Cons of Chemical Relaxers for African-Americans

Chemical relaxers weaken African-American hair and increase breakage.

Photo: BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images

Depending on your point of view, Garrett A. Morgan either has a lot to be thanked for or a lot to answer for. This prolific inventor, who discovered the straightening power of lye, or sodium hydroxide, is the reason thousands of African-American women now sport straight, flowing, easy-to-manage hairstyles. But the cons of chemical relaxers -- such as a hairstyling addiction that weakens your hair and an unhealthy dependence on your stylist -- can overshadow the pros.

Sluggish Hair Growth

It’s not that your lovely locks aren’t growing, it’s just that they can’t keep pace with the rate of breakage. Some of that breakage is natural because African-American hair tends to be brittle and dry, which makes it vulnerable to split ends and breaking. Add a hair relaxer and its harsh chemicals to the equation along with improper post-relaxing care, and you will subject your hair to a veritable breakage bonanza.

A Damaged Dome

While “feeling the burn” may be a positive thing when you’re working out to maintain your fab figure, it’s a definite no-no when it comes to hair care and your scalp. Think of your scalp as the field in which your glorious crop of hair grows. A scorched field yields a pretty sorry-looking crop. Your scalp is where follicles that produce hair reside, and it produces natural oils to moisturize and nourish your hair. When chemical relaxers burn your scalp, follicles become damaged, which slows hair growth, and you develop unsightly scabs or scars. You may even develop a condition known as central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia, which includes hair loss and scarring and can be hair-raisingly difficult to treat.

Hair Fear

To some women, hair is simply their crowning glory. But hair has also long taken center stage in politics and religion. Among African-Americans, how hair relates to self-perception has been a hot seat of debate since hair straightening began back in the early 1900s. While chemical relaxers can shave time and effort from your hair-care routine, they can also increase a resistance to or dislike of taking care of your own natural hair, especially if you’ve been under the spell of hair relaxing since you were a child.

Relaxer Relief

If the cons of chemical relaxers don’t put you off this hairstyling routine for life, at the very least, do it safely. Follow the product label instructions to a T. Don’t leave a relaxer on longer than recommended and don’t do touch-ups more frequently than every six to eight weeks. Also, never ever apply a relaxer to previously relaxed hair: It won’t get any straighter than it already is, and your hair will be even more brittle and prone to breakage. Plus, fried, limp hair is never a good look. Finally, avoid other harsh hair treatments such as applying hair color or using a blow dryer right after relaxing your hair.

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