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Ladies who are African-American usually have coarser hair that tends to be curly and a little unruly. Because of this, African-American beauties often slather on a relaxer to get better control of their manes. Natural, untreated African-American hair is beautiful in its own right, but if you truly want straighter tresses, you don't need to let a sensitive scalp get in your way. Your focus simply needs to hone in on sensitive-scalp relaxer products.
Traditional relaxers are made from sodium hydroxide, more commonly known as lye. The pH level of a sodium hydroxide relaxer is a serious hair affair, with most sodium hydroxide relaxers weighing in with a pH of 12 to 14. That's alkaline enough to seriously damage your tresses. It even can give you chemical burns! Even if you can avoid a chemical burn and come away with just some mild irritation, that irritation potentially can damage your follicles. That translates to the possibility of hair loss. This is a huge deal for African-American ladies who often rely on relaxer products to keep their hair manageable.
When your scalp is really sensitive but you're dying for straighter locks, your stylist has two main options. The first is to grab a low-lye solution, which has only 2.5 percent lye in it. Low-lye relaxers are much milder than regular lye relaxers due to their decreased concentration. The other option is to go for a no-lye relaxer. No lye relaxers still are made with hydroxides such as calcium hydroxide or guanidine hydroxide, but they have a pH between 9 and 11. That's comparable to a traditional alkaline or "cold" perm that uses ammonium thioglycolate.
Because even sensitive-scalp relaxers have a high pH, most of the ones you'll see have some added conditioning agents. These protect not only your scalp, but your tresses, too. Stylists tend to reach for these by default because they're so much better for your hair and skin, but not all manufacturers use the same conditioners. A quick consultation with your stylist can clear up what conditioning agent will work best with your skin and hair type and give you a chance to remind your stylist of any allergies you might have.
Advantages and Disadvantages
The obvious advantage of a sensitive-scalp relaxer is that you can get the relaxed hair you're craving without suffering some major ouch in the salon. Because sensitive-scalp relaxers usually aren't as harsh as regular lye ones, they leave some elasticity in your hair so that it stays bouncier and won't break as easily. The bummer side of that, though, is that you might not be able to go quite as straight as you're hoping for.