Heat Damage on 4C Hair: The Ultimate Guide

heat damage on 4c hair

If you’re a 4c natural, then you know that heat damage is one of your biggest enemies. Too much heat can cause your hair to become dry, brittle, and prone to breakage. This guide will discuss the causes of heat damage on 4c hair, how to prevent it, and how to manage it if it is already damaged. We will also provide tips and advice for using heat tools safely and effectively. So if you’re ready to learn more about how to protect your 4c hair from the dangers of heat styling, keep reading!

What is Heat Damage on 4C hair?

Heat damage on hair occurs due to exposure to high temperatures. It can happen from:

  • Using heat styling tools such as curling irons, flat irons, and blow dryers
  • Heat exposure from the sun or other sources
  • Hot water showers or baths

When heat damage occurs, it primarily causes the hair cuticles to become raised and the hair’s inner structure (cortex) to change.

Hair cuticles are the outermost layer of the hair and are responsible for protecting the hair’s inner structure.

The cortex is the hair’s second layer, made up of protein fibres that give hair strength and elasticity. Heat damage can cause these proteins to break down, leading to a variety of problems, such as:

  • Dryness
  • Brittleness
  • Split ends
  • Breakage
  • Tangling
hair structure

In extreme cases, heat damage can cause the hair to lose its natural curl pattern and become permanently straightened or curled.

While heat damage is a severe problem, it is also one of the most avoidable.

With proper care and precautions, you can protect your hair from heat damage and keep it looking healthy and beautiful.

Is Heat Bad for Your Hair?

While heat and heat styling can damage your hair, it is not necessarily bad for your hair.

Heat can benefit your hair if you use the right tools and techniques.

When used correctly, heat styling can help to:

  • Temporarily lift cuticles for easier penetration of hair products such as deep conditioners and masks.
  • Stimulate blood flow to the scalp, which can promote hair growth
  • Create long-lasting styles that would be difficult to achieve with other methods
  • Make hair appear shinier and fuller.

Levels of Heat damage on 4C hair

There are different levels of heat damage. Each level depends on how much heat you have applied to your hair and how long.

The following are the different levels of heat damage, from mild to severe:

  1. Mild heat damage: This is the least severe type of heat damage. It can cause the hair to feel dry and straw-like, and it may appear dull. With this level of damage, the cuticles are only slightly raised, and the cortex is unchanged.
  2. Moderate heat damage: This type of heat damage is more serious. It can lead to dryness, split ends, and breakage. Heat damage significantly raises the cuticles and begins to change the cortex at this level. 
  3. Severe heat damage: This is the most severe type of heat damage. Heat damage entirely raises the cuticles and severely damages the cortex. It can cause the hair to become permanently straightened or curled, and it may also cause the hair to fall out.

8 Tell-tale Signs of Heat Damaged Hair

Several signs can indicate heat damage. If you notice any of the following, your hair has likely been heat-damaged:

1. Dryness and Dullness

Hair contains water and natural oils that help keep it hydrated. When you apply heat to your hair, it strips away the natural moisture.

Moisture begins to evaporate from the hair strands at temperatures above 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius).

When heat depletes water and natural oils, the hair can become dry, brittle, and prone to breakage.

If your hair feels dry and straw-like, or if it is breaking more easily than usual, you likely have heat damage.

2. Highly Porous

Hair porosity measures how well your hair can absorb and retain moisture.

When the cuticle layer is raised and damaged, it creates tiny openings or pores in the hair shaft.

Broken cuticles characterize high porosity hair. Such cuticles allow too much moisture to enter the hair, leading to frizz, tangles, and split ends.

Damaged cuticles also make it difficult for the hair to retain moisture, leading to dryness and breakage.

Excessive heat destroys the cuticle layer, leading to highly porous hair.

If you are not sure whether your hair is high porosity, you can conduct a simple test at home.

Take a strand of your hair and place it in a glass of water. If the strand floats, it has low porosity. If it sinks, it has high porosity.

3. Loss of Curl Pattern

Heat damage can cause the hair to lose its natural curl pattern due to the changes in the cortex.

If your hair was previously curly and is now straight, or if it has lost its curl definition, you likely have heat damage.

Even after washing and conditioning, heat-damaged hair will not return to its natural state.

4. Incorrect Hair Colour

Heat damage can also cause the hair to change colour. It causes the pigment of your hair (natural or dyed) to fade or become discoloured.

You may notice that your hair colour is not as vibrant as it used to be or has become patchy and uneven.

Further, the high porosity of heat-damaged hair may absorb an excessive amount of dye, leading to the unintended hair colour.

If your hair was previously a different colour and is now lighter or darker, you likely have heat damage.

5. Split Ends

Split ends are a common sign of heat damage. When the hair is heated, the water inside the strands expands.

