Relaxed Hair 101

Here’s everything you need to know about getting hair relaxed - including all the pros and cons…

If you’re thinking about getting your hair relaxed, you need to read this guide. For it, we quizzed trichologist Natasha Dennis, owner of The Black Hair Clinic and author of A Beginners Guide to Afro Hair Care [Published by The Choir Press] for everything you need to know, including whether it’s right for your hair type, how often you should return to the salon for retouching, and the best post-relaxer haircare. “Relaxers are good for people who have the hair suitable for it and can achieve lovely results. I've been fortunate to advise a lot of clients with relaxed hair,” says Dennis. Read on to decide if you should go for it.

The science

Hair is made mostly of keratin and forms very long bundles that are held together by bonds. During the relaxing process, the chemical sodium hydroxide opens the cuticle and penetrates into the cortex of the hair to break the bonds and relax the curl pattern so it becomes straight. Relaxers cause the hair to be weaker due to the broken bonds and drier because it strips the hair of its natural oils.

The salon process

The stylist will part the hair and cover the scalp with a special scalp protector or petroleum jelly going around the hair line, including the back of the neck and anywhere the relaxer will come into contact with the skin. If it is applied incorrectly without the protective gel, the formula can irritate the scalp and cause a contact irritant dermatitis. If relaxers are continuously applied to an un-based scalp or left on for too long it can cause long-term scalp sensitivity - and this is something that the person will carry throughout their lives.

I prefer relaxers to be applied using a wooden spatula instead of the application brush as the bristles can irritate the scalp when the relaxer is dabbed on. The stylist will normally go over the hair again to make sure all areas are covered, and then it will be left to process.

Once processed, the stylist will rinse the relaxer out and shampoo the scalp using a neutralising shampoo. This will normally be done several times before the hair is deeply conditioned. I recommend having a treatment following a relaxer to restore moisture to the hair. To finish up, a heat protective product is applied, the hair is blowdried and straightened and the process is complete.

Is this one I can do myself at home?

It is common, but I do not recommend doing a chemical relaxer at home because it’s a chemical, so very important to go to a trained professional to have the process carried out. At home relaxers normally result in the hair being damaged and broken.

What are the pros?

Relaxed hair is considered much easier to manage. Some people prefer to have permanently straight hair. Natural hair can tangle more easily and can break if not combed gently and carefully, so it may be easier to achieve some length with relaxed hair.

And the cons?

It is a big commitment and some people may feel they would be losing their identity. The chemicals used are strong and can damage the hair, however any hair styling process can cause damage if carried out incorrectly.

How often should I go back for retouching?

How often you return for retouching the regrowth depends on how quickly your hair grows. On average, it will be every eight to 10 weeks. Keeping up to date with the retouching is very important as the hair can snap and break off at the point where the natural and relaxed hair meet. The point where they meet is the weakest so if you are combing newly-grown hair with a lot of tension it could cause the hair to snap and break as soon as the comb hits the relaxed part of your hair. So you can go from having long hair to short hair very quickly.

What if the scalp is sensitive?

I would not recommend someone with a sensitive scalp to have their hair relaxed, but if you’re still keen, have a patch test done first and make sure the scalp is thoroughly based.

What post-relaxer haircare should I invest in?

I can’t stress the importance of the right aftercare enough. You can wash the hair as normal following a relaxer, which is normally a week if your hair gets dirty quickly, or two weeks if it doesn't get dirty that quickly. Shampoo with a moisturising range if your hair feels dry, then once you have conditioned apply a moisturiser and then a thermal protector before you blow dry or flat iron. Keeping your hair fully hydrated using moisturisers is very important. Moisturise little and often two to three times a week spaced out. If your hair is soft, then a moisturising spray would be better as it is a lot lighter. If you have medium-textured hair, you would be better with a light moisturising lotion as you can always build that into the hair. Avoid ones that are greasy as you can’t take the oil away. If you have very course hair, you should get a cream-based moisturiser which has a thicker consistency.

Can relaxed hair be coloured?

Its difficult to say whether your hair would handle colouring while relaxed, so it is at your own risk, however there are some things you can do to lessen the chances of damage if you want to go ahead. Do a strand test to see how your hair responds, wait at least two weeks before colouring, try low lights either across the t-zone, or half a head and see how you get on. Make sure you get the colour done by a qualified professional.

Contact Natasha Dennis at The Black Hair Clinic call 020 3468 4244

Guest Trichologist: Natasha Dennis, specialist in Afro hair

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