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Pressing hair
Pressing hair and straightening methods have been popular since the turn of the 20th century. There is a growing tendency among teenage girls and women to take up these various hair straightening methods. The popularity of straightened hair is really catching up and there is craze to replace dry, curly, frizzy hair with flowing straight hair. As one might expect, hair straightening treatment is particularly popular among black African-American individuals.

The hair of black African-Americans is tightly coiled or spiral in shape. The fiber is more strong and rigid towards the scalp and it is irregular in diameter. This uneven texture of the hair makes the hair straightening methods more popular among those with such hair. It is observed that about three quarters of all African American females use straightening methods to smoothen their dry and unruly hair.

History of pressing hair
The hair straightening method or “pressing” has its origin during the 19th century. In the 19th century it was done mechanically. The mechanical pressing hair method was developed by Madame C. J. Walker in the late 1800s with the introduction of hot combing. This straightening method was temporary as it weakened the hydrogen bonds present in the cortex of the hair but had/has little effect on other chemical bonds in hair.

The initial technique of pressing hair involved the application of an ointment on the hair. The application is followed by pressing with a hot metal device. The procedure was simple but quite effective.

After this initial discovery, pressing hair methods have undergone vigorous development due to the use of modern technologies. Besides this basic hair pressing method, several new procedures for hair straightening have been introduced to straighten and soften the hair.

Among these new straightening methods, the most popular are the chemical and thermal procedures. The chemical hair straightening method is called relaxing whereas the thermal one is called thermal reconditioning. Among the two the thermal reconditioning is the more popular, though it has some limitations for curly black hair. To compete with the new technologies the hair pressing technique has also undergone some change as described below.

The latest techniques for pressing hair

The modern version of pressing hair has largely been improved due to the introduction of improved devices and other well formulated hair care products. Many modern devices like combs, flat irons, or curling irons are now available to straighten the hair. These devices can be heated with the help of Marcel stove as well as other electric implements.

Unlike the original pressing procedure, the temperature of modern pressing devices can be carefully controlled to ensure the devices to not get so hot as to damage the hair and cause unwanted hair shaft defects. There are even some oil formulations available which when applied before hair pressing gives the hair smooth and non-greasy texture.

The oils that are used prior to pressing hair are specifically formulated with petrolatum which is very beneficial for healthy black hair. The petrolatum is an important ingredient for African hair as it provides long lasting moisturizing ingredients. Petrolatum and mineral oil prevents the evaporation of moisture from the hair and skin.

Procedure of pressing and straightening the hair
  • Before beginning pressing or hair straightening the hair is shampooed and dried.
  • In the dry hair a petrolatum-based ointment or oil is applied.
  • Subsequently, a hot metal comb is passed from roots to ends section by section until all the hair is straightened
Care has to be taken to avoid excessive heating of the hair straightening devices because too much heat can be dangerous, it can destroy the hair fiber structure to give it a weathered look.

Pressing hair can certainly give satisfactory results provided it is done on hair at regular intervals but not too frequently. After the straightening hair treatment the usage of well formulated hair care products like shampoos and conditioners is essential.

So following a hair pressing procedure correctly is essential for straightening your hair and to have a new look!

Chantal Bolduc, Jerry Shapiro, “Hair Care Products: Waving, Straightening, Conditioning, and Coloring”, 2001, Clinics in Dermatology, 19:431–436
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