This expansion puts pressure on the cuticle layer, causing it to lift and split. The heat also damages the cortex, leading to further splits.

If your hair has split ends, it may indicate that you have heat damage.

6. Lacks Elasticity

Elasticity is a measure of how much your hair can stretch before breaking.

When heat damage occurs, it weakens the proteins in the cortex and makes the hair more brittle. As a result, heat-damaged hair lacks elasticity and is more prone to breakage.

If you find that your hair breaks more easily than usual, you likely have heat damage.

7. Hair Loss

Heat damage can also cause the hair to fall out. When the hair follicles are damaged, they may no longer be able to support the hair shafts.

As a result, the hair falls out and may not grow back. If you are losing excessive hair, you likely have heat damage.

8. White nodules at the end of your hair shaft

This occurrence is a sign of heat damage called “white dots.”

When the cuticle layer is damaged, it can no longer protect the cortex from damage. As a result, the cortex breaks down and forms white nodules at the ends of the hair shafts.

If you see white nodules on your hair, you likely have heat damage.

How to Manage Heat Damage on 4C hair

While heat damage is irreversible, there are some things you can do to manage it and prevent further damage.

Step 1: Clarify to remove buildup.

Use a clarifying shampoo to remove product buildup and impurities from your hair.

Product buildup prevents moisture from penetrating the hair shaft, exacerbating heart damage.

Shampoos remove positively charged particles from the hair, leaving hair to absorb conditioners more effectively.

Step 2: Use an intensive protein treatment

Protein treatments help repair heat damage by filling in the gaps in the cuticle layer.

They can also help to strengthen the hair shaft and prevent further breakage.

Further, protein helps restore hair elasticity, making it less likely to break.

Some of our favourite intensive protein treatments include:

Step 3: Deep condition

Deep conditioning treatment helps replenish moisture lost due to heat damage.

It also helps to smooth the cuticle layer and prevent tangles and frizz.

Deep conditioning treatments can be done at home or in a salon.

If you are doing it at home, we recommend using heat to open the cuticle layer and allow the conditioner to penetrate deeper into the hair shaft.

You can do this by placing a shower cap over your head and sitting under a hooded dryer for 20-30 minutes.

Some of our favourite deep conditioners for heat damage are:

Step 4: Use hot oil treatments

Hot oil treatment is a great way to add moisture to heat-damaged hair.

Other benefits of hot oil treatments include: reducing frizz, preventing tangles, and smoothening the cuticle layer.

Hot oil treatments can be done at home or in a salon.

If you are doing it at home, heat the oil until it is warm (not hot) and apply it to your hair.

Cover your hair with a shower cap and allow the oil to penetrate for 30 minutes before shampooing it out.

Our favourite oils for heat damage include coconut oil, olive oil, and Argan oil.

Step 5: Assess if you need to trim your hair.

If heat damage is extensive, you may need to trim off some of the damaged ends.

Trimming hair will help prevent further breakage and split ends.

If you decide to trim your hair, we recommend going to a professional stylist who can assess the damage and give you an accurate estimate of how much needs to trim off.

How to Prevent Heat Damage on 4C hair

Avoid excessive heat: When possible, avoid using heat styling tools altogether. It is the best way to prevent heat damage. If you must use heat, be sure to use the lowest setting possible and limit how frequently you heat style.

Use heat protectants: Before using any heat styling tools, apply a heat protectant. Using heat protectants will help minimize the damage caused by the heat.

Be careful with wet hair: Wet hair is more vulnerable to heat damage as it is in a weak state. Applying heat in this state can cause even more damage. When using heat styling tools, ensure your hair is damp or dry.

Use high-quality heat styling tools: If you must use heat, be sure to use high-quality heat styling tools that won’t damage your hair. Such devices should include temperature control and may consist of ceramic and ionic curling irons, blow dryers, and flat irons.

Avoid colour and chemical treatments: Colouring and chemical treatments can make your hair more vulnerable to heat damage. If you must colour or chemically treat your hair, use heat protectants and low heat settings when styling your hair afterwards.

Consider air-drying: Air drying is a heat-free way to style your hair. We recommend air drying your hair instead of using heat styling tools if you have the time. Also, consider heat-free methods of stretching your 4c natural hair.

Only use heat on clean hair: When heat styling your hair, be sure it is clean. Applying heat to dirty hair can cause the dirt, oil and products to bake into your hair, causing damage.

Bottom Line

Heat damage is a common issue among women with natural 4C hair. It can cause your hair to become dry, brittle, and frizzy, leading to split ends and breakage. If you have heat damage, we recommend following the steps outlined in this article to help repair your hair. And by following the tips above, you can keep your natural hair healthy and heat-damage-free!