9 Women Share How They Transitioned From Heat-Damage to Healthy Curly Hair

Real talk, any woman with curly hair knows from personal experience that heat-damage can be a serious bitch

curly hair winter

Photo: Unsplash/@von_co

Real talk, any woman with curly hair knows from personal experience that heat-damage can be a serious bitch. Stretching out your curls whether it be with a blow dryer and round brush or with a flat iron, can permanently damage your hair and distort your curl pattern. Think dry, dull, limpy ramen noodle-looking hair with annoying straight pieces. It’s devastating, to say the least.

The good news is that although heat-damage can result in permanent damage that requires a cut, there are ways to restore your hair health without going for a big, dramatic chop. Here, nine women open up about their journey transitioning from heat-damage to healthy curls while offering advice on how to stay sane through the long process – check it out!


Felicia Jones

Occupation: Co-Owner of F.A.D Cake Boutique and Curl hair blogger

Instagram handle: @hif3licia

On what inspired her transition: “My big sister Aubrie and I always loved curly hair. We just never knew how to take care of it, so we’d get relaxers, use flat irons, and products with harsh ingredients. One day my sister saw a video of @SunKissAlba on YouTube getting a Devacut and we decided we were going to treat our curls better. After she passed away I decided to keep our plans going and start my healthy hair journey. “

On what she did to transition to healthy curls. “I started trying to get my curls healthy in late 2013/early 2014, but just couldn’t figure it out. In 2015 I discovered a book called The Curly Girl Handbook and entered Devacurl’s SuperCream Challenge, where I started documenting my journey and seeing steady progress. I stopped using high heat and products with harsh ingredients like sulfates and silicones. I started deep conditioning regularly, using my fingers to detangle, and started incorporating essential oils in my routine. I also got a Devacut to get rid of damaged ends and give me the shape that I always wanted!

On her advice to other curly girls transitioning. “NEVER give up and never compare your journey to someone else’s. Take pictures regularly so you can look back and be motivated when you see your progress. Your goal should never be to have curls like someone else’s, but to get your curls as healthy as possible.”


Stephanie Diaz

Occupation:  Office Manager

Instagram handle: @curlcrazy_steph

On what inspired her transition: “There’s a picture of me when I was five at my birthday party. I had long tight curls and my mother had tied a bow on to keep it from covering my face. I love that picture. As an adult, I would wear my hair curly sometimes, but my curls were limp and stringy. Relaxing my hair was a lot of work and even when my hair was relaxed and I wore my hair straight, my edges would curl up the second I would sweat or if it was humid. My hair didn’t’ even look done so what was the point? I figured if I was able to get my curls back, I wouldn’t have to worry about my hair not looking done because a little humidity or sweat got to it.”

On some of the things she did to transition: “I started my curl journey in May 2014. The first thing I did was cut all the straight and dead ends [at Devachan salon]. Then I started using products that were sulfate-free. I deep conditioned at least once a week. I made my deep conditioner at home or if time was limited, I would use one already made. My favorite is Amika Nourishing Mask.”

On tackling the emotional aspect of her journey: “Once I made the decision to cut and embrace my hair, I felt empowered. I was conditioned to think that straight hair for special events and interviews was absolutely necessary, but I stood my ground. I would show up to these events and interviews with my hair in all it’s [natural] glory and I loved it. My confidence shot up and my hair gave me character. I no longer had to tie my hair back or worry about my edges showing. I was finally me.”


Ngele Ekwalanga

Occupation: Early Intervention Specialist and Health & Wellness Coach

Instagram handle: @frecklez_n_curlz

On what inspired her to transition: “I wanted to embrace my natural curls and be able to feel comfortable in my own skin. I officially started in 2013 when I had so much heat-damage (from flat ironing), and so I decided to cut most of it off and start fresh.”

On what she did to transition: “First thing, STOP with the heat! I have since never used a flat iron on my hair. I have tried many different products but in the beginning I did a lot of protein treatments to try to get my curls back. Unfortunately, when the hair is damaged to a certain point, it won’t go back. I would use protective styling methods (braid-outs, twist-outs) to try and blend my growing hair with the remaining damaged hair. I started with a series of mini-cuts and I would take about 3-4 inches off each time. I was too afraid to do the full big chop because I thought I wouldn’t look good.”

