5 Steps to a Perfect Press



In the summer of 1996, as I was preparing to open my first salon I purchased the print “Saturday Evening in the Kitchen” by Arthur Dawson.  The picture did then as it does now hold so many fond memories for me.  I’ve recently retired that framed piece of art from the salon, but I still enjoy admiring it as it hangs in one of the guest rooms in my home.

Saturdays were the designated day that my mother shampooed and pressed my sister’s and my hair.  All of this was in preparation for us to look our best on Sunday morning for church.  It was a day of bonding that I couldn’t truly appreciate until I got much older.  At such a tender age back then as a child, all I cared about was that this beauty regimen took me away from a day of play.  Although I loved the results of freshly pressed hair styled into ponytails; I knew that I wouldn’t be allowed to go outside to play afterwards at the risk of “sweating” my hair out.  I was too young to appreciate the significance of the one-on-one time that I shared with my mother as she groomed and cared for my hair.  At the same time she talked to me and imparted wisdom onto me that I still hold true to this day.

Before I share with you the 5 steps, let me ask you a few questions and explain why I believe the information contained in this e-book will benefit you.  Are you a stylist who is uncomfortable with using a hot comb? Do you have prospective clients who request press and curl services; however, you continually pitch your other straightening services instead? Are you a client that cannot find a salon to provide a thermal straightening service for you? Have you attempted to press hair but find you’re not getting the results you want?  Do you think pressing hair is old school?  If so, I encourage you to take advantage of this golden opportunity to not only advance your skill base and services but provide extra income to your salon in the process.


To Press or Not To Press


Have you noticed the new trend of natural hair?  The gorgeous braids, cornrows, twists, textured afros and kinky do’s can be seen everywhere you look.  Did you know that many women opt for natural (unprocessed) hair; however, prefer sleeker, smoother styles?  They like the idea of the relaxed look without committing to a relaxer by choosing a press or ceramic fusion service.

Cosmetologists that have offered the service of thermal hair pressing to their clients and mastered the technique are in great demand.  By learning how to execute this service safely and effectively you will be able to charge a premium fee for thermal hair straightening with a hot comb.  I’ve found it straightens the roots much better than a flat iron.    However, I do utilize both straightening tools in my salon.

What is thermal hair straightening? It is a temporary method of relaxing or straightening over curly hair.  It is also referred to as pressing hair.  It is considered temporary because when wearing a pressed style the hair has to be protected from mist and humid environments.  This ensures that the hair doesn’t revert back to its natural state inadvertently.






Attempts to temporarily straighten over curly hair dates back to the early Egyptians; their crude methods actually involved packing the hair with mud and allowing it to dry, which relaxed the curl to some degree.  In the early 1800s, heated butter knives and cloths, axle grease and homemade lye were used to straighten hair also another method included irons heated in tin cans over a fire by African Americans.  They protected their hair from the intense heat by applying hog lard onto the hair.

In 1872, Marcel Greteau was credited as being one of the first to use a hot comb with fine teeth in Paris as it was used by the French women to silken their hair.  In the 1900s Madam C J Walker (Sara Breedlove) would revolutionize the black hair industry by incorporating the hot comb into the “shampoo/press/and curl” method.  She has been credited for widening the teeth on the comb for coarse hair for use by African American women and men.  Her redesign of the hot comb was patented and she has been lauded as the first self-made African American millionaire for her efforts.


A medical study was released in 1968 in which a group of doctors stated that hot combs had caused inflammation and scarring on the scalps of many black women that eventually led to hair loss.  This type of hair loss was labeled “hot comb alopecia” they reported that the condition was caused by the combination of excessive heat from the hot comb and petroleum, which led to burning and scaring on the scalp.  In 1992, Drs. Leonard Sterling and Purnima Sau, dermatologists surveyed a group of African American women suffering from scarring alopecia after revisiting the previous study.  They concluded that there was little evidence supporting the use of hot combs as the cause of the disease, they renamed this condition Follicular Degeneration Syndrome (FDS).  It is imperative to take precautions in the use of thermal hair straightening as not to damage the hair and scalp.

In addition to FDS there can be immediate physical damage as well.  The immediate result of carelessness from hair pressing include burnt hair that breaks off, burnt scalp that causes either temporary or permanent hair loss, and burns on the ears, forehead and neck that form scars.


Step 1: Know Your Tools


Although technique is essential to any successful service; a skilled cosmetologist must be knowledgeable about the tools of the trade.

