When I was younger, until about senior year of high school, my sisters and I would notoriously get our hair pressed by our family stylist, Lakeeta. When we weren’t doing relaxers we would get a silk press, or press and curl (which is what it was called back then), to straighten our curls and make them glossy.
Lakeeta would start by pulling out these bulky rod hot tools that were in the shape of a curler and a hot comb that was sizzling in a stove. We held our ears away from the hot comb — which visibly steamed on the hair — as we braved the hour session. The issue was that after we were done, our hair would feel heavy and extremely greasy. Today, however, hairstylists have upgraded this straightening process by opting for a silk press, where titanium and ceramic flat irons are used to silk out (read: straighten) the hair.
If you’re interested in straightening your natural curls, a silk press is the way to go. “A silk press is a non-chemical way to straighten naturally curl hair without permanently reconstructing the curl,” says Hairstory hairdresser Derrick Keith. Great for all hair types, “a silk press is a hair straightening method using hot tools and is usually used on curly hair with 3B and 4C curl types,” says Erinn Courtney, Hairstylist and StyleSeat Pro.
Unlike the traditional press and curl, silk press treatments are more controlled because the flat irons used have heat settings you can alter instead of the hot comb sitting on the stove. It doesn’t damage your curl pattern like a keratin treatment or relaxer would do, and it involves minimal heat damage.
According to Courtney, depending on the density of your hair, silk presses can take anywhere between one to three hours, whether at home or at a salon. Whichever option you choose, the process involves the below six steps.
Step 1: Cleanse With A Clarifying Shampoo
“The first step to achieving a perfect silk press is to start with clean hair because you never want to press your hair with old products and dirt in it,” Courtney explains. The stylist suggests using a clarifying shampoo to rid hair of excess oils, dirt, and product from previous styling.
All the experts emphasize the importance of washing your hair more than once. Unfortunately, any sort of residue or product buildup can burn your hair once heat is added.
Step 2: Apply A Nourishing Deep Conditioner
“Clarifying shampoos can be really drying so it’s always best to replenish the moisture that was lost in the process with a nourishing and hydrating deep conditioner,” shares Courtney. You should be looking for a conditioner packed with hydrating oils that will protect your hair from breakage and frizz, while improving the texture.
It’s important to let the conditioner sit for 20-30 minutes to reap the benefits (namely a strong and hydrated hair shaft). You can also opt to sit with a shower cap over the conditioner to help the product penetrate the hair. Once you are ready to wash out the conditioner, Nai’vasha, celebrity hairstylist and founder of Curl Queen, recommends you rinse with cool water to close the cuticle and hold in the moisture — this also allows the hair to lay flatter and makes detangling more manageable.
Step 3: Work In A Smoothing Heat Protectant
When applying heat of any kind to your hair, heat protectants are non-negotiable. These types of products will help create a barrier between your hair and any hot tools used, preventing any damage like breakage, disrupted curl pattern, or dry texture.
Step 4: Blow Dry The Hair In Sections
Next up, it’s time to blow dry the hair on medium to high heat. You can opt for one of two ways to blow dry: with a round brush and blow dryer or with a hair-dryer brush with comb attachment. Both will get you dry hair, but the experts say the comb attachment option is the easiest for the DIY route.
Keith recommends sectioning off hair from the front to back, top and sides and working each section separately until it’s all completely dry. He recommends starting at the ends of your hair and working your way to the root. “The better the blowout, the longer [the silk press] will last,” he says.
Step 5: Apply A Hydrating Serum
A lightweight hair serum will seal in more hydration and help produce a silky and bouncy finish for the silk press. Work the product into the ends, which tend to be drier, and run it through the hair with your fingers or a comb.
Step 6: Time To Straighten
With your flat iron on medium to high heat, straighten the hair from roots to ends, moving slowly, until you reach your desired result. As a tip: the experts encourage using a flat iron that has titanium plates as they help distribute heat more evenly than most ceramic flat irons. As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t need to pass through the hair sections more than once — this will help to minimize damage.
How To Maintain A Silk Press
“A good silk press can cost anywhere from $100-$300, depending on the stylist and the area in which you live in,” says Courtney. Depending on the texture of your hair, lifestyle, at-home care, and straightening history, a silk press can last from one to four weeks. Meaning, if you are active and enjoy working out, your silk press won’t last as long.
To extend the life of your silk press, all the experts recommend wrapping or pin-curling the hair at night and sleeping with a silk scarf or doobie to help maintain moisture and keep your style smooth. You should also avoid putting water or steam on your hair as this will derail the style and revert hair back to its natural state, so wear a shower cap when bathing .
Are Silk Presses Bad For Your Hair?
Short answer: no, as long as you follow the steps and don’t skip out on heat protectants. However, if a silk press is done too often (more than every three weeks) it can lead to heat damage and breakage.
If you want to make your curls super straight and sleek, a silk press is the way to go. It will last you a couple weeks, is affordable, and involves minimal heat damage when done correctly.
Below, shop the experts’ favorite products and hot tools on the market to help make your silk press easy and last longer.
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