natural hair week

Yes, You Can Achieve an Actually-Silky Silk Press at Home

Photo-Illustration: retailers

Editor’s note: This article first appeared on the Strategist in July 2020, and the products are still some of our favorites for an at-home silk press. So we’re republishing it today as part of Natural Hair Week.

Straightening natural hair is no small feat, and it requires more than just a blowout. For years, the go-to method has been the press and curl, traditionally done with a hot comb heated up on the stove to press out kinky hair to make it straight. But more recently, I’ve seen the silk press pop up on more and more salons’ service lists, replacing the press and curl. “A silk press is an upgrade to a traditional press and curl, just with less heat,” says Latanya Williams, a stylist with mobile hair salon Yeluchi. That means you’re less likely to get a burn (and no longer have to flinch and grab your ear at the words “hot comb”).

“Now we have tools that will give you the same effect, but you can control the heat settings,” explains Mika English a stylist at Ursula Stephen the Salon. With a silk press, “The heat settings stay the same because it’s a plug-in. It’s not just sitting on a stove going by your own temperature and tolerance, so it’s more controlled.” The other advantage of a silk press over a press and curl is that the process “smoothes and stretches your hair while giving it a natural shine,” says Williams, adding: “and unlike a basic blowout, a silk press adds volume.”

Here’s the bad news: Trying to detangle, blow-dry, and flat-iron your own thick, curly, and kinky hair can be a time-consuming, tricky, and sometimes frustrating process — not to mention a workout, thanks to all the tools you have to use and hold at unnatural angles for hours. Plus, if you’re new to this and don’t use the right tools, you also run the risk of heat-damaging your hair.

But if you want to try a silk press at home, you can get a damage-free, salon finish — as long as you have the right tools and remain patient. To make it as easy as possible, we asked Williams, English, and two other professional stylists about all the best tricks and tools for achieving a salon-quality silk press at home.

Shampoos and Conditioners

All of the experts we spoke to emphasized the importance of starting the process with very clean hair. “Do a good scrub,” English says. “One wash is not enough. Two washes is not enough. I always suggest people wash their hair at least three times before you do a heat style because clean hair is the best hair.” The reason is because any sort of residue or oil buildup can burn your hair, once you add heat. English recommends her own line of shampoo and conditioner, called Grew by M.E., but it’s one that I use and love as well. “You start with the detox shampoo, which is going to get all the buildup out of your hair first, and the conditioner is going to instant-detangle, instant-repair, and stop the shedding,” she explains. When I’ve done this, my hair looks two shades lighter.

Williams also recommends a clarifying shampoo to remove building but notes that something that fights against humidity and frizz will also hydrate hair before you add all that heat. This frizz-fighting line of shampoo and conditioner is Virtue’s Smooth line, which celebrity hair stylist Hos Hounkpatin swears by for textured hair. As with the shampoo from Ouai, the frizz fighter here is the keratin, but it’s not the same keratin used to chemically straighten hair. Instead, it controls frizz, “so then, when you do straighten or blow out or flat-iron the hair, it will be smooth and not poof up when you are exposed to humidity,” he explains. But you can tell it’s working its magic even while you’re rinsing it out in the shower: “It detangles the texture very well and makes it easy to work with.” One of Hounkpatin’s clients is model Imaan Hammam, and it’s one of her favorite things too: “I’m really happy with this product. My hair is so much healthier. It has some kind of keratin in it and makes my hair softer.”

Williams prefers this sulfate-free shampoo from Ouai that hydrates and fights frizz. It has keratin in it to smooth the hair and shea butter and avocado oil to lock in the moisture, so not only is it “removing dirt and oil buildup from the scalp, leaving hair soft smooth and dandruff-free,” it also deeply conditions.

Williams also likes tea-tree shampoo because it will leave you with a “tingling, cool sensation” that feels extra-clean.

Deep Conditioners

According to Williams, in addition to your shampoo and conditioner, “You should always do a deep-conditioning treatment that’s about 20 to 30 minutes, then rinse with cool water to seal cuticles.” This further hydrates the hair and prevents damage, and she likes this one because it “strengthens and moisturizes the hair and reduces breakage, while adding shine.”

