Is It Possible To Straighten Your Hair As A Black Man?

Black men can have straight hair.

You do, however, need to be very careful to straighten black male hair the right way, otherwise you can do a lot of damage to it. Here is what you need to know.

The structure of hair

Before you can understand how hair straightening works, you need to understand how hair itself works.

Hair consists of two or three layers. From the inside to the outside, these are:

  • The medulla
  • The cortex
  • The cuticle

People with very fine hair are unlikely to have a medulla. People with afro hair generally will.

In the context of straightening black male hair, however, this doesn’t actually matter.

It’s the cortex and the cuticle that make the difference.

The cortex

Hair Under Microscope

The cortex is the core of your hair. It’s largely made up of keratin. Keratin performs many functions in the body.

One of them is to give your hair its texture. In other words, when you straighten your hair, what you’re actually doing is reshaping the keratin in your hair’s cortex.

The cuticle

Hair Cuticle Under Microscope

Your hair’s cuticle is formed of lots of tiny scales that overlap slightly. If your hair is in good condition, these lie flat along the cortex so your hair looks smooth.

As the condition of your hair starts to deteriorate, the scales on your cuticle start to stand up. This creates the “frizzy” look associated with excessively dry hair.

This frizziness can, however, have its uses, especially when it comes to straightening hair.

When the scales on your hair are standing upright, it’s easier for hair products to reach the cortex. 

This is why hairdressers and hair-product manufacturers sometimes recommend that you hold off conditioning your hair before applying their products.

They want the scales on the cuticle to be at least a little bit loose.

How hair straightening works

Keratin contains hydrogen. When your hair is cool and dry, these hydrogen bonds are very strong.

When you apply heat or liquid, the hydrogen bonds become weaker.

Eventually, they become weak enough to be reshaped. For example, you can straighten curly hair or curl straight hair.

How long this effect lasts depends on what process you use to create it.

Straightening black male hair with heated tools

If you want to straighten black male hair with heated tools, there are four key steps you need to follow.

  • Prepare your hair properly
  • Choose the right temperature
  • Use the right technique
  • Replace as much moisture as you can

Prepare your hair properly

It’s best to straighten hair the day after it has been washed. That way the cuticle will be at least slightly open. In general, however, this is not a deal-breaker.

You do, however, need to make sure that your hair is thoroughly brushed and/or combed.

In other words, when you start using your heated tools, you want to be focusing on smoothing out curls, not teasing out tangles and knots.

Choose the right temperature

Adjusting Temperature On Hair Straightener

Heated tools have different heat settings to accommodate different hair types.

The lowest settings are for the finest hair and the highest settings are for the thickest hair.

Black male hair tends to be very thick. This means that you are probably going to be looking at one of the higher settings.

It does not, however, mean that you should automatically go for the highest setting.

The safest approach is to start on a medium setting and see what effect it has.

If necessary, work your way up the heat settings, a little at a time, until you figure out what works on your hair.

Use the right technique

Think about ironing an item of clothing. You go smoothly over each section, a bit at a time, applying the minimum level of heat and pressure to get the job done.

Take the same approach to using heated tools to straighten your hair.

Replace as much moisture as you can

Heat is drying but your hair needs moisture.

This means that you want to use products such as heat protectants and intense, moisturizing conditioners to keep your hair in good shape.

Straightening black male hair with chemical treatments

If you’ve tried using heated tools to straighten black male hair, then you may have noticed that the effect only lasts as long as you can keep your hair dry.

This is because water also loosens the hydrogen bonds which bind your hair together.

The flip side of this, however, is that you can use a combination of water and chemicals to straighten your hair.

Common chemical hair straightening treatments include:

  • Chemical relaxants (perms)
  • Brazilian blowouts
  • Keratin hair treatments
  • Semi-permanent hair straightening
  • Thermal straightening (acid perms)

All of these treatments use some form of chemical to reconfigure the keratin in your hair’s cortex.

With chemical relaxants and thermal straightening, a neutralizer is then used to fix the hair into its new shape.

Chemical hair-straightening treatments take several hours to perform, but the effect lasts for several months.

Can you do it at home or should you go to the barber’s shop?

Heated hair tools are designed to be used at home.

Chemical hair-straightening treatments can be performed either at home or in a barber’s shop. Here’s how the two options compare.

Straightening black male hair at home – pros

The big advantage of straightening black male hair at home is that it will generally work out more affordable than going to the barber’s shop.

As a bonus, you can straighten your hair whenever you want.

You don’t have to book an appointment at the barber’s shop or hope that your barber is free to straighten your hair when you need it to be straightened.

Straightening black male hair at home – cons

The big disadvantage of straightening black male hair at home is that you’re never going to get the same results as you would if you went to a barber’s shop.

There are two reasons for this. 

Firstly, you’re not going to have the barber’s training, experience, and equipment. Even if you did, you’d be treating yourself.

That’s always more difficult than treating someone else. 

Secondly, you’re only going to be able to buy retail-grade products, whereas barbers can buy commercial-grade products.

You may find that a retail-grade hair-straightening product just smooths your curls into waves rather than straightening your hair completely.

You may also find that the effect only lasts for a relatively short time compared to hair-straightening treatments performed by a proper barber.

What’s more, all chemical hair-straightening products have a very strong smell, even retail-grade ones.

If you straighten your hair at home, you’re going to have to deal with this smell long after you’ve finished your hair-straightening treatment.

Straightening black male hair at the barber’s shop – pros

Black Men In Barber Shop

A good barber has the training, experience, and equipment to straighten black male hair properly.

They’ll help you choose the right chemical hair-straightening product for your needs and they’ll deal with the smell of it.

Straightening black male hair at the barber’s shop – cons

Having black male hair straightened at the barber’s shop is more expensive than doing it at home.

You’ll also (probably) need to book ahead, possibly quite far in advance as straightening black male hair generally takes several hours.

Dangers of hair straightening

There are some safety points you should consider before deciding whether or not you want to straighten your hair.

Dangers of hair straightening with heated tools

If you buy heated tools from a reputable supplier, the only real danger comes from the heat.

In short, you can burn your hair, your skin, and/or your home furnishings.

Dangers of hair straightening with chemical hair-straightening treatments

Natural Curly Hair

Chemical hair-straightening treatments use strong chemicals. These can irritate your eyes, nose, and skin. In some cases, they may trigger respiratory issues.

You can buy “natural” hair-straightening treatments, but you may not find them a great improvement.

In simple terms, if a “chemical-free” treatment is strong enough to do the same job as a chemical treatment, then it can probably cause the same issues as a chemical treatment.

The strength of chemical hair-straightening treatments can damage the hair.

As a minimum, they can cause split ends and breakage. They may also cause hair loss

You also need to think about what you are going to do when your new hair growth becomes obvious.

Your options are to treat the new growth, to live with the difference between the treated hair and the new hair or to cut your treated hair. 

The longer your hair is, the harder it can be to “break free” of the cycle of continually having your hair treated if you later decide that you want to go back to the natural look.

Famous black people who straighten their hair

A lot of the famous black people who straighten their hair are women.

These include Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, and Beyonce Knowles.

There are, however, several famous black men who straighten their hair (or who have done in the past). These include:

  • Yung Joc
  • Snoop Dogg
  • Nickolas Ashford
  • Verdine White
  • Bone Thugs N Harmony
  • Andre 3000
  • Al Sharpton
  • August Alsina
  • Omarion
  • Bobby Valentino
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