The hair-raising truth about straighteners
According to a new British survey, a third of all women - and an astonishing one in five men - now own a pair of hair straighteners. And more than a quarter refuse to leave the house without first ironing their hair into Jennifer Aniston-like smoothness.
But trichologists say that the damage caused by straighteners can actually make hair frizzier and curlier, setting up a 'straightener addiction' cycle that can, eventually, cause hair to appear thin and dull.
It's the new technology that created the real damage. Hair is very tough, but any heat over 180c will damage the cuticle of the hair - the hard outer protective coating on each strand.
Under the microscope, the cuticle looks like overlapping slates or scales. These should lie flat to provide a smooth, protective coating over the 'cortex', a twisted bundle of protein fibres which make up over 80 per cent of the hair and give it its internal strength and flexibility.
Repeated straightening causes a breakdown in the cuticle. The 'slates' start to lift and the rough, uneven surface exposes the cortex, allowing the fibres to unravel. This starts as split ends, but can reach all the way up the hair, causing it to break off.
Women then try to control this new "frizz" by straightening the hair even more, which dries and damages it further, causing yet more frizzing, which requires more straightening and so on.
Trichologists note that when straightening, it's vital to turn down the heat. Some straighteners reach over 220c, which is far beyond what hair can withstand. It is recommended to always keep straighteners below 180c.
Experts also caution that using hair-care products won't necessarily save your hair. Heat protector sprays do reduce the damage, but the hair will still be affected by daily straightening.
Paolo Lai, the 'Hair Healer' at celebrity salon Neville Hair and Beauty, is an expert in restoring gloss to frazzled locks. He sees many straightener addicts in the salon and agrees that growing numbers of women are suffering side-effects.
'Many of my clients, especially those with coloured or highlighted hair, have found it becomes brittle and even breaks if straighteners are used too often,' he says.
So what should you do if your hair has been damaged? Lai recommends putting your hair into rehab by taming frizz with an ultra-nourishing treatment.
'If you spot frizz, get a trim instead of reaching for the straighteners. And to prevent more damage, use boar bristle brushes that don't contain any metal prongs.'
If you can't give up your irons, Lai says that spending more on your straightener could save your hair.
'Pick one of the top-end hair straighteners, which has infra-red radiation produced from high-temperature ceramic plates or ones coated in the precious stone tourmaline. These can help seal the moisture in your hair,' he advises.
And if you need more encouragement, style gurus say that the era of flattened hair is over. Top session stylist Stephen Lowe says that the most stylish heads will be going cold-turkey on their hair irons this summer.
'Waves have definitely been tumbling down the catwalk this season. For the most fashionable look, you should say goodbye to poker-straight hair and instead embrace beautiful healthy hair with movement,' he adds.
What hair straightener to do use?