Home Hair care Relaxers! All You Need To Know!

Relaxers! All You Need To Know!

by Evenes Ruth Mafupa

Hey! Did you know what relaxers do to your hair to achieve the straight hair look? Let me let you in on some nuggets of information that I found from my research and put together for you. Now I do not hate against relaxed heads. What is on your head is yours and you can do what you want with it depending on your convictions. What I am doing is putting the information out so that when you do relax your hair, you are informed of what is happening.

Firstly, the main reason our hair is curly or coily is because of keratin proteins which contain amino acids called cystines. These cystines link to each other by disulphide bonds, ie 2 sulphur atoms connected to each other. The more the disulphide bonds, the curlier the hair is. Let me mention that all hair has these disulphide bonds but genetics which determine the shape of the hair strands and follicles determines how many disulphide bonds there are and in what way they are arranged.

If one has round shaped hair follicles and strands, the disulphide bonds are much fewer resulting in straight hair. The oval or elliptical shaped strands result in more bonds which are arranged in a skew manner and produce curly hair.

Hair Straighteners

The agent used in hair straighteners in general is usually a strong alkali. Some are based on ammonium thioglycolate. Lye relaxers use sodium hydroxide while the No-lye ones use a slightly weaker alkali like potassium hydroxide, lithium hydroxide or guanidine hydroxide. Guanidine hydroxide is the one that is activated at the time of use and the others can be activated a long time prior to being used.

Most of the relaxers sold for home use have ammonium sulphite or ammonium bisulphite as active agents. These are much weaker than the salon mixes and they work much slower.

Relaxing. What will be happening.

What will be happening when you chemically straighten your hair is this, the chemical changes the disulphide bonds in your strands by breaking them and capping them so that your hair does not revert back to its curly, coily nature. This is the difference with straightening your hair using heat. Because the bonds are not capped off, the hair will revert back once water is introduced to it. So with chemically straightened hair, the disulphide bonds are capped off and are not affected by water which may make them to chemically reform.

Curly perms use the same principle of breaking bonds but the difference is that perms also use an oxidiser which selectively uncaps the capped bonds to form permanent looser curls.

The dangers.


source: African health magazine

The are risks and dangers one needs to be aware of when chemically straightening ones hair. For one, the hair shaft is extremely weakened by the breaking of these bonds which are the core of the hair. These chemicals also make the hair very dry making it prone to breakage. Sodium hydroxide and other chemicals can burn your scalp and permanently damage your scalp and hair which may result in alopecia or bald spots. These chemicals can also be absorbed by the body leading to all sorts of health problems including migraines and cancers.

You may be saying, “But shall I do? I can’t stop relaxing my hair. What is the safest way to do it” My first advice is always, consider going natural, there are no risks at all involved when you are natural. But, a big BUT, if you still think natural hair is not for you, which I strongly doubt, the following tips will help you minimise the damage. This is just a sister’s advice. That’s all. My advice to you is:

  • stretch your touch-ups by wearing your hair in styles that blend well with both your relaxed straight hair and your new kinky growth.
  • If you are afraid your hair will break if you delay the touch-up, make sure your hair is well nourished and moisturised and wear it in low manipulation styles or protective styles to reduce breakage.
  • Avoid over-processing your hair at all costs.
  • Apply the relaxer to the new growth or unchemicalised part of your hair only.
  • Bone straight hair may be sleeker looking but you should know that it is at the expense of healthier hair. Try texlaxing to achieve looser hair that is a bit stronger than relaxed hair.
  • You also need to base your scalp and edges with a petroleum jelly to minimise burning of the scalp.
  • Keep your hair moisturised always. Relaxed hair is much dryer than natural hair, believe it or not. You need that moisture. Deep condition regularly as well to make sure your hair retains that moisture.
  • Stay away from harsh shampoos which strip your hair of the much needed moisture. Try the sulphate free ones if you can afford or co-wash twice or so in between shampooing your hair
  • Follow the rest of the tips on healthy hair care, like staying away from heat as much as possible etc and hopefully your tresses will not be too stressed and you will be able to retain some length.

I know a lot of people with beautiful relaxed hair and I appreciate diversity but I also need to let you know that there are risks involved to attain that straight look and some of them can be permanent. My relaxed hair was great but I do not miss it. Now I am not held at ransom by changes in relaxer formula every time the box reads, “NEW” wondering if this new formula will work well with my hair. If it is ordinary hair food that my hair may not like, I will simply wash it out and the damage does not continue. But if it is a relaxer, it might mean having damaged hair for quite some time until my hair grows back if the damage is not permanent. I know you know what I mean.

Relaxed and natural hair!

Relaxed and natural hair!

Here is to healthy hair

Be blessed.

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Nosipho 11 November 2017 - 08:14

Hi There. I was diagnosed with FFA (a form of Alopecia). Since then i avoid braiding my hair with extenstiona as it breaks it further, i plait with my own hair now ever since the Doc said i have FFA. My hairline is gone because of the FFA. I do still relax my hair and do regular treatment at the salon because when it has growth it’s the hard coarse growth that eve an afro comb can’t go through. What can a person like me do then because i can’t leave my hair unrelaxed, it literally becomes painful.
Please help.

Evenes Ruth Mafupa 13 November 2017 - 18:05

Indeed you can keep your hair natural if you learn on how to groom it without pain. There are ways to comb hair, like doing it while it is damp and not dry, using a wide toothed comb as well as a detangling brush. Chemical relaxers may be worsening your alopecia situation and going natural may be the best thing to do. It may not be easy but will be worth it.

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