Does a Straightener Damage Hair More Than a Curling Iron?

The higher the heat setting, the bigger the risk of damaging your hair.

Photo: Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images

To straighten or not to straighten? That is the question, especially if you're trying to cut down on the amount of damage your poor hair incurs. Being conscientious of the stresses you expose your hair to is a beauty trick that never goes out of style and will reward you with healthier hair every time.

Hair Straighteners vs. Curling Irons

While these two heated styling tools are total opposites, they do have a few things in common. Both, obviously, use high heat to temporarily change the shape of your hair. When you wrap sections of hair around the barrel of a curling iron the heat softens the bonds in your hair and allows your hair to take the shape of the barrel. When you run a flat iron through your hair, the clamping down of two flat pads compresses the hair sections and smooths them out like a clothes iron does wrinkled fabric.

Ionic and Infrared Technology

With the popularity of straightening irons came a serious need to ensure these heated styling tools weren't beating the heck out of hair everywhere. Today's high-end flat irons use infrared heat to warm up your hair from the inside out. This means less heat is needed to get the job done and less drying and damage is caused to your hair. Add to that the use of negative ions to instantly smooth the cuticle, making it softer, and there's a strong case for straighteners as the gentler of the two tools.

How Heat Damage Happens

Now, infrared and negative ions aside, both curling irons and hair straighteners can do a number on your hair if used incorrectly. In the end, both rely on high heat placed directly onto your hair, and that can be a recipe for disaster if you don't take precautions. Constant exposure to high heat puts your tresses at risk of lost moisture. The more moisture you loose, the more brittle your hair becomes. Keep it up and your hair will begin to break, no matter which tool you use.

How to Avoid the Damage

There's no need to sit by like a damsel with bad tresses. You can be your own hair's hero by practicing safe styling and protecting your hair as much as possible during the process. First, you must use a thermal styling spray. This is like armor for your hair and acts as a protective barrier between your hair shaft and the heat. Spritz it on each section just before the heat is applied and your hair will thank you. Also, don't crank up the heat on your styling tools. Most good-quality curling irons and flat irons have heat settings. Experiment with yours, starting at the lowest setting, and work your way up until you find the lowest possible setting that still gets the job done. More heat does not always equate with a better hairstyle.

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