength by stripping the moisture, lipids, and proteins out of it.
This will not happen overnight, but if you notice that your hair seems weak and it is very easy to snap, you might want to check whether you are damaging it by straightening it too much.
The weaker your hair is, the more likely it is to get physically burnt or gradually become dried out.
Why Does Heat Damage Turn The Hair Yellow?
Before we start looking at how to avoid hair damage, let’s briefly cover why heat causes yellowing.
There are two possibilities:
Firstly, if it’s the products that are burning, rather than your hair itself, it’s common for them to discolor in this way (although you might occasionally see other colors too).
However, if it’s your hair burning, then the yellowing happens because the heat is degrading the proteins in your hair and the oxidization process causes the hair to turn yellow.
As there is no other pigment in your hair, this yellow will be obvious and much more visible than in colored hair.
How Can You Safely Straighten Gray Hair?
Step 1. Check Your Straighteners
You should start by finding out at what temperature you are heating your straighteners. It should be the minimum temperature that you can use while still getting the result that you desire.
Hair varies a lot in its resilience and heat tolerance, but as a rule of thumb, you aim to keep the heat below 228 degrees F.
According to Dyson, this is the temperature that hair burns at, so anything above this is putting your hair at risk.
Of course, your hair may burn at a lower temperature if it is already weak – and gray hair often is. You should therefore aim for the lowest possible temperature that you can achieve success with.
This should ensure that you massively reduce the risk of burning your hair.
Any temperatures above 228 degrees F will damage even healthy hair, but you may find that you need to use a higher temperature in order to straighten it properly.
As long as you are staying below 365 degrees F, you will be doing a fairly small amount of damage, but at over 370 degrees F, you are likely to see discoloration starting.
A lot of flat irons are set to work at around 450 degrees F, and this has a high risk of breaking down the keratin in your hair and basically melting it. You need to find straighteners that operate at a lower temperature.
Step 2. Use Heat Protective Products
You may be able to minimize some of the damage to your hair by using heat-protective products, which come in a whole range of shapes and forms.
You should experiment with multiple kinds and see which one suits you. Try choosing:
- Heat protective shampoo
- Heat protective conditioner
- Heat protective spray
- Heat protective cream
- Heat protective leave-in gel
Any of these products may help by shielding your hair from hot temperatures, and there are lots of options on the market.
Some can protect your hair up to 450 degrees F, which may help if you can’t currently change your straighteners.
Most should be applied to damp, clean hair, shortly after washing it.
Always apply them before you use any heat-based tools (and this includes hairdryers) and follow the instructions carefully.
You will generally need to comb the product through your hair so that it is evenly distributed.
Try out these products and see which of them is the most effective for protecting your hair.
Some people also claim that oils, such as coconut, will help to protect your hair from overheating, but you should be aware that these may also burn if you get them too hot.
It is generally better to choose suitable products that have been designed for the job.
If you are going to use oils, remember to clean your straighteners regularly to remove any residue on them.
Step 3. Dry Your Hair Thoroughly Before Straightening
Wet hair should not be straightened; this is a sure way to burn your hair.
As explained by TheList, the water will still be inside the follicle when the hot iron closes around the follicle.
The water will begin to boil, due to the heat of the straighteners, and because it is clamped between the straighteners, it will not be able to escape.
This results in your hair getting heated from the inside of the strands, which really isn’t good.
This is true of all products, not just water – anything wet could boil inside the strands, and may get extremely hot.
You, therefore, need to completely dry your hair before you start straightening it.
If you have just washed your hair, you should consider using a microfiber towel to absorb the moisture from it.
You can let your hair air dry, but make sure you are leaving as much time as possible so that it is definitely dry before you touch the hot iron to it.
If you hear your hair sizzling or you spot any steam at any point during the straightening process, stop immediately and remove the tool from your hair.
Continuing would damage even colorful, strong, healthy hair – it could completely destroy gray hair.
The drier your hair is when you straighten it, the less likely you are to damage it with your straighteners.
Step 4. Minimize Other Hot Processes
When it comes to heat damage, you need to think about the overall amount that your hair is exposed to.
It isn’t enough just to keep your straighteners on low if you are also blow-drying and sometimes curling your hair.
Any process that involves adding heat should be taken into account.
Once you have thought about all the processes that heat your hair up, consider whether any of these could be reduced or cut from your hair routine altogether to lower the overall amount of heat your hair gets exposed to.
For example, could you start allowing your hair to dry naturally instead of using a hairdryer? Could you do this occasionally, if not at all times?
The less you expose your hair to heat, the more resilient it will be when you do expose it – so look for anywhere that you can reduce the amount of heat you use.
You should find your hair gets better and stronger as a result.
Frequently Asked Questions
These products will not protect your hair from heat damage and yellowing, unfortunately. They work by neutralizing any natural yellows in your hair with a slight violet tint, but this tint won’t remove a whole patch of yellow.
If you have accidentally burnt your hair with your straighteners, rest assured that this burnt area should grow out given enough time. However, if you continue to use your straighteners in the same way, you will likely burn more and continue to experience this problem.
If your straighteners are old and difficult to control, it may be time to replace them if you want to keep straightening your hair. You can check how hot they are getting using a meat thermometer, and this should tell you whether you need new ones yet.
If you have the choice, look for ceramic-coated plates, as these can be gentler on your hair. You may notice less damage and less breakage than with something like titanium plates, which get very hot.
Disclaimer: This site is not intended to provide professional or medical advice. All of the content on LovedByCurls.com is for informational purposes only. All advice should be followed at your own discretion. Ingredients may change at any time so always check the product label before using. Check our full disclaimer policy here.
Dee has been following the Curly Girl Method for over four years and is our in-house Curly Girl expert. She has a keen interest in natural haircare and has tried and tested her share of CGM products. She has a photographic memory of most sulfate and silicone-free hair products available on the high street and she’s always happy to recommend you her favorites.