Overview on chemical relaxing-a common hair straightening method

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Chemical relaxing- a hair straightening method
Among the popular hair straightening methods chemical relaxing (lanthionization) is currently the most recognized method to straighten rigid curly hair. This method of hair straightening is largely popular among some ethnic groups particularly people of African origin.

African hair is irregular in diameter and also it is tightly coiled which makes the hair more susceptible to dryness and damage from heat. People with this hair type are often tired of this rigid hair structure and to wear out the hair outlook there is an increasing demand for hair straightening methods.

There are many hair treatments available for straightening hair - like pressing, Chemical relaxing, and thermal reconditioning. All these methods are able to alter the naturally kinky, curly or wavy black hair into straight strands through the use of specific chemicals. Thermal reconditioning is the most popular method, while pressing hair is another hair straightening method which originated in early times.

Chemical relaxing as a hair straightening method is suitable for black African-American hair, and to compete with other hair straightening methods it has undergone significant transformation to address the demands of black hair care today.

Many chemical relaxing products called relaxers have been introduced to the market. But when choosing a relaxer for this hair treatment one needs to be very careful as some of them can cause serious irritation on the scalp.

Choosing the right relaxer for chemical relaxing
There are two common types of relaxers available in the market known as:
  • Lye relaxer
  • No-lye relaxer.
The Lye relaxers and their sub-categories no-base relaxers and base relaxers can show their effects quickly in hair straightening. But they are not generally recommended today as they can cause serious scalp irritation and damage.

The ingredients of the no lye relaxers have minimal hair damage and scalp irritation. Based on their ingredients, the no lye relaxers are divided into two categories - mix and no-mix relaxers.

The mix no lye relaxers consist of a cream base and are made up of calcium hydroxide and guanidine carbonate. When the two parts are mixed, guanidine hydroxide is formed that activates the relaxation. These relaxers have been found to quite effective and less irritating than other formulations. But before application it is necessary to mix it properly and has to be applied on the same day after mixing to prevent the chemical alteration.

No mix relaxers contain lithium hydroxide as the chemical relaxer and it also has been found to quite safe to use, any significant adverse effects of these chemicals on hair has so far not been detected.

Procedures for chemical relaxing
  • Before applying chemical relaxers cleanse the hair properly.
  • The hair line and ears are to be protected with the application of petrolatum around them.
  • The relaxer is then applied with a small brush on separate hair sections starting from the nape of the neck and moving towards the forehead.
  • Once the relaxer is applied it is smoothed section by-section until the hair is straightened
  • The relaxer cream is usually left on for 10 to 20 minutes (depending on the product) and then it is rinsed with water.
  • Finally, a neutralizing shampoo is used to decrease the high alkaline pH It will fix the new straightened shape of the hair and stop hair swelling or breakage.
  • It is better to condition the hair after shampooing with a cream conditioner or a protein or liquid conditioner.
The possible effects of chemical relaxing
Frequent application of chemical relaxing or straightening can lead to hair breakage and damage. It is better to apply chemical relaxers only after waiting 4-6 weeks after a previous relaxing procedure. Using a relaxer more frequently may significantly damage the hair.

After the over application of chemical relaxer the treated hair breaks frequently. It is seen that most of the breakage is generally on the occiput (the back of head) and nape of the neck. As the application of relaxer begins from this portion and remains on the hair for a longer period of time.

The only way to prevent the damage caused by chemical straightening is with careful application and avoidance of overuse. Experts are of the opinion that the modern relaxers that are newly coming up are able to provide more gentle hair straightening and also minimize the hair shaft damage.

Chantal Bolduc, Jerry Shapiro, “Hair Care Products: Waving, Straightening, Conditioning, and Coloring”, 2001, Clinics in Dermatology, 19:431–436
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