The Effects of Relaxing Hair

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Relaxers can be used on all ethnicities with tightly curled, frizzy hair. (Image: Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Chemical relaxers are popular among women with tightly coiled or highly textured hair. You may decide to relax your hair for a variety of reasons, but many chose this procedure for easier maintenance and styling. Relaxed hair can give you more styling options and free up your time, but there are risks. If the chemical process is done incorrectly or you neglect to properly maintain your hair following the treatment, you may experience significant damage, scalp irritation, breakage and hair loss.

Lye or No Lye

A 2007 article in "The Washington Post" highlighted a trend with relaxer manufacturers labeling their products as “organic” and “natural.” These descriptions can be misleading -- all relaxers are potentially harmful and contain chemicals. Relaxers work by permanently breaking down protein bonds within the hair shaft to loosen the curl pattern. There are two types, “lye” and “no lye.” Lye relaxers contain sodium hydroxide, a harsh, caustic chemical with a pH factor ranging from 10 to 14. No lye relaxers are milder, but can, like Lye relaxers, cause damage to the hair and scalp. Relaxers also come in three strengths, Super, Regular and Mild. The strength to use depends on your hair texture, so be sure you select the correct strength to avoid under- or over-processing.

Do Not Over-Process

Your hair should be healthy and in adequate condition prior to relaxing to reduce the risk of damage. If a relaxer is left on too long or your hair is relaxed too soon after a color or chemical service, over-processing can occur. This can cause permanent damage, breakage and hair loss. The neutralizer is an important part of the relaxing treatment, because it halts the chemical process. Over-processing can also occur if your hair isn't neutralized in time, making it feel brittle, porous and weak. Overlapping relaxer on previously relaxed hair will also cause over-processing. When retouching your new growth, make sure the relaxer is applied to the roots only.

No Chemical Burns

The caustic ingredients of chemical relaxers can burn your scalp and lead to permanent hair loss. According to Akorra.com, many burns leave the scalp infected and require medical treatment. Permanent hair loss and bald patches are often a consequence. It’s important to apply base or petroleum jelly to your scalp, hairline and nape of neck to minimize the risks. Make sure your scalp is free from abrasions, and if it starts to tingle or sting while the relaxer is being applied, rinse immediately.

Importance of Maintenance

Tightly coiled, highly textured hair is among the most fragile and driest types, even in its natural state. Once relaxed, your hair will be weaker and very dry. Regular conditioning and protein treatments are vital to strengthen the hair, restore the moisture balance and prevent breakage. Deep condition your hair every two weeks, and use a leave-in conditioner between washes to keep your hair strong and healthy. Regular trims prevent split ends; roller sets protect your hair from the drying, damaging heat of blow dryers and flat irons.

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