OK, before some of you roll your eyes, let me just put it right on out there that I get that you are grown and some of the info that I’m about to share, you’ve probably heard before.
Let me also put on record that I totally understand that, like so many things in life, hair has trends and when it comes to your looks, it’s certainly a woman’s prerogative to switch things up…on a whim…if and whenever you want to.
I think it’s also important to mention that, for many years, of and on, I rocked a texturized TWA (teeny weeny afro) and I’m totally clear that a texturizer is pretty much another term for “kiddie perm” — so nothing that I’m about to share has been without my having to look in the mirror at myself, so that I could ponder all of these points, at one point, too.
Now with all of these disclaimers out of the way, I still think it’s imperative, that we discuss as a “family”, what it means to go from being natural to returning to a relaxer. Because while on the surface, it might just seem like a purely aesthetic decision, again, as with most things in life, there can be a lot more to relaxers than what meets the eye (pun intended and not intended).
Relaxers Have an Interesting History to Them
While credit for the pressing comb most definitely needs to go to Madame C.J. Walker, when it comes to the history of hair relaxers, all of its backstory really is an article all on its own.
What I will say, for now, is the first one was reportedly invented by Garrett Augustus Morgan, Sr. back in 1877 in Kentucky, the G.A. Morgan Hair Refining Company (which made products that consisted of alkaline chemicals) came to be in 1913 and lye relaxers came onto the scene (“thanks” to Proline) in the early 70s (no-lye relaxers made their debut in the early 80s, “thanks” to Johnson Products Company, Inc.).
My point? When you think about the facts that the Tignon Law in the 18th century was all about getting us to cover up our curls, along with the fact that natural hair discrimination continues to be a hot topic to this day (the CROWN Act is all about combating it), how can we not assume that chemically straightening our hair was all about “fitting in” with white culture at a time when we were discriminated against at peak levels?
One reason to reconsider relaxing your hair is to send the global message that the hair you were born with is beautiful and there is no need to assimilate into a culture that has tried to tell us that we are “less than”…
So yeah, one reason to reconsider relaxing your hair is to send the global message that the hair you were born with is beautiful and there is no need to assimilate into a culture that has tried to tell us that we are “less than”; especially during a time when so much cultural appropriation is going on (need I name famous names of non-Black women who keep trying to imitate us?
Hair and all?). See it as an act of purpose-filled rebellion and a stride towards internal celebration — all wrapped up into one. I know I do.
Relaxers Limit Styling Options
OK, with historical context out of the way, another reason to rethink getting a relaxer is, while they can definitely elongate your tresses, they don’t really give you a ton of styling options. Meanwhile, your natural hair?
It’s multi-dimensional on a billion different levels! Case in point — the amount of styling products that many non-Black women have to use in order to get their hair to have to texture and hold that we have?
They have to put in so much work in ways that are truly effortless for us. Plus, there are styling tools (like blow dryers and flat irons, when used sparingly) that can give you a straight look without permanently making your hair stay that way. We’ve got way more styling options. Always have. Always will.
Relaxers Wear Your Scalp Out
I won’t lie. When I stopped using texturizers, it took a good year to get my scalp into a fully healthy state. Thing is, I didn’t realize how damaged it was until I kept the chemicals off of them.
The potency of the chemicals in relaxers can burn your scalp, lead to sores or create scar tissue that could lead to permanent damage to your hair follicles (which can result in permanent hair loss).
Not only that but, to this day, there are doctors who recommend that children under 12 and pregnant women should avoid using relaxers because ingredients like sodium hydroxide, guanidine carbonate and succinic acid can affect your internal health.
Since your scalp has pores, pores absorb things and [your scalp takes in toxins](https://www.ursamajorvt.com/blogs/the-blog-cabin/37974081-how-do-toxics-enter-our-bodies#:~:text=Skin absorption rates vary greatly,rate on your forearms5 .) at rate that is four times greater than say, your arms.
While all of this info shouldn’t terrify you, it should keep you from wanting to simply shrug off this kind of data too. Nothing is worth risking your long-term health. Not when there are things that you can do to prevent it.
Relaxers Up Your Cancer Risk
Last year, PBS published an article entitled “25-year-long study of Black women links frequent use of lye-based hair relaxers to a higher risk of breast cancer”. While some health professionals consider this to be a controversial topic (for instance, WebMD [published an article](https://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/news/20210526/hair-relaxers-wont-raise-black-womens-cancer-risk#:~:text=The study found no association,in a university news release.) citing that there is no connection between relaxers and cancer in Black women…hmm), what is irrefutable is the fact that some of the chemicals in relaxers are known as “endocrine disrupters”.
What this basically means is they have the ability to throw your hormonal balance off and, over a long period of time, it can put you at a higher risk for being diagnosed with breast and/or ovarian cancer. Since we have the lowest survival rate of breast cancer or ovarian cancer, this point is something to take more than just a little seriously. I should also mention that relaxers are connected to the increase of uterine fibroids as well.
Relaxers Damage Your Hair
The whole point of getting a relaxer is to permanently alter your natural hair texture. And no matter how you may want to look at it, that can’t happen without damaging your hair on some level because the chemicals of a relaxer literally break down the cuticle and the cortex layers of your hair, so that they are straight instead of curly.
Over time, this practice can make your hair limp, dry, brittle and result in all kinds of excessive shedding and breakage. While lot of deep conditioning and protein treatments can help to reduce the amount of damage that you experience with a relaxer, there’s no way around the fact that your locks are stronger and healthier when they are in their natural state.
There Are Safer Alternatives
I won’t lie — if you want to wear your hair straight most of the time, especially if you want to prevent shrinkage in humidity, a relaxer is going to be the easiest way to do it. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s the only option on the planet because there are heat-related styling tools such as blowing your hair out (video tutorial here) or flat irons (video tutorial here).
There are also ways to stretch your hair out without the use of any heat like braiding, twisting and banding (video here). Not to mention the fact that there are always wigs that you can rock on days when you want to switch things up, very temporarily so.
The bottom line is, there’s nothing wrong with wanting straight hair sometimes. Just make sure that you factor in the risks that you’re taking and the alternatives that are available. For the sake of your hair and health overall, the more you know beyond the surface of relaxers, along with the alternatives you’ve got…the better. Clearly.