As I was walking to class with rather damp hair this morning (which I really don't recommend in winter, by the way, because my hair literally froze temporarily and I couldn't touch it until it dried for fear of snapping it) I started mentally measuring how long it had been since I had last used heat on my hair. I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I have not used heat on my hair in over a month. Now I'm not one to straighten my hair more than a few times a year, so when I say I've avoided heat I mainly mean I've avoided the blowdryer. I'm a rather low maintenance girl when it comes to hair (and makeup), but I often go on blowdrying kicks. For several months last year, I thought the only way to make my hair look good in the morning if I showered at night was to blow it dry every single night. Then I took a break from the blow dryer for several months, and this fall I went for another couple of months believing that the only way my hair could ever look decent was to blow dry it after showering every morning. Needless to say, I have a very dysfunctional relationship with my hair dryer.
Yes, it's ionic and supposedly wonderful, but these days I'm not only better off without it, but I've got no time to blow dry my hair anyway. In any case: heat and hair. I'm on a bit of a ramble, aren't I? If you're still with me, I give you a round of applause and a hearty thank-you-for-listening. So to take us back to the present, I'm thinking about how every time I get a haircut I promise myself I will no longer use heat on my hair. Well I'm proud to say that this time I've held out pretty well. I got my hair trimmed on December 29, 2010, which I know you were all dying to know, and I haven't used heat since.
Which brings me full circle back to the title of the post, referring to this question: What does heat actually do to your hair? I mean, hair is essentially dead protein so it can't really be killed because it's already dead. It can't really be healthy, because it isn't alive. Redundant, no?
This is where the research came in. I called up my old friend Google and asked him what exactly are the effects of heat on hair. I came up with these informative articles and some new knowledge about the relationship between thermal styling and hair:
Image from the website above
What I understand from these articles is that heat essentially breaks down the bonds of hair temporarily, and the effects of moisture in the air will bring hair back to its natural state. However, heat also opens the cuticle. This can be a good or bad thing. If moisturizing or deep conditioning treatments are applied, heat can help open the cuticle so the treatments are better absorbed. Too much opening, on the other hand, can permanently damage the cuticle. Also, heat can actually restructure the hair by breaking down proteins. If hair is straightened too often, the hair itself can be trained to appear straight in the long run, and it will take a long time without heat for the proteins to renature themselves.
These websites provide good basic information on heat and hair, and I recommend them if you'd like to read a bit more in depth on the effects of heat on hair. As for me, I'm going to try to remain heatless, if you will, for as long as possible. So take this information as you will, and may you always have beautiful tresses!
Just don't freeze your hair.