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