Taking Care of Processed Hair: Can Relaxed Hair Be Healthy?

September 6, 2012  |  

While the natural hair movement has definitely taken off. There are still a lot of black women who prefer to maintain their hair with a relaxer. And many of them feel left out in the healthy hair tips discussion. But is it valid to completely dismiss one with relaxed hair as being incapable of maintaining healthy strands?

It is true that a relaxer is a chemical alteration to your natural hair structure. A relaxer essentially breaks down the disulfide bonds (which make hair curly) in the hair follicle and caps them so that they do not reform, thus causing the hair to be permanently straight. Now while some may refer to relaxers as “controlled damage,” that does not mean that relaxed hair isn’t capable of being maintained as long, healthy hair. If relaxed hair is beyond being healthy, then anyone who colors their hair, another process that breaks the bonds in hair follicles, could also call their strands just as unhealthy.

What really does the most damage to relaxed hair is over-processing while applying the relaxer and the way one treats their hair post-relaxer. The hair typing chart is just as useful to women who wear relaxers as it is to women with natural hair. Therefore, if you understand the texture of your natural hair you’ll have a better understanding of how often to relax your hair and various methods that you can use to stretch your hair in between touch ups. Getting relaxers too often and not giving your scalp and hair a chance to breathe will lead to your hair falling out because it is over-processed. Generally speaking, reapplying less than 3-4 weeks after your last touch-up will lead to over-processing. Also, there is absolutely no need for maximum/super strength relaxers, and you most certainly want to avoid lye relaxers. While it is best to have your hair relaxed by a qualified professional, for some, the at-home applications are the only financial option. Try sticking to ‘kiddie’ perms and be patient when applying it to your hair. Make sure to work it properly and evenly throughout your hair for best results. Don’t just throw an extra strength relaxer into your hair haphazardly, as it will over-process your locks and leave you with burnt clumps of hair. Do not forget about the neutralizing shampoo as well. A relaxer is highly alkaline on the pH balance scale, and neutralizing shampoo is so important because it neutralizes the disulfide bonds mentioned early, stopping them from processing your hair and leaving you with the straight result. Because neutralizing shampoos are acidic (to bring down the alkaline pH balance of relaxers) do NOT use them post washing out your relaxer, as they will overly dry your hair out.

Just as with any other hair texture, the bulk of the damage can be done by how we maintain our hair. Just because one has a relaxer does not mean that they can apply heat to their hair every day, forgo washing it and slather any old product into their hair. It’s even more important for those with relaxers to mind the products that they put in their hair because they don’t want it to further break down the bonds in the hair follicle. Using products that are highly acidic are counterproductive to maintaining a straight relaxer. It’s best to try and maintain hair at a close to neutral pH balance (7 pH) as possible, starting with a good deep-conditioning process that you do regularly. Minimize the amount of brushing and direct heat that is applied to the hair. You already put a relaxer in, there is no need to flat iron it every day.

Lastly, know that any high-alkaline product will cause your hair to straighten. Michelle Obama’s very laid hair has been all the rage at the Democratic National Convention, as it gleams and flows in the spotlight. Word on the curb is that she uses a non-chemical relaxer called PhytoSpecific that contains the organic salt, guanidine carbonate, the same ingredient used in relaxers and Nair (hence why if you over-process your hair, it falls out). For women who are loosening their curls with ‘Silkners’ and texturizers it all comes down to the same process.

You can achieve healthy hair even with a relaxer. It all comes down to having an understanding of your hair, a good dose of patience, and a healthy hair regimen. There’s no quick fix to healthy hair.

Jouelzy offers tutorials on all aspects of Black hair care via her YouTube channel, focusing on women with tight budgets. You can also find her daily hair tips and inspirations on Facebook.

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  • blackhat

    There is a need for super strength relaxes. my hair laughs at regular strength.

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  • Of course relaxed hair can be healthy. While a relaxer works by breaking down the protein bonds of the hair, we break down our hair just by daily handling of it! So no matter if one is relaxed or natural, ultimately, careful hair handling is what’s important when it comes to maintaining a healthy head of hair.

  • Nice info about relaxed and healthy hair………use relaxer but don’t do it over processing because it may damage your hair………..

  • Cinnamon71

    I appreciate the article, MN. I have been wearing my hair natural for over 2 years now because of my negligence and ignorance of taking care of it being in its relaxed state. I have been doing more research and getting more information about relaxed and natural hair. In my own opinion, I think I will do better with relaxed hair. I know more now about what I should do in order to take care of it better. I think I would be doing more damage to my natural hair if I continue to keep it.

    • Ms. Esq

      I have gone back from natural to relaxed a couple of times and I prefer relaxed hair especially for my lifestyle. So do what you feel works for you.

      I appreciate this article because I have told people that if someone didn’t know how to do their hair when it was relaxed then they are still going to have to learn to do it with natural hair. Relaxed hair can be healthy with trends and ideas such as cowashing, prepoos and stretching out the weeks for a touch up.

      • Cinnamon71

        Thank you. I needed to hear that. I feel that I was taking advantage of my hair in the past and neglected it to the point that I almost lost all of it. I went natural to take a break and find out what I was doing wrong and what I need to do to help my hair get healthier. Being on both sides of the spectrum, I just believe for me that I prefer to have relaxed hair for now. As many say, it’s just hair. If I want to go natural in the future, so be it. What matters to me is having healthy hair and what’s the easiest way to maintain it.

        • Ms. Esq

          If you haven’t been over there yet then I suggest the hair site hairlista. I learned so much from that site and relaxed girls and natural girls co exist on it. Good luck on your hair journey.

  • II am currently natural, but i wore a relaxer for years. My hair was as healthy as it is onow. I just prefer natural now because i want to rock my own curls.

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  • brooklynarcher

    i for one appreciate the posts. Growing up, there wasn’t a lot of material for black women on how to manage their hair whether relaxed, weaved or natural. I want to read as much as I can about ways to care for my hair the healthy way. So keep it coming! 🙂

  • How many posts are y’all going to make about this same topic? It’s coming pretty redundant.

    • Miss Anonymous

      Possibly the same number they do every month. Then there will be the natural is the best article followed by the relaxed can be healthy too, then the how being natural changed my life, how im love me even though I am relaxed and the all hair is healthy hair if you take care of it article. Comments will be the “natural is best for everyone with the natural hair stereotypes”, “im relaxed but im no self hater or relaxed hair stereotypes” and the sane ones who had both and really dont care if you wanted to shave your hair off and have the Eiffel Tower sketched in your hair in purple on the right with a dolphin flying through space in orange and yellow on the left side because they arent paying for your hair.

    • I believe as long as this world is filled with black women with hair on their heads, this topic will be discussed until the wheels fall off, lol!