Which Hair Relaxers Are Good for African-Americans?

Always follow relaxer instructions carefully to prevent accidents.

Photo: Baerbel Schmidt/Digital Vision/Getty Images

If choosing the right hair relaxer to take your hair from curly or coily to straight has you confused -- that's understandable, and it's a good idea to leave that decision to your stylist. The wrong relaxer can change your dream of hair that swings and flows into a real nightmare. When it comes to relaxing African-American hair, remember that stronger formula does not equal better results. When in doubt, always use the mildest formula possible for straight hair that's lush and healthy, instead of weak and fried.

Relaxer Facts

Chemical relaxers are strong alkaline solutions that penetrate strands and break the bonds that make hair curly. African-American hair ranges from loose curls to tight coils, so a relaxer that straightens one person's hair might not do the same for the next person. Because relaxers work differently depending on hair texture, most relaxer companies make several different formulas and strengths. Have a hair stylist who specializes in texture services analyze your hair to find out which type of relaxer works best for you.

Lye Relaxers

The first hair relaxers were made with sodium hydroxide, also known as lye. Lye-based relaxers are usually the most effective way to straighten out hair that's very coarse or resistant to chemicals. The downside of lye relaxers is that they can cause painful scalp burns for some people. Because it takes precision skill to use a lye relaxer with good results, it's best to have them applied by an experienced stylist, instead of doing them at home.

No Lye Relaxers

The active ingredients in most no-lye relaxers are usually guanidine, lithium or potassium hydroxide. These alkaline chemicals are also strong enough to straighten out most tightly coiled hair but don't usually burn scalps as fast. On the other hand, no-lye relaxers tend to dry your hair out and make it brittle. To restore moisture to your tresses after using a no-lye relaxer, you'll have to baby your tresses back to health with regular, deep-penetrating conditioning treatments.

Hydroxide Free Relaxers

If your natural hair texture is soft or fine, then you might not need a strong hydroxide-based relaxer to get your hair straight. Instead, you may be able to get good results by using milder chemical-relaxer formulas with active ingredients such as ammonium thioglycolate. You might have to shop outside the ethnic hair-care section to find milder relaxers, because curly heads of all ethnicities use them when they want to permanently straighten their hair.

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