On why transitioning was so important to her: “It was so important to me because I struggled for years thinking that I was beautiful with straight hair and that men would find me attractive [that way]. I wanted to change that because I was not being my true self. I think going through the transitioning process really made me more in love with my hair, and myself, because there was a struggle to figure it out. I have grown more confident and I want to share that with other women. The first step is the hardest, but your future self will thank you.”


Alyssa Burgos

Occupation: Actress/Writer/Artist

Instagram handle: @aroseburgos

On what inspired her transition: “I would spend one day a week every week “fixing” my hair and it would take hours. Straightening it was so frustrating especially when the relaxer would grow out and I didn’t know how to “tame my curls.” I would get so upset that I would cry out of frustration. [When I was ready to embrace my curls] I got a lot of support from other women telling me how they loved my curls. For more support I searched and followed curly inspo blogs on Tumblr and the more I surrounded myself with images of women who looked like me (women of color with all types of curls), the more I realized, ‘Hey, I am beautiful too.’”

On tackling the emotional aspect of her journey: “I battled with insecurities so [it wasn’t always easy to feel] confident when I rocked my curls. I had to remove that stigma that straight hair is ‘good hair.’ I do get different responses with my hair straight vs. curly, especially in my industry (modeling and acting). I would show up to jobs with curls and they would look me up and down and say, the client wanted a ‘clean look’ and I would say ‘but my curly hair is clean!’ I had to rewire my thoughts and tell myself that I am beautiful with curly and or straight hair. From conquering that I was able to embrace my identity as a Latina and my freedom towards natural beauty and taking the best care of my body without extreme altering.”

On what she wished she knew when she started transitioning: “I wish I knew how important a good haircut is. My curls need layers to frame my face and my curls hate feeling weighed down. I would use less product but my hair would look frizzy and undefined. After working with a stylist on what cut would work for me, it helped lessen my drying time and all I needed was a good leave-in conditioner and I was good to go.”


Stephanie Ferreira

Occupation: Fourth grade teacher

Instagram handle: @la_unica6089

On what inspired her transition: “I never felt like my hair looked the way I wanted. When it was straight my roots would get curly or my hair would get frizzy. And when it was curly, it was obviously damaged so I had no idea what my curl pattern was. I finally started my journey in 2014.”

On what she did to transition to healthy curls: “I went cold turkey and stopped using heat altogether. I did a Devacut at the Devachan where all the damaged, straight ends were removed. I did protein masks once a week with eggs, avocado, and coconut oil. I also switched to products that had no sulfates and minimal chemicals.”

On her advice to other curly girls transitioning: “Be patient! Your hair will have ugly stages and it might take you longer to grow out than it has for others. Just remember the end result is worth it.”


Delaila Catalino

Occupation: Digital Media & Content Strategist

Instagram handle: @missdelailac

On what inspired her transition: “I have never relaxed my hair but I’ve always wanted to straighten (with heat-styling) my very tight curly hair – but it would always frizz immediately. After going blonde at 16, I noticed that my curl patterned loosened and I loved it. My hair became more manageable. I would blow out my hair for years and whenever I wanted to wear it curly, it would easily revert. But in recent years that no longer remained the case. My hair would look stringy and I wouldn’t know how to deal with it so I would revert to just blowing it out straight, causing even more damage. My inspiration came from the before and after photos I would see of women on Instagram who were committed to the process of getting their curls back. “

On what she did to transition: “I officially began my journey on May 12, 2017. I did the a chop but didn’t have to do a big [cut] because I just needed to get rid of heat-damaged ends and get my hair shaped to compliment my curls. My stylist really took the time to educate me on my hair and what it needs. He gave me a very basic regimen to follow. I don’t use products with sulfates or harsh chemicals and moisturizing is key!

