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Hair relaxers are designed to straighten out extremely curly or coiled hair, leaving you with lovely salon-straight locks. Find out more with our guide.

Hair relaxers can be a great tool for people with extremely curly or coiled hair to get straighter locks. For them, often an electrical straightener is simply not enough.

Luckily, modern cosmetic science has the answer: chemical relaxers can straighten out the most stubborn curls.

But how do they work, and what are the consequences of using them?

The ins-and-outs of hair relaxers

Hair relaxers use chemicals to straighten hair by breaking the di-sulfide bonds found in the cortex layer of hair and re-forming them while hair is being held in a straight pattern.
The cortex is the layer under your cuticle. It’s made up of twisted ‘cables’ of protein, and it’s this layer on which hair relaxers work.

The most commonly used chemicals in relaxers are sodium hydroxide, ammonium thioglycolate, and sodium thiglycolate.

The problem with hair relaxers

The main problem with hair relaxers is that in order to straighten very curly hair, you need a strong chemical mixture that’s able to break down the cortex layer and change the texture of the hair.

In order to do this, these chemicals also have to be able to penetrate through the outer layer of cuticles protecting your hair.

The strength of these chemicals means that they can cause a host of problems including:

  • Hair dryness

  • Hair brittleness and breakage

  • Hair thinning

You also must be extremely careful to prevent scalp irritation, since the three main chemicals are all notorious skin irritants.

Symptoms can include:

  • Stinging and discomfort

  • Skin redness and irritation

  • Temporary skin whiteness

  • Chemical burns

Smart tips to help avoid scalp and hair issues

Any time you relax your hair you’re exposing yourself to potential problems. But by following some smart tips, you can help prevent scalp and hair issues:

  • Always follow the manufacturer’s usage instructions

  • Start with a healthy scalp: get rid of scalp issues like dry scalp and dandruff before using relaxers

  • Never use relaxer on freshly-washed hair: the natural oils help protect your scalp from chemical damage

  • Don’t relax sections of the hair that have already been straightened once (no overlap)

  • Avoid relaxer contact with the scalp- consider applying a protective base to the scalp as an extra barrier between the chemicals and your skin.

After using a relaxer, make sure that you wash your hair with a moisturizing shampoo or co-wash. This is the first step to giving your hair and scalp the moisture they need, to keep them strong and looking beautiful.

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