Photo: Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images
A conventional supermarket carries several relaxer kits, and a beauty supply shop carries tons more. Eeeek! Before you pull your hair out (and irritate your scalp in the process), take a deep breath and focus on strength when picking a relaxer. No, not inner fortitude, but relaxer strength. If you choose the right strength for your fine or coarse hair, you'll get the 'do that you crave.
Any relaxer discussion has to start with the basics: namely, what's in a relaxer in the first place. Depending on the formulation, a relaxer may contain several inert ingredients like jojoba oil, shea butter or olive oil. However, the ingredients to know are sodium hydroxide and calcium hydroxide. These two additives break down the shape of the hair shaft and reform it to fall flat. After a set amount of time, you end up with a head of permanently straightened hair.
Most relaxers for adults come in two strengths, regular and coarse. Children's relaxers usually come in a mild strength that contains the least amount of chemical. Regular strength works for most adults. Other people, however, have what's called "coarse" or "resistant" hair. This type of hair is thick, with an outer layer that takes longer for the product to penetrate and straighten. You could apply regular strength relaxer to coarse hair, but it won't have enough sodium hydroxide to get it really straight. What's necessary is a higher amount of solution that works faster to get the job done. This is where coarse strength relaxer comes into play.
When putting relaxer on the hair, the modus operandi is the same for both coarse and regular strength solutions. The relaxer needs to sit on the head for a certain amount of time, and you need to smooth the cream through the roots to flatten out the curly sections. However, coarse relaxer needs to sit on the hair for longer than regular strength; the instructions list exactly how long it needs to process. Afterward, you rinse out the cream, style and go about your business.
Relaxer strength is no joke. Do your hair and your scalp a favor and test out some strands before going through the process with an unfamiliar product. There's no industry standard for chemical content amounts in the relaxer biz, so some products will have more of a dramatic straightening effect on your head than others. You'll know that you're using the right product if the test strands flatten out during the instructed amount of time. If the time limit isn't long enough, go one strength up. If that's still not adequate, pay for a pro to do your hair instead.