Getting a perfect silk press is an art that requires both patience and skill. I have tried, and failed, to silk press my naturally curly hair numerous times. But being the stubborn Taurus that I am, I’m determined to perfect the technique and add it to my rotation of tried-and-true hairstyles. To learn how to silk press natural hair at home, Karen Miller, a hairstylist at Spoke&Weal Soho in New York City, and Nikki Nelms, a celebrity hairstylist, broke down the process into bite-sized steps below so that even the most novice “doing hair is not in my forte” person can follow.
How to silk press natural hair at home
1. Thoroughly cleanse your hair
Before you even think about pulling out your flat iron, you want to make sure that your hair is clean, which will make the styling process a lot easier, and the final result will be silkier than if you attempt a silk press on unwashed hair. “The best shampoo and conditioner for a silk press needs to cleanse and promote volume and shine without weighing down the hair,” says Nelms, who like the Sebastian Dark Oil Shampoo and Conditioner.
Normally, moisture is the main priority for maintaining naturally curly hair, Miller says. But shampoos and conditioners with hydrating ingredients like shea butter and argan oil tend to leave a residue and oil behind after a blow-dry, she says. To prevent this build-up, Miller recommends using a cleansing shampoo. “My go-to is the Shampure by Aveda ($18) because it’s going to remove any build-up that you have on your hair.”
For the conditioner, Miller recommends going with something light such as the Aveda Shampure Conditioner ($24). She also likes to use the K18 hair mist, which requires no conditioner after it’s sprayed onto hair.
2. Prep your hair with styling products
Once you’ve rinsed out your conditioner, it’s time to protect your hair from heat. Miller recommends first applying a light leave-in conditioner to your hair while it’s still wet. “I like to use is the Aveda Nutriplenish Leave-In Conditioner ($37), because it’s going to give you the hydration and the moisture that your hair needs without weighing it down.
In addition to the leave-in, Miller says she always uses a product with hold. “That’s just in general because they balance each other out, even when you’re doing wash-and-gos,” she says of why she likes this combo. Holds create grit for the hair and reduce the slippage from the leave-in, and Miller recommends using a light, liquid gel or a volumizing spray.
For her part, Nelms says she prefers to use a heat-shield serum or spray before blow-drying. Her go-to? Sebastian Dark Oil ($48).
3. Blow-dry your hair
“This is a step that people skip that doesn’t give them the best silk press, especially at home,” Miller says. “You want to blow-dry your hair and smooth it out when it’s wet.” If you let your hair air-dry, the hydrogen bonds in the hair will begin to set and your hair won’t get as smooth as it can be, according to Miller who recommends sectioning your hair into four parts—from ear-to-ear and down the middle—after applying your styling products and to start blow-drying at the front of your hair, beginning at the hairline.
Another important detail when blow-drying is to apply gentle tension to the hair with your free hand because this will help make it smoother. “You want to have it [the blow-dryer] on the hottest setting because that’s going to help you move through the blow-dry the fastest,” Miller says. If your hair is very coily, she recommends using a heat-resistant fine-tooth comb for the front sections of your hair. For the rest of the hair, she recommends using a boar bristle brush. Her favorite from Mason Pearson. (She also recommends the Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer ($399) with the comb attachment because its technology will prevent you from causing heat damage to your hair.)
4. Straighten your hair
Now that your hair is dry, it’s time to pull out your flat iron; Miller is a fan of the Bio Ionic 10x Pro Styling Iron ($230). “I recommend starting where you’re the most comfortable but sectioning your hair to make the flat ironing easier,” she says. You may be tempted to go over large sections of hair to speed up the process, but Miller advises against doing so. Your pieces should be no larger than half an inch, because if it’s too big, “you won’t get the detail that you want to get out of the silk press,” she says. Make sure to apply tension by “pulling the piece a little bit,” she says. Then, start with the flat iron at the root and do three passes, still applying tension to the hair.
5. Final touches
Once you’ve finished straightening your hair, Miller says to finish off by spraying a light shine spray onto your hands and then lightly rubbing it down the hair shaft and on the part. “The less product you put on it after, the longer it’s going to last you,” she says.
How to get the most out of your silk press
Since you’ve put in all the work to silk press your hair, you’re going to want it to last as long as possible. To do so, both Miller and Nelms recommend wrapping your hair at night, preferably with a silk scarf or silk bonnet. Another option is to sleep on a silk pillowcase for added protection and to retain your hair’s luster.