On her advice to other curly girls transitioning: “Embrace the journey, have fun with styles and explore hair accessories. Try different products to see what works and use Instagram and YouTube as a point of reference. Everyone’s hair is unique. Pick someone with a close or similar hair pattern [to yours] or one you can realistically achieve and see what they do. Also, don’t get too hung up on bad hair days – we all have them!”


Marissa Pina

Occupation: Video producer and editor

Instagram handle: @marissapina

On what inspired her transition: “I started officially transitioning a little more than a year ago. I think I had finally started to feel fed up with how damaged my hair was and no matter what I did, it just felt dry and brittle. I had teal hair at this point and was straightening it every single day. I didn’t even start transitioning because I was hoping to [get my curls back]. I just really wanted healthy hair and somewhere along the way I realized that mostly healthy hair meant embracing my curls and really owning them.”

On tackling the emotional aspect of her journey: “The journey has only been emotional when I encounter people who don’t support my decision to wear my hair natural. I understand that others go through more than I do, especially if their texture is kinkier than mine, but it’s still hard nonetheless. I still face people who don’t want me to be seen on camera or in conjunction with brands unless I straighten my hair. For every 10 people who love my hair and encourage my process, there will always be one or two who don’t understand. It hurts when people judge you based on something you can’t control. It also hurts when people make fun of your hair simply because it’s different and not what they’re used to.”

On why transitioning was important to her. “It started as a way to rehabilitate my hair that was damaged after years of relaxing and coloring my hair. But my hair journey became more important to me the deeper I got into it. It felt like a way to reclaim my identity as a biracial woman. I realized that all the relaxing and straightening I was doing was because growing up in a [predominately] white town, I was told that straight hair was beautiful. I was subscribing to a Eurocentric beauty standard that my body [and hair] naturally didn’t meet. Going natural started to become my own way of honoring my identity and where I came from. How could I ever love myself fully if I didn’t recognize where I came from and who I naturally was?”


Sherly Tavarez

Occupation: Fashion Stylist/Fashion blogger

Instagram handle: @sherlytavarez

On what inspired her to transition: “My best friend actually inspired my transition when she first went natural. I thought she was crazy but I started seeing her beautiful curls coming in and I was more intrigued to find out what my natural hair looked like.”

On what she did to transition: “I started my transition journey about four years ago. I stopped relaxing my hair but I was still getting weekly blowouts.  A year and a half ago I started fully transitioning with no relaxer and no heat. I stopped applying heat to my hair, I deep condition at least once a week, I get regular trims every 4-6 months, and I use natural hair products with no sulfates or parabens.”

On why transitioning was important to her. I still have days when I hate how my hair looks. I know it sounds crazy, but I think it has a lot to do with the way that I grew up believing that straight hair was ‘good hair’ and that if I wanted to look beautiful, I had to go to the salon and straighten my hair every single week. So whenever my curls aren’t cooperating or I’m having an off day with styling my hair, I just don’t feel good. Transitioning was important to me because I feel like I have fully let myself BE! No more hiding behind the relaxers and blowouts. My hair is what it was always meant to be, beautiful, voluminous, and curly! Best decision I ever made.


Laura Pena

Occupation: Recruiting Coordinator

Instagram handle: @lala_xo

On what inspired her to transition: “I saw the damage I caused my hair and I decided that I should embrace my curls and stop trying to kill them on a weekly basis. [I started my transition journey] about six years ago after a particularly brutal straightening treatment effectively killed my curls.”

On her advice to other curly girls transitioning. “Stick with it! It will be worth it when you have soft, healthy curls framing that beautiful smile.”

On why transitioning was important to her: “The health of my hair was a big part of learning to accept myself. I grew up going to the salon once a week when I was a  child. ‘Si quiere pelo bonito aguanta jalones,’ is the fateful saying I grew up hearing from my mom every day and ‘pelo bonito’ always meant straight, tidy hair. As I grew into an adult, I thought the same thing, ‘my hair must be straight for this special event or this interview.’  And I would basically burn it with heat and chemicals on a daily basis. Because curly hair is considered unkept and unruly, it doesn’t conform to [society’s beauty standards] and as I grew [into my skin], I realized it is a reflection of me. Without my curls, I am not myself.”

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