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Getting a relaxer to straighten hair has become a rite of passage for women of color, from the long wait at the beauty salon -- where they at least pick up some juicy gossip -- to the tingling of the chemical just before the hairdresser washes it out. The chemicals that make kinky curls unfurl give hair a real smackdown, and some women have been left to watch in horror as their hair breaks off or plain falls out from the stress.
Relaxer is generally made up of one of two main chemicals: sodium hydroxide or guanidine hydroxide. The latter of the two is considered a no-lye relaxer, but don't be fooled -- lye or no lye, you are still putting crazy chemicals on your hair when you use a relaxer of any type. Relaxers with sodium hydroxide provide longer-lasting and more dramatic straightening, but to give you an idea of the strength of this chemical, sodium hydroxide is also found in drain cleaners.
So, it stands to reason that if you are putting something akin to drain cleaner on your locks, there is a very good chance your hair could be permanently damaged. Hair loss is a potential effect of a chemical relaxer. This can occur if the product is left on your hair for too long or if your scalp has a poor reaction to the chemicals. You hair can also break off -- and you know when it happens because those few fly-aways that don't want to tuck into your ponytail become entire sections of your hair. Your hair may also become much drier after a relaxer, which promotes breakage, hair loss and, well, thirsty-looking locks. There's not much point in going through the relaxer process just to toss around hair that is dry and brittle instead of silky and smooth.
There are benefits to a properly applied hair relaxer. For starters, you have just about any styling option in the book at your disposal. You can wear your hair down, ponytail it, bun it, braid it and do just about anything else. Moreover, your hair will no longer be this static puff on the top of your skull; it will move, bounce and swing as much as you do!
To prepare for a relaxer, refrain from scratching your scalp just before your visit to the hair salon. Go to your appointment with clean hair, and try to keep it stress-free in the days leading up the relaxer, which means lots of loose, easy hair styles. Once you've gotten the relaxer, keep your hair hydrated with lots of good moisturizing conditioner. Lay off the heat when using styling tools if you can help it, and, at least once a week, apply a deep conditioner and leave it on for about an hour.