Straight & Slick Essentials: The Evolution of Hair Straighteners

Straight to perfection.
Published: May 21, 2024
Chanel spring/summer 2020
Photo: Courtesy of Launchmetrics Spotlight

There’s a reason why for most women, their prized possessions are their tresses. A permanent crown adorning one’s head, it’s one of the first things people perceive about someone when they first meet. For centuries, women have dyed, cut, coloured, and performed every beauty trick of the trade to achieve stunning locks, and no style more so than straight hair.

Related article: 7 of Iman Fandi's Best Beauty Looks

Girls have gone above and beyond for locks that glisten like diamonds and are as smooth as silk. From old-school tools to the more semi-permanent methods used today, we’ve come a long way from the late 1800s in our pursuit of sleek hair.

Going back to the time of pharaohs, queens, and royal courts, civilisation at the time truly put meaning to the phrase “beauty is pain” as they would heat literal flat iron plates on an open fire and run them over. strands to achieve shiny flat locks at the cost of ghastly burns on the face and hands. It was only in 1872 when Parisian hairdresser Marcel Grateau created the first proper flat iron from heated rods in his salon.

Related article: From Blackpink's Jennie to Ariana Grande, Here Are the Best Beauty Looks From the Met Gala 2024 Red Carpet

Hot combs entered the straightening arena in 1906 through Simon E. Monroe. However, some argue it was school teacher Ada Harris from Indianapolis who created the hot comb, which she filed a patent for in the late 1800s. Though, like trends, its popularity fluctuated, but by the ’60s, straight hair was the hottest thing since sliced bread.

Related article: For the Boys: Hottest Korean Hair Trends for Spring

The early 20th century was when chemical straightening methods came into play with the first hair relaxer. Invented by Garrett A Morgan, the mixture of sodium hydroxide and guanidine carbonate breaks down the keratin disulfide bonds that give the hair its natural texture for sleek tresses. Around the same time, Madame CJ Walker and Annie Malone also created products to straighten curly African-American hair with a gentler and user-friendly formula of petroleum jelly and sulphur.

However, during the Civil Rights Movement, many African-Americans applied relaxers to look “more presentable” based on the Euro-centric beauty standards of that era. But many faced damaging effects such as hair breakage and chemical burns in the name of assimilation. Eventually, the connection to conformity dulled—though ever so slightly until the 2010s—and the chemical treatments used presently evolved over time to focus on achieving shiny, frizz-free hair.

Developed in Japan in 1996, rebonding became one of the most popular ways to create smooth strands that lasts beyond one wash. It’s a semi-permanent treatment that involves coating freshly washed and dried strands with an agent or lotion that helps to break down the natural hair bonds, letting it sit on the hair while it is either steamed for half an hour or straightened using a flat iron to activate the lotion.

Once dry, it’s sealed with a neutralising agent to reunite the bonds, resulting in silky smooth strands. In the 2010s, soft rebonding became popular in Asia as a gentle, softer alternative to the original by using milder lotions and lower heat for seemingly au naturel straight strands.

Alternatively, the Brazilian Blowout is another hot straightening treatment introduced in the early 2000s. While the original rendition featured ingredients special to Brazil such as açaí berries and camu camu oil, the version used around the world works by infusing tresses with a liquid keratin that’s applied in sections, sealing the cuticle to diminish frizz while protecting against external damage.

It then goes through a process of being blow-dried and flat-ironed. Like with rebonding, the heat activates the mild formula to bond with the hair shaft for a cascade of gleaming, hydrated, and frizz free strands.

With these semi-permanent solutions, the beauty industry had options for getting straight hair that catered to every need and hair type. However, the question of preserving the health of one’s hair during these treatments was one that remained for years. Was there a possibility for hair straighteners to achieve semi-permanent smooth, shiny locks without the damage?

Today, with TikTok and XiaoHongShu setting hair trends, it became all about getting super-lustrous liquid hair that is glossy, healthy, and humidity-proof. Because if Taylor Swift’s signature straight blowout can’t hold up in this humidity, how are our tresses going to, 365 days in a year?

At local hair salon Chez Vous, the answer is the Liquid Hair Treatment—an oil-based bond repair treatment that uses nano-sized active ingredients to repair the hair bonds on a molecular and structural level to reverse damage, restore elasticity and strength, nourish, reduce frizz, and bring smoothness
and shine.

Related article: Amika Arrives in Singapore, and Here Are Our Top Picks 

A customised reactive amino acid serum is applied in sections to reduce hair porosity and promote repair deep within the hair and is left to process for 10 minutes or more, before the hair is then blow-dried and flat ironed to seal the actives. It is then followed up with the oil-based bond repairing actives of the highest concentration as well as a mixture of biomimetic silk, hyaluronic acids, and natural oils that is processed for 10 minutes and finished off with a peptide oil serum.

The results? Gloriously shiny silken straight hair that glistened under the sun. I was told that this can last up to six months with the use of good maintenance products. Liquid Hair Treatment comes in two options—Advanced (from $255) and Supreme (from $395)—depending on whether you wish to tame the frizz or just go dead straight.

Hair straighteners have come a long way from ancient flat plates to liquid hair and it goes to show the leaps and bounds the beauty industry has gone through and evolved with each scientific and technological advancement. What’s next in store? Only time will tell, but one thing remains certain, the quest for beauty will always continue to push innovation.

Straight & Slick Essentials: The Evolution of Hair Straighteners

Gold Lust Heat Protectant Spray, $68 for 250ml, ORIBE

Straight & Slick Essentials: The Evolution of Hair Straighteners

Velveteen Dream Smoothing Conditioner, $46, Amika

Elixir Ultime Shine Enhancing Hair Oil, $71 for 100ml, Kérastase

Hair Gloss, $57, OUAI

Advante Treatment, $38, Advante

No.6 Bond Smoother, $52, Olaplex

Stay ahead of the latest news, hottest trends, and dopest drops.
Subscription Form