There are two types of pressing combs:

Conventional and Electrical



Comb Construction

  • Metal:  Quality stainless steel or brass
  • Handle:  Normally made with wood or material that does not conduct heat
  • Teeth:  Fine tooth comb with less spacing in between teeth (note: produces a smoother press), wider tooth comb with more spacing in between teeth (note: produces a more coarse press)
  • Head length:  Shorter combs are used with short hair, front hairline and nape areas

Longer combs are easily used with longer lengths of hair

Preparing the Pressing Comb

Since the pressing comb is usually constructed out of stainless steel or brass it is always wise to first temper the comb before using it.  This process of tempering is similar to tempering a new cast iron skillet.  Tempering a new pressing comb will remove any residue left over from the manufacturing process.  It also ensures that it retains heat efficiently and evenly along the entire length of the comb; better and longer for the best possible results as you use it.

How to temper the pressing (hot) comb:

Heat the pressing comb in the thermal oven (or other heating appliance) until it gets extremely hot.  CAUTION: Be careful. Remove the comb from the thermal oven by the handle and submerge or coat it in petroleum jelly or pressing oil.  Allow to cool naturally, wipe off excess oil and rinse with HOT water to remove remaining oil and pat dry.


Step 2:  The Basics


Once your pressing comb has been tempered it is ready to be you used.  Are you ready to use it?  Here are some basics to know…

How to heat the comb

  • Conventional combs are heated in a thermal oven (or other heating appliance).  During the heating process, place comb teeth into the stove leaving the handle away from the heating source.  Some thermal ovens have thermostats to indicate temperature while others have an on/off switch.
  • Electric pressing combs are to be plugged in (follow manufacturer’s instructions to select your temperature preference).

How to test the temperature

  • Once comb is heated (before using) ALWAYS check the temperature by using a white cloth or white towel.  If the cloth becomes scorched it can scorch or burn hair. Allow comb to cool slightly before testing again (if no scorch mark is present) it is safe to apply to the hair.

How to clean the pressing comb

Hot combs work more efficiently when kept clean and free of carbon.  The intense heat from the oven stove will keep comb sterile; however, make sure to wipe the comb clean of all loose hair, grease, dirt, etc.



Dry cleaning method

  • Remove carbon by rubbing outside surface and between teeth with fine steel wool pad, fine sand paper or emery board.

Liquid method

  • Fill a tall container three fourths full with hot water, add 1 teaspoon of baking soda and gently stir.  Immerse metal portion of comb in hot water and baking soda solution for 1 hour (longer for combs with heavy dirt).
  • Rinse and dry thoroughly.  May use toothbrush to scrub if needed.  Metal should result in a smooth and shiny appearance.


Step 3: Identify/Analyze


As with any hair service it is always recommended to perform an analysis of the hair and scalp.

Points to cover:

  • Determine wave pattern of hair: curly or over curly
  • Identify length of hair: short, medium, long
  • Analyze texture of hair: very fine, fine, medium or coarse
  • Feel of hair: silky, soft or wiry
  • Elasticity of hair:  normal or poor (note: If porosity is normal, it can be safely stretched to about 50% of its original length). Under normal conditions a client with normal porosity’s hair returns to its natural wave pattern when it rewetted or moistened.
  • Classify condition of scalp:  normal, flexible or tight
  • Establish condition of hair:  normal, dry, oily, brittle, chemically treated, damaged
  • Pinpoint shade of hair:  natural, tinted, highlighted, bleached, faded or gray

Determine Hair Texture:  Evaluate the diameter and feel of the hair

  • Fine Hair:  Fine hair requires special care.  Requires less heat and pressure (tension) to avoid breakage.  (note: fine hair characteristically has only two layers: cortex and cuticle).
  • Medium Hair:  Medium hair is considered normal.  Less resistant to hair pressing and generally presents no problems.
  • Coarse, over curly Hair:  Coarse hair has the greatest diameter out of each texture.  Requires more heat and pressure (tension) than medium or fine hair when pressing.
  • Wiry, curly Hair:  Wiry hair may present itself in any diameter (fine, medium, coarse).  To the touch it feels stiff, hard and glassy like wire.  Requires more heat and pressure (tension) and is very resistant to pressing more than other hair types.


Classify Scalp Conditions

It is important to know the condition of the scalp prior to any service including thermal hair straightening.

  • Normal:  Proceed with service
  • Tight:  Press in direction of hair growth
  • Flexible:  May take more pressure (tension)


CAUTION:  Condition thoroughly, failure to correct dry and brittle hair can result in hair breakage during the hair pressing service.  Thermal hair straightening should NOT be performed on any client with scalp abrasions, injury to scalp, a contagious scalp condition, chemically relaxed or chemically damaged hair.  Advise client to seek advice for scalp maladies from a Trichologist or Dermatologist.  Remember, burnt hair strands cannot be reconditioned into healthy hair.

