How to choose the best straightening treatment for your hair type
There was some controversy a few years back when Googling ‘unprofessional hairstyles’ brought up multiple images of naturally kinky styles, while Googling ‘professional hairdos’ resulted in naturally straight hair. The problem was … it felt like a race issue rather than a matter of grooming. It’s still a tricky issue, because many workplaces and schools have similar ideas on ‘appropriate hair’ so it’s something that still flares up sporadically.
Still, even in the west, curly girls feel pressured to untangle their tresses. At some point, society universally decided straight is best, and not just in regards to hair. It’s why some women keep their hair curly as a political statement, or as a marker of their identity and beliefs. Other girls just like it that way, in the same way many girls just like straight hair. Similarly, a lot of us wish our hair was longer, so we add extensions.
It’s interesting that while you can use a wig to make your hair shorter, curlier, or more colourful, it’s the straightening bit that raises temperatures. After all, using a perm to permanently curl your hair doesn’t seem to raise much ire. Well, politics and social justice a side, sometimes a girl just wants her hair straight. Maybe she wants it longer for a day, or wants to try something different. Or maybe she just likes it that way.
Manual straightening options
Blow-dryers, tongs, curling irons, or flat irons can make it straighter for a few hours (or days, depending on your curl pattern). Long-term, you need to use a chemical product. The brand you choose will depend on your hair type and texture. Hair is usually classed using numbers 1 to 4 and letters a to c. 1a is fine straight hair, like stereotypical Caucasian hair. 4c is tightly coiled zigzags, like stereotypical African hair.
Most of us are shades between, and sometimes, different parts of your head have different textures. It’s possible for the ‘baby hair’ at your temple to be 2b, your crown to be 4a, and your nape to be 3c. Your product selection is based on the texture of the bulk of your hair. Type 4 needs relaxers specifically formulated for them, like Revlon, Dark & Lovely, or Beautiful Beginnings (a children’s line of relaxers). Each of these products has different strengths (mild, regular, super) to account for curl patterns. Super is recommended for 4c.
For Type 2 or Type 3 hair, straighteners like Vigorol are good. Using the right product for the right duration is important. If you use something too mild, it won’t take, which means you’ll leave it longer and risk damaging your scalp. If you use something too harsh, you’ll start to burn before your straightening session is complete. The wrong choice of straightener could – at best – make your hair fall off. At worst, you could get severe burns on your scalp.
When it comes to chemical relaxers, it’s important to have a skilled hairdresser who has worked with your hair for a while and understands all its quirks and textures. They can help you find the right brand. Also, be careful about doing your hair in different locations. If you’re on holiday or have moved to a new country, navigate the hair scene with care, because little things can turn into big things. For example, in Kenya, a ‘perm’ is the colloquial term for hair straightening while in the west, ‘perm’ is short for ‘permanent curl’.
If you want a curly chemical style in Kenya, ask for a ‘wash-and-set’ for a wavy look, or ‘texturiser’ for tighter curls. (Note that texturiser doesn’t actually curl your hair. It loosens tight coils/zig-zags giving Type 4 hair more ‘relaxed’ curl and ‘bounce’. So it won’t work on straight hair.) In the 80s and early 90s, you could ask for a ‘curly kit’ to get the wet gelled s-curl effect, but it has since fallen out of style. Similarly, asking for a ‘bob’ in East Africa will get you a very different hair cut from what you’re expecting.
When in doubt – regardless of your hairdresser’s nationality of location –download a photo of the hairdo you have in mind. And when you first walk in, look around. Check out the hairstyles being sported by other patrons, and by the hairdressers themselves. This could give you an idea of what’s common and popular there. It could also show you something pretty that you may want to try. It’s okay to opt for a straightener designated for European hair, Asian hair, African hair, or ‘ethnic’ hair. At the hair salon, forget about your skin tone and just find a product and style that suits your facial shape and makes you feel beautiful.