Hair Straightening 101: How to Use a Flat Iron (Plus a Few Great Tips!)

Have you ever had a week when your hair behaved itself perfectly? But then when you had an event or night out planned it got all bent out of shape an hour before you had to walk out the door?

Most of us can recognize the feeling of defeat when you realized you had to put your hair up in a bun or risk being mistaken for Attila the Hun. And while I love my wild, unpredictable curly-wavy hair (thanks to the Curly Girl movement that’s been sweeping the world), knowing how to use a flat iron has saved my neck more times than I can count.

Using a flat iron to straighten hair was almost like a rite of passage during the teenage years and still is, for many people. But if you never had an older sister or girlfriend to teach you how to use one, I’m here to fix that for you.

I’m going to spill all the details about hair straightening with a flat iron. How to prep your hair beforehand, how to do the straightening bit, and how to keep your straightened hair sleek and frizz-free all day (or night).

Throughout this article, I’ll also drop a couple of tips on how to make your hair look like it was straightened at the salon, as well as how you can prevent and treat hair damage from using a flat iron.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s start your journey to straight and silky hair!

Preparing Your Hair for the Flat Iron

You might be tempted to grab a flat iron and just start straightening your hair. But that’s not how this works. Preparing your hair before ironing it makes the straightening process much easier. It also ensures your hair stays sleek and straight for longer, as well as protecting it from heat damage.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Wash your hair with a shampoo and then condition it using products specifically meant for straight hair. John Frieda’s hair care products are a hit with customers everywhere and leave your hair feeling soft, silky, and less prone to frizz.

Pro-Tip: Rinse out your conditioner using the coldest water you can stand, as this makes your hair smooth and less frizzy.

  • Gently pat your hair until it is damp. Don’t rub or twist it, as this creates frizz and tangles. Pro-Tip: Use an old T-shirt or microfiber towel to keep your hair soft and free from knots, frizz, and split ends.
  • Once your hair is damp, apply a thermal protection product all over it. You can use a wide-toothed comb to make sure it is applied evenly.
  • Blow-dry your hair using the lowest heat setting. Your hair needs to be completely dry before straightening it. Point the dryer down your hair, in the direction it grows to encourage it to dry straight.
  •  Next, comb your dried hair to ensure it has no knots or tangles. Then, split your hair into several sections and pin them up. The thicker your hair, the more sections you need to make.

Flat-Ironing Your Hair

Now that your hair is all prepped and ready, it’s time for the magic to begin! Grab your straightener–if you don’t have one, this ghd Platinum+ Hair Straightener is easy to use and super safe for your hair.

  1. Plug your flat iron in and switch it on. Choose the numbered heat setting but don’t think the higher the number, the faster you can straighten your hair. The thicker and coarser your hair, the higher the setting you need. Start with a lower setting to avoid damaging your hair.
  2. Take a section of your hair and hold the straightener as close to the roots as possible. To avoid burning yourself, start 1 inch away from your scalp if you have thin and wavy hair. For coarse, curly hair, start a little closer to your scalp to straighten your roots as well.
  3. Clamp the iron down so the heated plates touch with your hair between them. Be firm but don’t squeeze your hair between the plates; this can create weird ridges or even burn your hair off.
  4. Pass the flat iron down the whole length of your hair. Use one fluid motion from your roots right to the ends of your hair. Most importantly, don’t hold the flat iron in one place for too long.

Pro-Tip: Take your time for this part. Be slow and gentle and don’t pull or tug on your hair.

  1. Pass the straightener down the section of hair another 2-3 times or until your hair looks straight and sleek. As a rule of thumb, you will have to go over the same area multiple times but doing so more than thrice will damage your hair.
  2. Unclip another section of hair and repeat the process. Keep going until you’ve straightened all the sections. Remember, seeing steam rise from the iron plates or your hair is normal, but if you smell something burning, stop straightening your hair immediately.

Pro-Tip: Keep an eye on the temperature. Make sure your flat iron doesn’t go above 350 degrees. If you have fine, colored or bleached hair, make sure the temperature doesn’t go beyond 300 degrees.

  1. Once you’ve straightened large chunks of your hair, apply a smoothing or anti-frizz serum to those sections before continuing with the rest of your hair. This will prevent your hair from going frizzy after you’ve straightened it.

Pro-Tip: When straightening your hair, go around your head and flat iron from one side to another. This will help you separate the straightened hair from the un-straightened hair. If your hair is prone to tangling, brush each section after unpinning it and before you pass the straightener through it.

Keeping Your Hair Straight Afterward

Since straightening your hair takes time, patience, and energy, you want your straightened hair to last for as long as possible without wilting or going frizzy. With just a bit of extra effort, you can keep your hair pin-straight all day long!

  • Blow-dry your hair again to set it. Use the cold setting with the lowest airflow and use a brush to ‘guide’ your hair in a straight motion to set it the way a salon would.
  • Use a setting spray to ‘lock’ your straight hair in place. You can also add a little more anti-frizz serum to tame flyaways. Products with silicones are usually good for preventing frizz.
  • Keep your hair dry as rain, humidity, and moisture can make your hair poof up again. Carrying an umbrella is a great idea if you think it might rain.

Post-Straightening Hair Care

Frequently straightening your hair can damage it in the long run, since exposure to heat can make your hair brittle and dry. To mitigate some of the damage, you can try a few of these things:

  • Always use a heat-protective spray before styling your hair with a straightener, curler, crimper, or any kind of heat tool.
  • Wash your hair well after straightening it and get all the product you applied out.
  • If your hair is brittle, try an at-home protein treatment once a month.
  • Deep condition your hair every week. (This ones my all-time favorite!)
  • Use cold water when rinsing your hair and let it air dry as much as possible. If you’re staying in, ditch the hair dryer and give your hair some downtime to breathe.

Wrapping Up

Straight hair is gorgeous and easy to style. Once you learn how to use a flat iron, you can straighten your hair in just 15 minutes and look polished and put together for any event you have waiting.

While there is a bit of a learning curve, anyone can get the hang of straightening their hair at home. Remember, your hair is unique and will take some time to learn how to straighten. You don’t need to worry too much about long-term damage as long as you care for your hair properly before and after straightening it.

Now that you know everything about flat irons and how to straighten your hair, hit the town and flaunt your sleek and amazing locks!

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