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Hair Relaxers: Debunking the Myth

Straight Hair, No-Lye?

Hair relaxers became very popular in the 80’s.  People realized the jheri curl couldn’t give them versatility and was too greasy. Women who were getting relaxer services complained of burning.  Thus, no-lye relaxers were formulated. No-lye relaxers were presented as a gentler and milder form of relaxer without the lye.

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Women happily grabbed boxes of hair relaxer.  They applied their chemicals at home to save money and for convenience. They couldn’t understand why their hair became dry, brittle, and began to shed.  They were disappointed when they didn’t look like the model on the boxes.

What Causes Dry, Brittle Hair

The reason: No-lye relaxers come in two forms, calcium hydroxide and lithium hydroxide. (CaOH is the chemical formula for calcium hydroxide.) The OH at the end of this compound is actually the base/lye component. The calcium causes deposits on the hair, causing it to become dry and brittle.

Hair consists of three layers.  A relaxer penetrates to the second layer of the hair to break polypeptide (protein) bonds.  After the relaxer is rinsed and neutralized, the cuticle (first layer of the hair) remains open.  (This is what causes splitting, shedding, and breakage.)

Preventing Damage from Hair Relaxers

In order for relaxed hair to remain healthy you should avoid hair relaxers containing Calcium Hydroxide at all costs. Not only does the Calcium result in dryness, but the neutralizer in the box is not sufficient to remove traces of relaxer from the hair. This can lead to hair loss and large amounts of shedding, especially around the hairline and temples.

The cuticle (or first layer of the hair) is opened and a neutralizer only removes traces of relaxer from the hair. What the hair needs is a stabilizer or a conditioner with a low pH to return hair back to its optimal acidic pH balance. The conditioner will seal the cuticle.  It also  rearranges the polypeptide bonds broken during the relaxer application.

The hair can be neutralized thoroughly 3-5 minutes after application of the shampoo. Application of a moisturizing or deep conditioner and rinsing and styling will complete the process.

Foot Note: Apply a conditioner to the ends of your hair first so that the relaxer will not have direct contact with previously relaxed hair.  This will help prevent over-lapping (relaxer touching the ends of the hair), which leads to over-processing and dryness. 

Be sure to change the professional (cosmetologist) towel used to drape you before the procedure afterwards.

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