Whether curly or coily in its most natural state, fashioned into protective braids or twists, or restyled with wigs, the flexibility of Black hair holds no bounds. Where straightening Afro hair previously called for potentially harmful chemical relaxers, a newer, more natural technique is surging in popularity in hair salons across the UK. The best part? The results are similar but damage is minimal. Step forward, the silk press.
What is a silk press?
To have the option of going straight in a safe way is game-changing. Essentially, a silk press is a method of hair straightening used on Afro hair textures which ensures an incredibly smooth and silky finish. "It's new age hair straightening with a non-greasy effect that allows the hair to have movement," says Talisha Cox, owner of Elite Hair Lounge, one of the UK's top chains of Afro hairdressers.
After a hydrating shampoo and deep condition, the silk press technique begins with blow-drying the hair straight using a paddle brush rather than a round version to minimise heat damage and manipulation, which Afro hair doesn't handle too well. This is followed by slow and steady passes with hair straighteners using the chase method, in which a fine-tooth comb is placed in front of the straighteners and passed through the hair simultaneously. "Using the chase method, we then straighten each small section of hair with just one pass to ensure it is bone straight," says Talisha. "Doing it very slowly seals the cuticle and avoids frizz."
What does a silk press do for natural hair?
Straightening, or pressing, hair is nothing new. But it was typically done with a hot metal comb (often heated directly on the kitchen stove, as many Black women will have painful memories of) and a lot of heavy hair products, commonly known as 'grease'. Talisha says that the process often left the straightened hair stiff and without movement, as it was weighed down with product. A silk press, however, uses straighteners which allows the stylist to monitor the heat more accurately, depending on the coarseness of the client's hair. Minimal product is used, too, which results in the hair having maximum motion.
What are the benefits of a silk press?
The key benefit is that the technique allows every Afro texture to go straight, regardless of how loose or tight the natural curl pattern is. In the past, women often had to turn to chemical relaxers to achieve this effect but Talisha – who started specialising in the silk press 10 years ago – says it is truly for everyone. "Clients often assume that a silk press won't work with the tightest 4C texture as they've been told they need a relaxer," she says. A perusal of the before and after pictures on Elite's Instagram will dispel any lingering doubt.
Can anyone have a silk press?
A silk press can be achieved on natural and non-relaxed hair. It can also be done while transitioning on the regrown hair, post-relaxer. Having a silk press is also the perfect time to factor in a much-needed trim. Where shrinkage often hides any noticeable growth, any damage becomes visible when hair is straighter. Talisha explains that as Afro hair is the driest texture, dry ends may lead to hair becoming brittle and result in breakage. "Regular trims are crucial, otherwise the breakage travels upwards and splits the hair," she says. "When the hair grows, you end up losing length from the bottom as the ends break." Talisha says that the key to winning the race is by keeping the ends healthy to avoid the hair splitting at a faster rate. "I recommend a trim every three months. If trimming regularly, it should typically only be a quarter of an inch that is being taken off."
How long does a silk press take?
This is then followed by an optional but recommended deep moisture treatment, which involves being under the hooded dryer for around 20 minutes. On my fine but long and ample hair, the blow-dry took a mere 20 minutes. Talisha then straightened my entire head in 35 minutes, which was incredibly quick considering how small the sections were.
How should you care for your hair after a silk press?
Keeping your silk press looking salon-fresh is surprisingly easy. Avoiding rain in the UK may be challenging but moisture or steam will cause the hair to revert back to its natural texture, so make sure your bag is big enough for an umbrella. When going to bed, wrap your hair by brushing it around your head in a circle and then securing with a silk scarf. "If you follow the natural curves of your head, when you unwrap your hair in the morning it looks freshly styled and you won't need to re-straighten it, which avoids extra heat damage," says Talisha. The technique was tricky to master but even with my amateur wrapping skills, I achieved good next-day results.
Also be sure to avoid water-based products and anything that will weigh the hair down. Instead, use light oils such as argan oil or hair serums. Talisha adds that this isn't to moisturise but to seal the ends if they become frizzy. "When your hair is straight, such as with European hair, your natural oils are able to travel down the hair shaft," adds Talisha. "After a silk press the hair is often more moisturised from your natural oils."
Is a silk press permanent?
A silk press is not a permanent hair treatment. Talisha says results usually last for 2-3 weeks but some will last for 6-8 weeks depending on how soon you want to wash your hair. "Providing your hair doesn't get wet, it will stay straight. As long as you're wrapping it properly at night," adds Talisha.
How much does a silk press cost?
With three salons across London, prices at Elite start at £65 for a standalone silk press, which increases to £75 if you're also having a trim. Prices may vary elsewhere in the UK so head to salon booking app and website Treatwell to find your nearest salon.
Should you get a silk press?
I can honestly say that my hair has never felt smoother. Although I love my curly hair, being able to go straight without any potentially harmful chemicals is a great thing. Seeing the before and after photos of my trim was the most impressive part, though. Not only did my hair feel surprisingly longer and thicker afterwards but it also looked good when it reverted back to its natural texture. I loved Talisha's emphasis on education; she's truly focused on giving people confidence when visiting Black hair salons, championing great hairdressing and good customer service, which has often been overlooked. Also, it's incredibly inspiring to visit a female Black-owned salon.