Transforming wavy hair into a stick-straight style often involves the copious use of chemicals, hair dryers, and flat irons—all amped up to their highest, most follicle-damaging heat settings. But women have been straightening their hair for decades without heat too—long before ceramic plates, tourmaline, or ionic who’s-it-what’s-its were even a glimmer in T3’s eye.
While heat-free hair straightening techniques might not work for everyone—”Honestly, it’s not very realistic to achieve a straight style from a strong wave or a curly head of hair without using some kind of heat or hot tool,” says Jill Engelsen, senior stylist at New York City’s Butterfly Studio—it is possible to get close if you’re starting with naturally wavy, medium to fine hair.
So, for those looking to achieve straighter locks without risking damage, here are six professional DIY tips for straightening hair the heat-free way.
1. Start with the right shampoo and conditioner. “It’s very important to begin with a proper shampoo and conditioner made for straight hair,” says Scunci’s celebrity stylist Laura Polko. “Post-wash, try to get out as much moisture as possible, then apply a smoothing cream—or use leave-in conditioner to prep your hair and use a smoothing serum or oil, depending on hair type, to finish.”
2. Use an ultra-absorbent towel. “Heat-free straightening techniques work best on fine to medium hair texture that is straight or slightly wavy,” Engelsen says. And though it can take hours for hair to totally dry, “you can jump-start the drying process by using an absorbent fabric like Aquis, which helps wick moisture out of the hair quickly without causing damage and frizz.”
3. Keep brushing your hair until it’s dry. “For long to medium styles that straighten easily, brush wet hair down and pull it tight with your hands every few minutes until it dries,” Engelsen says. “On naturally wavy hair, this technique will give you the undone city-chic look you often see on runways—and you can finish the style off with oil or pomade on the ends to smooth things out.” If you’re unsure about what brush, we recommend the Wet Brush.
4. Wrap your wet hair around your head, then wait. “Growing up in Argentina, I saw my sisters drying their hair with cold air and then finishing with a technique called toca,” says celebrity hairstyle Ricardo Rojas of Ricardo Rojas Atelier in New York City. “The process starts by drying hair with cold air until almost dry, then grabbing sections and pinning them around your head, wrapping them all around. My sisters did this at night and would wake up the next morning with straight and silky hair.”
5. Use jumbo rollers. “For long hair, use about six jumbo rollers and section the towel-dried hair to the rollers’ width, comb it up, and wrap your hair flat against the roller,” Engelsen says. “Secure with a duckbill clip on each side. Plastic rollers—rather than Velcro or foam—will help you achieve a smoother effect.”
6. Use the right products. “I use a gel like Oribe’s gel serum,” Engelsen says. “It fights frizz and smoothes hair beautifully.”
7. Use the cold air setting on your hair dryer. “I recommend using a blow dryer with cold air and no product, using a combination of a brush and your fingers to help straighten,” Rojas says. “Once completely dry, use a natural product like coconut oil to relax the cuticle of the hair and eliminate frizz.”s