There are some women I know who wait until fall and winter to flat iron or silk press (you can watch a professional do a silk wrap by clicking here) their hair. When you stop and think about how freakin' hot and humid it is during the summer months, along with how a lot of us are prone to shrinkage during that time of the year, I totally get why. Waiting to apply heat styling tools to your hair during the seasons when you don't have to do it as much is a super smart move if you want to maintain length retention.
So, whether you want to straighten your hair to see how long its gotten, you've got a special occasion coming up where you want to rock a different style, or you simply need a few tips on how to apply heat without wrecking your tresses in the process, here are 10 tips that can make using a blow dryer, curling iron or flat iron something that you don't have to be scared to try.
1. Purchase an Ionic Ceramic Hair Dryer
If you wanna know one of the main reasons why heat damages our hair, it's because we don't have the right kind of tools. Take blow dryers, for example. It wasn't until I got myself an ionic ceramic one that my hair ended up a lot less fried (well, that and not blow drying it while it was wet; I'll get more to that in a minute). The reason why you can't get wrong with that particular kind of dryer is because ionic dryers are able to literally produce millions of negatively charged ions that can manipulate water molecules without damaging your hair's cuticles in the process. How? Because this type of dryer doesn't open up your hair shaft. The ceramic part of this type of hair dryer is able to regulate the temperature in the room that you're drying your hair in, so that it automatically gets hotter or cooler, so that your hair isn't overprocessed by the heat. As a result, a blow dryer that has both of these features, can significantly reduce your chances of experiencing heat damage. If you'd like to try one out, the Conair 1875-Watt Tourmaline Ceramic Dryer receives a lot of praise for getting the job done well.
2. Deep Condition Your Hair Every Wash Day
It's a lot harder to burn a wet blade of grass vs. a dry one. That's pretty much the logic of why you should deep condition your hair. Personally, I'd advise doing it every wash day but definitely before you decide to blow dry, use a curling iron or flat iron your hair. Dry brittle hair isn't able to withstand heat quite like well-moisturized hair can, so definitely apply a thick conditioner after shampooing your hair and let it sit for no less than 30 minutes (even a couple of hours is bomb). Your hair will love you for it.
3. Get Regular Protein Treatments
This is a tip that's important, not just when it comes to protecting your hair from heat damage, but also when helping your hair to gain some real inches. Since our strands are made up of mostly protein (keratin), doesn't it make perfect sense that we'd need to "back our hair up" with a little extra protein from time to time to make sure that it has all that it needs?
As far as the benefits of protein treatments go, they are able to "fill in the gaps" that may occur to your hair shaft due to chemical treatments and heat styling. Protein treatments also can bring elasticity back to your hair and reduce breakage, if your hair seems weaker than usual. And since protein treatments are able to strengthen your locks, then it's another way to keep your hair shielded from heat.
As far as how often you need a protein treatment, every 4-6 weeks is pretty standard. For tips on how to choose the best one, click here.
4. Use a Cream Thermal Heat Protectant
Hey, you can tell yourself that you don't need thermal heat protectant if you want to, but I promise that you'll be lying. One of the main benefits that comes with applying this to your locks before you blow dry your hair is it helps to seal in the moisture as it also slows down the heat conduction whenever you're blow drying your hair. This results in heat being applied more evenly and your hair heating up more gently so that less damage occurs in the long run. The main things to remember when it comes to thermal heat protectants are 1) get one that is silicone-based and 2) if you've got 3- or 4-type hair, go with a cream rather than a liquid or spray. Creams are thicker which means that your hair will be coated—and protected—so much better with one.
5. Let Your Hair Dry (at Least) 60 Percent Before Blow Drying
Lord. If there is a heating faux pas that I used to make, for years and years, it was barely towel drying my hair (it's better to use a T-shirt, by the way; it absorbs the water effectively and is gentler on your locks that a towel is) before pulling my blow dryer out. Then, I heard a YouTube naturalista (I can't remember who exactly) say that she lets her hair air dry at least 60 percent before she blow-dries hers when she's trying to achieve a blowout.
And guess what? That works big time! I'm thinking that a part of it is because barely damp hair has a greater chance of avoiding the smoke and frying that can come when your blow dryer is too hot. Also, since your hair is closer to being dry, you don't need quite as much heat to finish the job. (By the way, medium heat should be more than enough. High temps are for impatient folks and if you're rushing, you shouldn't be applying heat to your hair anyway.)
