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If you have natural hair, then you may have considered getting a hair relaxer. After all, taking care of your curly strands can be time-consuming, which can make having a sleek, super-straight mane straight out of bed sound pretty appealing. Of course, curly hair relaxers aren’t for everyone, and just like with any beauty procedure, we highly recommend doing your research before taking the plunge to determine if it’s the right move for you. Luckily, you don’t have to take to Google to find the answers you’re searching for. Below, we’re answering what a hair relaxer is, how natural hair relaxers work, what to know before trying one, and how to care for relaxed hair. That’s a lot—so let’s get to it!
So, what exactly is relaxed hair? Natural hair relaxers, also known as chemical straighteners, are chemical lotions or creams applied to natural hair to give it a sleek, straight appearance by “relaxing” your curls. According to a study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), relaxers are used by more than two-thirds of African females to straighten hair for easier grooming and increased length.
Now that you’ve got some background info, you may be wondering how curly hair relaxers work. First, let’s cover what hair relaxer is. A study from the NCBI states that chemical-based hair relaxers are broadly classified as “lye” relaxers, no-lye relaxers, and “thio” relaxers. The main ingredient of “lye” relaxers is sodium hydroxide, no-lye relaxers contain calcium hydroxide and guanidine carbonate, and “thio” relaxers contain thioglycolic acid salts, according to the NCBI. This is where things get a little tricky, so we’ll try and keep it as short and sweet as possible.
According to a study from the United States Patent, the first stage of processing is referred to as the reduction stage, where the disulfide bonds of the hair fiber are broken. This is important because the presence of disulfide bonds is directly linked to how curly your hair is. Then the hair is thoroughly rinsed before moving onto the second stage, which is known as the neutralization stage. This step involves using a neutralizing agent to reclose the disulfide bonds into a new configuration, setting hair into the desired shape. Got it?
Next, the hair is shampooed and mechanically positioned into the configuration or shape desired, usually by wrapping the hair around cylinders (AKA rollers) of the appropriate size needed to straighten waved hair. Keep in mind that this process should be done by a professional, as many of the common ingredients used in the process are caustic to both hair and skin, making at-home options less concentrated, and therefore less effective, than those typically used in professional salons, according to the study.
Phew—that’s a lot of info! Now that you know all about how curly hair relaxers work, you may have some questions popping up in your head. Here are a few things to know before relaxing your hair. First, it’s important to remember that relaxing your hair is a chemical process, and relaxers should only be used as instructed. A study from the NCBI found that common complaints associated with the use of chemical hair relaxers were frizzy hair, dandruff, hair loss, thinning, and hair breakage. To minimize any potential damage, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) advises using caution with relaxers and always going to a professional stylist for proper, safe application. If you are working with an at-home kit, it’s a must to read and follow all instructions on the packaging before and during application—just as you would when using an at-home hair color kit.
Since chemical processing is known to have long-term effects, you’re probably wondering if hair relaxers are permanent. And the simple answer is no. According to the AAD, curly hair relaxers should be repeated every eight to 10 weeks to keep strands straight. If not, hair will go back to its natural state. Keep in mind, the more you apply hair relaxers to your hair, the longer it will take for you to restore your natural texture.
All chemical processing, including using curly hair relaxers, can damage your hair. The AAD shares that having a hair relaxer and another chemical service can wreak havoc on your strands, which is why they recommend just one service at a time. The NCBI also reveals that excessive chemical treatments can cause the hair cuticles to crack, which can ultimately lead to hair damage.
To relax hair and minimize damage, the recommendations are pretty similar to those for bleaching hair: rely on a professional and don’t overdo it.
Last but not least, we’re sure you want to know how to care for relaxed hair! Keep in mind, maintaining relaxed hair is a process just like anything else. According to a study from the NCBI, relaxed hairstyles can be covered with a scarf while being active as a method for maintaining your straight style. In addition to wearing protective hairstyles for relaxed hair, touch-ups will be needed to relax newly grown hair at the roots, just as new growth needs to be touched up if you switch up your hair color. The AAD shares that in the case of hair relaxing, touch-ups should only be done every two to three months, and that relaxer should never be applied to hair that has already been relaxed.
And that’s a wrap on that! We know it was a lot to take in, so we recommend consulting with your hairstylist to determine if a curly hair relaxer is right for you and to help develop the right post-relaxing hair care routine.
Next: The 30 Best Protective Hairstyles for Natural Hair
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