Allure October 21, 2022



How to Get Through Silk Press Season Without Destroying Your Hair


Experts break down how to get silky straight strands without frying your hair

The start of fall is an exciting time: the leaves change colors, PSL lattes return to Starbucks, and things get a little spooky. It’s a shift from all things hot, bright, and sunny to brisk, cozy, and moody. There's a particular community though, for whom fall signals an entirely different type of shift. For many women with natural hair, once mid-September hits and the temperature drops below 60 degrees, it’s officially the start of silk press season. 

The #silkpressseason has 20 million views on TikTok. The tag is filled with videos of women of color (mainly Black women) documenting their trips to the salon to get their hair silky straight. Yes, it's about getting a new hairstyle for a new season, but for a lot of naturalistas a silk press is also a step in their hair-care routine: Many naturals get them one or two times a year, specifically to do a length check and get a trim. 

It's not exactly clear when it was decided that the fall and winter are the best time to press your hair bone straight, but the general logic here is that the lack of heat and humidity make it much easier for curly hair to stay straight after a silk press. Since a standard silk press costs around $150-$200 (at least in my personal, NYC-based experience), the girls want their money's worth.

Let's back up a bit: If you're unfamiliar, a silk press is the process of flat ironing (or silking) natural hair to its straightest possible state. The dilemma here is that the process can be potentially damaging to hair given the amount of heat needed to get natural hair bone straight. Combine that with some harsh, dry, cold weather and you've got the potential to wreak some serious havoc on your hair. 

So how do you join in on the silky fun, without frying your hair or leaving it vulnerable to harsh winter winds? Allure tapped five hair experts who, below, share their best tried and true tips for pressing even the coarsest hair types silky straight, without compromising health.

Meet The Experts: 

Leigh Hardges, a licensed stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago with expertise in natural hair care and styling
Larry Sims, hairstylist and co-founder of Flawless by Gabrielle Union.
Sabrina Rowe Holdsworth, hairstylist & founder of NTRL by Sabs
Lacy Redway, hairstylist who styles celebrities including Tessa Thompson and Laura Harrier
Yolanda Lenzy, MD, board-certified dermatologist and licensed cosmetologist


How to Prep Your Hair for a Silk Press

All four stylists agree that the key to a healthy silk press actually starts before a flat iron goes anywhere near your head. “On shampoo days use a hydrating mask in lieu of conditioner,” Leigh Hardges, a licensed stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago with expertise in natural hair care and styling, tells Allure.  “Masks are more concentrated and more dense in consistency so they really help hold moisture in the strands.” Making sure your hair is as moisturized as possible before getting a silk press ensures the hot tools being used don't further dry out your hair. Most stylists will do a wash and condition during a silk press appointment, but feel free to request one if it's not usually part of your service. It may cost a bit extra at some salons but your hair will thank you for it. 

What to Expect at the Salon

If you're unsure what to ask for at the salon, Hardges notes that every silk press appointment should include a shampoo, conditioner (or treatment), blow dry, and style. Once you're past the preliminary hair prep, you can expect the first hot tool used to be a blow dryer because a good blowout absolutely has to precede a good silk press. "You want to make sure you get the cuticle as straight as possible during the blowout process so you can use less heat when flat ironing," Sims explains. Redway, a hairstylist who styles editorial shoots and works with celebrities including Tessa Thompson, recommends using (or having your stylist use) tools that will give you control over temperature and offer attachments to assist in your blow drying to minimize the overall heat placed on your hair — the Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer with its wide tooth comb attachment is her top recommendation. 

During the actual silk press, the way your stylist (or you) uses a flat iron also plays a huge role in straightening with minimal damage. This will be mostly up to your stylist, but if you choose to press your hair at home it's best to only do one pass with the flat iron over the hair's ends. "The ends of our hair are the oldest and most damaged part of the hair strand," Hardges says. "I will pass over the roots and mid shaft of the hair two to three times, but I avoid the last two inches of the hair until the final pass." Board-certified dermatologist and licensed cosmetologist Dr. Lenzy echos this by explaining that hair growth starts at the root of your hair, so the ends of the hair are "more prone to breakage." 