6. Keep Tools Under 350-400 Degrees
While a lot of people will say that it's impossible to apply heat to your hair without damaging it, there are scientists that disagree. Since 450 degrees can set a piece of paper on fire, many say that if you make sure that your heat styling tools are somewhere between 350-400 degrees (and you don't let your hair sit with that level of heat on it for a long period of time), you should be fine.
That said, it's important that you get a flat iron that has a temperature button setting on it, and that you make sure the plates are made out of either tourmaline or titanium (it glides along the hair smoothly and lasts longer than other flat irons), and that you use as little product as necessary; too much can cause the plates to stick to your hair which could inadvertently result in heat damage.
7. Blow Dry Thoroughly Before Flat Ironing
Another huge heat styling mistake that you should avoid is going from air drying to flat ironing; that is a surefire way to give your hair heat damage. Instead, after your hair is mostly dry, make sure that you run a blow dryer through your hair. It doesn't have to get as straight as possible (your flat iron will take care of that), but it does need to be significantly stretched. If your blow dryer (on a low or medium setting; nothing more) does most of the work, you can easily do a one-pass with your flat iron and be good to go.
8. Don’t “Pass Through” a Billion Times
If you were to hop on YouTube right now and watch DIY videos on how to use a curling iron or flat iron on natural hair, I doubt you'd see anyone advise that you run an iron through your hair more than twice. While bone straight might be your ultimate goal, oftentimes that can come with damaging your hair in the process (which is totally not worth it). Besides, if you break your hair up into small sections and then use the chase method (which is when you comb through each section and then "chase it" with your iron afterwards), your hair should get pretty straight and if you wrap it up at night, it should remain impressively straight for several days.
9. Go Easy on the Oils
Back when some of us got our hair pressed, grease was sho 'nuf present. I think that's why a lot of us think that we need to inundate our hair with oil while applying a heat styling tool to it now. Actually, that's not the case. Oftentimes, all that does is cause your hair to get hotter than it should which can also cause damage, if not immediately, eventually. While carrier oils like sweet almond, jojoba, avocado, grapeseed, argan and marula oil (it's an oil that contains 60 percent more antioxidants than argan does) are all good for your hair, try and use no more than a dab in your palm while using your tools; then, if you want a little more sheen, run a bit more through your locks after you are done with your curling iron or flat iron. (Bonus tip: Add a few drops of your favorite essential oil into your carrier oil. Your hair will smell divine if you do!)
10. Remember That Less (Frequently) Is More
Finally, if you want your hair to be longer instead of shorter come spring, definitely apply the "less is more" approach. For the most part, putting heat on your hair, more than once every 10 days or so, is going to end up causing some sort of damage. And just how can you know if that is indeed the case? If you notice split ends, white knots on the end of your hair, that your locks are super dry, breaking off or that your hair has a rough texture to it—all of this points to laying off of the heat, trimming your ends and doing some deep conditioning for a while.
Oh, also remember to ONLY apply heat styling tools on clean hair. Otherwise, the dirt, debris, and product build-up that you have will literally end up getting "cooked" into your hair shaft, every time you put heat on it.
Welp, there you have it. 10 ways to approach applying heat to your hair. If you put all of them into practice, you'll significantly increase the chances of having the best of both worlds—straight hair when you want it and healthy hair no matter what.
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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (email@example.com) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Exclusive: Amber Riley Talks Finding Love After Ending Her Engagement
Singer/actress Amber Riley brings the same emotional vulnerability to her art as she does her life—and we are all better for it. The former Glee star and Masked Singer winner opened up about her love life in her recent xoNecole digital cover story, revealing what it took to find the strength to end her engagement and, eventually, find love again.
Credit: Ally Green
Riley first met her ex-fiancé Desean Black, through an xoNecole #MCM post, which prompted her to slide into his DMs and make the first move. After going public as a couple and even appearing together on Netflix's Love That For Us series, Riley and Black decided to call off their engagement. Riley, for the most part, had been mum on the reason behind the split but shared exclusively with xoNecole what led to them ultimately parting ways.
"When it was good, it was good," she explains. "When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there." Riley ultimately decided that she would do what was best for her, regardless of how invested folks might have been in the relationship. "I don't owe anybody a happily ever after," she continued. "You find happiness and enjoy it and work through it."
Fast forward to the present day, Riley is in a happy and seemingly thriving relationship with her new man. Riley revealed her new relationship on Valentine's Day 2023, saying, "I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying.
This time around is different. Riley seems intentional about keeping this relationship a tad more private. She says she is not hiding her boyfriend of eight months but rather being protective of him because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
Riley also shared about her healing journey and the fight that it's been to reach this level of happiness. “I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments."
Read the rest of Amber Riley's Spring/Summer 2023 Digital Cover here.
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