Back to the Basics: ‘Safely’ using chemical relaxers
The relaxer step is the first step on the journey to achieving ‘healthy’ relaxed hair. As discussed in my last post, Back to the Basics: Knowing your Relaxers, there are several different types of relaxers. You can choose to:
- leave some texture in your hair (‘texlaxing’),
- make it just straight or
- very straight.
The degree of hair straightness produced by a relaxer would depend on:
- The strength of the relaxer. Many relaxer formulations come in Mild, Normal and Super strengths. The stronger the formulation, the straighter your hair would be. If you have fine hair, opt for a mild formula and if you have coarse hair, go for a Normal to Super formula. If your hair is coarse, making it bone straight will probably not make it limp but if you have fine hair, your hair will become limp and light when you make it bone straight. You can choose to leave a little texture in your hair thus giving it the appearance of thickness and density.
- Total time on hair: Do not exceed recommended processing time. Due to the high pH of Lye relaxers, it is advisable to leave its usage to professional stylists. If you want to do the relaxing yourself, you should practice first with a conditioner and get your timing right. The same applies to applying no-lye relaxers.
- The active ingredient in the relaxer: Sodium hydroxide and lithium hydroxides don’t usually make hair as straight as Guanidine hydroxide relaxers
- Whether or not you comb through your hair after applying the relaxer hair will also determine how straight your hair turns out. It is advisable not to comb through the relaxer because the hair can break at the fragile line of demarcation between the previously relaxed hair and the new growth.
- The presence of oils in the hair prior to applying the relaxer. The more oily your hair is, the deeper the layers the relaxer has to cut through to get to the cuticle.
When applying relaxer to your hair, the most important points to note are:
- Don’t scratch scalp for at least 5 days prior to relaxing your hair.
- Retouch your hair only when there is obvious difference between the new and old growth (at least one inch). This is usually at least 8 weeks for most people. Retouching earlier than that leads to relaxer being applied to previously relaxed hair. This is called overlapping and leads to points of weakness along the hair strand. The less time you spend between relax touch-ups, the higher the number of weak overlapping points on your hair strand.
- Don’t relax hair that is breaking. Determine the cause of the breakage and deal with that prior to relaxing your hair. NEVER RELAX YOUR HAIR TO SOLVE A HAIR PROBLEM!
- If you can, avoid applying permanent hair colour to relaxed hair. If you must use hair dyes, apply it either 2 weeks before or after your relaxer.
- Apply your relaxer only to your new growth
- Base your scalp with petroleum jelly (Vaseline) and not the new growth. The more oily/dirty your new growth is, the less processed it will be.
Preparing for a relaxer
4 days to a week before the proposed relaxer date,
- Wash with a clarifying shampoo. Depending on whether you want your hair very straight or not, you might opt for a milder shampoo.
- Deep condition with a heavy protein conditioner
- Follow up with a moisturizing deep conditioner. Style your hair as usual.
- It is advisable not to shampoo or condition your hair again until the relaxer day.
- Do not apply any scalp treatments, hair growth aids or essential oils until the relaxer day. You can only apply normal oils and pomades e.g olive oil, castor oil, petroleum jelly, etc
- From 72 hours before your relaxer, do NOT condition or wash your hair.
The main relaxer day:
These steps should be followed whether or not you self-relax or have a professional relax your hair. If you’re going to a stylist, politely tell him/her how you want it done.
- Apply protection e.g. a serum or oil to the previously relaxed hair.
- Base your scalp with petroleum jelly, ensuring not to apply it to the new growth itself.
- Section your hair.
- You might want to do a strand test to see whether or not you will react negatively to the relaxer or if the relaxer is going to be effective for your hair and long it will take to process.
- Apply your relaxer only to the new growth.
- Rinse out the relaxer with warm water
- Apply a keratin-containing protein conditioner to your hair for 2-5 minutes.(mid-relaxer protein treatment)
- Wash hair with neutralizing shampoo.
- To smoothen the cuticle, deep condition with a moisturizing deep conditioner for at least 15-20 minutes.
- As the final step, apply an acidifier to close the cuticles and rinse with water cold enough for you to stand. e.g apple cider vinegar, Roux porosity control corrector/conditioner.