According to a new survey, we are a nation wedded to our hair straighteners. A third of all women — and an astonishing one in five men — now own a pair. And more than a quarter refuse to leave the house without first ironing our hair into Jennifer Aniston-like smoothness.
But trichologists say that the damage caused by straighteners can actually make hair frizzier and curlier, setting up a ‘straightener addiction’ cycle that can, eventually, cause hair to appear thin and dull.
Consultant Trichologist Iain Sallis (hairmedic.co.uk) is Britain’s only hospital-based trichologist with seven private clinics around the UK. He says, ‘I regularly see women panicking because their hair has apparently started to fall out. But in fact, their hair is just breaking off due to their straightener addiction.’
Hair-splitting: Ceramic hair straighteners do save a lot of time, but they get so hot they damage your hair
He explains how the invention of ceramic straighteners in the late Nineties ushered in a straight hair revolution overnight. Previously, straighteners had been steel-plated and took 20 minutes to reach an effective temperature, but the new material took less than one minute to reach more than 200c.
It’s the new technology, however, that created the real damage. Hair is very tough, but any heat over 180c will damage the cuticle of the hair — the hard outer protective coating on each strand.
Under the microscope, the cuticle looks like overlapping slates or scales. These should lie flat to provide a smooth, protective coating over the ‘cortex’, a twisted bundle of protein fibres which make up over 80 per cent of the hair and give it its internal strength and flexibility.
‘Think of each hair as an armour-plated twisted rope.
Repeated straightening causes a breakdown in the cuticle. The ‘slates’ start to lift and the rough, uneven surface exposes the cortex, allowing the fibres to unravel. This starts as split ends, but can reach all the way up the hair, causing it to break off.
Sallis says that straightener addiction starts when women use them regularly at a high heat. He explains: ‘Straighteners are easy to use, so women become reliant on them. But too much heat and inadequate protection makes hair dry and frizzy.
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‘Women control this new “frizz” by straightening the hair even more, which dries and damages it further, causing yet more frizzing, which requires more straightening and so on. Surprisingly, my patients often do not link the increase in frizz with the use of straighteners, even when their hair starts to break off.’
He says that for safe straightening, it’s vital to turn down the heat. ‘Some straighteners reach over 220c, which is way beyond what hair can withstand. Keep your straighteners below 180c,’ he warns.
He also cautions that using hair-care products won’t necessarily save your hair.
‘I have heard so many times “it can’t be my straighteners, I always use a heat protection on my hair before I use them”. Don’t fall into that trap!’ says Sallis. ‘Heat defence sprays are not a magic potion. They do reduce the damage, but the hair will still be affected if you use straighteners every day.’
Paolo Lai, the ‘Hair Healer’ at celebrity salon Neville Hair and Beauty, is an expert in restoring gloss to frazzled locks. He sees many straightener addicts in the salon and agrees that growing numbers of women are suffering side-effects.
‘Many of my clients, especially those with coloured or highlighted hair, have found it becomes brittle and even breaks if straighteners are used too often,’ he says.
So what should you do if your hair has been damaged?
Lai recommends putting your hair into rehab by taming frizz with an ultra-nourishing treatment. ‘I recommend Kerastase products such as Masque Intense, Forceintense and The Elixir Ultime to reconstruct your hair so you don’t feel the need to smooth it so much,’ he says.
‘If you spot frizz, get a trim instead of reaching for the straighteners. And to prevent more damage, use boar bristle brushes that don’t contain any metal prongs.’
Trichologist Philip Kingsley agrees conditioning is key.
‘The best way to counteract damage is to use a deep conditioner before shampooing,’ he says. ‘Work it into the hair with the fingertips, particularly the ends, leave it on for 20 minutes or so then wash it out with a moisturising shampoo and after-shampoo conditioner. Philip Kingsley Elasticizer or Elasticizer Extreme will work wonders.’
Elliot Bassila, Creative Director at the Nicky Clarke salon, recommends switching to a silk pillowcase from silkperfect.com to banish frizz .
‘Sleeping on silk can help to prevent split ends while locking in the hair’s natural oils to leave your mane looking luscious.’
If you can’t give up your irons, Lai says that spending more on your straightener could save your hair.
The straighteners market is now worth £100 million - 56 per cent of the total sales of hair appliances
‘Pick one of the top-end hair straighteners, which has infra-red radiation produced from high-temperature ceramic plates or ones coated in the precious stone tourmaline. These can help seal the moisture in your hair,’ he advises.
Hairstylist Jack Howard of Equus hair adds: ‘Only use your straighteners on blow-dried hair, and never on wet hair. Avoid going over the same area twice. Try not to straighten right to the tips as this is the most fragile part of the hair.’
New smoothing treatments include the Brocato ‘Curl Interrupted’ super gentle treatment using keratin (the protein which is found in hair, skin and nails) which lasts for up to 12 weeks (from £120 at Equus hair).
There is also LLT (Long Lasting Treatment) by the inventors of the first permanent Japanese straightening system, Yoko. This cross between a conditioner and straightener takes just 15 minutes to apply and contains collagen and keratin. It leaves hair looking full but groomed and lasts up to four weeks.
Jack Howard at Equus says: ‘With these treatments you can have a sleek look with minimal blow drying which can end your addiction to daily straightening.’
And if you need more encouragement, style gurus say that the era of flattened hair is over. The biggest buzz in hair styling gadgets is the Babyliss Big Hair styler (£40), a combination of brush and hairdryer which gives smooth but volumised hair. The catwalks of London Fashion Week last month were full of bouncy blow-outs and curls.
Top session stylist Stephen Lowe says that the most stylish heads will be going cold-turkey on their hair irons this summer.‘Waves have definitely been tumbling down the catwalk this season. For the most fashionable look, you should say goodbye to poker-straight hair and instead embrace beautiful healthy hair with movement,’ he adds.