Did You Know?Lady Jennifer Bell Schofield is credited with having invented the flat iron, in 1912. Though it was much simpler than the technology-driven devices of today, it had a similar design, that of two metal plates attached to a hinge with a handle.
It should be noted that there are no flat irons manufactured exclusively for African-American hair, but the ones available can do the job perfectly well. A flat iron generates heat and breaks down the hydrogen molecules trapped inside naturally curly hair, leaving them straight. The ceramic or metal plates move down the length of the hair, literally ironing the curls out. This effect is not permanent by any means, as once the hair is wet, the hydrogen bonds re-form, giving the hair its natural curls once again. Most flat irons have a standard plate-width of 1 inch, however, if your hair is long you can opt for a styling iron with a plate-width of up to 4 inches. African-American hair is naturally curled but it is also susceptible to heat damage, due to its dry texture, hence one needs a flat iron that both straightens and nourishes the hair. Chemical straighteners can also be used, but it's always better to avoid applying harsh chemicals to hair. Following are the materials used to make hair iron plates and each has its own pros and cons.
Types of Flat Irons
- Ionic: All flat irons, regardless of make or brand, work with the help of negative ions to give you that smooth straight mane. Hair has a positive bond of hydrogen which is destroyed by the negative charge of the flat iron, rendering it straight. Ceramic irons emit negative ions, whereas, titanium and tourmaline, increase the output of these ions.
- Ceramic: It is the most common material used in the manufacture of flat iron plates and is widely available. Ceramic flat irons transfer heat evenly, all over the applied area, and thus give a streamlined result. However, one must be careful while purchasing ceramic flat irons, as many manufacturers only use a coating of ceramic on their products which chips away with repeated usage, exposing the metal beneath. This may damage the hair if they come in contact with the hot metal. Always go for a pure ceramic iron which is a tad more fragile, but gives excellent results.
- Tourmaline: As the name suggests, these flat irons are made of Tourmaline, which is a gemstone and a great source of negative ions. Tourmaline is pressed to a fine powder and a coating is then applied to the plates of the flat iron, it helps in improving the output of negative ions emitted from the flat iron. Tourmaline irons render a damage-free and lustrous look to the hair.
- Titanium: Titanium conducts heat faster than ceramic, and is also a source of negative ions. The benefits of a titanium flat iron lie in the speed of use and minimal temperature variation during usage. Titanium plates are also a tad on the expensive side.
Let's take a look at some of the popular hair straightening irons that give good results for African-American hair, their features and the price-points they are available for.
Karmin G3 Salon Pro Hair Styling Iron
A popular choice for both professional and casual users, the Karmin G3 Pro comes with 100% pure tourmaline plates, Ion-field technology for preserving natural oils found in hair and multiple heat settings for all types of hair. It comes in a slim design, with drop-safe technology and a 3-meter tangle-free cord which swivels a full 360° to give you all-round reach. The package also includes a carry case and heat mat for the flat-iron which retails for about $130 online.
FHI Heat Platform 1 Inch Professional Ceramic Tourmaline Styling Iron
FHI Heat Platform Ceramic Styling Iron is a 1 inch flat iron that comes with FHI's trademark Nano-Fuzeion technology. It generates up to 20 times more negative ions, and an advanced PTFC heater allows for maximum infrared heat. FHI is a popular brand used by hairstylists the world over, and the Platform series is among the best flat irons on the market. The average cost of FHI Platform Ceramic Styling Iron is around $98.
Farouk CHI GF1539 Turbo Big 2 Inch Flat Iron
Farouk Chi GF1539 Turbo is a 2 inch ceramic flat iron and retails for around $129 online. It has features like Flash-Heating which takes the temperature to about 150° F - 180° F in a minimum of 6-10 seconds. It has a light-weight design and the added benefit of locking in hair color as it irons. It ships with a 10-foot heavy-duty electrical cord and a connection which can turn a full 360° to avoid tangling.
1.0 HAI NEO Styling Iron
HAI NEO Styling Iron comes with a revolutionary NEO plate technology that claims to provide smoother movement between plates and hair, better than even ceramic plates. This is because they generate less friction between the plates and hair and also prevent unnecessary flattening and hair breakage. The NEO plates are also embedded with nano-tourmaline for that added boost of negative ions. The iron has a memory button that remembers the last heat setting it was used on, and a simple press of the button brings one back to those settings. It comes with a 9 foot, 360° swivel cord, and a 12-month warranty. The manufacturer claims NEO Styling iron is specifically designed for damaged or chemically treated hair. It is, however, on the expensive side and retails for about $150 online.
Forma Trinity Titanium Ceramic Flat Iron
As the name suggests, the Trinity has a combination of the best, 100% titanium plates with ceramic coating and infrared technology for even heating. It keeps hair healthy by locking moisture and natural oils inside, and also removes odors and other bacteria that cause hair damage. It also has an automatic shut-off system to save power. The iron also comes with a 360° swivel cord and a free heatproof pouch for easy storage. It is priced at about $150, and can be easily found on online retail stores.
Revlon Perfect Heat Professional Straightener with Ceramic
If you are on a budget, you can consider the Revlon Perfect Heat Professional Straightener with Ceramic, a budget styler that comes in at a mere $35 and may be found online for even cheaper. It has 1-inch ceramic coated plates for a friction-free ironing experience and comes with 25 heat settings for all types of hair. There is also the option of a quick heat-up, where the iron is good to go in 60 seconds. All this for a very reasonable price.
Hair Straightening Tips
- The right size: Picking a flat iron which is right for the length and texture of your hair is very important. If you have short tresses, irons with one-inch or half-inch plates will work best, however, for longer and thicker hair it's best to go for 2-inch or even 4-inch plates. The right iron will be easy to use and will give quicker results.
- Heat settings: Always make sure the heat settings on your iron are suitable for your type of hair. Usually, stylists recommend a heat setting of about 250° F to 300° F for fine hair, about 300° F to 350° F for average locks and around 400° F for thick hair. If possible, you can purchase an iron with a variable heat setting, to suit your hair type and preference.
- Preparing your hair: Before you put your hair through the flat iron it's important to get ready for the procedure. Start by shampooing your hair with a soft natural shampoo, then use a conditioner, preferably with a heat protection element, to smoothen the strands. Create bounce by blow-drying for a few minutes and smoothen with a long-bristled brush.
- Work in sections: If you have long thick hair, it's best to clip them in manageable sections so you can iron with optimum efficiency. Start ironing from the roots outwards, and move in a smooth continuous motion, evenly distributing the heat from root to tip.
Choosing a styling iron worth its salt is not easy, as there are a wide variety of products available, with a multitude of features. It is advisable to go for an expensive, feature-laden product when your lifestyle demands it, otherwise one can always get good results with an over-the-counter flat iron. It is also worthwhile to note, that any flat iron will contribute to some hair damage in the long run. The heat from the iron will dry your hair and weaken its roots over time. The way around this is to use a hair protecting gel or lotion, before you start ironing, as they tend to absorb most of the heat that would otherwise have penetrated your hair.