Arguably the most important product involved in a silk press is heat protectant; without it, you leave your hair even more vulnerable to the ever-so-dreaded issue of heat damage. As Dr. Lenzy explains, heat damage causes breaks in the hydrogen (water) bonds of your hair follicles. This can result in visible breakage, frizz, weakened hair strands, and if you have curls, loss of curl pattern.

Cosmetic chemist Ginger King previously explained to Allure that the best heat protectants contain ingredients like meadowfoam seed oil and VP/DMAPA acrylates copolymer, both of which "form a shield" to prevent that loss of water and moisture in the hair which can lead to heat damage. More familiar hair-care ingredients like aloe and argan oil can also help seal the hair cuticle and protect against direct heat from hot tools. 

The Mizani Heat Screen Heat Protectant Spray includes a VP copolymer, an ingredient that prevents heat damage according to King. The TRESemmé Thermal Creations Heat Tamer is a personal favorite of Redway's that she uses often when doing heat styling on clients. 

How to Take Care of Your Silk Press at Home

Once you leave the salon with silky hair you'll most likely want to flaunt your new hair all over the internet — as you should. And since silk presses last about a month (depending on your hair type), you'll have plenty of time to do so. The one thing experts warn against after getting a silk press is reapplying heat. “My biggest don't is don't over iron your hair after you have received the service,” says Holdsworth, hairstylist & founder of NTRL by Sabs. "If your hair starts to curl up a lot it's probably time to get a fresh silk press. The goal is to avoid damage." Dr. Lenzy offers the same advice adding that reapplying heat to hair that hasn't been freshly washed can be especially damaging because "the hair will have oils and dirt in it…[if you're] applying heat to that you're just kind of baking those oils and dirt or product into the hair."

If you find you need to touch up just a small section of your silk press, Hardges recommends using a blow-dry styling brush on low heat to re-style any areas that are reverting. "A flat iron or curling can be used in a last ditch effort," she explains. "But be sure to use a heat protectant and a low heat setting."

The best way to get your silk press to last without reapplying heat is wrapping it when you go to sleep. "Invest in good sleep protection for your press, like silk pillowcases, hair wraps, and bonnets that offer protection to your hair overnight," Redway explains. Dr. Lenzy adds that cotton pillowcases can cause a lot of friction "which can lead to breakage" so she recommends silk pillowcases no matter what state your hair is in. 

The Slip Pillowcase helps mitigate bed head and friction which can help your silk press last longer while preventing breakage. The Evolve Satin Wide-Edge Bonnet was named the best hair bonnet in Allure's 2022 Best of Beauty Awards for its ability to smooth out edges while you sleep. 

Tips for Styling Your Silk Press

Because silk presses can be hard to maintain depending on your hair type, how you style your silk press is essential to its longevity. If you're a fan of ponytails you may want to pause on the style at least until your silk press on its last leg, lest you end up with a dent that can't be undone. "The best way to remove a crease is to avoid creating one," Hardges warns. If styles that require a ponytail are an absolute must for you Hardges recommends using barrettes or non-crease ponytail holders (specifically, the ones that look like telephone cords). 

How Long to Wait Between Silk Presses

According to the experts, there is no hard and fast rule on how long to wait between silk presses, but you probably shouldn’t be getting them weekly as excessive use of heat will only make your hair more prone to breakage. If you wash your hair after a silk press and experience a lot of shedding or notice straight strands in contrast to your normal curl pattern, it's a sign you have heat damage. Dr. Lenzy recommends consulting with your stylist at the start of every appointment to determine if your hair is healthy enough for a silk press. "If someone is experiencing an excessive amount of shedding or breakage I would recommend avoiding a press," Dr. Lenzy explains.