Skip to main content

Turning up the heat on styling? You’ll want to protect your hair

Turn down the temperature and other ways to protect hair from heat styling

You can likely tell when your skin is getting damaged from the heat, like the water or the sun. When this damage shows, you can quickly move to stop the harm by applying sunscreen or making the water cooler.

The point is that our skin tends to raise red flags about heat damage more quickly than our hair. Damage from heat styling can accumulate over time. As a result, you may be dealing with pesky side effects, wondering if you can undo the damage.

Related Videos

Prevention is the best medicine, and fixing it is a challenge.

These tips will help you protect hair from heat when styling and work on any issues you’re already having.

a man blow drying his hair at barber shop

Why does heat styling damage my hair?

Let’s get scientific for a second. Every single strand of your hair has at least two layers of hair: The cuticle (outer) and the cortex (middle or inner). Some people have a medulla as their innermost layer of hair. 

Heat styling alters the bonds in your hair and damages the cuticle, which protects the cortex. Since the cortex keeps hair strong, the lack of protection weakens it. Cue the breakage and clogged shower drains.

Signs of heat-related hair damage include the following:

  • Dryness
  • Dullness
  • Split ends
  • Frizziness
  • Flyaways or trouble getting your hair to lay flat
  • Frayed texture
  • Discoloration
  • Hair loss

a gigantic showerhead

How can I protect hair from heat styling?

Going back and trying to fix problems caused by heat styling can be distressing and get expensive. Your best bet is to protect hair from heat styling from the get-go. These tips should help.

Turn down the heat

The “less is more” cliché holds true when styling your hair. You may think turning that blow dryer all the way up, or a tool to 450 degrees will give you the best look. However, it’s not necessary to max out on heat. Begin by trying out the lowest setting and gradually increase as necessary. The process may require a little bit of trial and error to find your perfect temperature. Around 200 to 300 degrees is usually best.

People with fine hair will want to stay as low as possible. Their tresses are already thinner and can be more brittle.

Use a heat protectant

Heat protectants are like sunscreen or an umbrella for your hair when you heat style it. You’ll want to use one every time you heat-style your mane.

Look for an anti-frizz protectant with keratin, a protein that also naturally occurs in the hair to keep it strong. Silicones like Cyclomethicone and dimethicone can keep hair hydrated and smooth. Opt for a product that protects against the maximum heat — usually 450 degrees – even if you probably don’t need to go that high.

Take a break

Limiting heat styling to once or twice per week is best, but even switching to every other day can make an impact. If you can’t bear to do that, start with one day off per week — you may use that day to get creative with ways to style your hair or learn to love your au natural look.

Choose gentle shampoos and conditioners

Be sure to wash hair frequently with shampoo and conditioner to keep it clean and hydrated. The rule about not washing daily applies here, though. Natural oils actually help protect the hair. Every other day should protect without stripping hair of these essential oils. For a customized approach based on your hair type, speak with your barber or hairstylist.

a man getting his hair cut

Can you reverse heat-damaged hair?

That’s the $1 million question. Many products and professionals claim to be able to fix tresses miraculously after years of heat styling.

Sadly, you can’t undo what’s been done. Keep in mind that, like sun exposure and aging, heat-damaged hair is a cumulative result. If you forget heat protectant once, you’re probably fine. Just don’t make it a habit.

However, your hair is made up of dead cells that can’t pivot, and your body isn’t going to send new cells to fix what’s already been done. Once the cortex is exposed, it becomes weaker and more susceptible to damage. The only way to completely eliminate damage is to shave your head and start fresh. Go ahead and do that if you want — but it’s not necessary.

There are ways to manage heat-damaged hair while preventing future damage. All of the above preventative measures apply. Other ways to manage heat-damaged hair include:

  • Hair trims. Regular hair trims will nix split ends, gradually helping you to nix damaged hair.
  • Air dry your hair. If you can’t put the curling iron down, at least let your hair air dry. It’s one less time your hair will get exposed to heat over the course of a day.
  • Switch shampoos. Look for ones specifically for moisturizing and repairing heat-damaged hair. Your favorite pro can help you choose one.

It’s best to prevent heat damage to your hair, as reversing it is impossible unless you’re open to shaving your head. Minimizing use of heat tools is best, even if it means switching to using them every other day or allowing hair to air dry. When you do use heat tools, be sure to use a protectant and set the temperature to the lowest possible setting. If you already have heat damage, book a trip to the barber pronto for a trim. It’ll start the process of getting rid of damaged split ends. Switch to a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner, but don’t use it every day — your hair’s oils act as a natural protectant.

Editors' Recommendations

Try these 9 best body washes to freshen up your 2023
Looking for the best body wash for men? Our top picks
A man takes a shower.

The best body washes separate themselves from the pack because they do more than just cleanse your skin. A truly great body wash will also smell great, cleanse your body while also hydrating your skin, works easily in the shower or tub, and leaves you feeling perfectly clean and refreshed. Now picking what's best for your skin type is easier, as we examine the very best body washes for men. Whether you're coming home from a workout or looking to clean up after a long day of traveling, we have a body wash that's right for you.

Sure, you can find hundreds of body washes on the market today, but finding what's best for you may be a bit of a challenge. What should you do? Do you choose the one whose packaging you find most attractive, or do you go for the body wash that smells the best? Our best bet, try and find one that checks all the boxes that you're looking for. Here is our list of the best body wash for men in 2023.

Read more
Do women really like beards? Find out what they think
From stubble to full beards, do women really like facial hair as much as we think?
Smiling man with a trim beard.

It's a question that's probably been on your mind these past few years, especially if you grew a beard during the early stages of the pandemic, and more so if you've kept that beard going. Men might love the look, but do women really like beards? There's actually more research and evidence out there on the topic than you might think, and it seems more and more common that guys everywhere are sporting facial hair of some sort.

A beard could be a personal style move and fit in nicely with your personal style or wardrobe. It could also be a nice change of pace for your overall look if ever you've wanted to try out a refreshed grooming routine. There are plenty of beard styles for men to choose from, and you're now one step closer to figuring out if women like face scruff. You've got questions — and we've got answers.

Read more
Spring skincare tips: Get your skin ready for brighter days ahead
These spring skincare tips will help you hit the reset button after a long winter
man receiving a facial

At last, warmer days are ahead. The first months of the year are often a time to hit the refresh button and think about tweaks you can make to become the best version of yourself. Yet short, cold days make motivation feel hard.

The changing seasons — from winter to spring — offer another chance. The polite nudges are everywhere, from the bright-colored short-sleeved shirts and polos on retailers’ home pages to the patio furniture on store floors. Lost in the shuffle of planning warm-weather parties and vacations: Skincare. As the weather shifts, so too should your routine.

Read more