HELPFUL HINT:  Always, keep a client record card on file.  I always get this question from other stylists and they complain that it takes too long to fill out.  As a rule of thumb “protect your assets” (PYA) document and maintain a thorough and accurate history of the client’s hair, condition of scalp and all services provided to them.  Take the time…make it part of your professional practice.  It only takes a few moments to do! J


Step 4:  Determine Your Look


Since you’ve completed your analysis, it is time to determine the type of press you want to achieve.  I’ve heard all type of horror stories.  There is a misconception that heat straightens the hair.  Yes, to some degree it does that is why it is called thermal (heat) hair straightening; however, there is a fact that is sometimes overlooked.

This oversight has been the culprit of many singed and burnt scalps and hair which eventually leads to unhappy clients and possibly a loss of clientele.


Getting it Straight

The hot comb is heated in a thermal oven that reaches a temperature between 300 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.  A biochemical process straightens the hair as the comb is pulled through the hair.  The back of the comb straightens the hair when pressure is applied.  The teeth help to separate and detangle the hair. When pressure (tension) is used during the combing process the cysteine bonds of the hair fiber breaks down.  As the temperature dissipates, the bonds reconnect and keep the hair straight.  This physical change is temporary until the hair comes in contact with humidity or moisture.

***Fun Fact:  In the days of the hard press and curl styles, there were stylists that were noted in their technique for getting hair so straight during the double pressing services.  The hair would get so straight and wouldn’t immediately hold a curl that their customers would have to return two days later to get the curl (croquignole) portion of the style.***

Types of Presses

  • Soft Press – Removes about 50% to 60% of the curl.  This is achieved by applying the pressing comb once on each side of the hair.
  • Medium Press – Removes about 60% to 75% of the curl.  This is achieved by applying the pressing comb once on each side of the hair using slightly more pressure than for a soft press.
  • Hard Press – Removes 100% of the curl.  This is achieved by applying the pressing comb twice on each side of hair.  This method can also be achieved by first pulling through a hot curling iron and is also called a double press.


Pressing Oils or Creams

In addition to using a heat protector during the blow dry it is imperative to use an emollient to protect the hair from the heat of the comb.  The choice of using an oil or cream to press is a personal one; however, do not apply to much or it will weigh down the hair.  Below are some of the benefits of using a pressing oil or satin crème press:

  • Protects and conditions hair against scorching
  • Makes hair softer
  • Helps condition hair after pressing
  • Helps prevent hair breakage
  • Helps hair to retain pressed look longer
  • Adds sheen to pressed hair

What Not to Do

  • Do not apply excessive heat or pressure on hair and scalp
  • Do not press dirty hair
  • Do not press hair too frequently; it can weaken the hair
  • Do not apply too much pressing oil on the hair.  Oily hair attracts dirt and gives an artificial and greasy look


  • Avoid overheating the comb
  • Keep comb clean and free of carbon
  • Use a white cloth or white paper to test temperature of comb before using
  • Use heated comb carefully to avoid scalp, ear, hair burns
  • The back of the comb straightens the hair
  • Adjust temperature to hair condition and texture
  • Fine hair-don’t use too much heat or pressure.  Apply less pressure near ends of hair
  • Take extra precaution around hairline
  • Coarse hair-use extra pressure to remain straightened
  • Bleached, lightened or gray hair may require preconditioning.  Use moderate heat with lighter pressure to avoid discoloration and breakage
  • Prevent smoking or burning of hair while pressing by completely drying hair after shampooing
  • Avoid excessive application of pressing oils or pressing crème on hair
  • In case of superficial burn, immediately apply aloe vera gel
  • A fine teeth comb produces a smooth press
  • A wide teeth comb produces a coarse press


Step 5:  Ready, Set, Go


Now you’re ready to provide a thermal hair straightening service and a perfect press, remember to follow these simple steps:

Hair should be freshly shampooed, conditioned and dried completely

Heat the hot comb

Section the hair in workable sections

Loosen one section of the hair subdivide and make smaller partings.  Working from the right side of the head, begin in the back and work forward.

Apply pressing oil or pressing cream sparingly and evenly on the small section.

Test temperature of hot comb on a white towel or white paper

Lift the ends of a small section of hair with the index finger and thumb of your left hand and extend it upward and away from the scalp

With your right hand hold the hot comb and insert the teeth of the comb into the top side of the section of hair

Glide the pressing comb through hair while making a quick turn (with your wrist) so that the hair strands are pressed against the back rod of the comb

Press the comb through the hair until the ends of the hair pass through the teeth of the comb

Continue these steps throughout each section of the right side of the head; then repeat the process on the sections on the left side of the head

Style and comb hair as desired


Don’t let anyone tell you that thermal hair straightening (hair pressing) is obsolete.  Personally, I service many clients that prefer this method of relaxing their natural curls than any of the others.

Above all, I truly hope you found this ebook informative.  If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at [email protected].


Stephanie Anderson

Trichologist and Natural Health Professional

Mane Health