As a naturalista, I live for the versatility that comes with rocking my mane in its natural state; achieving a bomb twist-out; or transforming my look altogether by silk-pressing my coils. The beauty of the silk press is that it can be accomplished by the hands of a professional, or you can DIY the style from the comfort of your own home. When done correctly, it’s the perfect go-to for temporarily transforming your kinks and curls without permanently compromising your hair texture. I spoke with Ikeyia Powell, a NYC-based hairstylist for insights on achieving the healthy silk press of your dreams at home.
What is a silk press?
"Typically, a silk press is done using a flat iron and gives the appearance of a permanent chemical straightening treatment without the damage of it," says Powell. It's a modern approach to the old-school hot comb press that temporarily straightens textured, curly hair, giving it a bone-straight, silk-like finish.
How do you get a silk press at home?
Nailing a silk press at home is all about using the right tools and technique. It's critical that you prep your natural hair before applying heat to ensure a sleek, shiny—and healthy—look.
Step One: Cleanse
This is the most crucial step to achieving a silk press with a lot of body and movement. "Start by detangling your dry hair before shampooing," says Powell. "Go in with a clarifying shampoo that is meant to detox the hair from heavy oils and previously used products before following up with a moisturizing shampoo to hydrate your strands."
Step 2: Deep Condition
Nourish your strands by incorporating a deep conditioner and leave-in treatment into your wash day routine to keep your hair shaft strong and hydrated. "For the best results, allow your deep conditioner to sit on your hair for 15 to 20 minutes with a plastic cap or under a hair steamer," adds Powell.
Step 3: Apply a Heat Protectant
A silk press involves two forms of heat: blow drying and flat ironing. It's imperative to protect your natural texture from damage by coating your hair with a lightweight heat protectant. They come in a spray or serum form and should be applied to your wet hair.
Step 4: Blow Dry
Starting at the ends of your hair and working your way up to the root, carefully blow-dry your hair until it's completely dry and in a stretched state.
"The straighter you can get the hair during the blow-drying process, the less heat you'll have to use while flat-ironing. For maximum stretch of the hair, use a blow dryer with a concentrated nozzle and a Denman brush, or a blow dryer with a comb attachment," advises Powell.
Step 5: Apply a Lightweight Serum
"Add a lightweight serum to the hair for additional sleekness and sheen but be careful not to weigh it down with too much oil," says Powell. "The goal is a light and airy look with shine."
Step 6: Flat Iron
"Starting from the nape, create one-inch horizontal sections and press the hair from root to tip. The smaller the sections, the silkier the hair," says Powell.
It's important to note that the type of flat iron you use plays a huge role in the results. "A titanium flat iron will give you maximum straightening capabilities but can [burn] the hair if not used properly," advises Powell. "Titanium irons should not be set to anything higher than 400 degrees for a single silk press session."
How long does a silk press last?
"A silk press can last from one to three weeks depending on the texture of your hair, lifestyle, at-home care, and the straightening history," says Powell, explaining that humidity is the number one factor in the longevity of the look. "If you sweat a lot or are physically active, your silk press may not last as long. Some clients opt to silk press their hair during the colder months as opposed to the warmer months when the humidity is at an all time high, causing frizz," she adds.
The best way to maintain your style is to make sure to wrap your hair before bed and apply a silk hair wrap or scarf and wear a shower cap when bathing. Powell also recommends waiting six to 12 weeks between each silk press session to retain length and minimize heat damage.