The Design Essentials hair mask, above, is specifically designed for curly and coily hair, so if you’re looking for something to hydrate dry, damaged hair, Williams likes this Silicon Mix. Plus, she says it works for all textures.

Heat Protectants

We are almost at the blow-drying stage — but not quite. Before you take out your tools, you’ll want to use a heat protector, and though these come in a few different forms, most of our hairstylists recommended heat-protecting sprays. This one from It’s a 10 doubles as a leave-in conditioner, so it penetrates deeply into the hair. English recommends that you put this spray on before your blow-dry, since using this on already-dry hair might cause hair to revert back to its curly state — and that is true for all of these spray heat protectors.

Unlike It’s a 10, this TRESemme spray is strictly a heat-protectant, without the benefits of a leave-in conditioner, and that means it’s a less expensive option. What this spray does have is that all-important keratin that Williams says “gives a smooth polish.”


Serums are another essential part of the silk press process, and our experts recommended that you put it on after the heat protectant but before blow-drying, as they help seal in even more moisture and help you achieve a smooth, straight finish. Both English and Williams love this CHI serum, and Williams says it “adds softness and leaves the hair feeling light, with a natural, silky shine.” English points out that it is also a “reconstructor,” which she says it’s good if you have really damaged hair, because this will act like an additional barrier to protect you from the heat.

Another favorite of English’s is this Paul Mitchell Super Skinny Serum, which conditions and seals the strands for a smooth and silky finish. I use this serum when I do my own silk press and think it is crucial to that smooth finish. It’s super-lightweight and feels silky in my hand, so I can only imagine what it’s doing to my hair, too.

Hounkpatin couldn’t speak highly enough about his favorite pre-blow-dry serum, the Milbon Humidity Blocking Oil, and how well it combats the frizz, but unfortunately, it is only available to professionals. For professional quality that’s available to the masses, he recommends this one by stylist Vernon François. He recommends working a few pumps (fine curly hair gets two pumps, and thick curly hair gets four) into towel-dried hair, but you can also use it at the end of the entire process to get a silky, shiny finish.

Blow Dryers

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Now that you’ve washed, deep-conditioned, protected your hair from the heat, and sealed in the moisture with a serum, it is finally time to blow-dry. There are a few different methods you can use, but no matter which method you go with, Hounkpatin says the most important thing is to make sure your hair is completely dry before flat-ironing. If you try to straighten your hair wet, “What that does is kill the hair follicle, and this is what creates breakage,” he says. “You are literally frying the hair.” With that in mind, the first option you can use to thoroughly dry your hair is a hair dryer with a pick attachment. “It helps dry the hair faster and maintain heat safely,” Williams says. She also adds that the blow dryer should have multiple heat and speed settings that contour to your hair type. The ConairPRO Yellow Bird Hair Dryer is English’s favorite because of how strong the pick attachment is: “The teeth don’t break on it as easily as the other ones.” It also has four settings so you can control how much heat you are putting into your hair. To make the process even easier, English recommends separating the hair into at least four sections, or whatever your hands can control, and blow-dry section by section.

Using a pick attachment can make things easier for some, but it’s all about personal preference So if you are coordinated enough to work with a brush and a blow dryer and are ready to splurge, Hounkpatin swears by the Harry Josh tools (which our colleague Kathleen Hou at the Cut has described as making the “Bentley of hair dryers”). He recommends the paddle brush for more coarse hair, but “with somebody with a more fine-needle, curly texture I will use a big, round type of brush to just smooth out the texture easily,” he says, like 2.5-inch one.

Hounkpatin likes to separate the hair with the clips, which he says are strong enough to hold thick hair, and brush out the hair while he blow-dries.

For something a little less expensive, English recommends a paddle brush or a Denman brush, like this one, to help brush out the curls as you blow-dry. English also recommends this Turbo Power blow dryer because it is particularly strong, with four temperature settings and two speed settings for even more control.

