“Just mess me up!” Words you'll never hear as someone sits in the salon chair for a blowout. But every time I go to a professional to get my 3B curls straightened, somehow I leave a poodle-looking mess. Most recently, I visited a swanky NYC spot for a "blowout." The crystal chandeliers, champagne at reception, and high-tech equipment suggested that my strands were in for a luxurious treat. But when the stylist pulled out a large round brush and blowdryer to straighten my thick AF hair, I knew it was going to be a problem.
As soon as I walked out of the salon, my hair evaporated into a ball of frizz. And during my cab ride home, I fumed over how I'd have to spend hours smoothing my hair on my own. The sad part: This wasn't the first time this happened. Ask any of my friends with natural hair, and you'll hear similar grievances.
The fact is: Not every stylist is knowledgeable about Black hair, but that doesn't mean that getting your hair heat styled in a salon — the right way — is impossible. Whether you have bi-weekly appointments or consider yourself a newbie, we asked the experts to break down everything there is to know before booking a blowout for natural hair, ahead.
A blowout and silk press aren’t the same thing.
If you're looking to straighten curly hair, the main thing to note is that a blowout and silk press are sisters — not twins. Often, customers mistake one for the other. "A blowout and silk press go through similar steps, but the results are different," Koni Bennet, hairstylist and owner of Vanity Salon, tells Refinery29. "With blowouts, your service is usually done with a round brush and blowdryer." Done this way, the blowout gives a fluffy and voluminous effect.
"With a silk press, the flat iron is the star of the show," says Bennet. "Your hair is dried straight with a blowdryer and paddle brush. Once all the curls are made smooth, your hair is pressed in small sections using lightweight, shine-enhancing products." The final result is super-sleek, bone-straight strands.
Knowing exactly what you want will help you communicate to your stylist, which brings us to our next point...
It’s always good to call ahead.
Before you get to the salon, you want to make sure that you'll be paired with a stylist who can deliver the results you want. When you have natural hair, that might require prepping the staff first.
Ursula Stephen, celebrity stylist to Zendaya and Ciara, suggests giving the salon a call prior to your appointment, especially for natural clients. "You know your hair better than anyone, so communicate your needs and concerns to your stylist as much as possible beforehand," Stephen says. "Consultations are important because your service might take longer or cost more, depending on your needs."
Some salons have a notes field when you book online, you can utilize that space to leave written tidbits about your hair type, so you're paired with the right stylist. Remember: At the end of the day, everyone wants you to have a good experience and be happy with your results.
Expect to spend more time and (possibly) more money.
Like Stephen mentions above, choosing between a silk press and blowout will impact your time in the chair and how much you swipe when it's all said and done. Because a silk press requires straightening small sections of hair, you could spend 30-40 extra minutes at the salon, compared to a standard round-brush blowout. You can also expect to dish out extra cash for a silk press at most full-service salons. For perspective: A blowout at Stephen's Brooklyn space will cost you $65, whereas a silk press starts at $90.
At some blowdry bars, tacking on the flat-iron won't influence the cost of your visit. "We never change the price or charge extra for the use of additional hot tools," says Julie Parks, lead Drybar stylist. "For some clients, a blowout is enough. Others might require getting the flat iron passed through the entire head — either way the price shouldn't change."
Heat damage is real, so look out for the warning signs.
Just because you find a stylist familiar with styling natural hair, doesn't mean you can sit back and close your eyes during your service. No one is immune to heat damage. Excessive heat on curly strands can cause the shaft to temporarily (or permanently) loosen. And while you're in the chair, there are some red flags to look out for.
"If you notice your stylist didn't apply heat protectant spray or serum to your hair before pressing, that's definitely a no-no," says Bennet. Additionally, be on the lookout for stylists who get heat happy. "Your stylist should have thoroughly smoothed your hair with a dryer first," she says. "If he or she is passing the flat iron over your hair more than twice, then too much heat is being applied."
Bennet also says it's a common misconception that seeing smoke during a silk press means that your hair is burning. "A little steam is normal," Bennet says. "It's usually the plate of the flat iron steaming the [water-based] product on your hair, not burning it," she explains.
Keeping these pro tips in mind before you go to the salon or blowdry bar can be the difference between a botched — and brilliant — service.