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A chance discovery made by Garrett Morgan, an African-American tailor was the first one to discover an alkaline based chemical used to polish machine needles, which incidentally caused straightening of hair. Hair relaxers have been in use since the early 1900s, and are one of the most popular styling products among African-American women. Historically, they were mainly used by African-American woman to straighten their curly hair and aid easy management. Hot comb method has been replaced by chemical hair relaxers that allow long-term hair straightening. Chemical based hair relaxers are broadly classified as “Lye” relaxers, no-lye relaxers and “thio” relaxers.

Hair relaxers straighten hair by penetrating the cuticle and the cortex layers of the hair shaft to loosen the natural curl pattern. This process leaves the hair weak, brittle and prone to breakage. It can even burn your skin, cause permanent damage to the scalp and lead to hair loss. Even with harmful and prevalent side effects, chemical relaxers are an effective and efficient way to straighten hair, offering quick results that last for weeks.

Scientific research has shown there is cause for concern with the use of the ingredients found in Black hair care products. These products enter our body via the scalp and can lead to many complications. Studies show relaxers cause life-threatening ailments such as reproductive problems, heart disease, different forms of cancer, early puberty, fibroids, and mental health disorders. Relaxers have been found to disrupt the chemical balance of our bodies by entering our system via cuts and burns. In recent studies, the common complaints associated with the use of chemical hair relaxers were frizzy hair (67%), dandruff (61%), hair loss (47%), thinning and breakage of hair (40%) as the most commonly encountered problems


According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the side effects of hair relaxers are exacerbated by improper use. The best approach is to have an experienced professional apply the treatment. However, if you decide to do it yourself, you should never use relaxers on unhealthy hair or a damaged scalp. You also don’t want to leave a hair relaxer on for more than the recommended amount of time, and never leave a relaxer in your hair long enough to feel any tingling or burning. Do everything possible to keep the chemicals from touching your skin. Coating your scalp with a base of petroleum jelly before applying the relaxer can help protect the scalp from chemical burns.

Once your hair is relaxed, handle it delicately and give your strands extra hydration. Regularly moisturise your hair by deep conditioning it weekly. Limit the use of heat styling tools like flat irons and blow dryers. Applying heat can further weaken chemically-treated hair and cause breakage. You’ll also want to stay away from tight braids and ponytails that pull at the hairline. In fact, continuously wearing tight styles that tug on your hairline can cause a type of hair loss called traction alopecia.

Avoid colouring and relaxing your hair at the same time. The combination of lye in relaxers and peroxide in hair dye can cause severe damage to both your hair and scalp. If your hair is already brittle, breaking or bleached, avoid relaxing your hair altogether. Wait a few months to give your roots a chance to grow out before you relax again.

The two most common types of relaxers are the ones with “lye” and other products that do not include lye. Lye relaxers contain sodium hydroxide, which is a harsh chemical with a pH range anywhere from 10 to 14. “No lye” relaxers are milder compared to lye relaxers. It is a known fact that lye relaxer damages hair and scalp.

Relaxers often come in three sections:- Super, Regular and Mild. The strength is decided by the professional taking into consideration the individual’s hair texture.

On a final note, all relaxers have chemicals in them. There is nothing called “herbal” in hair relaxing technique and if someone is labelling their product as “herbal,” then they are misleading consumers.✌