Flat Irons

What type of flat iron to buy for your silk press will depend a lot on what kind of finish you want to achieve — and for pin-straight hair, a titanium-plated flat iron is a good bet. English thinks this option from BaBylissPRO is a better option for curly, textured hair than a ceramic-plated one because the metal plates heat more evenly than the clay-based ones. “The heat settings might be the same as the titanium, 450, and 450, but the finish is a silkier finish with the titanium,” she says, adding, “It’s a more slippery material, and the hair is going to glide faster than it will glide on ceramic plates.” This means you will also be able to get the hair straight with one pass of the flat iron instead of multiple, and less heat means less damage. The BaBylissPRO is a favorite of Williams, too, thanks to the easy-to-use temperature controls.

In terms of technique, you’ll want to separate into the same sections you used when blow-drying to make it more manageable. You can also use the chase method — running a comb through the section of hair you are working on and “chasing” it with a flat iron — which, stylist Kendra Alia, who has amassed 100,000 Instagram followers from her silk-press videos, swears by. “The chase method using a comb or durable brush works well at home because it keeps the hair aligned while the flat iron is passing through the hair strands,” she told us. English likes this method too but admits it requires a bit of coordination. “I suggest you turn the flat iron down a couple notches so that if you’re slow with the process, you won’t burn your hair,” she says. “There’s nothing wrong with just doing it with your hand if you can’t get the coordination.”

“If you also want to do wavy hair after you straighten your hair, and you want to add some light waves to it, like a beach wave or something like that,” this ceramic flat iron is a good option, says Hounkpatin. It’s also efficient because “you don’t have to go over the hair as much with it; you can already see with one touch how smooth your hair gets with a beautiful soft shine.” This flat iron also tops our list of expert recommended flat irons; stylists love it because it is lightweight and has an intuitive heat setting that maxes out at 365 degrees, which is supposedly the optimal temperature for avoiding heat damage.” Not to mention, this is also the flat iron former first lady Michelle Obama uses.

An ionic flat iron is one step above a ceramic one because “it helps with frizz and locks in moisture, which is ideal,” says Williams, in addition to providing even heat distribution like ceramic irons. She likes this model because it has digital temperature controls with auto shutoff. Plus, she adds, “it hydrates hair and can be used to create curls and waves.”

The (Optional) Finishing Touch

At this point, you can technically be done, but an optional last step is warping your hair in saran wrap, which Alia says “will smooth your hair strands, adding a nice finishing touch.” English says it’s also a great technique for sealing in moisture. “What you can do is the doobie wrap technique, which is using your own head as a roller, and you’re going to wrap your hair all the way around in a circle, all the way to the edge.” If you have a hooded dryer at home, you can sit under that for ten minutes, but if not, you can take the blow dryer you just used and blow-dry the saran wrap. “The saran wrap is going to shrink, and it’s going to seal those frizzy ends, it’s going to seal in those flyaways so that when you comb it back down, your hair will feel more moisturized and it’ll have a silky or smoother finish,” English says.


Depending on how long and thick your hair is and how focused you were, you may have just spent hours doing the first seven steps, so don’t let that all go to waste. All of our experts recommended wrapping or pin-curling your hair and sleeping in a silk scarf at night. “Silk scarves are important for maintaining moisture while you sleep and keeps your hair soft and tangle-free,” says Williams. However, if you don’t have a scarf or don’t want to worry about it slipping off, you can try Strategist writer Tembe Denton-Hurst’s favorite Grace Eleyae Bonnet. It’s satin-lined, doesn’t fall off, and “after a couple of days of consistently wearing my Grace Eleyae, my trims happen less frequently, and when they do, I don’t have to cut as much off. My edges were in particularly good shape too.”

You can also opt for silk or satin pillowcases to keep your hair smooth, like this Strategist-favorite Slip silk pillowcase. It’s dermatologist-recommended to help reduce hair frizz and skin irritation, and both Kristen Bell and Kourtney Kardashian have told us they can’t live without it.

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How to Achieve a Salon Silk Press at Home